Wireless security systems take home protection to a new level

Men laying new hardwood flooring


“Wireless monitoring has been available for over a decade, but only recently has it become affordable for the common security user,” says Mike Collard, sales manager for Ackerman Security Systems in Atlanta. “Today’s wireless systems and devices are totally supervised and offer flexibility as to their location that often enhances the security they afford.”  When you make the transition to wireless, you just might be amazed by what your new system can do not only for your home, but also for your wellbeing.

Why wireless?

With the advent of wireless technology came the ability to do so much more than talking on the phone without a landline. The technology just had to develop, and it has. Wireless systems have come a long way. “Wireless has come into its own with improvements in technology, longer battery life and small device footprints,” says Vince Raia, president of EMC Security in Suwanee.

The evolution of wireless-systems technology has made it ideal for applications within the home security realm. “As we’ve moved from analog to digital, wireless technology has become much more reliable,” says Steve Shapiro, group director of product management for ADT. “We’re able to do things now wirelessly that we weren’t able to do five years ago.” From locking and unlocking doors to setting the thermostat to turning lights on and off remotely, “today’s wireless technology has just opened up a world of possibilities in the home,” Shapiro says.

In fact, home security has become part of a larger movement toward home automation, or using a centralized system to control multiple home functions such as lighting, HVAC and entertainment systems. “Wireless systems fit well into the ecosystem of today’s new connected home,” says Chris Ely, manager of industry relations for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). Fortunately, there are many different options that fit many different budgets, allowing homeowners to be as extravagant or thrifty as they would like.


Out with the old

Traditional wired home security systems require—you guessed it—wires that run behind the walls throughout your home. And unless you’re building a new home and have the security system installed before the drywall goes up, a bit of teardown and rebuild will be necessary to position the wires and get everything up and running. “Many houses simply cannot be hardwired after construction due to two-story slab construction, open foyer plans and closed-off attic areas, making hardwire system installation virtually impossible,” Raia says.

A wireless system, however, is easy to install and quick to set up. As Nye says, homes do not have to be wired to support the security system. Instead, radio signals sent through a GSM device are what allow the control panel, which serves as the “brain” of the system, to speak to the security and safety components within your home such as door and window contact sensors and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. That same GSM radio also can communicate with the outside world, allowing a security system provider to monitor activity in the home and contact the police or fire department if necessary.

Of course, if a home is already equipped with a wired security system, adding wireless functionality can still be beneficial. “Many of our clients have used the wireless technology for added protection where no wire could be run,” Collard says. And it doesn’t have to be tricky: “Most modern systems allow you to add [a wireless device]… that can communicate with the new wireless field equipment… ,” Raia says. “This includes door and window sensors, motion detectors, glass break detectors, smoke and heat sensors and flood and carbon-monoxide sensors.”


Virtual control

For many homeowners, the lure of a wireless security system is the ability to monitor it from a Web-enabled smartphone (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.) or other mobile device (iPad, laptop, etc.). According to Ely, smartphones have become the remote control of choice for home security systems thanks to the growth of wireless technology and a myriad of new applications (apps) that provide virtual monitoring.

“In the past, we were pretty limited with what we could do remotely to a home security system,” Shapiro says. “You could basically set the system to ‘stay’ or ‘away,’ and that was all.” However, recent advancements have changed that. “The trend in today’s systems is connectivity,” Raia says. “Forgot to arm your system, and you’re halfway to your vacation destination? Instantly check the status of your system, and arm or disarm it from anywhere. Beyond that, you can receive a text message when the front door is opened (letting you know that your children returned home safely), remotely set a timer to turn off a curling iron or monitor a live video feed from a Web-based camera installed in your home among many other things.

While a security system used to be simply a burglar alarm, today it’s a bigger part of a lifestyle. “Of course you receive instant notification in the event of a break-in attempt or fire emergency, but the uses are almost countless, from viewing your property remotely to checking on family members such as children or the elderly,” Collard says. “Besides being safety-related, today’s security and home automation systems allow you to manage your daily life,” says Shapiro.


