Alarm System: Window Screens

Alarm System Window Screens- Window screens are the ultimate perimeter device. The windows in your home look as if they have normal screens on them, however the actual screen mesh is an alarm circuit. The frame also has a contact point in it, so the screen can't be cut or removed without violating the system if it is armed. The window can be opened for ventilation and protected at the same time. Now that's a great perimeter device!

(INSIDE SCOOP!) Have your screens put on a 24- hour zone. (always on even if the system is off) You will not be able to bypass your always on zones from your keypad. You will need to call in with your password when you remove them for cleaning.

Screens are very expensive, (often $125.00 to $200.00 each) for each opening, but you don't have to do every window. You can do one on each side of the house or in the master bedroom only if you like the concept of ventilating the house with fresh air while your system is armed. More importantly think about putting one in your children's rooms if you can afford it. The peace of mind you will get from having your most precious concern protected will be well worth the expense.

Some alarm companies will measure your windows and create a brand new screen. More often they will mark your existing screens as to which window they came from and bring them with them to be re-built. This assures a correct fit and saves a step so that you will save time and hopefully money. Screens come in different frame and mesh shades and colors so be sure to review this with your security consultant when you order them.

Screens take some time to have built. Alarm companies will often wait for them to be returned to them before scheduling your install. Be advised that the screens may slow your install start time down by a couple of weeks. If your alarm company is willing to install the rest of your system, and return at a later date with your screens I would do just that. Could you imagine how hard you would be on yourself if you were burglarized while you were waiting for your screens to be built and an alarm to be installed?

(INSIDE SCOOP!) Hold back a substantial portion of your screen money until the screens are installed. No matter how noble your alarm company's practices are, nothing seems to put a spring in a for profit company's step, like money.

When I think of protecting your window with a screen in the same room that is protected by a glass break detector, while a motion detector looks on at the whole thing, I think of an elderly gentleman who wears a belt along with his suspenders. It is not a bad idea to overlap your security layers, but you still want to be aware of where to draw the line. A cunning salesperson can run the register up in a New York minute if you're not on the studious prowl for redundancies.

By Matthew Francis

Alarm Systems & Automobile Tires?

What do alarm systems and automobile tires have in common? This may sound like a strange question to the untrained ear, but lend me yours and I will make sense of it.

The reason I mention car tires is that they are a necessity that most all of us have some experience purchasing, at least once in a while.

Even though we need good tires to keep our cars firmly on the road, when they are wearing out we often put the purchase off for a few weeks. If we are patient, a Saturday will eventually come along that we have no plans for, and we force ourselves to go to our local tire store.

Maybe it's the one with the big giant marshmallow looking thing on the roof, or the shop down the road who seems to be giving away free franks, and has a racing car crew serving them, that gets us to stop.

If you are jumping the gun and think I'm correlating putting off the purchase of a necessity such as car tires with a necessity such as an alarm system you would be wrong. The first reason you would be wrong is because most people don't see an alarm as a necessity, but as a luxury. Only after they have been burglarized, do they see an addition of an alarm system as something they need instead of want.

Do you know why they realize after the fact that they need one? Not just because they are upset that someone took the electronics. Not just because the gun that they considered the only alarm system they would ever need is missing, and god only knows whose hands it will end up in. Not even because they are freaked out knowing that some stranger was rifling through the underwear drawer. It is because this is the first time most people start to think about how this unfortunate event could have effected the lives of their loved ones and themselves, if they had been home or walked in on a burglary in progress.

What if my wife came home for lunch and walked in on them?

What if I came home from work and had my own gun pointed at me when I came in?

What if we were asleep while they entered, and how would that traumatize the family?

After asking ourselves these types of questions is when an alarm system becomes a necessity.

Assuming you do know that you need and want a system as part of your preventative security plan, and you do have researching one on your to do list, let's consider how else an alarm system might have something in common with automobile tires.

