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Electronic Home Security Systems - Advantages and Disadvantages

This article is a continuation of Home Security Systems - Electronic Protection

Advantages of Whole Home Security Systems
- They can be "on" continuously and provide security 24/7.
- They can detect the most common kinds of home break-ins.
- When connected to a phone, they can call for human backup.
- A sign posted in front of your home alerting would-be burglars that the system is in place can be a strong deterrent.
- They can have battery backup in case the power is out.

On the other hand, these whole home systems are not foolproof, and they do have drawbacks. When I was a young teenager, a good many years ago, I was fascinated both by electronics and home security. Having much spare time, I designed with the assistance of a great uncle, a primitive electronic system. When a door or window was opened, two electrical contacts would meet and an alarm would be sounded. The alarm would show up both as a bell ringing and as a light flashing on a board showing where the break-in had occurred.

You can imagine my delight in showing this working system off to my parents. You can also imagine my chagrin when a neighborhood chum happened by during my demonstration, saw it in operation, and quickly defeated it by taking a leaf from a tree and putting it between the two contacts, thus immediately shutting off the system.

This deals with the question of how to set up a security system in a home that's not already wired for it. Rewiring is very costly, messy, and often looks bad. Wireless systems can be expensive. However, X10 systems use the existing electrical wiring of your home to transmit electronic signals. The sending/receiving units are relatively inexpensive. Yes, they do work. Although they can be defeated if, for example, you happen to have an electric motor as from a hair dryer turned on, if they are on the other side of a transformer, or if the would-be burglar cuts the power to your home.

The moral of this story is not that today's modern whole house systems are so unsophisticated that they can be defeated by a leaf or the foil wrapper from a stick of gum (which could, indeed, defeat some of the earlier systems). Rather, it's that no system is foolproof and criminals are getting increasingly sophisticated.

For example, some systems rely on magnetic sensors. When a door or window is opened, the contact is broken and the alarm sounded. Some of these, however, will not sound an alarm if a burglar breaks a portion of the window but does not move the frame or disturb the contacts. And others can be defeated by using a wire extension to complete the circuit while the window is opened.

Of course, more sophisticated systems will set off the alarm if the window is broken or if any attempt is made to mess with the electronics of the system. But, then again, even more sophisticated criminals undoubtedly may have means around these counter-measures.

Problems with Whole Home Systems:
- They tend to be expensive, often costing into the thousands of dollars for a complete installation, which can include battery back-up and cell phone activation.
- They can be annoying if they go off by accident. Perhaps you forgot to inactivate the system, or a friend or relative comes in unexpectedly and the alarm goes off.
- The police department will not necessarily be happy that you have the systems; false alarms, caused by people accidentally tripping the system, wastes police resources. Some municipalities have passed regulations forbidding the police to respond to unverified alarm reports and many have started charging as much as $500 for each time they respond to a false alarm.
- Most alarm systems require that you arm them and you might forget. Or it might simply become too much of a bother to do so. Hence, the system becomes ineffective.
- They are not 100 percent foolproof.

So always keep is mind no matter what system you buy, home security starts with you.

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