DIY Do's And Don'ts

Home Security: Systems With Cutting-Edge Protection

Modern smartphone with mobile security application interface on a screen. Isolated on white background
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As a 33-year-old single woman living near a not-so-safe area in Massachusetts, Heidi said she felt the need for some kind of home security system to protect herself and her belongings. So she did her homework. "I did research online, in magazines, and asked neighbors and family about what security systems they have," she says.

Armed with solid knowledge and a clear-cut desire for a 24/7 live monitoring system that didn't have off-shore support, Heidi narrowed her focus to one home security company. It turned out that most of her neighbors had security systems from that same company, which allowed her to get a first-hand glimpse of the actual setup and how it worked.

With technology permeating every aspect of our lives, it's apparent that it can be used for less-than-wholesome purposes. However, its innovations are also making some of the most convenient and effective professional home-security options available to everyday homeowners. Here's a rundown of some of their features, from the conventional to the cutting edge.


1. Wireless Home Security Systems

"All forms of technology are going wireless, and home security is no exception," says Louis Stilp, founder of LifeShield Home Security. "By using a wireless home security system, the hard-wired installation costs and labors are completely eliminated."

Door and window sensors, glass and shock sensors, motion sensors and even control panels now come wire-free from most security system companies. These wireless systems protect homeowners from being "vulnerable to phone-line or Internet-line cuts, like traditional security systems are," says Yvonne Grahovac, manager of marketing communications at Alarm.com. She adds that you should ensure that the system is able to "send a signal to the central monitoring station -- who alerts police, emergency and fire services -- even if the security control panel was damaged or destroyed."

Of course, wireless home security systems require batteries to power them, so make sure that the one you choose has a battery backup unit, so your home will be monitored even if the power runs out. Another potential risk to the effectiveness of going wireless is interference. While these security systems don't rely on hardwired connections to sensors and landline channels of communication, they can still encounter signal-strength problems, should a physical object or long distances act as obstacles. Also, on rare occasions, harsh weather and jammers might cause disruptions for these wireless systems. So how can homeowners confront all of these possible risks?

2. Multi-path communications

The shortcomings and risks of both landline and wireless home security systems can be avoided by using multi-path communications. "If there's a break-in at your home, what good does a security system do if a monitoring station can't receive the alarm?" asks Ralph Maniscalo, director of marketing and communications at Honeywell Security & Communications. "You can have all the fancy add-on devices in the world, but if your system's communication signal isn't reliable, it isn't worth much."

That's why it's key to make sure that a home security provider offers reliable, multi-path communications technology. "That is, if one communication path goes down, another one should be there to make sure the alarm signal goes through." For instance, a security system might offer an encrypted, two-way cellular connection with the security company's central network, along with a traditional landline connection.

3. Cameras

Chances are that you've seen some form of home security surveillance cameras in at least one movie or television show you've seen recently. Home security cameras are made available by just about every home security company and are a useful and helpful tool for securing your home.

Whether they're continuously monitoring your home or are triggered by motion, surveillance cameras enable homeowners to watch the outside and inside of their homes around the clock, even when they're not home, which brings us to our next feature.

4. Mobile Home Security Systems

Maybe the most convenient benefit of having a wireless home security system is being able to monitor your home through your laptop, BlackBerry, iPhone or other mobile device. Not only can homeowners opt to receive text and e-mail alerts (along with notices being sent to the home security company) when a notable event occurs, they can actually control their home's security systems from their mobile devices, as well.

"Just go to any public place and look around – you'll find at least one person pulling out a smart phone, checking their e-mail, updating Facebook and Twitter, getting the latest news, you name it," says Maniscalco. "It's only natural, then, for the security industry to grab hold of this trend and give home and business owners the ability to manage their security systems using these devices."

These capabilities are lifestyle-enhancing, according to Maniscalo, who notes that "working parents can be notified when their children come home from school, or if a gun or liquor cabinet is opened. Homeowners on vacation can be alerted if a pipe bursts, and family members can check in on elderly relatives." And if cameras are installed, the homeowner can actually see what's going on outside and inside their home while they're away.

"In hindsight, I don't think I would have done anything differently," says Heidi, who like many of her neighbors opted for an ADT security system. The system offered the round-the-clock monitoring she was looking for. But Heidi urges homeowners looking for a security system to do their homework. "Make sure you understand the investment involved," she says, "and what you are receiving for it."

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