When we go to buy our tires we often tell the salesman what size tire we need or what make and model our car is. They go to the computer screen and tell you "we have the Big Brand XTC 10's for $45.00 each plus mounting and balancing" or " The Joe Blows are really made by the same company and they are $5.00 less each" (Sound familiar?)

How often does the salesperson, take the time to explain things that are so important to your decision such as Load Range, Tread Wear, Rubber Composites, Tread Patterns and the Elements, Sidewall Strength, Speed Ratings, etc. If they did, you would not only know much more than you already do about tires, but you would most likely justify your choices and the expense with life- safety, as you should. You will also most likely buy your tires at that store the next time you need them, no matter what they are giving away down the street.

Would you believe that alarm systems are often sold the same way tires are." We have, this one or that one, which do you prefer?" When making an important decision such as how a security system will fit into your lifestyle, please take the time to understand all of your options. The available differences in quality of all the devices you are considering for purchase is astounding, and will make a big difference in how happy you are with your choices. If you can't find someone to explain all of these things to you, then you have not found the proverbial "perfect tire store"

By Matthew

Alarm Controls are the Brain of your Security System, Use Yours When Choosing One

The alarm control is the brain of your security system. It is typically placed in an area that is out of the way like a basement, attic, closet or office. The motherboard and additional components such as radio receivers, backup power supply and zone expanders are inside this metal box, which is often locked. You will have little or no interface with the alarm control. Your alarm technician will need to access this unit to program it and wire it to general standards, or your custom standards.

There are many manufacturers of alarm controls. Each manufacturer will also produce several models within a particular product line. Alarm companies purchase direct from the manufacturer or more often buy their products through one of a few available alarm distributors in their area. These distributors and manufacturers do not sell product to the non- professional consumer. You can buy this equipment on line if you have the ability to install it and service it yourself.

As a general rule the controls that are most dependable and have the most programming options are more costly. I will teach you how to get the best control you can find as this will greatly affect your ease of use and your ability to have your alarm adjusted to fit your lifestyle.

In the interest of keeping this device as understandable as possible for you, I will forgo the intense and hundreds of differences among these units and I will break them into a few categories that should make more sense to you.

There are many basic units available to the alarm dealer. They will often use these units knowing that the average consumer does not know the difference, and they will stock them at very little expense. A less qualified installer can also install these basic units, because there are few or no programming and wiring options.

What you should be most concerned about when it comes to these basic units is that we professionals refer to many of them as " CROWBAR SYSTEMS." These systems come as a control, keypad, siren, communicator and backup power supply all built into one unit. If a burglar breaks into your place and hears a siren coming from this unit, they are going to take the proverbial crowbar and smash it off the wall. At this time you would no longer have a control, keypad, siren, backup power supply or communicator to call for help. A lot of good that would do for you!

Now that you are educated in the pitfalls of a self contained unit I doubt that anyone will be able to sell you one, or even give you one for that matter.

The majority of systems that professional alarm companies install fall into this category. They are dependable for the most part based on how long the model has been on the market. Some of these manufacturers have stuck with their dependable product lines for well over 20 years. Some of the newer models have nice new features but when it comes to mid-range units I have always avoided turning my clients into product testers. These units are comprised of any number of separate components that are wired together to make your complete system. This way if someone knocks a siren or keypad or any other component off the wall the alarm still does what it needs to do. The control panel in this range typically comes with at least eight zones. Zones give you the ability to use all or part of your system; you will also be able to pinpoint with some accuracy where a violation has taken place. An example of using part of your system would be as follows:

*You are staying home and want only your perimeter devices on and your interior devices off.

* You are lounging in the back yard and want to go in and out of the back door so you bypass that door and motion detector while protecting the remainder of the house.

* You are leaving work for the evening and your employees are staying late so you bypass the work area and arm the office so no one can enter that area.

