Wednesday, June 30, 2021

An alarming project

A motion sensor sensing me.
I recently completed another project around the house, one that has actually been on my list for many, many years. It was one Nigel was supposed to do, but never got round to. That’s not the just reason I needed to do the project: It was also the reason I needed to do the project.

When Nigel and I moved back to Auckland’s North Shore in 2006, we bought a house that had a traditional wired alarm system. It was purchased by a previous owner—along with an expensive monitoring contract that we were obligated to assume or else to pay to have the alarm system removed. It was a gold-plated system, neighbourhood folklore had it, because the guy who installed it was a cop who, for very mysterious reasons, had had threats that made him want to install the system.

I have no idea how useful the alarm system was to the former owners (who didn’t live there all that long), but we never used it except when Nigel and I left for the weekend with the dogs. However, we soon reached the point where we could cancel the alarm monitoring contract, and after that point the alarm wasn’t usable.

Sometime after that, I first asked Nigel about finding us a system that didn’t need monitoring, but I didn’t pursue it. After we moved to our last house in early 2017, I again asked Nigel to look into a system. That was because the living area of the house was up a floor from the ground level, and someone could, theoretically, get inside the house and none of us—including the dogs—would even know until they were in.

Nigel was busy with his own projects and then, of course, he was gone. I did nothing about it while I stayed in that house, but I planned on taking care of it once I moved to my new house.

The reason I was doing it at all wasn’t just, as I suggested above, because Nigel never did, and was now gone, but because he wasn’t here anymore. After I moved to this house I realised I was entirely responsible for everything in my life, including, in this case, security. It wasn’t that I previously thought that Nigel would protect us all, or that he and I could fight off an intruder, it was merely that if there was ever a threat, I wouldn’t be facing it alone. Now, I am.

So, off and on, I started researching wireless alarm systems and found one that had good reviews, both for how it works and for the simplicity of installation. As luck would have it, it was offered as an online-only special by a NZ electronics retailer, and the price was very good. So, I ordered the basic system and an additional motion sensor.

Then things got complicated.

It was the better part of a week before I had time to begin the installation, the day after I’d read all the instructions for the various bits. I started by installing the door sensor for the front door and, only after I’d done that did I notice there weren’t any batteries included in the box, as there were supposed to be. I then checked everything else: All the mounting screws were also missing, as was the wall mounting bracket for the sensor that came with the basic set. Did I mention that this was after I’d already installed one of the door sensors?

I used the online contact form to ask them what to do, and I got a reply the next day. Meanwhile, I looked at the website of the computer (etc) chain I’ve talked about in the past, and noticed they’d matched the other store’s price—and beaten it by one dollar. If they’d done that earlier, I wouldn’t have had to set up an account with the other store.

Nearly two weeks passed and there was no update from the store. So, impatient/sick of waiting, I emailed them:
“I've decided to make do with the product as is, such as, I bought my own batteries, and I'll find a work-around for the motion sensor. However, it would be a good idea to make the distributor/manufacturer of this product aware there were missing parts so they can check their processes so it doesn't happen again to someone else.”
They replied:
“I have sent an email to our relevant team to inform them about your concern. Kindly wait for an update within 1-2 days. Rest assured that we will get back to you at the soonest possible time.”
That was on June 24—six days ago—and there’s been no response. I’m not in any way surprised, and I don’t really care anymore, but their lack of concern for a customer does make me question the wisdom of ordering anything from them in the future.

To fix the problem, I bought new batteries for the two door sensors and the motion detector, but the additional motion detector I bought came with a battery, as well as its wall mount. I finished installing the other door sensor and the motion detector, but when I went to put in the supplied battery, it was dead. I was again not surprised. Fortunately, I had plenty of batteries I bought for the security cameras (about which, more in a minute), so I used one of them. It worked perfectly.

A couple days later, I went to install another add-on motion sensor, the penultimate device in my system. I’d ordered it from the website of the computer (etc) chain (because I was ordering other things, and because the original store had since marked them as “not available online”). When I went through the things in the box, I noticed something: The battery had a tight rigid plastic shrink-wrap on it. I checked the battery I thought was dead, removed the shrink wrap, and it was fine. Oops. Good thing I didn’t complain about getting a dead battery—though if I had, I’d still be waiting for a reply, apparently.

All of the internal devices and sensors are now set-up and working perfectly, so that part’s complete (there are more parts than I talked about, but they didn't have stories).. However, there’s one more piece left to install: The video doorbell I also got on special. It came with super-strong sticky stuff to attach it, or I can use screws. The problem is that the doorframe is all metal, and we’ve had very wintry weather lately—too cold to trust the sticky stuff to stick to a cold doorframe. I may use screws instead, but I can wait a little while to decide, until it’s a bit warmer (and while I look for the appropriately-sized screws for metal that I must have around here somewhere…).

Which, indirectly brings me back to the security video camera system I’ve been planning to install outside of the house. I planned on using the cameras I have because I have them (thanks to Nigel), and that fact in itself is actually one of the reasons for the delay.

The camera system has a regular (audio) doorbell that’s wireless, but their video doorbell was wired-only (at least, that was all that’s available here in New Zealand). The alarm system has cameras available, though they’re expensive. On balance, it makes more sense to use the cameras I already have, and if they don’t work for some reason I can always get add-on cameras for the alarm system.

I don’t know that any of this stuff is actually “necessary” in the sense of preventing crime, however, it’ll make me feel a bit more secure now that I’m on my own, and feeling safe IS necessary, I think, and that's reason enough to go through all this. I'd feel safer still if Nigel was here with me, but that's something I can't change. Best to focus on what I can do.


Roger Owen Green said...

I probably would have abandoned this project as too irritating, complicated, et al.
Good for you, though!

Arthur Schenck said...

Heh, I almost did—I was ready to throw it all in a box and march to the nearest physical store. But, given how insipid their online customer service was, I wasn't sure I'd get my money back. The product itself was exactly as the reviews said—crazy easy to install, less expensive than most such systems, especially because I bought it on special. Saving money and being able to install it are what kept me going!