Using a Home Alarm as a Caravan Alarm

With caravan security being a real concern some owners have resorted to using a home alarm system in their caravan. Whilst we agree with the intent there are some downsides that need to be considered. Some of the downsides actually make this potentially illegal as well.

Functionality

House alarm keypad

House alarms are great for houses (and commercial properties) but don’t have Caravan functionality.

  • Anti-Tow – on attempt to tow the vehicle the electric brakes lock stopping the tow. Whilst it shouldn’t be the only purpose of an alarm system, this useful function is not present in a house alarm.
  • Night Mode – some home alarms have this, it arms the perimeter systems whilst you are asleep.
  • Silent Mode – only the strobe is activated on alarm, great for caravan parks but not found on house alarms.
  • Water (flood) Sensors – whilst some may have them they are generally not available for a house alarm. Water sensors provide a good safeguard against a caravans water system failure. Unattended this can lead to flooding and extensive floor damage.

Caravan Alarm Power

Home alarm systems are powered by a 240v adapter (generally to either 9 or 12v) and have plentiful clean power available to them. Given that home alarms systems do not need to be concerned with a ‘power budget’ there is no effort in the design to reduce total power consumption. A typical home alarm draws a current of 60~120mA when on standby. This number can escalate quickly if using additional components like full colour touchscreen panels as they tend to be quite power hungry as well.

Hooked up to a mains supply the higher power consumption is ok but running off battery it is a quite a large draw. A well designed 12v caravan alarm will only consume power in the vicinity of 10~30 mA depending on its functionality and accessories.

The other part of the power issue is that home alarms are not designed for the Automotive environment. They need suitable automotive style power filtering and regulation to run critical electronics for any length of time. Unlike a power adapter this environment has many transient voltage spikes present that need to be catered for.

Unless the filtering has been correctly designed the spikes can cause all sorts of problems with the control electronics. Automotive companies spend a lot of money to make sure that their ECU’s and other boards are able to run reliably in this hostile environment.

Sirens and Strobes

Alarm sirens/strobes are difficult to implement with regards to caravans. Firstly there is the issue of the total siren run time. The regulations for vehicles are different to those for houses. With a home alarm the siren the allowable run time can be up to 5 minutes. The default setting on most home alarms is generally 3 minutes. However some of them have the ability for this to be able to be adjusted in the programming of the panel. With a vehicle the regulations stipulate a maximum of 45 seconds in total.

Siren run times must be added together for this calculation. So if the siren runs for 10 seconds each activation, 4 activation’s of the siren is ok, but 5 activation’s and it is illegal. Run times longer than 45 seconds in total are a prescribed offense under Australian law. The owner can either be fined and/or issued with a defect notice requiring remedial action.

Strobe Physical Size
home alarm caravan
Large siren/strobe box

The other issue with Caravans and sirens/strobes is a physical one. Use of a standard home siren/strobe box is OK as long as the size of the box does not increase the total width of the vehicle past the maximum allowable width. ADR43/04 section 6.5.1 states that “the overall width of any motor vehicle or trailer must not exceed 2500 mm”. You will find that most caravans are built close to this width, for example a Jayco Silverline has a travel width of 2470 mm.

As a basic guide a siren/strobe box will be physically legal as long as it is installed on the door side of the van and does not protrude past the awning roll or awning legs, whichever is the widest point. If it does extend past this then you will have to measure your total width very carefully. Exceeding the maximum width of 2500 mm is an offense. This can also be subject to a fine and/or a vehicle defect notice.

Due to this we use a special strobe on our RVsecure alarm systems that is only about 5mm thick.

Complexity

Dedicated Caravan Alarm System

House alarms are generally complex to install and set up. If you have ever looked at the instruction manual for a house alarm you will find that they are 50 to 100 pages long. Many involve a large number of keypad entries to get them up and running! Compare that with a well designed Caravan alarm such as the PlatinumX. It is specifically made to be easy to setup and operate on the road.

Summary

With a fair bit of effort some home alarm systems could possibly be made to work. Given the legal, operational and functional requirements of a caravan it is a much better option to use a dedicated alarm system that has been specifically designed for RV use.


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