I happen to like my stuff and would like it to stay in my house.
February 21, 2006 6:24 AM   Subscribe

I need help with a security system.

SO and I bought a lovely little home in an area of Atlanta best described as "transitioning". Meaning its generally safe but we still have the shady characters standing outside at weird hours.

SO is a techy nerd and does web programming for a living so he has all kinds of expensive stuff around. Our front door is one big pane of glass with a shade, so not secure, in fact none of our house is very secure at all, I mean, I could break in fairly easily. I am thinking about buying him a security system for his upcoming birthday, anyone have one they just love or can tell me of one that is a complete and utter scam?

ps. already have a big ol powder puff of a dog who happens to sound scary, she might lick you to death if you made it in.
posted by stormygrey to Home & Garden (26 answers total)
Best answer: Security is a multi-level discipline. You can't buy it in a box, or have someone come out and install it. You do several things, at several levels of complexity, that should all work together, to protect yourself, and help make you whole should something bad happen.

You start with an inventory of possessions, and documentation (photos, copies of receipts/sales slips, etc.) You insure for replacement values, where that makes sense. You identify possessions with marks that are difficult to remove (etching, serial numbers, etc.) You pay attention to lighting and physical security, and install lights, locks and physical security devices (doors, bars, shutters, etc.) as appropriate. You get to know your neighbors, and develop relationships based on mutual concerns and knowledge of activity patterns. You get some review and advice about your security from the police, and other reputable professionals, as appropriate.

Then you buy a security system. A monitored system from an established security firm is a good start, if it has, as a minimum, perimeter protection on all ground floor entrances and windows, and some kind of internal motion sensors in zones that support this. I use ADT and have been pretty satisfied.
posted by paulsc at 6:53 AM on February 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, we have multilayered security issues to be sure. The big panes of glass, the windows that can be forced open, the basement door that won't lock. We have installed motion lights around the perimeter of the house.

I have heard that just having a security sign in your yard sometimes goes a long way in scaring people off or just not looking like the best target.
posted by stormygrey at 7:07 AM on February 21, 2006

internal motion sensors in zones that support this

That doesn't sound dog-compatible (or wasn't in the early 90s, last time I had to deal with a home security system with motion detectors and a dog, the technology may have improved since).
posted by mendel at 7:18 AM on February 21, 2006

As stop gap, and a supplement to your ultimate system, don't underestimate those little battery powered motion sensors from radio shack and the like,
that chime or siren when approached.

Put a few around in places you don't normally go: basement, hall to storage room, back door...

If one of those triggers, even if you are not there, a potential burglar will probably take it as a message to leave.

Many burglaries are preceded by someone casing the joint, pushing open a door while pretending to deliver a letter for instance. Having any kind of alarm sound will send them over to your neighbors house.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:22 AM on February 21, 2006

Right. The dog. There are also hotel room alarms that sound if the door knob is jiggled. Same general idea.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:24 AM on February 21, 2006

++ on paulsc's comment about getting to know your neighbors. Just because your area is a little sketchy doesn't mean everyone lives holed up in fear. A friend of my s.o.'s was in a similar situation in the Anacostia neighborhood of DC, and he and his neighbors were all friendly and looking out for each other.

That, and get some bars for your front door or something. Or a new door. Seriously, one pane of glass? Wow.
posted by mkultra at 7:26 AM on February 21, 2006

Oh, and btw, nothing says "STUFF HERE WORTH STEALING" more than an alarm system that keeps going off by accident.
posted by mkultra at 7:27 AM on February 21, 2006

The most effective repellant is a system that provides escalating feedback to the intruder.

Approach the house: lights turn on.
Walk up to the door: motion detector chime sounds.
Open the door: siren sounds.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:29 AM on February 21, 2006

Talk to your neighbors, including the ones across the street. Give them your cell phone number. Be friendly to them.

Inventory your possessions including and especially serial numbers so that if they are stolen they cannot be pawned at a legitimate shop.

Accept that you can't keep people from robbing you if they want to. Don't get so attached to your stuff that you're worried about it.
posted by Hildago at 7:45 AM on February 21, 2006

Assuming you're gone eight or more hours a day, I would get a system that automatically calls when there's a break-in.

