What’s The Most Under-Rated Home Security product?

“Don’t even think about stepping into that house!” the 6’4″ drywaller barked at me as I approached the front door. I had been called out to look at the security needs of a second home in the mountains for a couple that lived on the other side of the country. Never having had a drywaller give me instructions like a project superintendent, I felt annoyed and asked the problem. “I’m just doing you a huge favor man.” He said. “That house is a no-go zone unless you have a badass respirator and crawl suite! Black mold on every wall from the basement to attic.”

Seeing as I did not have a respirator or a crawl suit handy, I thanked him and, tail between my legs, headed to the car, making a mental note to fill my van with recommended construction equipment for next time.

I learned later that the house had burst a pipe on the third floor during the first freeze of the season and the water ran for over a month. The house froze again and sat idle until spring when the homeowners decided to take a week off work and head to the mountains. I can’t even imagine what went through their minds when they opened the front door. I am guessing that when Dante dreamed up the “Inferno,” it was based off something that looked like this.

This catastrophe never would have occurred with just small part that costs less than $100. This little freeze/low-temperature sensor is the most undervalued alarm sensor in the industry. If you live in a cold climate and don’t have one, do yourself a huge favor and get one. Moreover, you can add a water sensor (another undervalued sensor) to multiple areas in your home due to the high potential for water leaks. Upstairs washer dryer (any washer dryer), bathrooms, dishwasher, kitchen sink, water heaters, refrigerators, (especially the ones with tap water and Ice) sump pumps, these locations in your home are ideal for a discrete device that will tell the monitoring station to call everyone on your call list, (most importantly you!) that you have a water leak problem.

Many of my customers have said to me “Oh it’s like insurance.” My response: “No, it’s much better than insurance. It doesn’t partially pay for the mess after it happens – It prevents the mess before it even begins.”

DIY security monitoring. Then and Now

Way back in the early days of security, there was a thing called a dialer. Some of you readers in my generation might remember the old modems that screeched and hissed when making a connection which was how the security systems communicated with the central station or monitoring center. The monitoring center is the staff of people who watch the information coming in from the security account system and follow the response protocol for specific signals. For example, a smoke sensor signal typically initiates a call to the homeowner and then dispatches the fire department. A door contact or motion would generate a call to the contact numbers you have provided and then dispatch the police. Each device communicates with the security panel, and the panel in turn communicates with the central station. The live operators at the central station give specific instructions on how to respond to the information.

What has changed most today is the adaptation of cellular service. I remember my father-in-law had a fake phone line in clear view of his house with a sign that read “security panel communication line” so that when the bad guy came around with his wire cutters, he would cut the fake phone line instead of the real telephone wire. I thought that was so funny and clever, but thank goodness those days are long gone! There are no longer wires on the outside of the house and most new systems are using a cellular module or communicator instead of the POTS (plain old telephone service). The use of a cellular communicator is a vast improvement for all to the security industry.

It is important when choosing your DIY security to remember that central stations are not all the same. Bigger is not always better, and in fact, bigger is often a problem. The larger the central station, the less personalized and meticulous it will become. You definitely don’t want a bunch of guys in a room taking turns nor do you want a handful of operators setting up shop in some hole in a wall. An mid-sized central station that has been around for 20 plus years and has more than one call center is about right. So, when deciding on your DIY product, make sure to ask a few questions and do your homework. Having something you can depend is worth your time.

How to use different security contacts in a DIY security installation

After helping clients design their in-home security systems for many years, I’ve seen the importance of educating people about the purposes of each sensor. Motion sensors are well understood, but, if installed incorrectly, will carry the potential for false alarms. Installed correctly, they are one of the best tools available for covering large areas without putting a door/window contact and glass break in every nook and cranny of your home. Sensors should not placed near heating vents or facing the bright sunlit windows/countertops. The key is to read the directions on the packaging of each box for each specific motion. On almost every spec sheet, there are clear instructions for the height to install the motion detector and the recommendations of where to place it. Even veteran licensed security technicians have learned that products vary and just because it is called a motion sensor does not mean it is purposed precisely the same as all the others on the market. Also, when a motion reads pet immune to specific weight, take that with a grain of salt. Active pets that jump up on anything in your house can cause a motion sensor to trigger, as well as your friendly spider or ant walking across the front of your motion sensor. Take your time and be thoughtful when reading the manufacturer’s instructions; it will pay dividends on how your DIY system performs.

