Since this section is for “designing” an alarm system I thought it would be a great place to start this conversation. I am new to this, as I imagine many of the DIY customers are. I am realizing that I likely “over built” my system…which in theory means it is “more secure”, but it also raises the price of what I paid for sensors. I am learning from my own mistakes and thought I would start the conversation to help others.
While I realize that if someone was very focused they could find my house and would have the details of my security system here, I don’t think the risk is high as I think it would be pretty difficult to bypass it. I can say with confidence that my system is more secure with sharing this knowledge than a friend’s “professionally installed” ADT system that is setup just like every other cheap ADT system with a few obvious perimeter sensors and 1 motion sensor for where the panel is
Some of this is stated in a few blog posts by Surety or others discussing “intrusion prevention” as being just as or more important than intrusion detection, to which I agree…though some users are really limited on options for hardening their perimeter. My house, as an example, is a 100+ year old craftsmen home that is in a registered historical district and has strict limitations on anything that changes the exterior appearance of the house…so I can’t replace my wood door with a steel reinforced door, I also can’t use the door hardening kits as they would be pretty hideous on my massive (irreplaceable) stained solid wood door (no paint to match). In a large part I ended up selecting SuretyDIY over other options because they offered the MightyMouse and other less obtrusive sensors.
There are a few areas to address on security, the most obvious is the perimeter entry…meaning your doors and windows. I decided that I didn’t need sensors for every opening in my house, if someone has the superpower to scale the walls and reach my 2nd story windows then they likely aren’t going to be put off by an alarm system. I did decide that any window that was over a roofline that could be accessed would have a sensor though. I also placed window sensors (Mighty Mouse) on every window on the first floor and the windows that are large enough to get through in the basement. I then placed the same sensors on “solid” doors, however for my doors that have glass in them I went with the door sensor with glass breakage/tamper included.
Once you have your perimeter monitored you have to decide, can someone get in without “opening” one of those monitored perimeter entries? Perhaps you have very large (single pane) windows, like I do, that could easily be broken and someone could just step through without ever triggering the sensor for the window being opened…do you detect that with a glass breakage sensor or a internal motion sensor? This is where I over did it, as I have both. I added glass breakage sensors for the most obvious target rooms, but then I added motion sensors as well.
Looking back I believe this is a bit redundant, though it should in fact make it very difficult to enter my house by force without an event…the reality is that we also have windows open in the heat of summer, that would mean window open/close sensors are bypassed and no glass breakage would be required to enter the house, so adding the motion sensors was wise. I believe that the glass breakage is likely the more redundant component, though it may be better to alarm before actual entry than after.
You also need to make your system convenient to use, my house is multiple stories so it makes it far more convenient to have a panel on the 2nd floor where the bedrooms are. We did this by using a 2Gig TS1 which essentially mirrors the main control panel, one possibly more secure option is to reverse placement…putting the main panel “upstairs” away from the likely point of entry and placing the TS1 as the false panel for the intruder to go after, however the main 2Gig panel has glowing buttons that never turn off and if you are light sensitive as I am you won’t want that glowing in your bedroom. The TS1 has settings to either have the buttons glow or not, so if you desire as I do it can be completely dark.
You may also have secondary structures to protect, perhaps a detached garage or a shed. You can decide if you need the same level of coverage for those as your house, in my case I will have a door sensor, garage door integration, and the motion sensor in place.
Once you decide where you need sensors I think the next tricky part is actual sensor selection. Personally I found it a no brainer to use the Mighty Mouse door/window contacts widely. They come in pairs in the package which makes the per sensor price very close (or cheaper) than other sensor options. The only negative I can see with the Mighty Mouse is that once it is installed it is a bit challenging to remove/replace the battery when its due for replacement. The advantage of the larger 2Gig sensors is that some of them have a second “loop” that you can attach a different trigger to, such as the glass break/tamper that sticks on a glass door/window.
The motion sensor options are much more difficult to pick it seems. There are a lot of options without a clear comparison of them, I actually now own 4 different PIR sensors. I have the 2gig, the Alarm.com Image Sensor, Resolution Products RE210P, and the Honeywell 5898. Ultimately you are probably safe with any option if you have a pet free house. If you have dogs then you need to look at each sensors ability to “reject” your dog from being a trigger (pet resistance), they rate this in weight of the animal. If you have cats then this seems to get more complex which is how I ended up with so many. In theory the most resistant to false triggers by cats is the Honeywell 5898, I just mounted mine and am waiting for my own testing.
I thought I’d discuss the challenges with motion sensors and pets that I’ve seen. The Image Sensor and the 2gig default PIR are the least pet resistant and both seem to be more subject to triggers by our pets, I only use the PIR portion of these for “monitoring” and notification rather than actual alarm triggers. I am still planning placement of the Image Sensor due to this discovery. The RE210P has a much higher pet rejection, it seems it would work well for dogs and have never triggered by my dog (or cats that I am aware of). I just installed the 5898 but it seems that it should really do a far better job of avoiding the false triggers, but I am still testing this.
That leads to the “testing” options for sensors. When you configure sensors in the panel you have the option of setting the “reports” to enabled/disabled, this is essentially setting this sensor to trigger an alarm event or not. If reporting is disabled it will not alarm, I think this is important to understand. I have several sensors that are for automation and awareness (e.g. attic door) that I don’t want alarms to go off for, these have reporting disabled. I also found that if you haven’t yet mounted a sensor but are using your alarm, you should really navigate the toolbox and disable that sensor’s reporting. I had not done that and had accidentally armed “away”, a motion sensor that was still in the box triggered an event…which turned into a perfect storm of me forgetting my phone at home as I went to lunch, thus i couldn’t tell the monitoring company that it was a false alarm because that sensor was in the box…so police were dispatched, which could get expensive. So, if you have registered sensors that are not in use but you are using the alarm please save yourself some trouble and disable reporting for those…just be sure to enable them again when they are ready for use.
Now that is out I can talk about how i personally am ‘testing’ my motion sensors. I have them set to reporting=disabled, however I can still configure them for sensor “monitoring” in Alarm.com, any monitored sensor can have notifications setup. While I am testing I have Alarm.com send me notifications anytime one of my sensors that is “in testing” triggers, I can then gauge if that was a false or valid trigger. This allows me to have the sensors in my house with my pets and monitor them for a given period of time to gain confidence that it won’t false trigger.
Perhaps you ask why is it worth the effort to avoid a false trigger, in my jurisdiction you get fined if you have too many false triggers…and then you get black listed and they no longer respond to your house for any police emergency calls until you go through some corrective actions with the police department. Additionally we all have a duty to minimize “false” burden on our local emergency services, so please make sure to take steps to have an adequate alarm but avoid unnecessary alarm events
So, my tips are for buying your system as well as creating a list of things to add later:
Define your perimeter threat and have sensors on them (doors and windows).
Decide on interior triggers to address someone entering without opening those perimeter (motion and/or glass break).
Decide on life safety (smoke/CO).
Look at automation (Zwave) for security (appears of being home when away).
Look at automation for convenience.