Many people buy home security systems to protect their valuables while they are out of the house, however, their first priority should be to protect their loved ones while inside the house. It’s important to protect your home while there or away, and knowing the right way to do so. We spoke to a professional in the home security industry to find out everything homeowners need to know to keep their homes and loved ones safe.
Rick Reimer, owner of Burglar Stop in Vancouver, got into the business 28 years ago after his home was broken into while he was in his house. “A break-in while you’re out is upsetting enough due to lost possessions and a feeling of being violated. But if you’re in the home it’s terrifying and can even be life-threatening. So we custom-design all our systems to protect you when you’re outside your home, but especially when you’re inside it.”
Components of a Home Security System
Central Control Unit. This drives the entire system and connects to all other components. It is usually hidden with its own power source plus batteries that kick in if there is a power failure or the wires are cut.
Keypad. Usually located near a door, the keypad is where you set the type of protection you want right now: at home, away from home or deactivate the system. Some keypads also act as two-way intercoms with your monitoring company – instead of phoning the house, the monitoring company simply speaks to you over the intercom to verify an alarm.
Mobile App. Most of today’s security systems enable you to monitor your home remotely with your smartphone. It acts as your command centre to arm and disarm it, add and delete components, receive push notifications when alarms are triggered, view live and recorded video, lock and unlock doors, silence alarms and even change thermostat settings.
Door / Window Contacts. These are magnetic devices placed along door jambs and window frames that trigger the alarm system if they are opened.
Motion Detectors. They detect changes in infrared energy levels in the form of heat and motion. Typically, they are installed high up on walls, or over doors or windows.
Audio Discriminators. Sensors that convert the acoustic shock waves of glass breaking into an electrical signal that triggers the alarm.
Other Detectors. If smoke or carbon monoxide is present in your home, a monitored smoke/CO detector will send a signal to the central monitoring station. Similarly, sensors can be installed to detect flooding.
Surveillance Cameras. A single video camera and monitor can be added to your system or a more complex closed circuit television (CCTV) system with several cameras inside and outside your home plus digital recorders.
Monitored or Non-Monitored Systems?
Home security systems may be monitored or non-monitored: either it is linked to a central monitoring/response office or it simply triggers an alarm in the house.
A monitored home security system requires paying a monthly monitoring fee in addition to the initial setup cost. When the system is tripped, the control unit sends information to the central monitoring station over either standard phone lines or a cellular connection for a premium.
The station will immediately attempt to contact you (or one of three alternate contacts you had provided), either by telephone or over the alarm’s intercom system. Once the station reaches someone, they will ask you to verify yourself with your name and pass code. If they cannot reach you (or your alternate contacts) or you cannot provide your pass code, the monitoring station will dispatch either the police or a private security company to investigate.
A non-monitored alarm system is not linked to a central monitoring station, so there are no monthly monitoring fees. When it detects an intruder, a loud alarm rings and it may flash your home’s exterior lights, but you should not expect neighbours to respond for their own safety.
Wired or Wireless?
Home security systems may be installed with Wired or Wireless configurations and most modern components described above can work with either one. A wired system uses low-voltage wires that are routed invisibly throughout the house to the central control unit. A wireless system is easier to install since it uses small radio transmitters that signal the central control unit when activated.
Keys or Keyless?
There’s no need for house keys anymore if you install a keypad on outside doors to release the deadbolt. And if you connect the deadbolts on all your doors wirelessly, at bedtime you can lock all of them simultaneously with one click on your phone.
Imagine, no need to give a key to your house cleaner – just a code, which you can change anytime. Keyless entry pads are compatible with most security systems and easy to add. The Schlage Product Selector can help you choose one that’s right for you.
What Protection Do You Need?
A good home security system provides protection from burglars but also protection against fire, carbon monoxide, floods and even medical emergencies. These additional components can be added easily to most home security systems, with no increase in monthly monitoring fees. But they should be considered upfront when designing the system.
As Rick Reimer of Burglar Stop recommends, “Your security system is only as good as its design and installation. So think carefully about what protection you need and do your research to learn about what’s available. And once it’s installed, be sure all members of your family understand how it works and what to do in every situation.”
Most security companies charge similar monthly monitoring fees: $25-30 per month if using telephone lines to connect to the monitoring station, or $35-40 per month if you’re using more reliable cellular service. Since monthly fees are quite similar, some homeowners base their choice of system on the difference in the cost of setting up the system initially. But beware of companies that lowball the upfront set-up costs by cutting corners in order to ‘get the business’.
Avoid companies that sell proprietary security systems, where components cannot be replaced with those of another manufacturer. It’s better to buy a system with non-proprietary, interchangeable components, such as Honeywell or Digital Security Control, among others.
False alarms are an annoyance to homeowners and police alike. They’re usually caused by someone in the family who doesn’t understand their system or motion sensors that are not deactivated while in the home – but when you’re in the home is when you need protection most.
Police response to home alarms varies by municipality, so ask your installer about response in your area. For example, the city of Vancouver charges an annual fee of $17, which allows for three alarm calls per year by police. But if a fourth occurs there is a mandatory inspection of your system and a $150 reinstatement fee. Conversely, in the nearby suburb of Surrey, police charge a fine on the first false alarm. And in the city of Toronto, home alarms are initially responded to by private security companies, not the police.
Tips to Discourage Burglars
Burglars can be ingenious and may stalk a property several times before attempting a break-in. To understand their criminal mindset and their creative methods, read this unsettling article based on interviews with dozens of convicted burglars, courtesy of Reader’s Digest. For example, don’t announce your vacation on Facebook – it’s easier than you think to find your address.
While it’s impossible to burglar-proof your home, you can reduce the impact of a break-in. Once inside a home, most burglars work very quickly, so do these things to slow them down and reduce your losses.
– Install a deadbolt on the master bedroom door – the first place they’ll go for valuables.
– Store jewelry outside the bedroom – try the basement or your bank’s safety deposit box.
– Bolt a safe to the floor – or they’ll take it with them and break it open later.
– Use a cable lock to affix a large flat screen TV to its wall mounting bracket – to slow them down.
– Check all door hinges are located on the inside – or else they can be unhinged easily.