Home security systems for dummies.
April 26, 2011 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Home security systems for dummies.

I have zero clue about what a home security system is. (Has? Does? Whatever.) I can't find good information on the web, because it's all sales, sales, sales. No explanations for the clueless. Can someone point to a site where I can read about home security systems, the assorted options, their pros and cons, and anything else I need to know?
posted by Capri to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's not my favorite site, but you could start here: http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-safety/security. Look for the article on How to Install a Home Security System. It will answer some of your questions.

Discovery also has some info: http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/ittakesathief/tips/homesecurity/homesecurity.html

The real question is "What do you want"...door and window alarms, video surveillance, etc.

Write back with some info...there's lots of help here.
posted by johnn at 12:50 PM on April 26, 2011

"Home security systems" are usually alarm systems, which establish a perimeter and notify you and the authorities if there appears to be unauthorized activity within that area. This page seems to break out details on some of the popular service providers and provides some general information, but it's certainly not complete.

If you're considering adding a system to your home, I'd suggest looking into what systems your neighbors have installed and then research those providers (plus major services like ADT) and compare options and customer opinions. Alternately, if you have a particular concern you could research ways to address it. For some people, "home security" means a lock on the door -- for others, it means setting up a way to be able to look into their home from work (via a webcam) and see what's going on.
posted by cranberry_nut at 12:57 PM on April 26, 2011

Yeah, I think the big issue in not getting taken in by the fear-based sales pitches is to think long and hard about which threats you want to protect against, and what you want the response in each case to be. Are you concerned about break-ins while you're not home? Home invasions while you are? In the event of a break-in, do you want to gather information about the intruder, do you want to scare them off, do you want a police response without warning the intruder?

First try to figure out what threats you're concerned about. Then I'd strongly recommend gathering some crime statistics about your area to figure out how those threats might manifest themselves in your area (ie: in my neighborhood, robberies happen by people from out-of-county looking for easy pickings. 7 to 10 blocks north of me they seem to be bored local kids who need a wrist slap. On the other side of the freeway, there's some collateral damage from gang violence.). This will help you figure out how you want to respond.

Then make a decision about how you'd want to respond to that sort of situation. Once you have those things, then you can make reasoned decisions about whether you want to establish a perimeter system, either with an audible or silent alarm, or whether you want to set up surveillance logged to an off-site repository, or whatever else.

Only then, once you're willing to make a rational decision that's less driven by "sales, sales, sales" should you try to figure out which technologies to use for that response.
posted by straw at 1:01 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The real question is "What do you want"...door and window alarms, video surveillance, etc."

Yeah, that's the problem. I don't know what I should want, because I don't know what the options are or why I'd want them (or not want them).

The Discovery Channel link is great -- thanks!

And great advice from Straw, which gets right to the heart of the issue.
posted by Capri at 1:17 PM on April 26, 2011

I don't want to turn this into ChatFilter, but I thought I'd toss out a few observations from my life:

1. So far as I can tell, noisy alarms mostly serve to piss off neighbors. I've lived in a few somewhat rural places where neighbors had alarms. Neighbors were out of town, alarms went off, we called police, police came by and said "nothing we can do about it, we don't have authorization to enter the building", we may or may not, I'm not telling, have tried to flip off the breakers so that the alarm would stop when the batteries finally wore down. You can see the ennui about this sort of thing with car alarms: the only reaction involving the people trying to get into the car with the alarm going off that I've seen in the past ten years or so has been people hollering "hey, someone's trying to steal your car!", with giggles and laughter at the poor person who's trying to figure out how to get their alarm disarmed.

2. Relatedly: If you're not there, insurance will cover it. If insurance won't cover it, think about disaster recovery for fires and other events, and how you'd like to protect it (or, in my case, how to build encryption systems so that sensitive client information is protected in the event of loss of computers).

3. If you're concerned about scaring off intruders when you're in the building, remember that any alarm system you create has to be something that you can live with. Alarms might be useful for scaring off people if you're in the building, but then you have to remember both that the alarm is on and that there are things you can't do. And make sure that any disarm code is something you've mashed in a million times, from experience with a commercial building I once had an office in, nothing says "pain in the tailfeathers" like being dead tired and trying to bang in the code you half remember when the ear-splitting alarm is raging around you and you're locked in the vestibule 'til you can figure out what the code was.

