By Keith in Tucson, AZ on 11/18/2006
Nick, read your post about DIY security and fire systems. You can pre-wire the system yourself without too much of a problem as long as you understand the basic concepts of design and the technology. When it comes to selecting the actual equipment, how do you plan on installing this - DIY?
There are many systems out there and many sources to buy from on the web for professional equipment sold to DIY'ers. The problem is getting the equipment installed so that it works without problems. I'm a professional with 20 plus years of experience who has personally trained all of my techs. It takes me a year to train someone before they can go in the field solo. Most companies train for 2 days before sending them in the field to install your alarm system. Finding good qualified persons who are capable of installing security and fire correctly is difficult. I'd say that 70% of the "professionals" out there are worthless and can't install anything correctly. I find that 10% of the people that come to my office as qualified installers looking for a job actually have the training and skills to know how to do their job right.
Every DIY install I've seen has serious problems and are easily compromised by even the dumbest of burglars. I have trained 2 DIY'ers who are electrical engineers as part of their asking for our services. I swear I'll never do that again. The system cost more for them to do it than if we did it for them. It turned out with many ongoing problems that require our time to correct, which took twice as long than if we did it for them at the beginning. Only the pre-wire turned out okay with our constant support.
Most systems installed by "professionals" are under-designed, and are compromised by "techs" taking short cuts to save time, or company policy for fast tracking the install. The companies that provide "free systems" are the worst. You can do their job just as well as they can do it for you - so stay away from a "professional" free system - this includes the largest national companies as well. It's tempting to get their free or lower cost, which in the long run will cost you more. A "free" system usually costs $1200-$1500 the first three years and the same again every three years (how is that free?).
Many experienced burglars get to know companies who provide "free" systems and target them because they can then tell the home owners were not willing to have a quality professional system installed.
Most "free" system companies are either marketing companies or dealer program companies, both sponsored by the out of town nationwide monitoring companies. Both sell your contract to the sponsoring monitoring company the minute the ink is dry on the contract. That may be that last time you see them. Most of these companies and dealers are sold or out of business within 2-5 years.
Never select a company that hasn't been local for a minimum of 10 years.
So the question becomes how concerned you are for your family's and home's security. This is the level you should design for.
SECURITY IS COMMUNICATION - a system that does not communicate is not a security system. It is a door bell on steroids. Do you wage the fight by yourself if someone breaks in while your sleeping? I've had many clients say they used to have a non-monitored system until they found someone in their house with a gun, now your down to an OK Corral shootout style encounter (if you have a gun too).
I recommend you think about what is most important to you. Your family's security, or the few dollars you save every month.
Pre-wire the system yourself after learning some critical basics of design, then have a reliable, recommended LOCAL company who provides LOCAL monitoring (not from some other city) install a multi-level design (see about design in the this post below). Monitoring services provided from outside the area you live is not to your advantage and here is why.
Your security system is capable of sending 100-150 different individual signals. An out of the local area monitoring service must restrict this amount of signal traffic from every system they monitor to reduce their long distance cost. This is "dumbing down" the system communications. They only want to know if the siren is going, not if your system actually is working everyday, or if there is a power loss or low battery condition, or if you've disarmed it or armed it or what sensor was activated. They don't want to know about the other 148 signals that it needs to communicate about. A daily supervised communication test should be sent every night so that you know every day your system will communicate an alarm when you're not there. NFPA Fire code requires this SUPERVISED communications signal every 24 hours. Supervised means someone at the monitoring facility will have noticed the signal didn't come in as scheduled and notify you of a problem - before someone breaks in.
Design Criteria: 4 basic levels of design - all should be incorporated to provide a good system.
Perimeter door and window opening : this is the lower level of performance and can be easily compromised. They are essential but not to be the only level. Glass break detection must be included, because without glass break detection you can break into a home through a window without opening it.
Interior Detection (motion detectors): This is the best form of intrusion detection, and if you're only concerned for when you're not home, it can be the only form of intrusion detection in most normal conditions, along with at least 1 door opening contact to allow you inside to disarm the system. Never use a remote control key fob to disarm your system. If you lose it with your keys and they know where you live, they have everything they need. It might not even be considered a burglary. If a car thief uses your keys to steal your car, it's not car theft according to the law.
Fire, smoke and carbon monoxide detection: this works on a 24 hour basis even if the system is disarmed and is critical for life safety. Carbon monoxide detectors are place high on the wall not low as most over the counter plug in ones are set up for.
Communication: Cutting phone lines to defeat the system communications is the tactic used by even the dumbest of burglars these days. Cellular communication of alarm activity is critical to good system design. VOIP and DSL will interfere with and prevent your security communications. USe a special DSL filter for your specific security system and never use Voice over IP / VOIP for security.
