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Do-It-Yourself Home Security? 49

pussycat asks: "Having recently purchased a home in an urban area, I am investigating monitored home security options -- I'll feel better when I'm away, and I'll get a break on my insurance. I am rejecting the big security services like Brinks because of their very high monitoring fees: $25-45+/month. I've found a cheap monitoring service (911Alarm has one for $13/month), but I'm overwhelmed by the choices for hardware. SmartHome has some nifty devices, but the hardwired stuff looks like a real pain to install, and the X10 stuff seems kind of cheesy. Does anyone have experience with setting up a do-it-yourself home security system? I'm interested in reliability (minimizing false alarms) and low-cost." Has anyone wired up their own home security system? What things should one watch out for when tackling a job like this?
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Do-It-Yourself Home Security?

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  • Most ard wired systems use the phone lineto alert the company watching over your home. Burgulars have noticed this. Look for a provider that has wireless access or look into models that interface to a cell phone. It costs more, but your monitorring can't be lost by cutting a phone line.
    • Surprisingly enough, the security companies actually did think of this, which is why cutting the line will result in an alert being generated at the monitoring center.

      Who would have thought ?

      • This is usually done by a simple monitoring of line voltage and/or continuity - as I understand it. This would be incredibly easy to work around with some jumper wires and a portable voltage source.

        • A common house theif isn't going to have a portable voltage supply and jumper wires. I doubt if many of the people who would be robbing houses would even know if cutting the line would cause an alert.
          • youre probably almost completely right.
            But you know all about counting on security through obscurity...etc...etc...etc...

            (and hey, there are a lot of geeks without jobs right now....you never know which one of your old coworkers is going to show up to take that stereo/network server off your hands while your still at work...) yeah, its far fetched and all....still
  • by xyzzy ( 10685 ) on Thursday November 15, 2001 @07:26PM (#2571894) Homepage
    My recommendation: find an ADT sticker, scan it, print a few, and stick it on your house. You'll get plenty of security that way.

    Avoid ADT like the plague: They will try to get you to commit to a $22/mo *3 year* contract, that will automatically roll over for two further years after that. Now, remember what they do: the alarm goes off, they call your house. If there is no answer, or the person who answers doesn't give the passcode, they call the cops. THAT'S IT. It is NOT an active monitoring system, the alarm in your house calls them -- so you are paying $22/mo for someone to answer the phone and screen false alarms.
  • What the hell do you need this level of security for ? Which country do you live in ? This sounds like the kind of thing you might need in South Africa, or possible the Ex USSR, or certain parts of the United Kingdom, but in America ? Are you for real ?
    • uh, forgive my ignorance, but are you being sarcastic? I can't tell. I live in a mostly low-crime average middle class suburb (well I believe I do, anyways), and I've had problems with property damage and theft. Just this morning I noticed my front yard ligting system gone. Sure it was really simple to steal; it was mostly just a collection of solor powered/charging lamps staked into the ground, but that's beside the point. I've also had property stolen or destroyed in my backyard. Stuff like this, more than anything, really angers me. I've also considered building my my own cheap home security system with stuff from smarthome, x-10 stuff, etc. preferbly something with some kind of video survaliance.
      • I fully agree. Home security is always needed, whether that security is living somewhere thats plain isolated, or having a security system, or just putting your trust into ignorance or luck. I have yet to live in an area that is completely unaffected by vandalism, the random car stereo theft etc... at the least.

        As for some of the best home security in my opinion, get a Mastiff. Theyre big nice dogs with a great personality, and should scare off/protect [whatever] from all but the most motivated break-ins. Caveat: They are expensive to feed (due to the amount) and because they eat a ton, they also crap a ton. Talk about landmines;) They also need at least a decently sized house and yard to be happy.
        • Agree with the Dog idea.
          We've got two.
          Ridgeback's come from Mastiff stock. But, they can hold their own with a Lion. Also, we only feed each one 4 cups per day of dry food. I doubt Mastiffs eat much more than that. And, our dogs even gain weight on this diet.
    • burgler #1: hmm, we need some fast cash, which house should we rob?

      burgler #2: well, we could rob the house down the street from us, in the high-crime, high police patrol area, even though we know the people in the house probably have nothing worth carting away..

      burgler #1: or we could go to the nice neighborhood where the husband/wife both work two jobs probably and aren't home during the day, and because they both work, they'll have all sorts of goodies.

      burgler #2: maybe we'll get an X-Box...
      • hehe...