The bottom line

In general, price points for wireless home security systems have decreased in recent years, making them more affordable. Depending on which features are chosen, the investment ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars (not including the monthly fee typically charged by an accompanying monitoring service.) “Wireless systems cost about the same as hardwire systems,” Collard says. “Even with the wireless technology costing more, the increased usage has brought prices down on all security equipment, especially wireless.”

Since the systems are customizable, they can be made to fit virtually any space. “Many customers start with basic protection, then add technology as their lifestyle dictates,” Raia says. Plus, a basic wireless security system can be upgraded easily as new technology and apps emerge, according to Ely.

“Security systems have become a way of life,” Raia says. “The police do a great job protecting the public, but they can’t be everywhere. A professionally installed security and fire alarm system provides great peace of mind and protection for the people and things you value the most.”


Home Safety Tips

While a security system is a great way to protect your home, exterior lighting, windows and doors can also help deter crime. Follow these tips from the Electronic Security Association to keep you and your family safe:
•    Make sure that all of your exterior doors have strong deadbolt locks. They offer the best protection from picking and prying.
•    Use the locks. Always lock up when you go out, even if you’re gone for just a few minutes.
•    Equip your home with strong exterior doors and doorframes made of 1 ¾-inch steel, other metal or solid wood, which can withstand more of an impact than hollow-core doors.
•    Secure your garage. Garages can provide criminals easy access to your home. Be sure to lock the door that leads from your garage to your home.
•    Secure sliding glass doors with bars or locks. A wooden dowel, baseball bat or broom handle in the door track can be a good alternative.
•    Make sure your windows have good locks, particularly those at ground level.

•    Make sure all porches, entrances and outside areas are well lit.
•    Exterior lighting should be bright enough for you to see 100 feet.
•    Use motion-sensitive lighting to deter would-be burglars.
•    Use timers to turn lights on and off while you are away.
•    Timers can also be used to turn on and off a radio or TV to create the illusion that someone is home.
•    Trim back trees or bushes that conceal doors, windows or exterior lights.
For more information, visit the ESA’s new consumer website, www.alarm.org.

Lose Your Landline

There are many advantages associated with wireless home security systems. One benefit that might be a surprise is that traditional landline phone service is not necessary to have a monitored wireless system. “We are finding that many homeowners no longer have a landline or plan to drop their existing landline service,” says Jim Nye, vice president of business development for Vivint, a member of the Electronic Security Association. “The security system connects to a central monitoring station via GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) radio, the same technology you find in your mobile phone. And because it is the same technology, you can have voice communication through your security system with the central monitoring station.”

Log Off for Out-of-Town Security

Though spilling the details of an upcoming vacation on Facebook is tempting, users should resist the urge. Personal travel plans should never be publicized through social networking sites, as criminals troll them looking for vacant homes and unsuspecting victims to prey on, according to the Electronic Security Association. Keep the information to yourself or privately share it with the person who will be picking up your mail and checking on your home while away. Recount the amazing journey and show hundreds of pictures to friends after the trip.

“The trend in today’s systems is connectivity,” Raia says. “Forgot to arm your system, and you’re halfway to your vacation destination? Instantly check the status of your system, and arm or disarm it from anywhere.”
—Vince Raia, president, EMC Security

outside-lighting outside-lighting1 walkway-light motion-lights motion-sensor stair-lights

Light Up Your Home

The proper outdoor lighting can make a world of difference in home security. “Lighting the boundaries of your property will make you and your guests feel safer and more secure,” says Jim Burks, owner of Pinnacle Lighting Group in Atlanta. “It will also make unfriendly intruders feel insecure. They will choose a home that is unlit.” For the best security, place outdoor lights in the right places:
•    On corner soffits, with cut-off shields to block glaring light from the street
•    In the tops of tall trees, directing the light downward
•    Around all buildings and boundaries of the property
•    On decks and stairs for the safety of residents and visitors
•    Near all entry points (Motion-sensing lights work well here.)
•    Along pathways (Use subtle illumination here.)  
—Pinnacle Lighting Group, NightVision Outdoor Lighting

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