Monday, October 1, 2012

I'm shopping for an alarm system...What are my options?

I get this question regularly. "I want to help protect my family, I'm interested in electronic home security. Where do I start?" There are several factors that determine the answer to this question. My intent with this posting is to simplify the options available and make it possible for you to make an informed decision.

Step 1: Which business model is right for me? 

DSC PowerSeries 
There are really only two business models in the electronic security industry. The traditional model of purchasing equipment and installation from a reputable local custom alarm company is alive, well and highly recommended if your budget allows it. You can easily expect to pay from $1500-$2000 for a traditional basic consumer grade burglary system in a medium sized home. The more areas you want protected, the more you can expect to pay for equipment and labor.
GE Concord IV

This will typically be a "hard wired" or "hybrid" system that uses a separate panel box and keypad. Wireless devices may supported 'on-board' as is the case with the GE Concord or may require the addition of a wireless transceiver.  Typical panels used are the Honeywell/Ademco Vista/Via Series, GE/ITI Concord Series and DSC PowerSeries.
Honeywell Ademco Vista 20P

In this scenario the installing custom alarm company is usually who provides the monitoring-either at their own in house facility or by contract with a national monitoring provider. In the Chattanooga, TN/North GA market the type of services described here are available from Action Alarms, Dependable Security, PM Alarms and ADT Corporate. Please note that I do not specifically endorse any of these companies. Plenty of information is available online to help you determine whether the alarm provider you have chosen is reputable.

GE Simon XT Wireless All-in-one panel
The second choice is the alarm dealer business model. Typically alarm dealers provide basic systems at little or no up front cost in exchange for a specified contract term, commonly 2-3 years. Usually a minimum credit score is required. The ads you see for a $99 system are typically alarm dealer ads. The monitoring is provided by a national monitoring company such as ADT or Monitronics. The systems initially offered are usually wireless all-in-one systems such as the Honeywell Lynx Series, GE/ITI Simon series and DSC Impassa series. Wireless all-in-one units have the keypad, sounder, panel circuitry and wireless transceiver all in one self contained unit. The installer simply has to set up a connection to power and to phone and mount it on the wall. Hard-wired and hybrid systems are also offered with no up front cost by reputable dealers to customers with an existing system of this type.

DSC Impassa Wireless All-in-one panel

Alarm dealers make their money by selling the monitoring contracts to a national alarm monitoring company. This action makes you direct customer of the national monitoring company and effectively removes the dealer from the transaction-usually after your unit has been installed for 90 days.  If you require service, the national company can at their option send a technician from the installing dealer, another dealer or one of their own corporate technicians.

Honeywell  Lynx/QuickConnect Plus

Here are the main bullet points of comparison:

 Custom Alarm Company 
* Up front cost for equipment                                                                                                              
*  Hard wired or hybrid system                                                    
*  Short or no monitoring contract                                                

Alarm Dealer
 *  Little or no up-front cost
 *  New installs will usually be a Wireless system
 *  2-3 year monitoring contract

Now you have the basic information to make an informed choice about purchasing an alarm system. 

Stay tuned for the next segment!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Bob Seger Burglary-Family, Friends and Alarm Systems

Bob Seger

Bob Seger's house in Orchard Lake, Michigan was broken into last August and his prized 1978 Gibson Les Paul guitar, and personal valuables such as cash, a Rolex watch and autographed Shaquille O'Neal Sneakers were all stolen.

The suspect arrested Tuesday and charged with larceny from a building was identified as 20 year old Andrew D. Thompson of Waterford Township, MI-a close family friend. Police say Thompson attended a party thrown by Seger's 16 year old daughter last August and broke into the house afterwards to pilfer the items. The 1978 Les Paul is seen in Seger's hands on the cover of his 1994 "Greatest Hits" album. Its retail value is approximately $8000-$10,000 but it was reportedly 'priceless' to Seger.  

Interestingly, that guitar all of a sudden appeared later in Seger’s backyard.

Thompson denies stealing the guitar although Detective Darrell Betts said it turned up right after he questioned Thompson about the incident.

Betts also suggested Thompson broke into the back door after the small party had ended to steal the items.

The story:

This heartbreaking scenario is all too common. Very often people are burglarized by a friend, relative, or coworker. A substantial percentage of burglaries are committed by persons that have been inside your home that you trusted implicitly.

A burglar alarm system could have helped prevent this tragedy by alerting the authorities and Seger of the intrusion. Remarkably, apparently no burglar alarm was present or the alarm was not in use because Seger was reportedly moving.

Of course the best home security system in the world can be defeated by poor management of the alarm code(s). Only people who absolutely need access to your home should have an alarm code and the corresponding telephone "safe word" password.

