Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A customer question-Replacing a door.

While driving between installs, I received a call from a gentleman from Harahan, LA. he obtained my contact number from this blog and contacted me to ask a question.  His question was a common one and I felt it would be good to share the answer in case others encounter this issue.

He had replaced his sliding glass door with outward opening french doors and in the process the existing door contact was damaged. His alarm is a standard Honeywell hard wired alarm system. He correctly acted to bypass the missing door contact so he could continue to arm the remaining alarm sensors. His alarm company quoted him $165 for the part and to send a technician out to install the replacement. Their reason included the technician 'programming' the new door contact. The customer wanted to know if he could obtain a hard wired door contact and replace the sensor himself. The short answer is probably yes.

Flush Mount Hard Wired Door Contacts

Prior to calling me, this customer had correctly surmised that since a hard wired door contact is essentially a type of magnetic switch that reprogramming the alarm would likely not be necessary. He is correct. If you replace an existing door contact with a similar contact normally no further programming is necessary. You must verify that everything functions after replacement and also that you are satisfied with the current zone number and/or description.

Recessed Hard Wired Door Contacts
You can obtain flush mount or recessed door contacts from a security or electronics supply store in your local area. These type of stores are geared to supply the low-voltage professional but are usually open to the general public also. Hard wired door contacts are inexpensive. The Honeywell variety this gentleman preferred typically are priced at $10-$15 per piece.

Installation is simply a matter of attaching the new contact to the existing wire and securing it with a low voltage electrical 'B-connector' also called a 'beanie' or 'crimp.' Secure the flush mount door contact and magnet to the door with the supplied screws. At this point you should be able to go to your keypad, remove the bypass from the zone and your new contact should function normally. A simple test is to turn on your door chimes and pull the door open and closed a few times. Each time you should hear the door chime beeping. Next arm your alarm normally, exit, wait a few minutes and re-enter and disarm.  If all of these tests are successful, it is most likely that your door contact will continue to function perfectly with your alarm.

This customer had this alarm for several years and his system was no longer covered by a warranty or maintenance plan. If your system is under a warranty or maintenance plan with your alarm manufacturer or monitoring company you should check with them first to ascertain your options. It is entirely possible that a DIY repair may be unnecessary.  If you have a maintenance plan to cover this repair-you may only have to pay a small one-time cost. It is also worth noting that a DIY repair could void your existing manufacturers or monitoring company warranty. In all cases you assume liability for any functional changes to your alarm system that you make on your own. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

R.I.P P.O.T.S...Telephone as we knew it.

Chances are if you have an alarm system your primary communication to your monitoring central station is through P.O.T.S lines. This is an acronym for Plain Old Telephone Service. This is the old fashioned two-wire ring and tip, positive and negative copper wire plug in phone connection. This type of connection has reliably provided voice telephony services to the masses in this country since the dawn of the 20th century.

Those of us with a little age on us recall the days when Ma Bell ran everything and everyone had the plain black or ivory tabletop rotary phone that weighed a ton and could cave a man's head in if used as a blunt force weapon. Dialing was accomplished by rotary pulse dialing. This remained the standard until phone company deregulation began to accelerate the adoption of newer technologies. I'm old enough to remember how exciting Touch tone dialing was when first began to be adopted by the masses. Caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, three way calling and telco issued voicemail would all follow in quick succession. All of this was delivered on copper trunk lines-many of which had been in place for decades. The peak of standard land-line telephony had been reached. The dawn of the internet age would undo all of that in a few short years.

Initially, computers were connected to the internet by dialing up through these same P.O.T.S lines. The max speed of 56K/sec quickly proved to be too slow for customers who found themselves wishing to download music and watch streaming video. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) allowed the customer to access a faster internet...once again through the aging P.O.T.S infrastructure. DSLwould quickly find itself in competition with other faster internet services, and the telcos themselves threatened by mobile phones supplanting landlines and a multitude of other home phone options.

The Cable television companies began running fiber-optic infrastructure into cities and towns in the mid to late nineties. This allowed cable providers to provide blazing fast cable internet, access to hundreds of digital television channels and most importantly-begin to provide home phone service. These 'triple threat' packages greatly increased the market share of cable companies because consumers could now get television video quality that rivaled mini dish satellite with fewer signal problems, reliable home telephone service, and blazing fast internet.

Cable's sudden lunge in market share forced the telcos to change their approach. AT&T began modernizing their infrastructure to digital so they could offer faster DSL and also provide television through a new service they dubbed U-Verse. The result is that many areas now have access to this service or a similar service from another large telco.

The sticking point for alarm companies has been the digital communicator device common to all alarm panels. This device was designed to pick up a standard P.O.T.S line and transmit a digital packet of information to the Alarm Central Station. The cable phone and internet phone providers such asVonage use Voice over IP (or VoIP) technology. This technology is designed to convert a human voice to a data packet and back again. It has proven unreliable in converting alarm data signals to VoIP data packets and back again. It may work 100 times in a row and fail when it really counts.

