Comfort Alarm – Review

The Alarm – At last I’ve had a chance to put something down about my new Comfort Alarm . Blame a busy few weeks at work and the fact that my Comfort project is likely to be ongoing for a few months yet (which is good, not bad). I’ll spend some time now not advertising the system but saying what has worked well for me, and what hasn’t. The summary is that Comfort is wonderful and does everything I want…

To put that into context I’ll tell you what I wanted: We had an alarm system left by the previous owners. It was ancient, could be defeated by pulling it’s 3-pin plug out of the wall, and had a huge blind spot that would allow someone to walk in the back door and steal the alarm, if they were so inclined. Consequently we didn’t have much faith in it, so I wanted to replace it. The replacement had to be capable of the following: It had to let me wire in the sensors from the old alarm system, keeping my cabling to a minimum. It had to have a phone dialler, to alert me if it goes off. At the time, I was getting interested in automation, so an X10 interface was handy. It needed to support either easily utilised outputs to a PC, or some on board intelligence, to allow the system to control devices intelligently.

Consequently I examined conventional alarms with a view to interfacing them to a PC, home automation devices such as the SK8000, and almost at last minute, Comfort. Comfort seemed ideal since it it was a professional conventional alarm system that has been crossed with a home automation controller. Additional plus points are that Comfort comes with a very clever answerphone, allowing me to replace our hateful BT device; it is British supplied (good from the support and ‘will it work here’ factor, not mention patriotism); BABT approved so I had no worries about whether it will work with the phone. The other advantage of Comfort’s alarm/automation integration is that the automation side of things intrinsically has access to the status of the house – whether we are in or out, and we only have to operate one interface to tell the house that we are in or out.

Fitting Comfort was a breeze. The old box had a manual and all the wires were labelled so it was simply a case of disconnecting and replacing one box with another. All the existing sensors wired in fine. A point to note is that Comfort supports something called double end of line resistors on the sensors. What this means is that using just two wires to a sensor (plus two for power) the system can detect whether someone has opened the sensor’s case (tamper), triggered the sensor, or cut or shorted the sensor wire. To achieve this all you have to do is fit two resistors in the sensor whilst you are wiring it up. It was very easy and makes the system extremely secure. Wiring up the rest of the system was equally easy and the manuals that come with Comfort are extremely comprehensive and well written – the advantage of a well supported UK product.

What took me a little longer was putting in the additional cables to support more sensors, the Kompad and the phone line. Comfort prefers to be wired in line with the phone line, and hence I had to run a cable (CAT5 with a spare for later 😉 ) from an upstairs bedroom down the cupboard Comfort is in. Trickier than I thought. Two cores carry the line down from the BT master socket to Comfort, and two back up to a new master socket I installed (again very easy) from which all the phone extensions run. This means Comfort can dial out to report alarms and you can control Comfort from internal phones and by dialling in. A plus point is that the doorbell can be configured to ring the internal phones which instantly means you get a remote door chime (if you have a cordless phone). Comfort also monitors the phone line voltage to detect line cut, but our phone service doesn’t seem too reliable since we’ve had a couple of early morning wake-up calls thanks to this. Fortunately you can turn off line monitoring. I still haven’t got around to connecting up the doorstation so I can’t say how well it works in practice…

Comfort can be programmed either by typing in numeric codes from the Keypad or phone, or by using a computer package and downloading the programming via serial type cable. So far I’ve only programmed using the Keypad/phone which works fine, so long as you write down your programme first (worksheet is provided) and think carefully about what the programme will do. Late night programming with a beer (and wife whose patience was running low) caused me to stick an infinite loop in a bit of code that crashed Comfort. Fortunately you recover the situation by pushing a reset button inside Comfort!

The programming language is very powerful and supports loops, parameters and branching. The system has 8 counters available for use, which can also be used in some contexts as variables. For example you can say dim A1 for X cycles, but you can’t (so far as I know) say dim X for Y cycles. Variables do add an extra dimension to the system though and are very powerful: I’m still playing with the possibilities they provide. Comfort supports digital (12v) outputs, as well as IR outputs (untried by me), as well as both 12v digital inputs (using the standard alarm zone inputs) and 5v analogue inputs. I plan, though I’ve yet to order the parts, to connect mains rated relays to some outputs in order to automate some lights that don’t require dimming control (on the basis that a relay is somewhat cheaper than an X10 unit).

It’s also worth remembering that just about every aspect of Comfort is customisable. Parameters cover some things, such as number of dial out retries, entry and exit delays. Zone behaviour is configurable (i.e. whether it causes an instant alarm, alarm at night, alarm when away etc). Zones can trigger programmes – for example we have ours set so that when at night, and the alarm hasn’t been triggered, movement on the landing followed by movement in the hall disarms the system – maybe slightly relaxed on total security, but it’s handy when friends/family stay over and they get up before you. Comfort has 15 or so different alarm types (power fail, phone fail, intruder, entry, answerphone etc) all of which are configurable as to whether they activate the siren, strobe, trigger a dial out, play an alert tone etc.

The only real problems I’ve had have been with X10. I think this one is resolved now, and it’s probably my fault: running a 300W lamp at 1/2 dim from a lamp module seems to cause the module to jam X10 signals after a while. It would be nice if Comfort could read in CLI codes when people ring. Most people don’t leave a message on the answerphone but I’d still like to know who they were (usually my Mum!). My final criticism would have been that Comfort only supports 128 programmes (of 6 steps). However this has since been doubled to 256 programmes. Which helps emphasise the last great point about Comfort in that it is upgradeable! My system started off with 128 responses and no support for variables. I upgraded it by simply swapping two chips over on the main board (firmware and memory). Comfort’s designers seem very open to suggestions for improvements and even better: actually take note and implement them very quickly. See the Comfort egroup ( for proof. Because of the memory upgrade, I ordered the Windows package to assist with programming the system, since I plan to add more features to the automation side:

  • Wire the existing house thermostat into a Comfort input.
  • Wire the existing thermostat control via relay into boiler’s thermostat input.
  • Wire Comfort output via relay to replace boiler’s time controller.

Comfort supports time programmes so the heating will be set to come on at the appropriate times, and switch off when we go out. Hot water will only come on when movement is detected and stays on for 30mins after (pseudo hot water on demand system).

Additional lights controlled via X10 – Keyfob remote control to allow me to put the car in the garage without triggering the alarm. The keyfob and receiver are available from Maplin, run off 12v and have a 12v output, so wires straight into Comfort.

Programme more scenes to control lighting (and maybe play with the IR control). I might integrate this with either X10 switches in a couple of rooms or a multi-channel RF remote. I’ve been trying to think of a foolproof scheme for the system to work out which room we are in and thus what lights should be set on. Can’t think of how to do this when more than one person is involved though – can you get IR sensors that detect the presence of a person, and not movement (perhaps by comparing the IR emissions of a target part of the room with the emissions of a reference part of the room?).
I ought to do some work now, so I hope this helps. If I’ve missed anything feel free to ask me. I can also recommend speaking to or emailing Andrew Roberts at ISCaM since he knows pretty much all there is about Comfort. If you’re looking for primarily an alarm system that also does automation then I don’t know of a better product.

Approximate Prices 8 Zone 8 Output panel (Expandable) £346.63

Keypad/Doorphone (Each) £56.40 .  Available From C-Bus Shop

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