Security Systems Can Monitor More Than Bad Guys

By Tim Carter
Saturday, January 17, 2009

Q: DEAR TIM: I'm in the market for a home security system, but there seem to be so many aspects that it's rapidly getting confusing. Should I be looking at a wireless system? If the price is too high for what I want, should I consider a do-it-yourself system? -- Marty V., Hartford, Conn.

A: DEAR MARTY: I have a home security system in each of the two houses I own and have overseen their installation in many of the houses I have built and remodeled. These electronic monitoring systems can bring you peace of mind, plus alert you to dangers beyond burglars.

A sound-attenuation monitor can detect specific sounds while ignoring others. One popular sensor can recognize the sound of breaking glass. The bad guys know that a typical home security system will have the doors and windows monitored for movement. It won't do you much good to have an alarm that goes off when a large window or patio door is opened if the burglar breaks the glass and walks through.

Motion detectors are also common on home security systems. These clever devices are almost impossible to fool -- I've tried. They allow you to provide great protection at a lower cost, as you don't have to worry about monitoring each door and window. If a bad person is moving around, motion detectors in the right places will trigger the alarm.

Suffice it to say that modern home security systems will almost always go off when someone enters your home who is not supposed to be there. Many different types of sensors can be installed, even those fancy ones you see in spy movies.

But be aware that a home security system needs to alert you or the authorities of other dangers, including fire, carbon monoxide, excessive heat, loss of heat, flooding and so forth. Many different sensors can be installed that will automatically alert you or someone else that there's a problem.

The vast majority of home security systems use a telephone line to communicate with a monitoring service. These companies then call police, the fire department or other authorities. But there is a delay with this method. Some communities offer radio communication from your home directly to the police or fire department. Check with your local government to see if it has this service.

Home security systems can be enhanced with security cameras. Both wired and wireless cameras allow you to see what's going on, whether you're at home or away, and store the images on a computer. Some use infrared light to record in the dark.

I've seen do-it-yourself home security systems, but they are just part of what you need. Your system should communicate with a monitoring service in your absence, so you need to make sure the service will accept your installation and equipment and take responsibility for your work. My guess is that few services will do that. If they are going to assume security liability, they will want to use their equipment and have it installed by their employees.

Tim Carter can be contacted via his Web site,

Copyright 2009 Tribune Media Services

© 2009 The Washington Post Company