        Yeah, but although that makes all the sense in the world, the fact of the matter is that high crime areas are high in crime for a reason--burglars generally don't go across town to do their business. People living in low-income/low-rent areas are far more likely to get ripped off than the average yuppie surburbanite.

        This all plays into this theory I have about criminals--they tend to be very lazy. Most of them aren't really evil, they just would rather take something than work for it. They don't go out and 'case the joint' or actively look for crimes to commit--they just see someone's TV through the window and decide to go get it. That's more likely to happen in their own neighborhood than someone else's.

        As for security systems, they're just a deterrent--like the old joke about the two hikers and the bear. The hikers come across the hungry-looking bear out in the woods, and the one hiker sits down immediately and strips his heavy boots off, pulling out a pair of tennis shoes and putting them on instead.

        "What are you doing?" the second hiker asked. "You can't out-run a bear!"

        "No," said the first hiker, "but I don't have to--all I have to do is out-run you."

        You just have to make your house look less appealing to burgle than your neighbor's.
    • I live in Mexico, which is part of the american continent (i.e. I DO live in America), and let me tell you, insecurity here is a real problem, so needs like those are not far-fetched.

      Plenty of countries in our continent (America) are in a similar situation. Off the top of my head, Colombia has severe insecurity problems, and i'm sure others will tell more stories like this.
  • I'm building my own car alarm.
    Its a Pbasic stamp from Parrallax.
    14 i/o pins, 4 of which go to relays to blink the dome light, horn, 120 db piezo siren, and voice chip hooked to a 80watt amp and 8" woofer. I have a motion detector, Shock detector, dome light detector, and a key ring remote. I am still working on it, but I am making the PCB myself.
  • A few suggestions... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by txguy1 ( 245429 ) on Thursday November 15, 2001 @10:46PM (#2572850)
    Ultrasonic/infrared motion detectors are subject to false alarms due to pets or movement of plant leaves etc when the A/C kicks on.

    Glass breakage detectors will sometimes trip if you "clink" glasses or dishes while loading a dishwasher. They also trip if you drop your keys.

    As far as monitoring: by the time the alarm company has called your home and received no answer/reached someone who doesn't know the codeword to say, and has then called the police, the burglar and your belongings will be long gone.
    Police departments assign a low priority to alarm calls from services anyway due to the prevalance of false alarms. (And some cities charge a fee per false alarm--50 bucks or so) For these reasons, I suggest foregoing the monitoring services and their subscription fees.

    How about picking up a cheap 486, installing it in a secure/hidden place and running a webcam(s) to it. Motion detecting software will save images to the harddrive which you can later retrieve so that you or the cops have an idea who broke in. Maybe you could get the images run on the local crimestoppers show. If you want to get fancy, you could include a modem and have the computer page you when the system is activated. You then call the system and see who is in your house and whether you want to call the cops.
    Good luck.
    • by Anml4ixoye ( 264762 ) on Thursday November 15, 2001 @11:54PM (#2573089) Homepage
      Yes, generally speaking a lot of false alarms are generated. And I know that, from working with the fire department, we go on a lot of them. A normal house fire response would get 3 fire engines, a ladder truck, a rescue car, and a batallion chief (at least here). Fire alarms get a single engine- though still emergency - response.

      Does it make sense to do this? Well, while I can only count on one hand the number of these alarms that have turned out to be real - I can count more the number of people who have been killed or lost everything because they didn't have them.

      And since I am ranting :) - If you are going to spend a lot of money for your house - lets say your study is going to be bigger than my apartment - invest in a sprinkler system for your house too. It adds I think about 10k to the total cost, but our response area includes two neighborhoods where 3 million dollar houses are fairly common.

      And yes - you do get charged a fee for false alarms - $30 for each alarm after 3 false alarms within a given time period. Hey, mistakes happen.
      • I wish I was building a house so I could put one in. The only problem is retrofits - that's expensive because the walls aren't already open
    • You can always use a wired/wireless stealth-type camera, the ones that hide in wall clocks, books, behind mirrors, in real or fake smoke detectors, in fake light switches, clock radios, etc.

      Some of these are infrared cameras with integral IR-LED light sources, to record in complete darkness. Doubtful many burglars would carry around an IR detector...or would they?

      Those combined with the storage of only images that have changed (software can watch a door or window image within the whole screen image and initiate the image storage cycle), you could have a movie of the perp. to give to the cops.

