Decision Guide

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DIY Alarm Systems / DIY Security Systems

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Decision Guide

A decision guide and worksheet for a home security/alarm system

This decision guide will assist you in deciding which type of DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system you may need and what type of installation is right for you. While no alarm system can prevent problems 100% of the time, go through this decision guide, step by step, and you will end up with as secure a residence or business as possible based on the information found here without unnecessarily running up the cost of your system.

As you begin this process, deciding on the right DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system may seem like an over-whelming task that would be best left to the professionals. This is not entirely true. With careful thought, knowledge and planning you can set up your own security system with a minimum of effort. In all reality, you may end up with a much better system and a greater understanding of how it works than you would by purchasing a system from an alarm company. Besides, your incentive in installing the system is protecting your family and property. Alarm companies are out to make a good profit and tie you to a long term contract that insures continuous inflows of cash for their services. Even if you decide to leave that company, remember all the equipment probably belongs to the alarm company, and they will take it with them if you terminate the contract. It is best to own your equipment. Then if you decide to have your system monitored you will only be on the hook for monthly monitoring which you can cancel at any time.

Worried about wiring the DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system and working with electricity? This just shows that you are smart. You should always be careful about working with electricity in any form, but alarm systems and all their components work on low voltage (12 Volt). This is the same voltage produced by a car battery. Can you get hurt installing low voltage wiring? Anything is possible, but as long as you use due caution while working with low voltage, you shouldn't experience any problems.

Below are a series of questions and suggested tasks related to planning a DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system. Read through them carefully, answer appropriately, or where advised, complete the walk through or task shown. This will help you select the components of your alarm system. It will also help you figure out where to install the devices you choose such as magnetic switches / contacts, motion detectors, smoke/heat detectors, sirens or bells, and keypads, etc. After a few very easy steps, you will have a good idea of what you need and where to install it.

Survey the outside of your home or business

Let's start at the street and take a walk around the outside of your home or business.

  1. Is your numerical address prominently displayed on your home? If not, is it displayed on your mailbox or painted on your curb? This is very important whether you have a monitored system or any alarm system at all. When the police respond, this is the first thing they look for as they approach the location.
  2. Next take a look at the exterior perimeter of your premises. Are shrubs or plants tall enough to provide concealment for thieves? In other words, could a thief use them to conceal themselves and gain access to windows and doors? If so, these potential points of entry could easily go unnoticed by the neighbors or passing vehicles. Also, look for any other obstructions such as patio furniture, building supplies, storage sheds, etc, and try to eliminate or move as many of these as is practical.
  3. Next we will look at the outside lighting. Are there adequate street lights and do they illuminate your house and all areas that are potential points of entry. If you find areas that are not illuminated you should have additional lighting installed. This could be motion sensing devices that turn on flood lights.
  4. If you happen to have old, jalousie (I think that should be spelled jaLOUSY) style windows, I would seriously think about changing them out. In years past, these were installed in homes located in rainy climates. They are made up of individual, glass panes that open similar to a venetian blind. Because the panes could be rolled out to various angles, windows could remain open while it rained. The panes in the old, jalousie windows, however, are very easy to remove allowing instant access to your homes interior.
  5. All outside doors should be equipped with dead bolts. If they aren't, get them and install them immediately! Don't cheap out here either! If your door has glass panes in it make sure the dead bolt requires a key on the inside as well as the outside. For fire safety, or other emergencies that might require you to leave the home quickly, keep a key permanently nearby. Do not hide spare keys outside, under a welcome mat, under flower pots or over a door. Thieves are very intuitive and can find these hiding places no matter how good a hiding place you may think you have. Remember, the thief might also receive the same catalog that contains that highly natural looking rock/key container! Also make sure you have peep holes in your outside doors. Never open your door to anyone until you confirm who is standing on the other side.
  6. Walk around your house and try to put yourself in the mind-set of a thief. If this is hard for you, pretend you are planning a surprise for a loved one. How would you go about sneaking into the house unnoticed to bring them a present or pull a prank? At each door or window, ask yourself, "Is this a point of entry that I would try if I wanted to gain entry into this residence or business." Also, think about the roof, especially if a commercial business. Make sure there is not easy access to the roof via a built-in unsecured ladder or trees. If this is a strip mall think about the adjoining businesses and how well are they secured? It is a common practice to enter one business and then gain access through the wall partition into the adjoining business.
  7. When you see an area of concern, make note if it is a window or door. Don't overlook second story windows or porch access doors, especially if there is a nearby trellis or tree. Try to think of trees as natural ladders because that is exactly what they are!

Security Yard SignIf you do decide to install a DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system, be sure to predominently display signs or decals outside of your premises stating, "THESE PREMISES ARE PROTECTED BY AN ELECTRONIC ALARM SYSTEM". At a minimum you should place a yard sign in the front yard and display decals or stickers adjacent to or on all entry doors of the premises. You can also place decals or stickers on any or all windows or other potential points of entry.

Now that you have taken a hard look at all the possible entry points; you will have to decide whether you want to cover all of these or just the ones you determined might be at risk. This is called an exterior perimeter detection zone.