Further complicating the issue is the stage is now set for the next step-eliminating P.O.T.S lines altogether. This could happen as early as 2014. The FCC is currently examining how to sunset out of existence the remaining PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) and POTS lines. AT&T in particular is lobbying hard for this 2014 deadline because they have much of the infrastructure backbone in place to capitalize on this seismic shift.

Telguard's radios are an excellent option for primary or secondary alarm communication

So now the inevitable question-"How does all this affect me?" If you are using an alarm panel that is monitored by a central station via telephone lines you will have to switch to another method of communication. Options include a GSM  radio/cellular alarm communicator or an IP based internet communicator. Both of these options are available today and are reliable alternatives to P.O.T.S.

I recommend making an existing account radio primary. This typically costs $150-$200 for the cellular alarm communicator plus an additional average monthly cost of $12 for cellular data transmission. I further recommend disconnecting your land line service-chances are you seldom use it anyway. Prepare for the switch by having your security company install a cellular alarm communicator. This presents a net monthly savings that quickly covers the up-front costs because you are replacing a $30-$40 monthly expense with a $12 monthly expense. In addition, you are prepared for the upcoming sunset of P.O.T.S lines because you have a technology that will continue to work after 2014.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What else is there?

Another common question is, "What else is there?" Once a homeowner has a burglar alarm installed, there are other devices that can be added to further protect your home and family. Here are some examples:

Monitored Smoke/Heat/Fire Detector(s)-These to me should not be optional. Consider having at least one monitored fire point added to your home alarm at the time of installation. These devices will trigger an audible fire alarm and notify the monitoring station to dispatch the fire department whether you are home or not. Typically the point of installation is a great time to get a bargain while the technician is already in your home programming and installing your other devices.

Monitored Carbon Monoxide Detector(s)-Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that has been called "The Silent Killer." Sources of Carbon Monoxide poisoning include malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and gas and kerosene room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned indoors. The symptoms of Carbon Monoxide toxicity are flu-like and as a result 170 Americans die each year from CO poisoning. Another 500 are hospitalized and treated for serious Carbon Monoxide toxicity. A monitored Carbon Monoxide detector will sound an audible alarm when CO reaches toxic levels and also notify the monitoring central station so you can be notified if you are not home.

Light Control Modules-These devices allow you to control selected home lights from your alarm panel. Some light control module systems also incorporate this functionality into a key fob remote control that is also used to arm and disarm the system.

Audio Verification Module(s)-Adds two-way voice capability to hard wired alarm panels. Typically all-in-one wireless units have this capability built in.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Window Contacts or Glass Break detectors?

This is a common question from homeowners. Should I install contacts on my windows or install acoustic glass break detectors? Or both?  The answer depends on the specific needs and budget of the homeowner.

Window contacts and glass break devices are both 'perimeter' devices. This means these devices are intended to sound the alarm instantly when the perimeter of your home is breached and/or entered by an unauthorized person or persons. Statistically, 85% of home burglars enter through a door. The proliferation of decorative and window glass in exterior doors has made this route easy and practical for a burglar. Still, windows continue to be used for entry in residential burglaries and window security should always be considered when choosing the components of your intrusion alarm system.

The default installation model for many years has been door contacts on all doors, window contacts on any ground floor windows with motion sensors as a backup system in the home to sound the alarm by detecting unauthorized movement. The known flaw of using window contacts is that the window must be opened to sound the alarm. A savvy crook can simply knock all of the glass out of the window frame before entering-without opening the window or triggering the perimeter burglar alarm. This allows an intruder into your home forcing you to rely on an alarm triggered by a backup device such as a passive infrared motion detector.  A properly installed glass break detector eliminates this issue because it will sound the alarm immediately when the specific sound pattern of glass breaking is detected-before the burglar gains entrance.

Glass breaks are an excellent complement to any burglar alarm system and should be used anytime you have large panes of fixed glass such as picture windows or a sun room. Glass breaks can be a cost effective alternative to window contacts in rooms with 2-3 or more windows or in newer residences with large and wide open common areas. Older residences with small rooms, compact hallways and 1-2 windows in each room may require multiple glass break detectors which may be less cost effective. In a budget constrained situation, window contacts are then recommended with glass breaks in the 'hot spots' or areas most likely to be broken into. A professional security technician can advise you what is best for your home and budget.

Pictured here is a typical wireless acoustic glass break device. These are wall mountable and the typical models can hear glass breaking in an unobstructed 20'-35' 180 degree arc. This device cannot hear through walls or through structural obstructions so each one must be mounted in a room or living area with the front and sides of the detector unobstructed. Acoustic glass breaks trigger the alarm by 'hearing' the sound of glass breaking.

This device is a typical round hard wired glass break detector. These are usually ceiling mounted in the room or area you desire glass break protection.  These also trigger the burglar alarm by 'hearing' the sound of glass breaking.