      With a fast link, you can even view certain webcams in near-real-time, say, from work. ("Hey Joe--lookit the creep who's breakin' into my house! Heh-heh. Watch this!" Click.) He presses a remote-control button that releases (a) sleeping gas; (b) an ultraviolet ink mister (for later tracking); (c) pepper spray; (d) brightly-colored Nair at head level.; (e) heat-seeking Dobermans.

      • Your suggestion is close to what I am already planning to do. Linux box with a 4 input vidcap card, wired into security system also. When there's movement according to the cameras, then PC triggers the alarm. PC dials up the internet, and dumps the pictures on my web site, and emails me. The alarm automatically calls my mobile phone to tell me it's gone off. Through the internet or my mobile, I want to be able to trigger some device to incapacitate the burglars.

        I'd thought of the ink, but that would ruin my furniture. So perhaps would pepper spray. I want something that would easily permeate the whole house, not stain the furniture, and be easily dissapated by be when I get home. I'm not sure whether I want it to piss them off so they run out, or send them to sleep so that I can deal with them when I get home.

        Any suggestions appreciated.

        (I'm also going to make the system output to my TV, act as a set-top webcam and camera playback, internet gateway for my other networked PC. It will act as an answering machine, and be DTMF controllable for disabling alarms, triggering gas etc. It will have audio connected to the front door, so that when the door bell rings and I'm not home, it will telephone my mobile, and I can talk to whoever's at my door.) I'm still working on the plans though. So far I've only got the capture card. Buying a new PC soon.... Got to make sure that it lasts on battery power for a long time though.
        • How about playing Hanson or Aqua really really loud? I'm sure that would scare off almost anyone, =).
        • Why not have a little R/C car with a tazer mounted to it. When you get the call a little video game pops up and you zap the bad guys?
        • The system you suggest would be fraught with problems. First, PC based webcam motion detection is non-discriminate. If air from a heating vent blows a piece of paper from your desk over or past one of your cameras, it will set it off. They detect pure motion only and not just motion of a piece of paper, plant, pet or whatever.

          Second, the incapatitating device could be illegal where you reside. Home defense is one thing, but a lawsuit is another. In this day and age where everyone is trying to be PC (Politcally Correct), even though the thief was there to steal something, he might sue you because your device injured him. (Lawyers suck!)

          Third, what you are talking about would cost more then 25 bucks a month by the time you wrapped everything up anyway.

          Forth PC's are unreliable and power outages in some areas wil be much longer then a cheap UPS would allow. Also, most UPS's will shut it down which would not be a problem, but after the power is back, how would it be able to come back up?? The good systems that ADT and Brinks sell are low power, very reliable(main units are anyway even if you have a problem with detectors), they have panic buttons available, they have HUGE battery backups (I have never had the battery in mine replaced and it's still going strong), they can be wireless (mine is and I am a ham and routinely bath my system in RF with no problems), they cost less then what you propose and are basically the only way to go as far as I am concerned. If you REALLY want a camera deal, hang some axis cameras off your home network and setup a web page to access them all. Axis cameras are almost full motion, and since you'd keep it to yourself, you don't have to worry all that much about consuming too much bandwidth.

          Also, your home is worth too much to not pay for a professional to do it. The professional has done MANY installs, and you are going to do one. If you were not a IT/IS person, would you attempt to setup a business system for your home business with out the help of someone else? Just teh same, you don't know all you need to know to setup a effective home security system. Sure, common knowledge and internet can go so far, but the internet can't help you very much when you have a glitch during your install.
        • I would suggest, for incapacitating the intruder, sleepy gas. Look for military surplus stores and the like, they usually sell it to militia men so they stock a few canisters.

          One that is scary and will definitely set the burgler running, but may result in injury, would be to get an HV generator... like an ion gun. These don't pass a lot of current, so unless you have a heart condition, you're safe. Connect it to door frames (and thus knobs), windows frames, etc. Just a thought. I did it a few years ago when my ex-roommate had a key and I hadn't been able to get the locks changed yet, and it stopped the slow and steady disappearance of small random items that I had noticed...
    • I work for a security equipment supply company. For that reason I won't talk about brands, but here is some information that might be useful.

      Actually, ultrasonic is rarely used these days - most motion sensors are based on PIR (Passive Infra-Red, which detects the movement of body heat patterns) or microwave (which transmit microwaves into the protected area and use the Doppler effect to measure for movement). The best kinds of motion detectors use both of these (called dual-technology sensors). Dual-technology sensors are far less prone to false alarms since both technologies have to trigger before the detector will go into alarm. Also, some motion sensors are available with pet immunity, which with some restrictions allow you to have pets in your house while the alarm is on.