When choosing your alarm company avoid the dealer that has many brands and models available to you in this range. That could mean that they are buying whatever is on sale that week from the distributor. The dealer that has used the same model for many years is more proficient when it comes to installing, programming options and servicing of that model.

If you know what you want in an alarm system and realize that these high-end systems can be programmed to do exactly what you want them to do for many different scenarios, you would settle for nothing less. All of your presets can be activated usually with the touch of one button. It is my experience that all of the many different features of these type of controls are designed for ease of use by the end user (That's You!) and not the alarm dealer. They come with many zones so you have complete control over every aspect of your protection. These units can even be serviced remotely when changes are requested saving everyone time and money.

It takes a more qualified professional to properly install, find out what your requirements are, program the alarm to fit your lifestyle, and then teach you how simple it is to operate. I would assume you are like me and want the best-qualified installer you can find to work inside your home.

Find the dealer that places the highest number of installs in your area. Because of the volume they buy in, they will get the high-end equipment for the same price the rest of the dealers pay for the average equipment. They should always be willing to use the high-end equipment without extra cost to you, because it sets them apart from the others and due to the quality of equipment, they don't carry the expenses of maintaining a large service team.

BBB, Burglar Alarm Associations (both local and national), State licensing authority or my favorite the promotions or sales manager of your potential alarm dealer, and let them know you know the difference!

Lets look at a typical zone layout for a control panel so that you can understand the way it is wired and programmed works.

ZONE 1- (DELAY) This zone is where the doors from which you most often enter and exit are. When you turn your alarm on, the exit delay will start a timer (programmed to your specifications, if requested) allowing you time to get out. Once the exit time has expired, (usually about 30-60 seconds.) the alarm will be in the on or "armed" condition.

When you return to your home or business and enter through the delay doors an entry timer begins. This timer is usually set at about 15-30 seconds. You do not want to have a long entry time as a burglar entering through a delay zone has the same amount of time in your protected area before the alarm goes off. During this time you would go to the nearest keypad and enter your code to turn your alarm off.

The delay doors have a chime feature that can easily be turned on or off. Most people elect to leave this feature on all the time, so that they can hear a tone when the alarm is off and someone enters. The high-end systems can be programmed to have a different tone for each door. If you can spare a zone have your delay doors put on separate zones as opposed to having them share one, and request that your control be programmed for different tones.

ZONE 2- (INSTANT PERIMETER) This zone would be for other than delay doors. The back yard door and the master bedroom to deck doors are good examples of these types of doors. There is no delay timer on these doors and when the alarm is on and entry is made the alarm will go off instantly.

ZONE 3- (INTERIOR) This zone is for your motion detector on the main floor. When you enter through a delay door the motion will delay also, giving you the ability to get to the keypad to turn off or "disarm" your system. If you do not enter through a delay door first and the motion sees you it will go into an alarm condition instantly. When you are staying home or arming your business system without leaving, you can arm your system in the stay mode. This will bypass your interior zone or zones allowing you to move around without restrictions while still having your perimeter secured.

ZONE 4-(INTERIOR) This zone is for your basement motion detector. It will function the same as your main floor motion detector.

Most alarm technicians will put multiple motion detectors on a single interior zone. I like to be sure these are separated, so that you have the flexibility of deciding which stays on and which are bypassed, when armed in the stay mode. This would be handy if you have an unfinished basement with windows, and you have no need to access that area while armed in the stay mode. This also gives you pinpoint indications of which area has been or is being violated when the alarm sounds.

ZONE 5- (INSTANT) This zone is for basement or lower level door or window contacts.

ZONE 6- (INSTANT) This zone is for main or upper level window contacts.

ZONE 7- (INSTANT) This zone is for main floor glass break detectors.

ZONE 8- (FIRE) This zone is for smoke and heat detectors. Any zone that is designated as a fire zone is on 24 hours a day even if the alarm is not armed.

