Protect Your Investment: Look at Security Systems During Home Renovation

Shannon Lee

Editor's Note: This is article 8 of 8 in Chapter 7: The Electrical Guide of Old House Web's Home Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rehab guide.


Section 1--Alarm Systems and Intrusion Protection

An alarm system for your home can protect your belongings, the structure itself, and the people who reside inside it. Intrusion detection and alarm systems come in a mind-boggling array of different options, and often work in tandem with other security systems, such as smoke detectors, flood detectors, child-tracking devices, keyless entries, and closed circuit television monitoring.

An alarm system has three main components. First is the control panel, which actually transmits the alarm to the proper place, such as sounding a siren or dialing emergency numbers. The arming station, sometimes called the keypad, is where the alarm is managed. The arming station can turn the alarm off or set it, and can be linked to a variety of emergency devices, such as panic buttons or telephones. The sensors are the third and final part of the alarm system, and these can be activated in numerous ways, depending upon the focus of your security system.

Ensuring your alarm and intrusion systems are in good working order can help protect your investment.

  1. Inspect your security system. Check the security system to make certain it is working properly. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer and ask about the monitoring contract, the possibility of new arming stations or control panels, and the cost of maintenance.
  2. Replace the control panel. The control panel in your old house might not be compatible with today's wiring and phone cables. Replacing the control panel can be relatively cheap, depending upon the security company's service contract and warranty.
  3. Replace the sensors. Many of the sensors might still work, but if they don't, an upgrade may be required to keep the system running properly.
  4. Replace the wiring. Problems with old wiring can lead to false alarms, or worse, failure to alert. Replacing the wiring should eliminate that potential issue.
  5. Replace the security system. Older security systems might not have all the features you need, and might not be compatible with today's wireless technologies. Replacing the system entirely can give you added peace of mind.

Section 2--Smoke and Fire Detectors

No matter what other kind of security system you have in your home, smoke detectors are an absolute must for protecting those inside the home. There are three kinds of smoke detectors.

  • Photoelectric smoke detectors work by detecting changes in light due to the scattering of smoke particles. This works best for slow, smoldering fires.
  • Ionization smoke detectors sound the alarm when smoke particles attach themselves to ionized atoms in the detector, thus disrupting the interior circuits. This works best for fast, rapid fires.
  • Heat detectors work by triggering an alarm when the temperature in a room reaches a certain degree or rises too quickly.

Smoke detectors can be powered by batteries or hardwired into the existing electrical system. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends at least one smoke detector on each floor of your home. A smoke detector in each bedroom, common areas, and kitchens should provide good coverage.

  1. Maintain your smoke detectors. Clean your smoke detectors on a regular basis. If they have batteries, change them every six months to ensure proper detection.
  2. Replace the detectors. Use both battery-powered and hardwired smoke detectors, just in case the power fails. Interconnected smoke detectors all sound the alarm if one of them senses smoke, providing even more peace of mind.

Section 3--Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, lethal gas that can build up in areas where combustion devices are present. Gas water heaters, gas or oil furnaces, cracked or blocked chimneys, and even running automobiles in enclosed garages can lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide. Long-term exposure to low levels or carbon monoxide can be deadly, as can limited exposure to higher concentrations. The best way to protect yourself from exposure is with a carbon monoxide detector.

Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors can be battery-powered, hardwired, or both. Locate one on each floor, in each bedroom, and outside each room where combustible devices are located.

Section 4--Protection from Lightning

Lightning is a deadly force of nature. It damages 18,000 homes in the United States each year, and results in more deaths than hurricanes and floods combined. Lightning that strikes your old house can lead to the destruction of electronic devices, arcing, and fires.

Though most state building codes do not require lightning protection systems to be installed, properly designed systems have been proven over 99 percent effective in preventing damage from lightning strikes.

  1. Maintain your existing system. Lightning protection systems should be inspected every few years, including a bonding resistance test and a "resistance to earth" test.
  2. Upgrade the existing system. If your system does not comply with local codes or meet UL standards, upgrades can often be done for a modest price. If trees have grown tall in the area or additions have been made to your old house, upgrades might be the best option.
  3. Install a new system. The National Fire Protection Association Risk Guide can help you decide if it is cost-effective for your particular building and location. A new lightning protection system can add long-lasting value to your home.

Section 5--Protection from Surges

Modern conveniences, such as computers, high-tech phones, microwaves, and even alarm clocks, are susceptible to damage from electricity surges. Surges occur very quickly, and often with no warning. They last less than a hundredth of a second, but the damage from a surge can be significant.

Surge protection can be installed in two ways. Whole house surge protection can be installed at the circuit breaker box, while telephone protection can be installed as a separate unit. The telephone company can install a network interface box that has been properly grounded for surge protection, and you can add to the protection with plug-in surge protectors inside the home. For additional protection against sags and brownouts, opt for battery-powered uninterrupted power supply units, or UPS units.

  1. Install new surge protection. Hardwired suppressors are installed at the main service panel and are available as series protection or parallel protection. Installation must be done by a qualified electrician.
  2. Install UPS units. UPS units protect modems and computers from brownouts and sags in electricity. They provide point-of-use protection, including backup service, preservation of output quality, and more.
  3. Use plug-in surge suppression. Direct plug-in strips offer several outlets of protection against power surges, are inexpensive and easy to install, but are also short-lived solutions.

8.6--Garage Door Openers

Garage doors are composed of several parts, all of which must work together seamlessly for function and safety. Some garage door systems include extra features, like multiple remotes for several users, or allowing a garage door opener to operate lights, appliances, and other doors in addition to the garage door.

  1. Maintain your garage door system. In 1993, laws were put in place to make garage doors safer, so systems installed before 1990 are no longer up to code. Professional inspection is required to ensure your garage door system is compliant.
  2. Make adjustments to the existing system. Adding a new circuit board and a photocell--one that detects when an object is in the garage's threshold--might be all you need to bring your existing system up to code.
  3. Replace your remote control. Remote controls are available for even discontinued models; ask your garage door dealer or home center for help. Keep in mind that older remote controls might not provide the security you need; newer models are much more secure.

Finally, if your garage door system is damaged, non-compliant, or difficult to repair, consider replacing the system. Although this may be the most expensive option, you'll generally get a warranty on the whole system and this is the most efficient way to brign your system up to code.


About the Author

Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

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