Security Systems Q&A

What basic steps can I take to prevent my house from being burglarized?

Think of your home as a box and the doors and windows as being openings to that box. Burglars will enter through doors or windows accessible from the ground. Just closing and locking these accessible openings when you're away is a basic burglary prevention step. As a rule of thumb, all doors should be made out of solid core wood or be metal-clad to prevent or delay forced entry. All exterior doors should be equipped with heavy-duty deadbolt locks supported by heavy-duty four-screw strike plates fastened with three-inch wood screws solidly into the door frame. Exterior doors should have a peep-hole viewport to see who's outside before opening. Accessible sliding glass windows and doors should have secondary security devices to prevent forced entry or lifting the window pane out if its track.

My house has been burglarized three times in two years, how can I stop this?

Obviously, burglars are attracted your home either because of its isolated location, your lifestyle, or the way you secure the home. Simply stated, your home has burglar curb appeal and appears to be an easy target on your block. You can change this by fortifying doors and windows, installing an alarm system and use it, and examine your lifestyle. For example, if you are gone a lot you should set up a relationship with neighbors to watch over your home, and pick up newspapers. If you are gone at night, install light timers to turn on interior lights or the television to simulate occupancy. Don't leave windows, doors, or garage doors open while away and lock side gates. Use alarm signs and beware of dog signs.

Do home alarm systems prevent break-ins?

In a word, yes. Basic home alarm systems are designed to detect unauthorized entry and evidence of fire and report it...that's it. It's the fear of detection and reporting that prevents burglaries. Reporting consists of a loud bell or siren that sends most burglars running or the option of having the signal monitored by an external alarm company that will notify whomever you request. To keep burglars out, you need to warn them first of the existence of your alarm system by using a lawn sign and window decals of the alarm company. Of course, for all this to work the homeowner needs to incorporate the use of the alarm system into their everyday routine and actually use it.

What kind of alarm system should I get to protect my home?

It brand name doesn't matter as long as it's good quality. Alarm systems use basic electronic components and wiring is a series of open and closed switches. A hard-wired system is the most reliable for a newly constructed single family home. Each door and window alarm contact is supported by its own pair of wires back to the alarm panel and can be isolated as the exact point of entry. Hard-wired system wiring and door and window contacts are imbedded into the door and window frames and thereby protected from tampering.

Another option is a wireless system that sends a radio-frequency signal back to the alarm panel instead of by wires. The wireless devices are battery operated and therefore are larger and mounted externally on the door or window point of entry. They are cheaper and easier to install, but suffer from issues of tampering, battery service, and radio frequency (RF) signal interference. Budget usually dictates what system is appropriate for your home.

What features should I look for in a home alarm system?

Alarms systems vary dramatically with add-on options much like buying a new car. For most people the basic alarm package is good enough. The basic system provides door and window alarm contacts on all openings, one or more infra-red motion sensor inside, an audible horn or siren, and a control panel with a digital dialer and keypad. Beyond the basic alarm system you can add hard-wired smoke and heat detectors, glass break detectors, ultra-sonic and infra-red motion sensors, temperature sensors, shock sensors, control panel tamper sensors, battery back-up, and cell phone signal reporting technology. I've seen upscale homes with sensors monitoring the temperature in wine cellars and caviar refrigerators.

Must I have my burglar alarm monitored by a security company to be effective?

No, the local horn or siren works well enough to dissuade most burglars. Program the siren to reset after 30 seconds. However, if you want the police or fire department to be called in your absence then a monitored system is the only way to go. Be advised that most insurance companies require a monitored alarm system for discounted fire insurance rates.

Can automatic garage door opener signals be read by criminals with scanners?

This is largely an urban myth, although it is technically possible. Automatic garage door openers use remote controls that send out radio frequencies (RF) to activate the garage door opener. It is possible for a burglar to read this RF code as you enter your driveway and push the transmitter button. The crook would have to be in very close proximity (right behind you) to capture this signal with the right equipment and knowledge how to use it to open your garage door in your absence. A criminal with this much talent could probably find a real job somewhere. Fortunately, most quality garage door openers now have a RF signal scrambler feature that uses a random RF signal for each opening and thereby defeats the risk of code copying and use.

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