Security systems and move-in day

Tomorrow is move-in day, and what better time to talk about security systems, since there will actually be possessions in the house for the first time.

Security is kind of a tough thing to blog about since the more I publish about my setup, the easier it would be for miscreants to subvert it. I’m sure everyone reading this blog on a regular basis is an honest member of society, but you never know who might come in through Google one day. So… for that reason, I must say very little. What I will say is this though: I’m going to lay out a few details in this post about how we secure the house and then I’ll do a separate, more comprehensive post on all the great home automation we’ve built in.

To start off with, we have contact sensors on every single opening in the house. Doors, windows, sliders, Nanas, garage door… you name it. When any perimeter orifice is opened, the central alarm/automation system knows about it. This is not only useful for security but also for doing cool things like turning on lights when doors are opened.

The second layer of protection is glass breakage sensors. We have these all over the house. They work by detecting the audio frequency emitted when glass is broken. If any window in the house breaks, the alarm/automation system knows about it.

The third layer of protection is motion sensors. As the name suggests, these trigger when they detect movement in the house. Some people choose to keep these on only when the house is empty and some people have certain zones on all the time. These are also useful for doing things like automatically turning on the stair lights when you’re about to walk up or down stairs.

We also have a siren on each floor and one on the roof for maximum ear piercing delight. When the alarm triggers, a monitoring service is alerted as well as a few cell phones including mine.

There’s a bit more to it than this even, but we’ll just leave it at that for now. I will say this: if you’re building a house, do not skimp on wiring, whether it’s alarm wiring or data. It’s very tempting to ask yourself “do I really need a sensor here?”, but spend the extra few bucks and run every single wire you could possibly need. You won’t regret it. Most of these sensors are less than $20 apiece (for top of the line, great ones even!) so all you’re really paying for is your wiring guy’s labor. Well worth it.

Do not worry about overwiring. Do worry about underwiring.

I’m really looking forward to move-in day tomorrow. There are several more big posts coming including the hardwoods, the landscaping, the kitchen, and the bathrooms.

UPDATE: Nina in the comments reminded me about cameras. I totally forgot to mention those. We have several infrared, high resolution, night-vision cameras which monitor almost every angle of the house 24 hours a day. The footage is available live via a streaming server as well as recorded via a dedicated DVR. Everything is also on battery backup in case of a power failure.

18 Responses to “Security systems and move-in day”

  1. Yolanda Says:

    Congrats! Does your system include fire protection?

    I remember when you wrote before about security and your selection of a monitoring company. Did you still go with the one that was really inexpensive, instead of the Big Names that try to lock you into an unreasonably spendy contract? I’d much rather spend my money on technology for security/home automation than on monitoring fees.

    We have a system that the P.O.’s put in. The guy (owner) was a security nut (it was his livelyhood) and the wiring looks like spaghetti. It hiccuped one day and we haven’t used it since (shhh!). Can a security (wiring) company come out to decipher /troubleshoot the system? Can an older system be retrofitted (we start a remodel/additon next month) with new technology, or might we have to start from scratch? Can a monitoring company monitor equipment that is not their own?

    Can’t wait to see the rest of your house! Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us!

  2. Jack Says:

    Audio frequency? Dumb question but could this be triggered by, say, watching a movie where a lot of glass is being broken?

  3. nina Says:

    I have been watching your house via RSS for a while. Very exciting to finally move in. Did you do the security install yourself? How are you using to monitor it? Feel free to email me if you don’t want to post it. I am in need of a security system !

    We do have cameras set up outside the house though. I really like having them.

  4. Mike D. Says:

    Yolanda: I don’t really want to disclose exactly how the monitoring is occurring. Not sure about the specifics of your system but it’s definitely worth getting someone out there to check it out. You might just have a cut cable somewhere or something. As long as the main wires are intact though, you can do a ton of upgrades on the brain.

    Jack: Not sure about that. I know these things are pretty precise about what they listen for, but sure, I could see a really good system creating a false positive. We’ll see!

    Nina: Thanks for reminding me about the cameras. I just added that to the post. As for installation, I had my electrician and my home automation buddy wire the system up. You can do it yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

  5. Chris Says:

    Good luck with the move Mike! It has been fascinating watching your home being built. You must be really excited.

    Fire alarms prevented me losing my home two weeks ago. Flames only reached the kitchen units over the hob. 5 more minutes and the kitchen would have been destroyed. Had we been without alarms or worse still in bed, I fear we would have lost our lives as well as our home.

    Did you resolve the large tree that fell?

  6. Daryn Says:

    Do you have cameras inside as well as outside? In private areas (bedrooms/bathrooms)?