As you can see there is great flexibility in the way your alarm control gets set up for you. In all my years in the business I have rarely seen an alarm company discuss this with the customer. Typically they will create a general setup standard and tell the client this is how this works. Understanding that you should be involved in this process helps you design a system that fits into your lifestyle instead of having to adjust your lifestyle to your new alarm system.

This is yet another reason to be sure you are getting the most bang for your buck when selecting an alarm control.

The alarm installer most likely has the ability to program a lockout code into your alarm control. This code prevents a different monitoring or service company in the future from re-programming your system, rendering it useless unless you do business with the installing dealer. Insist on "NO LOCKOUT CODE" in writing from your installing dealer. This way they have to earn your future business, leaving your freedom of choice intact.

Hardwired Systems vs. Wireless- Hardwired systems are those that have the devices wired directly to the control. Wireless systems send radio signals to a receiver in the control, which processes the signals. There is nothing more dependable than a pair of copper wires to send a signal from point A to point B. I would recommend a hardwired system over a wireless system in all instances where one can be installed. However there are times when the only thing that can be installed in your place is a wireless or "radio frequency" system.

If there is no basement or a finished one, and there is no accessible attic to run wire through, you would have to go wireless to have your system installed. In the wireless world there is a great range of quality available. Wireless equipment is more costly than hardwired equipment in general because each device has a radio transmitter built into it or attached to it. If you need to go wireless make sure you are getting the highest quality radios available. Some use common frequencies like 900 megahertz and others use licensed frequencies to transmit signals. The latter is the better one because there is little that will interfere with the signal. Some of the things that could interfere with the common frequencies are airplanes, CB radios, cell towers etc.

A good way to look at the differences in the quality of wireless equipment is to think of a wireless home telephone. The cheap $20.00 unit uses common frequencies. It works, but often has static and drops out. Sometimes you hear a neighbor with the same phone frequency talking. The range you can wander from the base is often less than desirable. The $100.00 unit makes all the difference in the world and, although you hated spending the extra money on the replacement, you appreciate the quality gained.

I would rather not have an alarm system at all, before I would have one that I don't use because it is always going off for no apparent reason. The high- end wireless equipment is extremely dependable and you must be prepared to spend a little extra to assure you are at this end of the quality spectrum.

If you have an area such as a basement or accessible attic to run wires in, and your alarm company wants to sell to you or give you a wireless system, consider not doing business with them. They are most likely going to use low quality, inexpensive wireless equipment and also save on the cost of installation. A wireless system takes less time for workers to install because they don't need to take the time or to have the skill to hide the wires.

Wireless equipment has several other shortcomings that are unavoidable no matter what the quality of equipment you get:

* The transmitters are large and having one on each of your doors is not as aesthetically pleasing as the small hardwired devices.

* The transmitters have batteries in them that have to be changed periodically.

* Many wireless systems will not tell you if a transmitter is not working, so you have a false sense of security.

* Wireless devices are frequency and brand specific so they must match the manufacturer of the control. Updating your control in the future could thus render all your devices useless or restrict your choices in control features.

Hardwired devices of any brand with a few exceptions can be wired directly to any brand control. So if you are upgrading an existing hardwired system you will most likely be able to use the old contacts, motion detectors, smoke detectors, glass break detectors, etc.

One advantage of wireless equipment is that you can place devices exactly where you want them in what would be a complicated hardwire situation. There are great high quality systems at your disposal if a wireless system is a necessity for your installation.

You can also add a wireless receiver to any hardwired control at any time, so that you can transmit one or several devices to it. We call this a hybrid system, since it is now both hardwired and wireless. Reducing the amount of wireless devices on your system will reduce your cost and increase your dependability. The same rule applies to a wireless system since you can hardwire in any device that you can get a wire to.

Be advised that even if you have a wireless system, there are still a few things that must be hardwired to it, such as the keypad, power transformer, sirens and phone line. This may restrict placement of the control panel to an area that is wire accessible to all of these devices. It is worth repeating. There is nothing more dependable than a pair of copper wires to send a signal from point A to point B. If any wire would happen to get cut, it would open the circuit causing an alarm if the system is on.

