Question: We keep a lot of lights on outdoors and indoors for security, but it drives up our electric bill and causes suburban light pollution. What home security options are there other than using lights?
Answer: With the costs of electronic devices constantly dropping, there are many new security options available for homeowners. Keep in mind that if all your neighbors keep lights on too, then your well-lit house is still equally inviting to a neighborhood prowler.
People often do not realize how much it costs to operate several outdoor security lights. Using several low-cost floodlights, available at most home centers, costs up to $100 per year to operate, not including replacing bulbs. Also, outdoor light pollution is so bad that you can barely see stars at night.
If you have children, a reasonably priced security item is a combination door lock (no key to lose). Preso-matic makes an easy-to-install mechanical combination deadbolt that is hefty yet attractive, with brass, black pebble or chrome finishes. More expensive electronic ones are also available.
Several companies (check online stores or home centers) make barking-dog alarms designed to frighten a would-be thief away. One design, by Telko, hangs over a doorknob. When it senses vibration, the barking starts. It has a 30-second exit delay and an adjustable volume control.
Another barking-dog design can be activated by a motion sensor inside your house or from a remote key ring button. If you are indoors or outdoors, up to 100 feet away, and hear something strange, press the key ring button.
Other low-cost options, under $20, include a battery-operated door wedge alarm with built-in piercing 110-decibel siren. Slip it under any door. If the door opens, the alarm sounds. Like barking-dog units, this is ideal in hotel rooms when traveling. A vibration-sensing window alarm works similarly.
Installing a video answering system at your front door can provide peace of mind. The simplest ones have a tiny fixed camera at the door and a small video screen at the telephone. You can see and talk to the visitors. There are also more expensive models in which the camera scans a larger area.
A monitored system provides the best security, especially when no one is at home. When an alarm is triggered, a siren sounds and the monitoring station dispatches the police. High-quality units have multilevel controls that limit your children's or cleaning people's access to selected areas.
A lower-cost yet effective option uses a dialer that is not connected to an expensive monitoring company. When the alarm is triggered, the dialer telephones up to four numbers and plays your prerecorded message for help.
Write for (instantly download at http://www.dulley.com) Update Bulletin No. 906, a buyer's guide of 13 security products and systems, descriptions, features and home security tips. Please include $3 and a business-size self-addressed, stamped envelope and mail to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.
Thermostat Savings Depend on the Setting
Q: I was considering getting a computerized setback thermostat when the salesman at the home center store said that it would save up to 40% on my utility bills. Does that sound extremely high to you?
A: Any thermostat can save as much as you want it to. Just keep setting it lower and lower and your furnace will seldom come on.
You can typically expect a 1% to 2% savings for each degree that you lower your thermostat for an eight-hour period. A 10-degree nighttime setback is not uncommon for a savings of roughly 15% on your heating bills.
James Dulley has written a 208-page book, "Earth Friendly Home," which include buyers' guides on 460 manufacturers of alternative energy products, 21 low-cost conservation projects and 10 landscaping plans. You can order this book directly from James Dulley for $13.95 (includes delivery) with check payable to James Dulley. Mail to James Dulley, Earth Books, P.O. Box 54987, Cincinnati, OH 45254 or visit http://www.dulley.com/earth.htm.