If you're going it alone, you could, for example, have it call you (cell or work phone), him (cell or work phone), and a friendly neighbor or nearby relative. (Or it calls you and you call a friendly neighbor to have a look around the place if you are far away from home.) Bad guys will definitely be turned off by people always showing up and interrupting their fun at your basement door.

But if the price is right, instead of just posting a sign that makes it look as if a security firm is monitoring your place, get an actual security firm to install and monitor a system for you. Then when the alarm comes, it's one of their goons who has to confront the intruder.

Of course, it would be best to combine the two: it calls you and a security firm, because you might respond faster than would a couple of dorks in cheap uniforms, but the security firm presumably will show up eventually no matter what.
posted by pracowity at 7:53 AM on February 21, 2006

Response by poster: I should note that we live on a deadend facing a freeway retaining wall, so there is only three houses on our street, one guy is an awesome 40 something art professor and the other neighbor is a rental home that tends to cater to people who move in and then move out in a couple of months due to the fact that they never intended to pay their rent or utilities.

Good ideas though. Its not that I am "so attached" to my material things as much as that well you have to have a computer to be a database developer. :)
posted by stormygrey at 7:56 AM on February 21, 2006

What paulsc said. Great answer.

But if just you replace the doors and windows, you don't even need much in the way of techie security, since you'll have eliminated yourself as an easy target. Do other people on your block have security systems?
posted by desuetude at 8:02 AM on February 21, 2006

Dogs and security systems can coexist just fine. Motion sensors can be set above your dog's height, or if he jumps on couches or something, they can be set to detect only above a certain size or heat.

As I understand it, you need someone to develop a security plan with you. If a guy's job is to sell his system, he may try to apply a solution that's not as one-size-fits-all as he thinks. So you need someone who's willing to examine all the angles and do a good custom job . . . and videotape it and broadcast it on the Discovery Channel.

In short, It Takes a Thief (and no, they don't drink Pepsi Blue). Seriously, it sounds like you'd be a good candidate, and it seems like a great idea. If you don't think so, at least try to implement some of their tips as well as just buying some company's security system.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:16 AM on February 21, 2006

Motion lights may not do very much; we just got broken into during the day and the cops told us most home burglaries in our area happen between noon and 3pm.

How much does a monitored security system cost? I've heard you can get the service for $30/month, but how large is the installation fee?
posted by mediareport at 8:27 AM on February 21, 2006

Response by poster: Egads, something I competely forgot. We don't have a land line, just cell phones and cable, so maybe we can't get a monitored system anyhow, just those alarm doohicks that are motion activated. And a new door.
posted by stormygrey at 8:37 AM on February 21, 2006

A security film on large windows might be something to think about - ideally it would act as a one-way mirror, meaning you can see out but they can't see in, as well as making the window much more difficult to shatter.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:38 AM on February 21, 2006

Monitored systems work on what are called "dry pairs" of the Plain Old Telephone System. Essentially, the telco always has "spare" wire pairs in the wire bundles on the street, to use when providing additional services, or to substitute when an existing pair is damaged or broken. So they "rent" these things at specially tariffed, very low rates to alarm companies, who use them to pull signals for alarm systems back to monitoring offices. You'll be able to get a monitored system in any metro area in North America.

But get locks on those doors, too. And better doors...:-)
posted by paulsc at 8:52 AM on February 21, 2006

We don't have a land line, just cell phones and cable, so maybe we can't get a monitored system anyhow, just those alarm doohicks that are motion activated.

Most security firms now offer celluar-based radio comms to the head office, so that shouldn't be a problem. (incredibly rarely) you might be able to get an old school alarm line, or sometimes they will use a digital line instead.
posted by shepd at 8:56 AM on February 21, 2006

Best answer: stormygrey one of the most easy to do but tragically overlooked aspects of security is visibility. Make sure that not only can you see your surroundings from inside your house but that everyone else can see them as well.

In a nutshell, make sure that there are no 'ornamental bushes' right next to your house, trim all growth near your walls to something that can't be used as cover. Light everything, either with motion detectors or just permanently. Make sure that anyone nosing around is blatantly, stupidly obvious to your neighbors, passing traffic, etc. This has another benefit to deterring intruders; you are at your most vulnerable when you are fiddling with your keys just before you enter/exit your house. Good visibility here will make it impossible for someone to get near you without being seen.