      The comment about glass breakage detectors applies to acoustical glass breakage detectors only (which detect the sound of glass breaking) as opposed to shock sensors which are attached to the window or window frame and detect the sharp seismic signature of the glass breaking. I'd have to agree that acoustical sensors are usually rather indiscriminate and are not suited for all situations. They're fine for places like shop-fronts, but for homes you are better off with motion sensors, door reed switches and shock sensors for the windows.

      Monitoring: I don't know how things work in the USA, but in NZ, the police don't generally respond to alarm calls - if your alarm is monitored then the monitoring station calls a guard company, who upon arrival will detain intruders until the police arrive. They do charge for call-outs, but it amounts to about 20 USD. This is worth it since they will make sure the house is secure and you can have them call people in to fix broken windows, etc.

      If you choose quality equipment and have it professionally installed, you shouldn't have problems with false alarms. Unless you've installed alarms before, I would recommend you don't do it yourself. A lot of the DIY alarm equipment is cheap junk and should be avoided at all costs, and there are some tricky situations in installation that really require training to avoid.

      Generally, simply having an alarm is deterrent enough, and there are still enough people out there who don't bother to have one that theives will go elsewhere if they see your house has an alarm. So if you do have an alarm, make sure there are plenty of window stickers prominently displayed. Also, people tend to forget that electronic security isn't everything - make sure your physical security is up to scratch as well (decent locks, don't leave windows open, etc.)
    • How about picking up a cheap 486, installing it in a secure/hidden place and running a webcam(s) to it.

      You'll be looking at something consoderably more powerful than a 486 for a couple of reasons.

      1. Most webcams require USB ports
      2. A 486 most likely won't be able to do motion detection very effectively.

      but hey, no-name duron/celeron base systems only come in at a couple of hundred quid anyhow :)
  • Beware of DIY security if you're angling for cheaper insurance. Some companies will only give this for approved installations by professionals, not some DIY geek... Nothing against you personally, but there's probably quite a few other numpties around who couldn't install a lock, far less a complex security system properly who would try to claim the discount. As such, your efforts would probably get lumped in with those.
  • Its been said before, but its worth saying again. Clear anything you do with your insurance company, and I don't mean corporate help I mean go to your agents office with diagrams and plans if you roll your own.

    You have a big decision to make, do you want to keep people from breaking in or do you just want something that makes a hell of a lot of noise if somone breaks in.

    All of your exterior doors should be a heavy guage steel of thick solid wood. You need name brand handles and deadbolts on every outside door. You also want good window locks and you want to keep valuables with street value out of the way of windows and nearer the center of the house if possible. Those will prevent someone from breaking in in the first place.

    As for a noisemaker, you want some sort of system on every ground floor window that detects glass breaks as well as window openings. The same for the doors.

    Go in and talk to the local police and find out what thier policy is on house alarms. You don't want to break local laws and different departments respond differently to alarms. Some will only respond if a neighbor or professional monitoring center calls in and actual burglar, others will go in just for the siren.

    Personally, I don't want an alarm system. I use methods and things at home and on may car to keep from being broken into to begin with.
  • know your neighbors (Score:2, Informative)

    by jon doh! ( 463271 )
    if you're in a nice enough neighborhood, get to know your neighbors. that's what my parents did, they knew a lot of the people in the surrounding houses. we all talked to each other, and so we all knew when someone was out on vacation, or who of us worked nights instead of days. that way we knew that if there were lights on or a strange car in someones driveway, we knew something might not be right, and we'd watch a little more, looking to see what was going on.

    or, start a neighborhood watch, volunteer to go cruising around your neighborhood looking for suspicious activity. the families in my sisters neighborhood all know each other too, and when her husband left the garage door open one night, a neighbor knocked on their door at 1am to make sure everything was ok.

    even in the apartments i live in, which isn't in the nicest neighborhood, i make it a point to talk to my downstairs neighbor occasionally. sure, it's not perfect, but just the other day they told me that a couple of kids had been trying to break into my car (good luck, everyone in the complex knows that it takes at least 15 minutes to start on a good day). he scared them off and then came to my apartment to tell me. i'd do the same thing.
    • if you're in a nice enough neighborhood

      Being in a nice neighborhood is the best security - I left a boombox in front of my house for a week, sitting on the short wall in front, so the entire area could see it (and it was lit at night). I got back from vacation, and simply grabbed it when I came in. Oops. Oh, well...