Survey the inside of your home or business

We will now look at the inside of your home or business and think about a back-up interior perimeter detection zone.

  1. You must look at the normal paths that people follow while moving about your premises. These include paths that lead to bedrooms, dens, kitchen, living rooms, family rooms, etc. We want to set up an interior perimeter for detection in case a thief does make entry. It is imperative that this interior zone is capable of being turned off so you can set the alarm system when you are home and give you freedom of movement throughout the premises.
  2. One of the easiest ways to provide interior perimeter protection is to put door contacts on all inside doors. This includes all storage closet, bedroom, bathroom, and basement doors. I have been to the scenes of many burglaries and have yet to see burglars that are content with one room. They are always looking for the big score, a jewelry box, a stash of cash, or a coin collection. They always move from room to room looking for anything of value. Ideally you would have door contacts on every interior door; however, even if you randomly place door contacts on closet doors (say beginning with the rooms you actively use), you are increasing the possibility that you will catch a thief off guard. Imagine yourself as a burglar. Now, think of your surprise when sirens sound because you opened the closet in the master bedroom or the service closet for the AC unit. Surprise is a great tool!
  3. Next consider dual technology motion detectors. These utilize microwave and passive infrared detectors combined in one unit. These require motion, as well as body heat, to trip and send an alert or sound an alarm. This will help eliminate false alarms by not triggering on just motion or body heat; it requires both. Placement of these devices does require some forethought. You should refrain from installing them so that the predominate direction of movement is toward them. They tend to work best when movement is at right angles to the detector. In other words movement should be across the face of the detector. Ceiling mount motion detectors are an excellent choice for this as movement is across the face by walking beneath them. These make excellent choices for hallways. You should also refrain from installing them so they are looking directly at window glass or heat and air conditioning ducts. Nothing is more annoying than false alarms, and you do not want your neighbors thinking a real burglary is just another erroneous alarm. Your ultimate goal is a stable alarm system that your neighbors will pay attention to when it sounds.
  4. Glass break detectors are excellent choices for interior perimeter monitoring your windows for breakage. The great thing about them is the number of windows they can monitor. Just one glass break detector can monitor all the windows in a room. Typically they can monitor all windows and glass within approximately 20 to 25 feet of the detector. They work by sensing the sound waves of shattering glass. You must have them mounted in plain sight of the windows, because the sound waves will not travel around or through walls. I like the ceiling mount for this purpose, but you can also get it in a wall mount. A glass break tester is recommended and will insure the detectors are located properly for optimum performance, configured and working correctly.
  5. An important element of home security that is commonly overlooked are smoke/heat detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. You most likely already have smoke detectors in place within your home or business. These sensors are for your safety while you are at home. But what about when you are away from your home or business? Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas and your family should be protected from this villain. If your system is monitored and you had smoke/heat detectors and carbon monoxide detectors connected into your system, they would dispatch the proper authorities for you.

Some of the other accessories you may want to consider are panic, flood, freeze, photo electric, fence and driveway detectors. As you can see there are a lot of choices for personal safety and burglary. The point is you can do as little or as much as you desire and you can add to your system at any time.

Choosing Between Hardwired and Wireless

The difference between a hardwired and a wireless system is just what the name implies. The hardwired system has its components physically attached by wires to the control panel to monitor the status of all the devices. The wireless system has batteries and a small transmitter which communicates with the control panel to monitor the status of all the equipment. There are also hybrid systems that combine the best parts of both systems. This is my favorite type of installation. In preexisting construction this allows for easy installation of detectors, yet allows for solid dependability for sirens and communications. See our section on Hardwired/Wireless in our Knowledge Base.

There is a lot of obsolete information about wireless alarm systems. Wireless systems were said to be unreliable and had numerous operational draw backs such as poor transmission ranges, and they used common frequencies that allowed for all kinds of interference. The batteries were a constant source of problems. These problems were so well known and documented that even now, when most people think of wireless systems, they think of poor performance, short battery life and unreliable operation. I am happy to say that this is no longer the case. With improvements like going from fixed code to rolling code technology and better encryption, wireless home security systems are now just about as reliable as hardwired alarm systems. And with the use of lithium batteries, you can get a battery life of 6-8 years in some cases.

Even so, hardwired systems are still preferred by some installers and homeowners. If you have the ability to run wires to all of your windows, doors, motion detectors, keypads and sirens, then this would be a good choice for you. Hardwired contacts are generally much less expensive than wireless contacts and as a general rule you can use contacts made by any manufacturer with someone else's alarm system. Wireless systems on the other hand are proprietary and require that you use the components that were designed specifically for your brand of alarm system. Almost all of the hardwired systems available will support wireless integration. So if you finish setting up your system and then decide later that you need, or could use, additional detection devices such as a motion detector, glass break detector, flood or freeze detector, you could always use a wireless device. This is known as a hybrid system. See our section on interior/exterior perimeter protection in our knowledge Base.