Now that we understand motions sensors a little better let’s discuss door contacts, window contacts and glass break detector installation and use. The first advantage for all these sensors is that they be armed while you are in the house moving around. Almost all panels will have a stay mode and away mode. Typically in stay mode, these sensors are all armed and the motions are not. This functionality allows you to move around your house or business without triggering the alarm. These sensors also are less prone to be set off by pets. Clients I have worked with over the years who have lots of furry friends make good use of non-motion-based sensors and devices based on my recommendations and operate their systems without false alarm issues. The best systems use a combination of all the devices with a well-planned design taking client lifestyle and pet lifestyle into consideration.

Are DIY Security Systems Hard to Install?

There really isn’t a short answer to this question but what I can say is that much of the difficulty depends on the support you get from the company you have chosen to provide your product. I have owned a local security company for 20 years and I am often selling my local DIY security products and services against the national chains like Simply Safe or ADT. The best way I can put this is, what company do you think values you as a client the most and will take the time needed to help you make sure your system is installed correctly? The difficulty of the installation process depends on your own ability and experience with self-installations coupled with the support your receive from the DIY Security Vendor.   

My greatest fear as a small security business owner is that a detail is missed by one of our DIY customers during their self-installation and the system does not perform as expected or designed. In the past, for my own custom installation team, I would hammer in the concept that it must be done right, “failure is not an option” to quote Gene Kranz mission control for Apollo 13. Now our clients are doing it themselves? A little unnerving for a long time security guy like me. I have lost some control over how the installation is really being performed. What I can control is the amount of effort, time and energy I put in to making sure our DIY clients have the resources and the customer service to help with the process of installation. In my mind, a DIY client is no different than a client that my technicians have installed a system for, they might just be a lot further away.

So pick your Security DIY dealer carefully knowing that you may very well need their expertise and support during the installation process. In my experience larger national companies just don’t place the same level of value with each new DIY security customer. Every account is so important for success with small companies they don’t have the option to let service slide. And if they do, they won’t be around for long.

Carbon Monoxide Safety in New Homes

It’s a Saturday afternoon, and Steve and Kelly Stanton are relaxing on the couch enjoying their Cowboys beat up on another team this season. Steve has his favorite beer in hand and Kelly is watching, but during the commercials, she closes her eyes to rest a little. The twins kept her up all night, and fortunately one of the neighbors offered to take all the kids to soccer practice for the afternoon.

Kelly lined up the carpet cleaner last week for the upstairs kids’ rooms and bonus room. Fortunately, they can’t hear the power vacuum where they are with the game going. The carpet cleaner has backed his car into the garage with the auxiliary generator running full tilt along with the van running, garage door is open…

Steve and Kelly couldn’t be more relaxed enjoying the game and recovering from a busy week of work and making sure the twins made all their practices, play dates and after-school activities. The Simpsons have no gas appliances in their home; it’s a modern home and for the most part runs on solar energy from the panels on the roof.

The DIY security system they installed last spring had a carbon monoxide sensor in the box activated and monitored when they received it. Knowing they had no gas appliances or fireplaces, they threw away the packaging and tucked it on the catch-all shelf in the kitchen. They both mention to each other that they feel unusually tired and think nothing of it. Thirty minutes later they are both light-headed and not thinking straight, their brain functioning diminished significantly. Fortunately, the carbon monoxide sensor they had tossed on the shelf detects the deadly carbon monoxide gas and sets off the siren. Since it is also monitored, it dispatches the fire department to their house.

The carpet cleaner can’t hear anything upstairs; he has his headphones on and the noise from the cleaner is loud enough to muffle everything. The EMT first on-site already know it is a carbon monoxide event from the monitoring center and are prepared with the appropriate gear. Steve and Kelly are quickly pulled out of the house unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning by the EMT and given medical treatment. That carbon monoxide sensor just saved their lives in a house that has no combustible appliances.

So, how did this happen? The simple airflow and a breeze that was gently pushing all the gas from the carpet cleaner’s equipment ran into the house. The buildup of carbon monoxide could very well have been deadly if not for the small carbon monoxide sensor and the alarm dispatch. The carpet cleaner still had two more rooms to finish and was not planning on taking a break. The carpet cleaner is just one example of a scenario where having monitored carbon monoxide made the difference between a happy outcome and a random tragedy. Security for Life includes a monitored carbon monoxide sensor with every system we send out.