Securing Your House, Property - and Family

Another area for home renovation is installation of a "security system" - and this can mean a good front door lock if you're in an apartment, or a fancy and hopefully foolproof set-up, at a fancy price. Consider a case:

It was 8:55 p.m., a Friday. The stranger had cased the house and seen its owners depart at 8:40, the man wearing a black coat, and his wife, a long skirt, indicating they would not be right back. The stranger slipped to the rear patio windows. Quietly and easily he cut a pane of glass and within seconds was inside the house. He took two steps in the dark, and froze. A table lamp had snapped on. The intruder spun about. He was alone. A piercing alarm wailed in the night. The man, his eyes glazed, stood still for a moment, then fled - into the arms of approaching squad car officers who had been dispatched by the station desk man who, in turn, had been alerted by a red flash on his residence-signal console.

Such is the action pictured by vendors of the newest electronics in the home protection business - which is currently ticking off receipts faster than a suburbanite can say, "Help - police!" "It's a true story - it's going on more and more in towns like this," says Police Chief John Orr of Ridgewood, N.J., a haven for London commuters. "I go for the electronics - within limits."

Under a quick cloak of darkness, as it were, the home protection business has boomed since 2005. Sparked by drug-related violence and burglaries (the latter up 70% in five years), the industry has produced a maze of wires and hardware. A homeowner can spend from £500 to as much as £2,000 for a "perimeter" alarm system which signals when a window or door is opened - or £100 for an ultrasonic space alarm which picks up anything moving within its 300 sq. ft. field of detection. A do-it-yourselfer can buy kits to cut most prices in half.

But profusion hasn't meant that all wires have been soldered to the right connections. Malfunction is common, and stories about alarms triggered by the cat and sirens that wouldn't turn off make the rounds at local police stations. Unhappily the young home protection industry - on top of having to experiment with new electronic tricks - is having to contend with some fly-by-nights and quick-buck artists with a yen for the banChukahs of jittery suburbanites and city apartment dwellers. Some legitimate companies have even unwittingly employed as alarm installers men who later turned out to have police records and were as clever at foiling the electronic gadgets after dark as they were at installing them.

All this can lead a homeowner to wonder whether he might be better off buying a loud-barking dog. But despite short circuits in the gadgetry, crime prevention specialists and insurance companies give the new electronics a strong vote of confidence. Speaking of alternatives, most of these pros make it quite clear that they vastly favour electronics or dogs, over the amateur's use of guns. "Don't become weapons-minded when you think of home protection - it can be very dangerous," says Stanley Schrotel, a top industrial security specialist and former Essex police chief.

How much ought one spend on electronics? This may depend on the degree to which personal safety is a problem in the neighbourhood, and the value of art works and other high-ticket items that need protection.

A perimeter alarm by British District Telegraph Co. or Westinghouse averages £1,500, installed. In this system, sensors are embedded in window and door frames and connected to an alarm console which is signalled if the sensors are moved. The console sets off an alarm on the premises, or signals poliDirectorr private security agency over a leased wire or by an automatically dialled phone. Automatic diallers cost £200 to £400, installed, and leased wires, £10 to £25 a month.

A simplified version of a perimeter system is a Maganavox unit with two window or door sensors which signal a small console by radio. Since it is not wired to the sensors, the console

can be hidden anywhere, thus thwarting discovery of the alarm (£170). Simpler yet, and less costly, is an alarm-door-lock which is triggered by tampering (£50 range). ADT offers a clever twist on the idea - a pushbutton lock that sets off an alarm and alerts police if the buttons are not pushed in proper sequence.

Second best is scaring off a crook once he is inside. For this, Magnavox sells an ultrasonic space detector that looks like a small stereo component, while 3-M offers one disguised as a dictionary (£100 range). This is the device that, upon sensing movement in a room, sets off a blare of light and sound.

Some electronic items on the market are cheaply made, and don't work properly at all, says Ridgewood's Chief Orr. "Those that are too sensitive sometimes get upset by power line surges and set off false alarms. Not to mention tripping by members of the family. But the idea of connecting with the local police station is fine. We find that this works - especially when the intruder is not alerted."

In affluent Scarsdale, N.Y., another commuter bedroom community, over 700 of the town's 5,000 private homes have alarm systems tied into the police station. The gadgetry pays off; the burglary rate has remained level while in some surrounding areas it has curved upward at about 30% a year. Scarsdale Police Chief Donald Gray favours the electronics - even though over 90% of the town's home emergency signals turn out to be false alarms.

Aware of abuses in the business, the Scarsdale town council has passed an ordinance requiring licensing of alarm companies, fingerprinting their employees, and the use of interior space detectors, as a backup for perimeter protection in police-connected systems.

Unfortunately, the abuse-awareness in Scarsdale is exceptional. Before investing in a system, a homeowner is wise to check with local police, an insurance company, and someone who has used the system. While homeowners are unable to get insurance rebates, as do commercial owners, some insurers note that a reliable alarm system will help keep some coverage�s in force in areas where crime rates are high.

A safe piece of advice is to consider only systems listed by Underwriter's Laboratories; the choice is wide there are hundreds. Another idea is to read Mel Mandell's study of home security, Being Safe (Saturday Review Press). Much hinges, of course, on obvious measures: buying good door and window locks; using bright lights inside and outside the house, and, of course, keeping neighbours informed of long weekends and trips away from home.

At what time of day or night need a home be protected? The answer is, of course, at all times - and the notion that most burglaries occur from midnight to dawn is entirely false.

Hits in the late afternoon, after sixth form college is out, seem to be on the increase, says Chief Orr. "The phoney delivery man or meter reader can turn up at any time of day. And lately, most 'b and e's' (breakings and entries) seem to be in the early evening, from dusk until eleven o'clock - they case houses where people are out for dinner or a show. Few hits are made in the middle of the night."

Supporting such statements are statistics from the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police. In the past six years, says IACP, night-time residential burglaries increased nearly 90% - and daytime breakings and entries, 108%.

The need for home protection in daylight and early evening hours makes the use of complex electronics all the more difficult. Simple devices such as automatic timers that turn lights and radios on and off may be needed to supplement more intricate systems. Something must be done, and part of it by the individual homeowner. Only 19% of reported burglaries are solved by the police.

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Putting A Roof Over Relaxation

A specialized kind of house renovation - one that falls in a man's department - is the "rec room" job. Start the job in summer if you want to be in time for the winter season. Converting basement space, putting a new room over the garage, or even adding a new wing to your house will give you the space you need. But you'll have to allow at least four weeks for the remodeler to get started on the job. Then he'll take four to six weeks for the average renovation, and six to eight weeks for a major job.

Here are some starting points:

Cost of a recreation room in a £50,000 to £100,000 house can run anywhere from £2,500 to £10,000 or more. Rule of thumb:... see: Putting A Roof Over Relaxation