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Designing a Home Security System

Making your home secure isn't a matter of buying certain products-it's an overall strategy that combines locking the house tightly, eliminating the ways that intruders can conceal themselves on your property, and giving the appearance that you are home, whether you are or not.

Intruders aren't the only problem. Your home security strategy should also involve preventing accidents on your property. Many of the same things you do to protect your property from intruders are the same things you do to prevent accidents and to make your home more convenient and comfortable.

Home security systems used to be wired in during new construction, and retrofitting a system was an expensive job that could only be done by professionals. Today, combination home automation/home security systems are available that are so easy to install that they hardly qualify as do-it-yourself projects. This brochure describes the procedures involved in setting up such a system as part of an overall home security strategy.

The most important aspect of any security system is balance-it does no good to make your windows burglarproof when your doors can be opened more easily with a pry bar than with a key. Before you invest in an automated system, first take stock of the simple, everyday security measures that should already be in place.


  • Every entry and utility door in the house should be a solid door-either stile-and-rail construction or a solid-core flush door. As a rule, doors that swing into the house are more secure than outswinging doors, both because the gap between the door and jamb is not exposed and because the hinge pins are on the inside.
  • If you have an outswinging door, make sure it has at least one nonremovable pin hinge. You can tell by opening the door and looking at the hinge pins. A nonremovable pin hinge has a set screw in the pin that prevents the pin from being removed.
  • All entry doors should also be fitted with deadbolts (see image). There are two common types of deadbolts-single cylinder and double cylinder. Single-cylinder deadbolts are operated with a key from the outside and a turn button inside. Double-cylinder deadbolts must be operated with a key from both sides.
  • Sliding patio doors (see image) are notoriously easy to break into. One of the first things a burglar looks for is a door that is loosely fitted and wiggles a little, and sliding doors can't be built to be totally tight.
  • Modern patio doors often have a three-point locking system that throws a hardened bolt up into the head jamb and down into the sill to supplement the hook-type lock at the handle. If you have an older patio door, one inexpensive alternative is a hinged bar mounted on either the active door panel or the jamb that swings down to wedge the door closed (see image).


  • The general rule of thumb is that all sliding windows (both horizontal sliders and single- or double-hung) are more difficult to secure than swinging casement or awning windows. Most modern swinging windows have cam locks that draw the sash tightly into the frame.
  • Obviously you want to make sure all window locks operate properly, but you can add to the security of sliding windows by installing key locks in place of the standard sash locks (see image).


  • Outdoor lighting (see image) is one of the best deterrents available-as well as an important safety feature. Low-voltage lighting kits can be installed in an afternoon, while adding to the appearance of your home. Most operate from a transformer that can be plugged into any standard electrical outlet, so no wiring is required. With the development of more reliable solar cells and batteries, solar outdoor lighting is now more dependable and even easier to install than the low voltage lighting systems. On most of these types of lights, you mount them, allow them to charge up and then turn them on. The only problem associated with many of them is placing them in the wrong location so they don't get enough light.
  • Make sure, too, that the entire area around your house can be well lighted. Install floodlights over the driveway and at the back of the house; if you can position lights so every door and window in the house is covered, you can scare away nearly any burglar.
  • Once you have the basics taken care of, then a home security system may be a worthwhile investment. Modern systems operate from your existing wiring. They allow you to operate incandescent lights and appliances remotely, whether they are plugged into an outlet or wired to a wall switch.
  • The system consists of the following components:
  • The controller sends signals to each remote module individually or to all modules at once. Wireless controllers are also available.
  • Plug-in modules are plugged into standard electrical outlets. Then the device is plugged into the module (see image). The lamp module is designed for low-amperage use and includes a dimmer function. The appliance module is designed for heavier amperage use such as televisions, coffee makers and other small appliances.
  • A wall-switch module replaces the standard wall switch and allows the system to control any incandescent light wired into the home's electrical system. Modules are available for both single-pole and three-way switches.
  • A motion detector can be programmed to turn on any lamp plugged into a base module.
  • A motion-detector-controlled floodlight can be programmed to varying degrees of sensitivity and to turn off again a specified amount of time after it comes on (see image).
  • Setting up the system depends somewhat on your individual needs, although there are some basic guidelines you may want to follow. As a rule, the best way to deter burglars when you're away is to make them think you're home. If your system allows you to control eight modules, for example, consider the following locations:
  • A front porch light or floodlights over the garage door. These lights should be set to go on in the evening at dusk and off again around 10 p.m.
  • A main living room light. This light should be programmed to go on in the early morning, say from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., then off and on again at 6 p.m. until about 10 p.m.
  • A television. Your TV can be programmed to go on and off at varying times during the day and evening; from outside, it can sound like people conversing in the house.
  • A kitchen light. It should be set to go on and off again around common mealtimes.
  • Bedroom lights. The lights in at least two bedrooms could be programmed to come on in the morning, then off around 8 a.m., then on again in the evening.
  • A stereo or radio. Set the radio to a talk station and program it to go on and off at varying times.
  • A bathroom light. Program it to go on, then off after 10 minutes or so, four or five times per day.
  • A back porch light or floodlights. Program these to be on whenever it is dark, until bedtime.
  • To install modules in electrical outlets, simply plug the module into the outlet, then plug the lamp or appliance into the module.
  • To install wall-switch modules, you'll need to replace the existing switch (see image below). First, double-check the light by turning it on. Then turn off the power to that circuit, and tape over the breaker switch or fuse socket to prevent anyone from accidentally turning the power back on while you're working. Try the switch again to make sure the circuit is dead.
  • Remove the switch-plate cover, then unscrew the two screws that hold the switch in the electrical box. Carefully pull the old switch out of the box and check the terminals with an electrical tester to confirm that the circuit is dead.
  • Unscrew the switch terminals and remove the old switch. Attach the wires to the switch module, taking care to match the wires to the same terminals. Carefully push the wires back into the box, then screw the wall-switch module to the box. Replace the cover plate, then turn on the circuit. Test the light to make sure it works properly.
Security System ControllerLamp Modules
Outlet/Appliance ModulesMotion Detector
Floodlight/Motion Detector CombinationElectrical Tester

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Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

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