    We have external cameras at the family beach house, and they’re really nice to have, but one is pointed at the hot tub (which is good because that’s where local kids may try to have some fun when no one is around) but it also bugs me from a privacy perspective…

  7. Lou M. Says:

    Congrats on the house! It’s been fun watching the progress.

  8. BTW, today is a great day to watch the time lapse web cam from yesterday because they take the last of the fence down…

    Enjoy everything, the house looks great!

  9. Wil Says:

    Mike, thanks for the wonder posts. Question – will you finally be doing a write up on myro?

  10. I do security for a living, though not home security, so I enjoyed this post.

    Question — what camera / DVR technology did you wind up going with? I’m looking at some things for my house and have started to look around.

    I know a lot about commercial surveillance systems – but this is obviously much more small scale in my case ;)

  11. Damien Says:

    I enjoy following this blog, but this post was over the top.

    Maybe your life situation demands such over the top security because the area you live in certainly does not. Or maybe you are enjoying all the gadgets that comes with this given that money may not be an issue.

    What i am trying to say, it would be great to understand (if your line of work permits) what caused you to go to such lengths of security for a house in very low crime area. If someone want to break-in studies show that 99% will be discouraged by an alarm, a sign for the alarm and maybe cameras. And for the remaining 1% that really want to break into despite obstacles, they will find ways (my naive non criminal mind thinks for the glass shattering alarm, I can cut the glass and get in). Point being if someone really wants in, your should probably also have armed guards patrolling the area.

    I personally find it a huge waste of money, but as I mentioned I am don’t know your situation or reasoning.


  12. Mike D. Says:

    Chris: There isn’t much to resolve about the tree, unfortunately. It’s gone :(

    Daryn: The camera coverage is pretty good, yeah.

    Wil: Yep, we’re almost done fully configuring the Myro so I’ll write up a post about it when that’s complete.

    Damien: Some people choose security via firearms, some people choose it via technology, some people do both, and some do none at all. It’s all a function of what makes you feel comfortable. I may live in a nice neighborhood, but there have definitely been break-ins around here, as there are in every nice neighborhood. While the danger of getting mugged in my neighborhood is more-or-less non-existent, the danger of having my house broken into is not. To build a million dollar house and not spend the several thousand required for decent security seems like a bad decision to me. Also, keep in mind that a lot of the “security related items” like motion sensors allow you to do things like automatically turning on stair lights. In other words, security doubles as convenient automation.

  13. Will Says:

    Thanks for the reply Mike. Look forward to the Myro!
    And I think this security post is excellent!!

  14. Damien Says:

    Thanks for the response. You are right that at the end of the day safety is a state of mind and whatever we each need, to get into that state of mind needs being done.

    We just finished building a million dollar house on Mercer Island ourselves (which is why following this blog has been timely) and we put in was motion sensors, door/window opening sensors and of course alarm and that did it for us.

    Personally I think this ties into a broader question and the culture in our country, i.e. majority of us are a product of all the marketing that have been fed to us since birth to the degree that we fail and have forgotten to ask when buying something the question of: what is sufficient for my current and future needs and settle with it instead of the mentality of going with: I need the top of the line, be it how much memory the iphone we get has, to what kind of car we get and so on which translates into making us resource hogs of the world. but I digress. Enjoy the new house as having gone through the experience myself, it is a pleasure to live in something where you have had full control of each design decision.

  15. Mike D. Says:

    Damien: Congrats on the house. Yeah, despite my system being pretty “robust”, I could have easily spent 2-5x what I spent, if I used things like Creston and Lutron in the mix. In this, and in other things in life, I’m all about getting 90% quality for <50% price. To go from 90% to 99% often requires you to spend many multiples of what you're already spending. Diminishing returns. One of the main points of this post (and an upcoming automation one) is that you should just always overwire. Wiring is very cheap and there's only one time you can easily do it: right after framing and before drywall. You could probably wire a 5000 square foot house to the nines and just leave off all of the devices (for the meantime) for a few thousand bucks. Well worth it.

    I have a friend who just bought a brand new >$1m home in Madison Park and for every one wire he has, I have 10. Now he’s stuck cutting into walls and trying to hack in some wireless capabilities in order to make up for the underwiring. All because a developer didn’t spend the extra few thousand on good connectivity.

  16. Jason Says:

    Am I the only one anxiously awaiting an update? :)

  17. Mike D. Says:

    Jason: Sorry about that. I have quite a few posts to write. I’ll start with a few this weekend.

  18. Jason Says:

    Thanks a lot, Mike. :)