Sept. 19, 2004, 6:53 p.m.

Home Burglar Alarm Need To Knows

A while ago I had a security company (whose name I will not mention - for now) install a burglar alarm system for my new home. As I was not technically clued up on the vast array of different options and choices one have with purchasing an alarm system, I made a grave mistake. I asked advise from the security company on what I should purchase.

My experiences thus far always pointed back to the one fact, that most security companies do not know anything more than what is written on the side print of the boxes the alarm system components get delivered in. Since I make a point of going on to the Internet before I purchase anything of value, I am usually clued up more than the sales people! In this case I did not consult the Internet since I could not really find useful information.

To come back to my opening statement, the reason I said I made a grave mistake is that they did an absolutely pathetic job. I will not go into all the details, just those most applicable. Firstly, nobody asked me in detail how my house is laid out, whether I need perimeter protection or not, explain the different kind of sensors etc. They assumed an 8-zone IDS system would suffice. I specifically asked for an outdoor sensor since I knew I wanted perimeter detection, so that was added to the list. In the end everything got installed but now I have several issues:

So now I bought a new home and obviously need a burglar alarm system to be installed. This time however I decided I'll go the DIY route. I must firstly warn you, do not attempt this if you do not have experience in wiring electrical systems, understand basic programming and can not explain to me what a Fresnel lens is. You'll need to be technically adept to install a burglar alarm system. Since I have a B. Eng (Electrical) degree, write computer software programs professionally as well as have experience with embedded systems, I guess I should be able to handle the installation all by myself.

I want to explain to you how I went about planning the layout, as well as the components I chose. Currently I purchased everything I needed, I just need to install it. Hopefully I'll do that 2-3 October.

Firstly I spent about 3 evenings on the Internet, trying to find as much as possible information on the technology out there. Once I understood this, I had a basket of tools to my disposal in designing the alarm system.

Secondly, I am a firm believer that one should not want to know when an intruder enters your house, you should want to know the moment the intruder is in close proximity to your house, still outside. Believe me, I woke up at 03:00 from my burglar alarm going off and it takes me at least 10 - 15 seconds to be in such a state as to understand what had happened. If the alarm only goes off when the intruder breaks your window, you'll have less time to respond.

Therefore I have a full perimeter protection. Once I am sure that the intruder cannot come close to my house without triggering the alarm, I need a second layer of defence - entry/exit point monitoring. This usually includes doors and windows. I want to know the moment someone opens any doors or windows that might give them entry.

The third layer of defence is the interior motion sensors. I want to know when someone is moving around in my house, in the strategic rooms. The fourth layer of defence is panic buttons located at strategic places to initiate an emergency condition. This is useful when the alarm system is not armed, but you find yourself face to face with an intruder, or even just any emergency situation such as a serious cut etc.

The final layer of defence is more passive and not really an intrusion detection function, rather a safety feature. I need smoke detectors in strategic rooms such as the kitchen (we use a really nice gas hob).

The idea is this - you have three kinds of arming. The first is when you are away - not at home. The second is usually when you are at home in the evening, but not yet asleep. The third is when you are sleeping. The idea is this:

Arm all entry/exit points as well as all interior zones. Disarm perimeter - since I live in a townhouse complex, garden services sometimes comes in the garden to cut the grass; obviously they'll trigger the alarm. This is debateable however.

Arm all perimeter zones and entry/exit points. Disarm interior zones. The idea is simple - you are at home, thus moving around inside. But you do want to know when someone is in your garden or tries to break in through an entry/exit point. Garden services should not be in your garden at night.

Arm all perimeter zones and entry/exit points, as well as selected interior zones. The interior zones to activate depend on your sleeping patterns - if you wake up to go to the kitchen or bathroom, then do not activate those zones. I never go into the study at night, therefore I will arm that interior zone.

So in order to achieve this, I had to purchase the right components. Although I have selected and purchased the components, I have yet to install them and actually verify that I did not make a mistake. On that I'll report later.

A security system consists of basically five important components:

This is the single most important part of the security system, since it is responsible for connecting up all the other components and provides the logic for handling events and dispatching them. It also determines the amount of zones (distinct area's) you can have.

The keypad is most probably the most visible part of any security system as this is the component you will be interacting with. It provides visual feedback on the status of the controller (usually there are three kinds - LED's, LCD and Graphic LCD). It also allows you to arm/disarm the system and program it.

This includes zone expansion modules, wireless modules etc. Anything that allows you to extend the behaviour of your controller falls under this category. It is not compulsory to purchase any additional modules.

These are the eyes and ears of the alarm system. They detect motion/state changes and are responsible for feeding the controller information on intruder activity. Picking the correct sensors are vital.

Support Components
These are your backup battery, AC adaptor for your controller, cabling etc. I mention it separately since you will not get it bundled with, you need to purchase it separately.

I decided on the Paradox DigiplexNE DGP-NE96 controller, the Paradox Graphica LCD keypad, Optex VX-402 perimeter PIR sensors, Optex AX-70T photoelectric beam, Optex indoor pet sensitive RX-40PI PIR sensors and an Optex DX-40E integrated PIR/microwave sensor.

The reasons for my choices are that these components provide me with a high level of flexability in configuring the components, good protection against intruders whilst minimizing false alarms due too my two cats and other sources, and not being too expensive.

I'll write later on how the installation actually went and whether I made the right choice.