Alarm System Upgrade Tips The Functionality Scale

Residential-grade commercial alarm systems are good at a few things but terrible at others, like keeping pace with telephone technology. So what to do when a switch to VOIP renders your alarm system unable to call in reinforcements? Why not strip out the old system and roll your own value-added alarm and home automation system?

Generally, the hardest part about installing an alarm system is running the wires to connect sensors to the main panel, so [Bill Dudley] wisely chose to leverage the existing wiring and just upgrade the panel. And what an upgrade it is. [Bill]’s BOM reads like a catalog page from SparkFun or Adafruit – Arduino MEGA 2560, Ethernet shield, a sound board, stereo amplifier, X10 interface, and a host of relays, transformers, and converters. [Bill] is serious about redundancy, too – there’s an ESP8266 to back up the wired Ethernet, and a DS3231 RTC to keep the time just in case NTP goes down. The case is a bit crowded, but when closed up it’s nicely presentable, and the functionality can’t be beat.

Rehabilitating old alarm systems is a popular project that we’ve covered plenty of times, like this Arduino upgrade for a DSC 1550 panel. But we like the way [Bill] really went the extra mile to build add value to his system.

29 thoughts on “Alarm System Upgrade Tips The Functionality Scale

  1. Looking at this brings back fond memories of the HCS & HCS-II home automation system for Circuit Cellar magazine, with the first one printed in Byte Magazine by Steve Ciarcia. It was the first major controller project that inspired me. Thanks for sharing your project.

  2. I wouldn’t use telephone line of any kind for calling the reinforcments. Reason is that telephone junction box is usually easy to access outside the apartment so burglar can cut lines prior to break and enter. GSM modules are pretty cheap, and I doubt many burglars have GSM jammer in their toolbox.

    1. I agree, these days GSM as backup would be the better option than hardwire telephone. If Ethernet didn’t work in the house, then Wi-Fi probably wouldn’t either (say if the burglar cut the cable or FiOS). Alot of older telephone systems had a priority circuit to override the phone being off hook, very messy if you switch lines and somehow don’t have an expert get it back right. Again I agree with the functionalit one can get from Adafruit & Sparkfun, you can avoid proprietary panels costing thousands. Now only if we could get some cheap RF door switches. They’re available, perhaps the new Adafruit RF radios will pick them up, hmmmm. . . .

        1. Since you’re using 868MHz, I’m assuming you’re operating in Europe. If you were intending to sell into the US market, I would first buy radios that already come with an FCC certification to greatly ease the compliance requirements and cost of your monitoring product.

          I think the equivalent in Europe is ETSI 300 or EN55022.

          The tag connectors are great, they’re tiny and keyed.

          There are some vendors that use silicon labs radios in their certified modules. Might be worth looking into.

          1. Yep, I’m in Europe, and I’m not going to sell them, they are just for myself so I’m not worried about CE/FCC testing, otherwise I would buy a prebuilt module, no chance I’d get it tested myself!

            I’ve got a little bit sick of the TAG connectors, the cables are very expensive to get hold of in the UK, plus using this version for debugging is a pain, connectivity is intermittent. I know you can get the debug version, but I wouldnt fancy respinning a pcb just for that. I’m thinking of migrating to a 1.27mm pitch IDC connector instead and adding I2C on a couple of spare pins for debug/testing as well.

            I’ll have a look, thanks, the configuration of those things are a little tricky, thats where I stopped.

  3. Why is it that everyone is now using the slang “embiggen” instead of the proper term? It really makes someone that at first sounds educated from their words, sound much less educated when they slip into a street slang.

    1. Embiggen has been used in publications, and was added to some dictionaries. Its not a particularly useful word, but that is enough to make it count as a “real” word.

      Im not trying to defend it, but if “bootylicious” is a legitimate part of english now, certainly embiggen counts. ;)

    2. Was it used on this page? I couldn’t find it anywhere except your post. Anyway, possible explanations for “embiggen”: 1. People getting tired of overused industry buzzwords like “value-added”. Example: “Roll your own embiggened alarm system.” It could be an effort to belittle the, ahem, more educated tone. 2. It may not really be street slang at all, but tech slang. Tech is full of this sort of thing, look at the catb jargon file, it’s quite entertaining. (Google it if you don’t know what I mean.) 3. It may truly mean that people are less educated nowadays, in spite of all the higher education.

      1. embiggen isnt tech slang, its “feel-good politically correct inspirational manager speak”.

        “Lets make the effort to integrate this new corporate attitude into our personal culture to help embiggen and uplift those teammates who arent as able to accomplish as much as some.” bleh.

  4. Cool ! look at all those multiple points of failure! Violate the KISS rule for what should be an uncomplicated box. Oh, and guess what ? there exist these little boxes called VOIP/analog telephone adaptors (you know, to connect analog POTS phones to VOIP ports).

  5. I was going to do something similer but have now changed my idea.
    In other words out dated before I got started. I am now going to go web based with the esp8266.
    But Im still going to use what I have up to run my work shop.

  6. What if we could just Quantum entangle the Consciousness of all Burglars to 1 siren and 1 LED, or just have a Flashing light fake alarm similar thing.

    Where are the PIR sensor activated Cameras that send images video and audio to a remote server and Geophones in the Floor to detect movement or intrusion from tunnelling ?

  7. Redundancy in a burglary alarm system? Strange… We in our company only use redundancy in fire alarm systems, because it is still important to activate some functions (fire doors, sprinkler systems,..) in case of a fire and failure in the system, and human lives could be directly in danger if the system would fail.
    For a burglary alarm system, any failure of any component or communication path needs to be directly detected by design and always leads to an alarm, because you never know if someone is tampering the system or if it’s really just a failure of the system.

  8. Why prolong the usage of your security tool’s irritating cables if wireless tools are already obtainable? There are newly designed devices that will free you from cable chaos that burglars can easily cut off during the event.

  9. What if we could just Quantum entangle the Consciousness of all Burglars to 1 siren and 1 LED, or just have a Flashing light fake alarm similar thing.

    Where are the PIR sensor activated Cameras that send images video and audio to a remote server and Geophones in the Floor to detect movement or intrusion from tunnelling ?

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