Zone placement and layout

Zones are incorporated in your alarm system to facilitate dividing your system into logical divisions based on differing functions. At a minimum you should have a programmable delay zone for entry and exit of the premises. You should also have an instant perimeter zone, for exterior protection, which when armed will tell your system to sound the alarm immediately if any of these detectors are violated. You need a zone for interior detection, but this zone needs to be capable of being bypassed if you are home and wish to utilize the alarm system. This will allow you the freedom of movement inside the premises when the alarm is set . The interior zones may be instant or delayed zones which will be determined by your placement of detectors. Then there are 24 hour zones for your smoke/heat detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. These do not need to be armed at the key pad. We also have 24 hr. panic zones for use with strategically placed buttons throughout the premises. There is also 24 hr. tamper zones which will alert you if your detectors or siren or the phone line are rendered inactive because of a malfunction or being tampered with. All these zones are capable of utilizing normally open (N.O.) and normally closed (N.C.) contacts by using End of Line resistors. There are many other types of zones which you will become familiar with as it relates to alarm systems. See our section on Zones located in our Knowledge Base.

Location Control panels

Alarm Control PanelPlacement of the control panel is a critical decision because this is the brain of the entire alarm system. This is typically a metal box with a lockable door or a door that can be screwed shut. The printed circuit boards, telephone communications, back-up batteries etc are all contained within the metal box and are known collectively as the control panel. The control panel should be located in a semi secure place such as the back of a closet, behind storage bins or clothes. This is not as critical as it sounds because if your system is set up properly, the thieves are detected long before they can locate the control panel; the alarm has already sounded and the notification has already been made. See our section on Control Panels in our Knowledge Base.

Location of Keypads

Alarm KeypadKeypads are the means by which you arm and disarm your system. They should be placed near the doors you wish to exit or enter. This is not absolute because you can program the amount of delay you have to enter or exit the premises. Most alarm systems will support from 2 to 8 or more keypads. There is normally a numerical keypad and several buttons on the unit. Some normal functions are "Away", "Stay", "Panic" and "Fire". There are other indicators showing AC power, bypass zones, door chimes, current time and several other functions. The keypad(s) display the status of all zones and sensors and alert you to any open doors or windows. Most will operate with remote key fobs. See our section on Keypads in our Knowledge Base.

Choosing a Method of Notification

Alarm SirensThe most critical function of your DIY home alarm system /DIY home security system is the notification that a break-in or emergency exists. There are several types of notification devices available, such as sirens, bells, strobe lights, etc. You should choose a location that is not easily accessible for your sirens or bells, such as the inside of your attic or on the outside of your residence near the peak of your roof and under the eave. If this location is outside where access is possible, then the siren or bell should be equipped with tampering detectors. Also a strobe light is a very useful item used to draw the police or neighbor's attention to the residence or business. It also alerts you when returning home, that a violation has occurred-Enter with caution. Placing a second siren inside the premises is also a very good idea. I have found that nothing scares a thief more, while moving quietly about the premises, than the sound of a blaring siren going off. This makes him/her drop whatever they are carrying and run to get away from the area. I would much rather protect my property than be able to report a burglary after it has occurred. I personally do not believe in "silent alarms" for a residence. These "silent alarms" are great for commercial businesses to alert authorities to armed robberies where the suspect and the victim are together on the premises. See our section on Notification in our Knowledge Base.

Your method of monitoring your system

Central Station Monitoring: You can also choose to have your system monitored by an alarm company 24 hours a day. Yes, this requires a monthly fee, and although not always, a small one time set up charge of $10-$35 dollars. Depending on how elaborate an alarm system you have, smoke, fire, medical, burglary or robbery will determine your monthly cost $10-$50. If you own your alarm system you can generally negotiate a fair price for the services provided.

Self-Monitoring: You can choose to have your alarm system notify you by mobile phone, pager, or notify your neighbors or any other person. You can also combine these notifications. Most Police Departments no longer allow alarm systems to go directly to them and want a central station involved. The theory behind this is to reduce the false alarm occurrences by having an alarm company sift through and weed out the majority of false alarms. This is not the case everywhere though. Some small rural departments still allow for direct notification. Check with your local police and sheriff's department for their policies. Many departments are now charging fines for their response to false alarm calls after 1, 2 or more false alarms.

Your final consideration should be technical support after the sale

Super HeroWhen you decide to proceed with your do-it-yourself home or commercial alarm/security system, it is very important that you have quality, after-the-sale support, in case you have any problems or questions. In addition to the full manufacturer's warranty, Tennessee Alarm Store offers life time technical support to all of our customers. Wherever you buy your DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system equipment, you should purchase with the confidence and satisfaction that you're getting the right equipment, at the right price, and quality professional technical support.

We hope this guide has been informative and helpful in deciding on a DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system. If you have any questions or comments, you may call us at 1-423-562-1927 or e-mail us through our Contact Us page.

Disclaimer: This information is provided in order to assist you in making informed decisions about your alarm/security system. It is not intended to replace a proper security analysis performed by you, nor does it endorse the suitability of any alarm/security equipment. The Tennessee Alarm Store assumes no liability for the information provided in this guide. Always follow manufacturer's installation and testing instructions.