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Lighten up to boost home security

We need more security at home, but we don't want more floodlights, which cost a lot to operate, and we want to avoid monitoring charges. What reasonably priced security options do we have?

Most security experts will tell you a well-lighted yard is one of the best security options. But outdoor lights cost a lot to operate; the electricity usage contributes to air pollution and global warming; and bright light creates problems for many animals.

Just one or two low-wattage, shielded outdoor lights in key locations, in addition to motion-sensing fixtures, will provide adequate deterrents at a reasonable operating cost. Other simple improvements help, such as strong window locks, thorny bushes under windows and secure door deadbolts. For example, Master Lock has a "Night Watch" deadbolt with a switch to block the use of all keys.

A fully monitored security system is your best option if you can afford the monthly monitoring fees. With security alarm labels on all the windows and doors, a would-be thief will have second thoughts about breaking in. If he does get in, the loud siren alarm will scare him off and alert you.

Another advantage of a monitored system is that it protects you against more than just break-ins. The smoke alarms are also connected to the monitoring station. This is very helpful if a fire starts while you are away. If your home has flooding problems, water sensors can be installed.

Many of the major monitored security system control panels are designed to be compatible with X10 dialers if you cannot afford the monitoring service. When the alarm is triggered, the dialer can call several phone numbers and alert them to the problem. You may want to program it to call a neighbor and your cell phone.

As the prices of electronic devices drop, more people are installing outdoor and indoor wireless video camera systems. These small cameras transmit a signal through walls to your television. The new KwikPeek model (Wireless Imaging) operates for several months on two AA batteries and has an on-off switch. Other indoor models, to monitor children or rooms, can be focused remotely.

Individual battery-operated sensors with a loud built-in siren alarm do not require an expensive central control panel. Window/door and motion-sensing models are available. Using these, you can protect key windows, doors and rooms. They are inexpensive and easy to install. The only drawback is that there is no central control to turn them on and off simultaneously.

Another unique device is a barking dog alarm. When it senses someone approaching a door or window, this device emits a loud, realistic barking sound. Another device can be hung on a doorknob. If someone jiggles the knob from outdoors, the alarm sounds.

These companies offer security systems:

* Digital Security Controls, toll-free 1-888-888-7838, www.dsc.com;

* Honeywell, toll-free 1-800-573-0154, www.security.honeywell.com; Intermatic, (815) 675-7000, www.intermatic.com;

* Wireless Imaging, toll-free 1-800-676-3402, www.wireless imaging.com;

* Protection One, toll-free 1-800-438-4357, www.protection one.com.

James Dulley is a mechanical engineer and do-it-yourselfer. Send questions to James Dulley, The Sensible Home, St. Petersburg Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Visit his Web site at www.dulley.com to tour his energy-efficient home, post questions for other readers and find other information.

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