4. Any casual intruder who'd be scared off by an alarm will probably also be scared off by a person. If you close your windows and lock your door, are you likely to sleep through the sounds of an unauthorized entrance (ie: breaking glass)? Do you really just need a good martial arts training (if you're female, may I strongly suggest "Model Mugging"?) and a big ol' baseball bat by your bed?

5. If your security system's response is silent, are you ready to pay for false alarms when the police get called out and nothing happened?

These factors are why any systems I may or may not have installed on my house are likely to be unobtrusive surveillance systems which move video off-site, with the goal of identifying perpetrators after-the-fact. And why my real response involves talking to my neighbors, and aggressively introducing myself to strangers in my neighborhood (and scaring the living crap out of the state inspector doing a walk-around on the day care across the street, because you don't skulk in the bushes in my neighborhood...) and encouraging neighbors to do the same.

Your answers to these questions may be different. And here endeth the proselytizing for my personal take on security.
posted by straw at 2:00 PM on April 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have an alarm. I am concerned about creating a disincentive to any possible burglar or intruder from picking my house. I would like a warning if someone breaks in while I am there and to send a notification to the local police if there is any unauthorized entry. I have two clear notifications outside my house that indicate there is an alarm system. I have all the first floor windows and doors connected so that if they are opened without either hitting the proper code or simply opened at all it will set off the loud alarm and call the police. I also have a few glass break detectors. In addition, there is a fire alarm connected to the system that will make a loud loud sound if there is a smoke alarm trigger. Quite frankly, to me this is the most important part of the system. I do not care if I wake the neighbors for a smoke alarm situation, I want to be awoken and my kids to be woken early with the chance to escape. My alarm system bell is rigged to go off after some short period of time (7 minutes?) so that in the event there is a false alarm and I am not available it will shut up.

I also own a 9mm Glock. To me, this is also peace of mind. If you enter my house when I am there unauthorized or uninvited, I will get my gun. Most likely, the mere presence of the red laser site on the wall or on the intruder will serve as a pretty good deterrent. Most folks no matter how brazen or dumb for breaking in will not stick around to see if my gun is loaded or my aim is true. I do have to admit that I have never had to test this theory nor am I 100% convinced I am willing to in the heat of the moment. My first priority is my own safety, not catching an intruder or fighting them.

Although my three children have fired my gun and are very aware of safety issues surrounding having a gun in the house, they do not have a key to the trigger lock nor do they have the combination to the gun safe.

Having said all that, my real concern is an intruder when there are members of my family in the house. I would like a "heads up" they are there and possibly send a message via a loud alarm that there presence is noted and likely the police will be notified. An alarm, if nothing else shortens the time a person should be willing to remain in the house before they fear being caught or shot. Anything beyond a loud noise and a call to the police is superfluous.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:16 PM on April 26, 2011

This thread has totally turned me off from getting an alarm system. Ugh. Noise? Guns? Having to press a code just to open a window? Not my style.

For personal protection I like to have fire extinguishers around. Pull the trigger and the intruder gets surrounded by a massive cloud of disabling foam and dust. He's blind, he's coughing, he's unable to hurt me, and I've got the time to determine if I've actually nailed an intruder (in which case I clock him with the now-empty fire extinguisher and zip tie him) or if I've accidentally nailed my husband who I thought was on call and has returned home early. No licenses needed, poor aim is sufficient, and no one dies. And if there's a fire, I can put that out too.

I am willing to install remote-access cameras, and something to alert me by cell phone if there's unusual activity. I might also be willing to install panic buttons in each bedroom, so if I hear an intruder I can manually call the police myself quickly. But that's about as far as I think I am willing to go. This whole thread has made me very uncomfortable. I just cannot walk down the road to paranoia.

Thanks to everyone. And know that if you break into my house, you'll either get a face-full of flame retardant, which will go straight the police and then on YouTube within hours, and you'll be arrested and embarrassed. And my cats will likely bite you too. So hah!
posted by Capri at 9:41 AM on April 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, Capri, that's roughly where I ended up: Prevention beats reaction, I doubt anyone's going to come after me specifically, and stuff can be replaced.

And turning my desire for security into an embracing of my community rather than building a bunker seems more consistent with my overarching personal goals.
posted by straw at 11:44 AM on April 27, 2011

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