You should also regularly change your alarm code to ensure that access to your home stays controlled. If you have a maid service or babysitter that needs access to the residence-give them a separate "user" code that will only disarm the alarm-NOT your "Master" code that can be used to access system settings. Many security companies also allow you to track online when and what code is used-which can help in the event a theft is discovered without a break in.

I will be happy to answer any questions regarding home security. You can contact me at

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Alarm Monitoring-Why the cost varies wildly.

As a security industry professional I have had the opportunity to work with multiple alarm companies and their central stations. A central station is the location where your alarm signals are received and processed for dispatch. Large national brands such as ADT and Monitronics own and operate their own central station locations. Your local alarm company may have their own central station-but this is not as common as it used to be. It is far more likely that a larger dedicated monitoring company provides this service to many smaller alarm companies-including yours. 

Now for the facts that every consumer should know-All reputable monitoring companies provide essentially the same service. You read that correctly. It doesn't matter whether your monitoring is provided by a large national brand or a smaller regional operation so long as you are doing business with a reputable company. This brings me to my next shocker-The price you pay for monitoring has almost no bearing whatsoever on the quality of service you receive. 

So, you ask, "Why is my monitoring so much higher than my neighbor's?" This is a perfectly legitimate question and there are multiple reasons why this could be.

If you signed up for a 'FREE w/ $99 installation fee' system then your monitoring cost will be higher because the monthly fee includes the amortized cost of the equipment. In this scenario, monitoring will typically range from $30 -$100/ month depending on the amount of equipment you received at the time of install.

The alarm industry national dealers borrowed this business model from cell phone providers, who figured out long ago that offering a 'free' or reduced cost phone with a 2-3 year contractual commitment sold better and substantially increased their business. This due to the fact that most people live paycheck to paycheck and can't come up with the $800-$1500 an average basic residential alarm installation costs-but they can easily budget the monthly expense.

If you purchased your equipment at the time of install, or you have completed your contract with a national company you own the equipment outright. You can purchase monitoring on a month to month basis as a separate service and comparison shop. You will find options ranging from $15-$50 for basic monitoring services depending on whether you are communicating your signals with a telephone line, a GSM (alarm cellular communicator), or a Wi-Fi or IP communicator. 

Whichever way you choose to purchase an alarm system, once you experience the peace of mind of having an electronic security system, you will never choose to live without one again. Feel free to contact me via email with your questions.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Home Automation-The Alarm Industry and the future...What's in it for me?

Electronic security has exploded in the last several years with All-In-One wireless systems making security installations easy and convenient for homeowners with existing construction. Wireless panels typically give you the option of an on-board GSM (or cellular) unit which makes the installation even easier because no phone wire needs to be pulled to the demarc location to complete the install. The additional monthly monitoring cost for a cellular unit averages $12 or so with the national brand alarm companies. This is more than offset by most customers simply by eliminating the now largely unnecessary land line phone in favor of using a mobile, resulting in a net savings for the customer. The proliferation of GSM units has a further benefit because you are now fully prepared for the sunset of analog P.O.T.S (Plain Old Telephone Service) land lines the telco industry is pushing for. This could happen as soon as 2014.

In addition on board GSM units installed in an all-in-one wireless panel can be used in internet connected households in conjunction with an enabled central station to allow the alarm panel status to be monitored from internet connected devices such as smart phones, tablets and notebook computers. The user can arm and disarm the system and get text notifications for any event the user desires. (This could be a disarm event when a child gets home for example.)

More recently alarm panels have become more capable still. Thanks to wireless Z-wave technology you can use a modern touch screen wireless all-in-one alarm panel to control thermostats, lights, door locks and monitor IP video cameras.  You can hop on your iPhone or iPad or similar Android device before you leave the office, check your cameras, turn on your air conditioner and lights. Once you get home you can disarm the alarm and unlock the door from the same device! These new systems give the customer conveniences and peace of mind. As of this writing, basic home automation has been made affordable for the masses via the integration of home automation technology into security systems.

ADT (Pulse) and Vivint (Home Automation Package) are among the national brands offering modern streamlined touch screen panels with all of the features mentioned above. There is typically some up-front cost involved for equipment and/or installation fees. The monitoring of systems with home automation can be more than double the cost of standard home security monitoring. A typical basic home-automation and security system has an up-front cost of about $200, and a recurring monthly cost of approximately $70/month on a 36 month monitoring agreement that includes an IP camera, a wireless thermostat, light control modules and wireless door locks.

Honeywell Lynx Touch is used by ADT Pulse

2Gig's Go is used by Vivint Home Automation

These technologies will ensure the relevance of electronic home security in the future. If you haven't seen this technology in action, check out  or You'll be glad you did.