Watch and Warn
By Larry Walton
April 27, 2016
Filed under Gear
Choosing the right security system for your motorhome
When MotorHome reader Rob Sanford wrote to ask about RV security systems, it was clear that his interest was not just academic: “As someone who has suffered losses from break-ins,” wrote Sanford, “I hope MotorHome can offer some advice and recommend security equipment in an upcoming issue.”
There is little doubt that security can be a big concern, especially for those who have had an experience like Sanford. Whether it’s protecting your family or your property, adding a layer of electronic protection can be very important to your peace of mind.
Motorhome security systems are much like home security systems. They can notify you — or the authorities — of a break-in, alert with strobe and siren, sense heat, motion, or windows and doors being opened.
But motorhome systems that work anywhere you go can be quite different from home-based systems when it comes to power and communication. Motorhomes have the capacity to operate off of the power grid, which means a dedicated motorhome security system should as well. In addition, motorhomes cannot rely on hard wires (phone or Internet cables) to remain in communication for monitoring, reporting and remote control of system features.
FINDING A FIT
Talking to fellow RVers and to those designing motorhome security systems, it quickly became apparent that one size does not fit all due to the wide-ranging variety of ways that we use our motorhomes, where we store them, whether or not we have pets on board, how much we want to know about what is happening in and around our units when we are not there and whether or not we want to inform the authorities of incidents.
For example, we store our RV at a facility that is very secure behind razor-wire fences, inside a blanket of electronic surveillance and under the watchful eye of on-site security guards. Other off-site parking spaces may not be as secure and could use some initiative on the part of the owners to monitor and ward off invaders.
Some motorhome owners think their dogs or their weapons have them covered while they are using their motorhome, but their motorhome is probably the most vulnerable when it is parked in the driveway before and after trips. A system that takes advantage of home wireless equipment might be just the thing. Those with an existing home security system can take advantage of that system while at home by activating an additional motion-sensor zone in the motorhome or making use of a break-beam sensor in the driveway.
For many motorhome enthusiasts, venturing out on the open highway intensifies security concerns because there are people and pets to protect and there is less control over the ever-changing environment. Motion sensors that worked well when the vehicle was unoccupied may need to give way to door and window sensors while pets and people are wandering around inside. What about when you stop for lunch or take a short hike down to those falls you’ve heard so much about?
Circumstances continue to change as you arrive at your destination. You could be rolling into a gated property with solid security or into a location with lots of public access and a steady flow of both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. We’ve camped in upscale RV resorts and felt quite protected and we’ve set up base in public skating rink parking lots while our kids competed in hockey tournaments for the weekend — a setting in which you can expect lots of movement around the RV.
SAFE AT HOME BASE
As stated above, if you already have a home security system, security for your motorhome while parked at your house may be as simple as adding a motion detector or other sensors that connect to your existing home system.
If you need home security only for your motorhome and it is parked within range of your wireless network, there are lots of options for inexpensive systems that can alert you to movement or to open doors and windows. These devices are easy to install and do not require service contracts.
Guardzilla offers a simple camera-based unit that you simply plug in, download an app for your smartphone and then connect to your home Wi-Fi. It sends you a text, email and/or push message when motion is detected. When you get the message, you can open your app and view a live video. Using your smartphone you can arm or disarm the system, view the activity log, change settings, push the panic button to make the alarm go off in your motorhome or switch to additional Guardzilla cameras. Mobile hotspots and guest networks do not work well for these types of systems, so you either need to use your home system or a consistent wireless Internet setup in your motorhome.
To take a motorhome security system on the road, you need to settle the question of connectivity and power. Connecting to the motorhome for monitoring, reporting and controlling the system usually requires satellite- or cellular-based Internet. If your motorhome doesn’t have Internet, you’ll need a system that provides it as part of the package. Any systems must answer the right power source questions as well. Do they need shorepower? Will they drain the motorhome house battery? Do they have their own power source?
Motorhomes already equipped with satellite- or cellular-based Internet service have lots of options for wireless systems designed primarily for home use. As long as an appropriate power source is readily available, many of these systems can use the wireless network in your motorhome to keep you informed of the security status and make changes to settings. Motion detectors, door and window sensors, smoke detectors, temperature sensors and water sensors can alert you and allow you to see what’s going on in your coach.
If your motorhome does not have constant Internet, a standalone system that provides for cellular or satellite connection can get the job done. Standalone security systems with video alert, such as the RV Security System by All Secure Alarm Company, require a one-year contract for monitoring, which costs about $55 per month. When the system has cell coverage and is activated, a siren sounds from the motorhome panel and the system sends you a text alert with a 10-second video clip of your motorhome’s interior showing who activated the system. You can call the local police or take whatever action you deem appropriate. Your video can even be forwarded to the police to identify the intruder.
We improved the security of our RV parking spot by installing a set of NetBright lights by Mr. Beams. The motion-detector lights are battery-operated and easy to install. The key feature is that they act as a network. If movement triggers one light, it sends a signal that turns on the other lights in the network. Because they are battery-operated, you can install them in locations without power. You can even take them along with you on your motorhome outings to provide added security wherever you go. As of this writing, our lights have been in constant service for more than nine months on the original batteries.
Motorhome security system features you may want to consider include battery backup, inertia-based sensors and cable-lock sensors to secure outdoor items, pet provisions for motion detectors, expandable sensor zones for adding to the system, video alerts, remote control, horn and strobe alert options, smartphone apps for controlling and monitoring the system, driveway sensors and mobile connectivity.