Pre-wire Security basics: HOME RUN every sensor location (doors, windows, glass break detectors, motion detectors) with 22 gauge 4 conduction wire! Select a location for the security control panel (brains) inside the security envelope of the system - not in the garage. Common locations are master bedroom closet, front coat closets, or utility room - this is also the first locations burglary may look also because most security companies choose these locations also. Be creative with common sense. You have to access is periodically and still hide it. Think about this, a burglar will have minimum 30 seconds of entry time before the alarm is activated if they select a delay zone entry door (front door) to break in through. Can they find the system within 20 seconds? This is easily done by looking for the inside siren location or sometimes the keypad. They are usually the shortest distances to the system panel, because of lazy installers or prewirer's. If they find the security system control panel they can stop to signal activation within the 30 seconds. I've seen professional companies have their client's security system stolen, while it was armed, without any signal reaching the monitoring station - and it was done without cutting the phone line first.
Okay, so now your ready to pre-wire DIY - good, this is the best choice, because you'll mostly likely do a better job than anybody else. After understanding the home run concept, next know that your worst enemy is the high voltage electrical wiring. Stay away from this at all locations.
The rule of thumb is only cross electrical wiring at 90 degree angles with as much separation as possible, and never run parallel to electrical wiring longer than a few inches with as much separation as possible.
- Never put a keypad above the electrical switches or run the keypad wire in the same stud cavity as electrical wiring. Same for any low voltage wiring (cable TV, phone, computer network or internet).
- Never run your wire through the same pass through hole in any stud.
- Keep your wiring separate from electrical wiring and fixtures by 12-18".
- Never place a motion detector within 10 feet of an air vent.
- Never near a ceiling fan, and always below line of sight from the blades.
- Never looking toward windows or a fireplace.
- Never within 6-10 ft of furniture that a pet can climb up on.
- Never behind an interior door that might be left open when your gone
- Never near a plant or something hanging on the wall that moves with air movement.
- Never near or looking at a window that may be left open and can move the curtains
- Never expect it to "see" through open doorways or small openings in a wall or over something. Motion detectors need a minimum of a few feet of movement to see a person, especially the farther away the target is from the motion detector.
Glass break detectors should be on ceilings or opposite walls from the glass it's "protecting". The distance is critical, as well as the window and floor covering used in the home. The glass break detector uses acoustical reference to activate, with some requiring a change in immediate air pressure. A maximum of 20 feet for distance from any glass, and less with carpet, and heavy curtains. A professional glass break detector testing device rated for the specific glass break detector is essential for best performance. A rock is not a professional testing device, but can be effective for testing if you have extra money and if your kids enjoy throwing rocks at windows (or baseballs) with your permission of course.
This is the short course, the other 11 months, 29 days of training provides the more critical portion of the ART of SECURITY DESIGN AND INSTALLATION. This information is more than most "free" system installers get. The programming of the system it's self is the only other info most installers have which is the same step by step installation manual you'll have when buying your equipment. My rule of thumb when training is read the manual only once, and then proceed to learn from trail and error, referring back to the manual as needed as most manual are not well written. They always leave out the technical quirks to make it actually do what it says it can do - thus why they have technical support hot lines for professionals, and even these folks don't alway know what they are talking about unless they have 3 years of technical support experience with that specific model.
Door and window opening contacts must be "supervised" for quality operation. Most every company fails to provide this with their "professional installation". Too much extra work and knowledge required for fast and cheap installations. Without supervision of the wiring circuit for any sensor, it can be compromised or damaged without anyone knowing about it. Successful professional burglars know this.
Your installation manual will show how to supervise each zone for that particular system model.
Every sensor should be on it's own individual zone, without sharing a zone with other sensors. Many companies will cram 10-30 zones on a cheap 6 zone system. This is "dumbing down" the system identification. Many law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. are not responding to alarms from "dumbed down" systems because of not enough supporting information provided for the real cause of the alarm. Most alarm activations are due to user error, poor design, poor installation, and lack of multiple zone activation. Most people also do not realize that moths and spiders can cause false alarms also. We can tell when a restaurant has had a pest control treatment because the bugs try to hide in the sensors and create numerous false alarms afterward. We found 14 roaches hiding in a sensor that was damaged by the employees hitting it, creating a small crack in the outer case in which the bugs entered through to escape.
So as usual I've gone on and on about stuff not related to the original question. But hopefully it may help another OB'er in the future. I've learned a lot from this site and I like helping out with what I've learned, in return.
I'd be happy to answer any questions or continue further discussion on low voltage systems, and design, from anyone interested.
I feel knowledge is the best value so that anyone can make an educated choice, thats my goal with my clients, then helping them achieve their specific goals is my job. Keith