Security Tips and Industry Musings

Doors and windows

Lew Stouffer - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Security systems require sensors to tell it in what condition monitored parts of the premises are in. The sensors we use on doors and windows are called contacts. This is a generic term for small switches that let the control panel know a door or window has been opened or closed. There are many different styles of contacts. These contacts can be activated through magnetic or mechanical force. Whether the contact is connected to the control panel by a wire or through a wireless transmitter makes no difference. As part of the "Guided tour of the security system" series,  I'll illustrate several of the more common contacts and their uses below.

Recess contacts- These devices are installed inside the door jamb facing the side of the door. The switch is pushed into the jamb so that it is flush with the jamb itself. Directly opposite of the switch, a magnet is pushed into the side of the door so that it is also flush. They are installed similarly into a window, with the switch in the sill and the magnet in the sash. Once installed these switches are not visible until the door or window is opened. When the door is open, the magnetic force is removed, sending a signal to the control panel. These contacts are most commonly 3/8” or 3/4”.  The magnet must be within 2” gap (typically) of the switch to maintain “contact”.

Surface contacts- These switches have many applications. When they are used in home security systems they are typically mounted on the exposed interior of the door or window. The switch is installed on the molding surrounding a door and the magnet is attached to the door itself, directly opposite of the switch. The application for windows is very similar. The magnetic gap is the same for these contacts is the same 2” as the recess contacts. Most wireless transmitters have surface contacts built into the circuitry of the transmitter. This allows the transmitter to be used as a contact as well.

Rollerball contacts- The rollerball contacts (or plunger) are switches that use mechanical force to sense the condition of the door. Unlike the other styles of contacts, these switches should only be used on doors that require the contact to be on the side of the door where the hinges are located. They are installed in the door jamb (on the hinge side) in a hole usually 3/4“. Like the recess contact above they are not visible when the door is closed. Unlike the magnetic switches, there are no magnets used with these contacts.

Overhead Door contacts- These switches are much more robust versions of surface switches. They are typically encased in a steel housing and mounted on the floor of the garage or warehouse. A large magnet is attached to the garage door directly opposite the switch. They are typically used in business security systems in an industrial location. 

Life Safety

Lew Stouffer - Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Smoke detectors, heat detectors, panic buttons and carbon monoxide detectors are some commonly used devices that contribute to the protection of the premises, while at the same time adding an essential layer to the safety of the people who live or work there.  We will take a look at the variety of life safety devices in this installment.

Smoke detectors detect the presence of smoke in the atmosphere. When they have detected smoke they will cause the security system to alert the premises with an intermittent siren tone, while sending a signal to the monitoring center. Using atmospheric sampling makes the smoke detector able to read false positives under certain conditions. Dust, water vapor and aerosols are some contaminates that can create false alarms. Care should be taken to avoid areas that may make it easy for these to enter the smoke detector. Avoid areas next to bathrooms and air vents as well as non-air-conditioned spaces. Smoke detectors are the most useful in the air-conditioned spaces of the premises. It is recommended to have at least one monitored smoke detectors per level of air-conditioned space. As most areas have an existing code requirements for number and location of smoke detectors which must be met before occupancy is granted, these smoke detectors are largely of a secondary system in nature. As a secondary smoke detection system, the smoke detectors are placed in addition to the currently existing units.


Heat detectors are similar to smoke detectors except that they only detect the heat produced by a fire. Because of this they are typically used for spot detection in areas that a smoke detector would not be appropriate. As heat detectors do not use atmospheric sampling they are not affected by the same conditions that may cause false alarms in smoke detectors. Areas that should be considered for heat detectors are garages, near furnaces/ water heaters, rooms with fireplaces and kitchens.



Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors detect dangerous levels of CO gas in your home or works atmosphere. These devices have gained from rapid improvements over the years. When they were first introduced you could expect 1-2 years of service before they needed to be replaced. Today their life expectancy is rated at 5-7 years. It is recommended to have at least one CO detector on the premises.



Panic buttons allow the user to quickly alert the monitoring center to send the authorities when they are activated. Panic buttons can come in a wide variety of forms depending on the needs and uses of the client. Most commonly encountered are the three panic buttons included on the keypad. One for each of the emergency response agencies. Additionally, there are single alert type buttons. These buttons are set up at install to alert a pre-arranged agency. For older clients we may set up a key fob type button to call the medical services in case of a fall. While for a business we may setup a hard wired button under a counter to call the police in case of a robbery. The variety of panic buttons available allow us to tailor the system to the specific needs of the client and their expected risks. 

Avoiding false alarms

Lew Stouffer - Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Here are some simple tips to help you avoid false alarms and the fines that police departments often apply because of them.

Make sure that everyone who uses the system know how to use it. This includes the occasional user like the cleaning service, dog walker and babysitter. Be sure to give them both the code (we recommend a user code) and the password. This one is particularly important for our business clients.

Do not go in and out of the premises once you have activated the alarm. Instead turn the alarm off each time you go into the premises. Rearm when you leave. This is another one our business clients should pay attention to.

If the alarm goes does sound off; be sure to answer your phone for the next 5 minutes. It may be the monitoring center trying to confirm the emergency dispatch.

