Tech Talk: Residential Garage Security

Often overlooked, here are some system design tips to make sure garages don’t become vehicles for burglars.

This month I thought we’d have some techie fun and delve into one of the tech mysteries of residential security — how to properly secure the garage. Through the years I have seen many ways to tackle this issue. There are many technical flavors depending on the habits of the customer and their family. Let’s take a closer look.

Why Even Protect the Garage?
As a security professional you know that every part of a facility should be electronically secured. However, your customer or sales prospect is going to ask, “Why do I need security in the garage?” It is not easy to break into a garage with a steel overhead door and not much temptation with only some shop tools.

For a reasonably savvy burglar, the garage is a temporary refuge before getting access into the true inner sanctum of the home. Once in the garage the burglar is not noticed from the outside and can take his time getting into the house and not tripping the alarm system. The garage is also a good cover for any break-in sounds that may occur.


Typically automatic garage doors are required by code to have an internal manual emergency release latch and cord. The only problem is that many of these release mechanisms can be opened from the outside by simply slipping a metal coat hanger under the top of the door and hook the latch, and pull. Even in tightly sealed garage doors only a small hole in the door is needed. There are many videos on the Internet showing how easy a garage door can be compromised. I would suggest one of these videos as a good sales tool for selling alarm supervision of the garage doors.

I have observed break-ins where burglars would get into the garage and then take the owner’s chainsaw to cut a hole in the entrance door or even through wallboard in order to bypass alarm door contacts. Also, don’t forget that often the alarm panel or the RJ31X phone connector (yes, we still use them) are in the enclosed garage area and available to compromise (do have a tamper circuit on your panels?).

Garage Security Design Challenges
Garage security has always been a challenge due to the nature of entrance and exit activity. You have a garage door and then an extended and variable delay period while one is driving in and from the garage and then going from car to the home. You also have a hostile environment from the perspective of large temperature swings as many garage areas are not heated or cooled. Keep that in mind when picking sensors.

Also, they are often less secured and maintained as the inner part of a house, which can cause unwanted insects and small critters to be a source of false alarms. So how do you adjust your alarm system design and operation in order to make for easy use?

Garage door operating systems have some features that can be to our advantage when designing alarm access features. There is power supplied to the motor as the door opens. There is also power applied to a garage door opener light that is designed to have lengthy delay periods in order to provide illumination when a person goes into or out of the house.

In the circuit diagram you will notice that a couple of 110VAC relays can be connected to the garage door motor and lamp. When energized the relay contacts will short, or shunt, out the overhead door contact and stop a zone loop violation from being reported. The motor shunt relay is to provide immediate shunting while the door alarm contact is open as some door opener lights may have a short delay before coming on. The door opener lamp shunt relay will provide additional delay time between when the motor has stopped and the overhead door is closed again.

There is one caveat to this design and that is if the door is left open for any extended period of time and the alarm system is still armed. The homeowner must be made aware of the consequences of this action.

I suggest another option if this becomes a problem. You could add an additional contact at the top of the garage door action so that the alarm circuit remains shunted as long as the door remains open. You would still need the relays shunting during door up/down activity.

Also notice in the diagram that the exit door is placed on exit/entry delay alarm loop. Some alarm panels actually have an extra delay zone that can be set for longer delay times and less chance of false alarming. A small notice to panel manufacturers that additional programming for garage door scenarios would be appreciated.

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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