Compare Apples to Apples- As you can see there is, as with most things in life a great range of quality available to you when choosing an alarm system and its components. Taking the time needed to compare all features of each component of your proposed alarm system will always be to your advantage. Most any alarm consultant will jump to the high end of available equipment, if their potential customer is asking for the differences to be explained.

By Matthew

Alarm System: Glass Break Detectors

Alarm System Glass-break detectors- Glass-break detectors are also known as "Audio Discriminators". They are a perimeter device because they catch a burglar attempting to make entry into your home or business as opposed to walking around the interior and being picked up by a motion detector. They are available in both hardwired and wireless versions. The detector mounts in a wall or ceiling and listens to an area approximately 35 feet in all directions. They do not hear through walls or around corners or into a room because the door is open. The more windows you have in a device's area of protection, the better the value. Some examples of good coverage are as follows.

* If you have an open concept kitchen, breakfast nook and family room you can cover all the windows with one device because they are within the 35- foot area.

* If you have a living room with many windows you can cover them all because they are in the same area. Often the dining room is within the coverage area and can be protected with the same device.

* If you have an unfinished basement with windows, this is a very vulnerable area. You can cover all the windows with a single device in most cases.

The glass break detector listens for the frequency of breaking glass and splintering wood. In the not so distant past the only glass breaks available were "Single Technology" devices. These listened for the frequency of breaking glass and splintering wood only. The problem was that sounds such as lightning cracking, some peoples sneezes, clanking two glasses together in the sink or a pet bird squawking would replicate this frequency and cause false alarms that only the most cunning detectives would figure out.

Although the single technology devices are still being used today because they cost alarm companies less to purchase, a well-informed consumer would insist on the newer "Duel Technology" device. The new devices must hear a "Thump" and than a frequency hit, in that precise order in order to go into an alarm condition. Lets see if you understand what I'm telling you about the new technology.

Q: If you sneeze at the same time your bird lets out a squawk and this causes you bang your head on the wall, will this make your alarm go off if it is armed?

A: (NO) because it did not happen in the correct order. You would have to bang your head on the wall first.

This small advancement in the use of artificial intelligence has created a very dependable device that you can count on to defend your perimeter.

One of the downfalls of the sound discriminator is that they are costly and you need one in each room that is vulnerable. These would be accessible windows on the main or lower level or upstairs windows with roof or deck access. I recommend placing these devices in the areas of most concern and backing them up with a main floor motion detector. This way you don't spend your children's inheritance turning your home into Fort Knox.

(WISE WORDS!) The best security systems are the ones where you don't put all your eggs in one basket!

By Matthew Francis

Alarm System: Wireless Remotes


These remotes are also known as "key fobs" or "4 button key chains". They are wonderful to have in addition to your keypad as you can turn your alarm on or off without going to the keypad. You still need a keypad to perform most of the other operations of your system such as seeing what zone is opened or has been violated after an alarm. The typical programming for a 4 button key chain would be as follows.

1 System Armed. (On)
2 System Disarmed (Off)
3 System Armed -Stay (Motion detectors bypassed)
4 Police Panic (Siren sounds)

Your buttons on your key fob can be programmed to do other functions. For example grandma can have one that calls for medical help if she presses her button.

These key chains and pendants are wonderful for many reasons. You are most importantly attached to you alarm if you are within the specified range from your system, (anywhere from 250 to 1000 feet) based on the quality of the transmitter and receiver. If you get out of your car in your driveway and are approached, you can call for help and sound your sirens with the press of a button. An employee leaving work can call for help from the parking lot.