Ensure that your pets are kept out of secured areas. This is something that would have been set up by you and your technician at the time of installation.

Avoid leaving balloons in an area covered by a motion detector.

Ensure that the maintenance is up to date on your security system. A low system battery can cause false alarms on its own. 

The Holidays

Bob Peters - Monday, December 23, 2013

It’s that time of year again. By this point you are running to the store to find that last minute present. Doing the grocery shopping for that special dinner. Cleaning the house and soon everyone will be there! It is easy to overlook things this time of year. Don’t let your security be one of them. Here are some helpful tips to remember as you prepare for the holidays.

  • Have a neighbor pick up the mail while you are out of town.
  • Do not put the boxes from expensive gifts on the curb for trash collection.
  • Put a central light on a timer so the house looks occupied. Maybe, the neighbor who is picking up the mail can turn the lights and TV on and off in different parts of the house?
  • Tell your neighbors your plans for the holidays so they can keep an eye on your property.
  • Secure items in your yard that may help someone break in.
  • Have a safe and happy holidays!

Garages and Security

Bob Peters - Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Garages have evolved into an odd assortment of space. Consider yours for a moment. If you are like most people, it has become your main entrance, a large closet, odds and ends collection point, home for your pet and a general project workspace. I’m sure I left some uses out, but you get the idea. With that much going on there, think about what someone looking at your garage could tell about you. The first thing is, are you home? Do you have expensive items visible? Is the door cracked to allow air flow for your dog? By the way, this means Fido is not inside your home protecting it. A potential thief can tell a lot about you and your family by simply looking in your garage. There are some simple steps you can take to avoid giving too much information to the wrong person, and improving your home and families security overall.

To start with we should make it as hard as possible to see inside. Keep the garage door down as much as possible. If you have windows in the garage cover them so someone cannot see into it. There are several films that can easily (and cheaply) be applied to the windows to obstruct the view. Curtains or blinds work for this as well.

Overhead doors have some special considerations you need to think about. That cord hanging from the automatic door opener is a problem. Cut it off. It is possible to push the door from the top, reach in and pull that cord to release the door. Use the doors locks when you go on vacation. If your door doesn’t have locks (a lot of them don’t now days), you can attach a C-clamp to the rail right above a roller on both sides to block the doors travel.

The interior door should be as solid as your front door. Add a peep hole so you can see into the garage without entering.

Take a look at what you store there. The more expensive items should be out of sight from the street. Maybe move that tool chest to the back of the garage? Trash cans towards the front? The less conspicuous your belongings are the better.

 Consider expanding your security system (or getting a security system) to cover the outer garage doors and windows. Low cost, no-contract alarm monitoring from Atlanta Home Alarm Systems can add lots of security for a small price.

Burglar Alarm Buying 101

Bob Peters - Friday, November 08, 2013

While doing my morning read through of the news, I came across this article By Clark Howard in the AJC. Clark has some excellent points to consider before you make your security system purchase. While many of the ideas are fairly old fare for those of us that have followed Clark’s words of wisdom. It’s good to get a refresher and put it in front of people that may have missed it in the past. The last point is probably the most important. Do your security shopping before you need a system. Emotions run high after a break in. Many people overbuy when trying to secure their home after the fact.

http://www.ajc.com/weblogs/atlanta-bargain-hunter/2013/aug/01/clark-howard-its-best-find-burglar-alarm-without-c/

Rereading this was good for me. It made me reexamine something that I already knew, and add my observations from my experiences from the other side of the sale. After years of selling security systems I have seen several points that most people overlook. Understanding your goals helps the representative you are going to meet best serve you.

Before you contact any companies for quotes, take a minute to understand what you want to do. Do you want to protect the Picasso’s in the living room or have additional piece of mind while on vacation. There can be a large cost difference between the levels of security.

Take stock of how your family lives in the home. Do the kids get up early while you sleep in on Saturday? If so, you may need several keypads or fewer motion detectors. Do you have pets that are given free roam of the house? Would you be alright with limiting their access while the alarm is on? Do you travel for work? Will this impact how you want to use the system? Maybe adding remote access and cameras is something you would like to do. These are some of the most common items we run across while working up an estimate for our clients.

Once you have done the first two steps, you are almost ready to start calling security companies. The last thing you should do is take stock of your home. Walk around the outside of the house. Are there points that look like good opportunities for burglars? How do you want to address them? Will adding physical barriers (more/better locks, stronger doors, less glass) solve the issue for you? If not, add that to the list to talk to the security company’s representative about. While you are walking around the outside, count the number of doors and windows you need to cover. This helps us be able to give you a ballpark estimate over the phone.

Now that your homework is complete, you are ready to start calling Companies. Friends’ referrals are a great source to start with. Call/email those companies and ask for a quote. One thing to keep in mind if you use email is to check your spam folder. (Many times I have responded to prospective clients, but have received an angry call the following week complaining that I haven’t responded yet; only for it to be found in the spam folder!) Most companies will insist on sending a representative out before quoting, some (like Atlanta Home Alarm) will be happy to give a quote based on what you tell them you need.