Window contacts operate when a magnet is separated from the body of the contact by the physical act of opening the window. These can be hard wired or wireless. The hard wired contacts pictured here are typically used for windows and doors.

I welcome your thoughts and concerns. Feel free to contact me at (504) 383-4234 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (504) 383-4234      end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Hard wired or wireless? Hybrid? How to decide.

Its no secret that hard wired intrusion alarms have been the standard for homes and commercial businesses for the last 40 years. In a hard wired system, every contact or "zone" is connected via a physical wire to the alarm panel itself-which resembles an electrical breaker box with a circuit board mounted inside. This requires pulling a great deal of wire through walls up into an attic or down into a crawl space to ultimately connect to the alarm panel which is typically located in the attic or in the closet of a residence. These systems typically have a separate sounder and keypad wired to them. The sounder is mounted at a central location and the keypad typically is mounted at a central household location or near an entrance. This type of alarm can be prewired during new construction, which saves a great deal of time for the installer-who can then install the alarm easily without having to pull new wire through finished walls. These systems remain the standard for commercial installations...but things are changing in our industry for residential customers. Residential customers now have the option of wireless all-in-one panels.

Wireless all-in-one systems such as GE's Simon XT eliminate the need to pull wires for zones and separate keypad and sounder during a new installation.  This makes these systems an excellent choice for a homeowner choosing a new alarm installation These units have the keypad, alarm panel and sounder as all one unit-which is wired only to a telephone line and AC power. The sensors or 'zones' are equipped with battery powered transmitters that allow the panel to supervise each zone and trigger the alarm in the event of a break in. When installed and maintained properly, these units are every bit as effective at reporting intrusion to the alarm monitoring central station as hardwired units. The advantage to a homeowner is these systems can be installed and activated in as little as 90 minutes when installed by a professional alarm technician. These units can be obtained for as little as a few hundred dollars-or even for no up front cost when a $35.99/mo for 36 month monitoring agreement is activated. 

These days hard wired panels have come of age and many have the ability to communicate via wireless to sensors as well as through wire to hard wired zones. These systems are called 'Hybrid' systems.
GE's Concord IV is a hybrid alarm panel that is an excellent choice for a homeowner with an existing hard wired alarm. Usually existing wiring and in many cases existing sensors can be utilized with the new panel, allowing you to retain usage of equipment you own-having invested your hard earned dollars. New wireless zones can be added easily to expand the functionality of your alarm without having to drill holes or run more wires. A Concord IV with up to six brand new zones can be yours for no up front cost also if you have an existing hard wired intrusion alarm and elect 36 months of monitoring at $35.99/month. The panels are swapped, the old equipment connected and tested; and new equipment installed. This type of job is called a 'takeover' and represents the best deal for someone replacing an existing hard wired alarm.

Whatever you decide, hard wired, or wireless, choose a professional alarm technician to do the work and a reputable monitoring provider. I welcome your questions and comments. Drop me a comment or give me a call at (504) 383-4234.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Please allow me to introduce myself...

I am a security technician by trade. I install and service home intrusion alarms in homes and commercial businesses. Every day I routinely talk to customers who have common questions and misconceptions about burglar alarms. This blog is my way of empowering the public with information that you can use to decide which options are best for you. I will post regularly with different topics. I look forward to hearing from you all!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Algiers Memories

New Orleans. The siren's song in my heart. The one place I feel completely at home. When I finally get across the high rise after the inevitable I-10 slowdown beginning at Crowder Blvd I feel a sense of inner tranquility that is beyond explanation. No other place on earth gives me this feeling. Its as if my soul knows this is where I belong.

While I am away I miss everything...the incredible Creole food, the incomparable Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and Funk music; the inspiring ironwork on the narrow streets of the French Quarter; the bougainvillea growing on balconies everywhere; the tunnel of ancient live oaks visible from the St Charles Avenue streetcar; the the art and architecture; the gritty, funky soul of this truly unique and amazing city-my home town.

My home turf is the 15th Ward...Algiers... aka 'Da West Bank.' This makes me an 'Algerian' or 'Algerene.' I lived on a dead end street called Evergreen Ave which carves a straight line perpendicular to the Crescent City Connection from the wide thoroughfare under the bridge I knew as Bringier St. From the dead end you could see Semmes St and the tombs of McDonoghville Cemetery. Since the late 90's, the former Bringier St under the bridge has been renamed Mardi Gras Blvd.

I loved the warm spring nights...I would walk from my home on Evergreen toward the bridge; turn left and follow Magellan across the busy Franklin Avenue, past the little Horseshoe Grocery all the way to Madison, to the railroad yard and the river levee. At Madison, in the shadow of the bridge, you could walk right up to the train tracks and closely inspect the tank and freight cars sitting idle. Maneuvering in a zig zag fashion through the idled train cars to the river levee I would walk along and watch the towboats and barges move up and downriver. I also watched the steady stream of bridge and ferry traffic crossing from East Bank home to the West. This was my time for introspection.