You can also use your Key fob at night to turn your alarm on and keep your keys on your night- stand, so that you have a panic button at the ready if needed. Your key chain also allows you to arm your main floor motion detector at night. If you need to go into the protected area for a late night glass of milk or something, just press a button to disarm and rearm upon your return. (Make sure there are no other occupants that will roam the house before using this feature)

If you have groceries and or children to carry, you can turn your alarm off without going to the keypad. If your garage has a motion detector in it you can turn your alarm off before opening the overhead door.

If you have a hardwired system you need a wireless receiver to add any wireless device such as a remote key fob to your system. Once you have a receiver it will take and process signals from multiple devices, this gives you the flexibility to add equipment later without the expense of additional receivers.

By Matthew Francis

Alarm System: Sirens

Alarm Sirens- There is both inside and outside sirens. Many towns have a noise ordinance, which should prevent your installer from putting yours outside, unless you are on a ranch where you need to know what's going on while your out in the barn. You would not want a neighbor running over to your place during an alarm as they might be confronting a dangerous situation. It is better to let the police do that instead.

An inside siren is one that simulates a doorbell and placed high on a hallway wall, or a large siren is often placed in your return air vent. This will let a burglar know that they have violated an alarm so that they will hi- tail it out of there. It will also let you know that your system has been violated so that you can release the hounds, load your gun or hide under the covers, whatever you select as an appropriate response.

(HOT TIP!) Sirens are measured in decibels and wattage. A large siren would be 30 watts or more and at least 100 decibels. If you settle for a non- descriptive commitment such as "It will be loud" you may have authorized a smaller and less expensive siren to be installed. They are all loud, but the louder the better when it comes to scaring a burglar away.

By Matthew Francis

Alarm System: Contacts (Window & Door Switches)

Alarm Contacts- Contact switches are magnetic switches used to protect doors and windows for the most part. There are three main styles that are used by most alarm companies. They are recessed contacts, surface mount contacts and roller-ball contacts.

Recessed contacts are hidden in the window tracks and door jams so that they can't be seen when the window or door is closed. The switch is on the fixed or non-movable side of the opening and a magnet is placed on the movable side. When the magnet meets the switch the circuit is complete and the control knows it is closed. Recessed contacts are more complicated to install unless they are placed during the construction phase of your home or business. A good installation technician can install recessed contacts in your home after construction as long as they have an unfinished basement, accessible attic or closet to run the wires in.

Surface mount contacts function the same as recessed ones however they are visible when the doors or windows are closed. They come in three main sizes being large, small and micro. They come in the colors white, gray and brown so they can blend in to the door trim or window- sill they are mounted on.

Roller-ball contacts are in the hinge side of your door jam and the spring- loaded ball is pushed in when the door is closed completing the circuit. These are more likely to need replacement in a few years as they are considered a moving part.

All types of recessed and surface mount contacts can be hardwired directly to your control panel or you can get them in a wireless version. Wireless contacts have a transmitter tied to them or built into them that sends a radio signal to a receiver in the control. The transmitter is surface mounted and comes in two colors, white and brown. If white and brown are not your desired colors, you can paint the switches and transmitters to match your decor.

Doors are the most common point of entry and should be protected by your system. I always recommend contacting every perimeter door in your home or business

Window contacts can add up in a hurry as most homes have many windows. I have always felt that window contacts give the homeowner a false sense of security because of the fact that a window has to be opened in order for them to work. If your window is locked (and it should be) when you are away or sleeping, a burglar has to break the glass or remove the glass to unlock it. If they break the glass and the alarm does not sound, why would they open the window? Instead they would most likely clear the broken glass and climb in. That is why your money is better spent on motion detectors and/or glass- break sound detectors.

If you have children, window contacts can be a valuable tool. They will keep your youngsters from opening the window for a stranger. And they will also make your teenager sorry you ever read this. (If they tell you all they want for the holidays is a magnet, the jigs up!) Window contacts are often better at keeping people in than they are at keeping burglars out. If you do choose to use window contacts you may like the fact that the surface mounted versions can be set up so that you can keep your window open a few inches for ventilation and still be armed.

By Matthew Francis