Bear in mind that security isn't about stopping people from getting in, its also about making potential attackers not want to get in. If your house is well-lit, has little or no cover and is well-maintained, the casual thief will search out greener pastures. What all the other posters say are good too, but trimming cover and improving visibility are easy, cheap and effective. And you can do them now instead of waiting for a consultant/locksmith/installer.
posted by Skorgu at 8:58 AM on February 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

As for large firms, ADT tends to cater to businesses, while Brinks is more friendly to residential security. ADT is (or was) fond of installing more proprietary systems.

Either way, Clark Howard recommends small local monitoring firms and not signing contracts.

Some more advice from eHow and eZine (and one asking if you have the right door).

Slightly off-topic, but still part of home security... Given some training, practice, and willingness to use it, you (and your SO) are also more secure with a firearm handy. (But, without the willingness to use it, you're probably better off without it.)
posted by mumeishi at 9:02 AM on February 21, 2006

My BIL runs a small gym on the west coast. Tweakers were breaking into customer's cars on a regular basis so he hired off-duty police officers. They educated the clients, and patrolled the surrounding neighborhood and word got out.

Obviously, hiring a private police force is problematic on so many levels, but it's something to consider, if the neighborhood is involved. Also, who is the neighborhood watch person for your community? Sometimes doing neighborhood watch actively can make a difference. If there is *any* crime in our neighborhood, news gets promulgated through the church community almost instantly.

In summary: this is a social problem as well as a technical one, as others have noted.

disclaimer: this is all personal experience, and I am not a security authority.
posted by mecran01 at 10:05 AM on February 21, 2006

Light everything, either with motion detectors or just permanently.

Use motion detectors. Leaving lights on all the time is a little like leaving an alarm on all the time -- people will tune it out. But if the light only goes on when someone approaches your property, the intruder, suddenly under the spotlight, will feel like everyone is suddenly looking at him, and with any luck it will be true: neighbors (and you, if you're home) will be more likely to look up and see him if a bright light flashes on.

Besides, leaving lights on all the time is bad for the environment (wasting electricity + light pollution).

And if you're going to bother with motion-triggered lights, maybe make some of them (for when you're out) particularly gaudy, maybe flashing and colored.
posted by pracowity at 10:26 AM on February 21, 2006

pracowity: Absolutely. To refine my point,
Motion Sensing lights > permanent lights > no lights.

Permanent lights don't call as much attention to activity as motion-activated lights, and they are more costly to run, but they are far superior to no lighting at all.
posted by Skorgu at 11:27 AM on February 21, 2006

Slightly off-topic, but still part of home security... Given some training, practice, and willingness to use it, you (and your SO) are also more secure with a firearm handy. (But, without the willingness to use it, you're probably better off without it.)

I can't second this strongly enough. I've got layers of security at my house for only two reasons: to deter an intruder when I am not home, and to tell me they are coming when I am home.

I could care less if my DVD player gets stolen, but I will defend my family to the death.

If you're concerned enough to install a security system, you need to be concerned enough to have a backup plan when the alarm goes off and the cops don't show.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 9:38 PM on February 21, 2006

Optimus Chyme: A security film on large windows might be something to think about - ideally it would act as a one-way mirror, meaning you can see out but they can't see in

At night that "one way mirror" works the other way, they can see in but you can't see out. (The darker side gets to see.)
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:47 PM on February 21, 2006

Second on mumeishi advice to not sign a contract! OR at least, read it and re-write as needed.

I was offered a contract which included the clause that they could raise rates at their discretion, and we could NOT cancel as a result ! In the States, it is typical that contracts are sold, so you could end up with a different company. Contracts are an asset that is traded. This could reduce your costs, but may not be desirable.

In South Africa, security systems are radio linked. My system is not connected by telephone at all. All monitoring companies give armed response. My house insurance includes my liability if someone is falsely arrested by the security firm. (my system was just installed last fall).

The biggest company where I live installed (very poorly). Then the contract was unacceptable. When the new company disconnected the old transmitter, the old company did not even notice. Terrible service!

ADT's contract wasn't too bad, but I had to scan the damn thing to be able to read the small print (probably illegal in the States). Another local company refused to send me a copy of the contract for my consideration!
posted by Goofyy at 1:32 AM on February 22, 2006

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