      My power window on my car died, and I left it down for two days until I got a chance to pull the door apart and fix it. No problem.

      I chat with my neighbors, amuse their kids when I work with power tools in my front yard (refurbing a Williams cabinet for MAME use, or making stage props), and in general have a great relationship with everybody. When there was a brief bit of "Magic Marker Grafitti", we all compared notes, and the kid who did it painted everybody's stuff he had "tagged" (little 10 year old).

      I used to live in an apartment where I could watch the drug dealers and hookers across the way; I would hear gunfire most nights, and every so often automatic weapons fire. When a girlfriend moved in with me, I moved... and I didn't realize how much of a nice change it would be. This last time, I took my time, looking for a neighborhood with tended gardens and lawns, lots of well behaved kids, and barbeque grills. I swung through during the evening to see what the community was like. It really paid off.


    • You have an excellent point! My dad is a cop, and he has noted time and again that home alarm systems just are not worth the cost. The most effective home security has been proven time and again as neighborhood watch. Of course, hardware for sound effects and stickers aren't bad for a good scare effect. A novice burglar may be easily tricked, as was the case when our home was broken into in August. We weren't paying for monitoring service, but when the alarm went off, the would-be thief was so concerned with getting out, the only loss we suffered was the cost to replace a broken window and door latch. As for those burglers who are more experienced, they know quite well how to get around a monitored alarm system if possible. If they do happen to trip the alarm, they are also fully aware that, if they did a good job of selecting the right neighborhood, they have a good 30 minutes or so to get what they want and get out before law enforcement appears on the scene.
  • Pay ADT or whoever for it. That's the only way that if your hosue is left alone, Law Enforcement can be notified and can check it out. Other then that, I know of no other way to do it and do it as well as they do. ADT usually offers the system for free as well. Also, you mean to tell me your house and valuables aren't worth an extra 25 a month?? To me, even with home owners insurance, some of teh stuff I have is irreplace able and I feel so much better knowing when I am away I have our alarm on.
  • get a couple of dogs that bark loud

    My friend in security [big electronic systems for corporate campus's] for over 20 years swears by big dogs.

    Burgulars always skip the house with multiple barking dogs, and dogs are fun !!
    • I agree. Nothing is as intimidating as a large dog with lots of teeth.

      I have a 80lb female red doberman and one of her sons (father part root weiler, part black lab)who weights in at a 100lbs.

      In truth they are very tame, but most people cross the street when we are out walking.

      Still, I play around with the idea of setting up cameras every now and then.
  • My suggestion: just pay the alarm company. You get the benefits many have listed and *some* piece of mind. I have woken up at 2 am to blaring sirens and my house filled with smoke (was still a smoldering log in fireplace and flue was closed). The fire dept had already been dispatched before the alarm service even called to verify the alarm from the smoke/heat detector(they were called back before they arrived here).

    What you might want to do, though, is see if you can tap into their sensors and monitor those from the web. Talk to your installer: once I told the guy checking my system (the previous owner had it installed) that I was an EE, he went into all the details of the system and answered all my technical questions.

    You can't guarantee safety with *any* measure you take, but you can take a number of steps to *increase* it. Good external locks, smoke & CO detectors, and get to know your neighbors.
  • Since the first thing most security companies do is call the house, if you have two lines, have your computer call "home" and leave an offical sounding message on the answering machine, which is on.

    If someone breaks in, the first thing they will hear is "the security company" calling to check on the alarm.

    Many towns, like mine, require registration, and a yearly tax, if you have an alarm that calls the cops.
  • As each section is turned up, you have to take the time to "stabilize" the environment (insuring reliable signalling, preventing false signals). You can code around false signals with two way X10 devices, or use feedback from sensors to confirm. I use a combination of 1-way, 2-way, PIR motion, light detect, cams, magnetic, PIR, glass breakage, (hardwired wireless and carrier current) controlled, of course, by an old laptop running Linux with Bottle Rocket, Heyu and Xtend software (driving TCL and BASH scripts) and cron jobs. I recommend a laptop because of the low power requirement (runs a loooong time on UPS).

    Start small, build slowly.
  • If you're going to install yourself, and use your own equipment, Why not moitor yourself. Set up a computer with enough serial ports to monitor your equipment. Attach it redundantly to an ADSL or cable modem line, and the telephone line. Set it up so that it pages you through the Net, and through the phone line at regulat intervals as a failsafe. If you leave a mike active, you might even get it routed through the phone line to a cell call.

    For hardware, use hardwired switches on windows and doorways, not wireless.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford