The article covers a variety of burglar alarm related topics, including the different components that make up a burglar alarm system, the pros and cons of professional versus DIY installation, how to avoid scams in the burglar alarm industry and recommendations for burglar alarm brands.
What is Burglar Alarm Systems?
Burglar alarm systems, also known as intruder alarms, are electronic security systems designed to detect and alert homeowners to unauthorised entry into their homes. These systems consist of various components such as a central control panel, door/window sensors, motion detectors, alarms/sirens and other optional features such as remote control/key fobs, interactive monitoring and home automation.
Types of Burglar Alarm Systems
Burglar alarm systems with monitoring services
Traditional burglar alarm systems are installed by professional companies and require a subscription to a security company’s monitoring service (usually costing around $20-$60 per month). The security company’s monitoring centre provides a 24/7 monitoring service. When an alarm is triggered, the system sends a signal to the monitoring centre and the centre’s professionals assess the situation and then contact the local police/fire/hospital services.
There are generally three ways to connect to the monitoring centre:
- Landline connection: This is more traditional, but will be ineffective if the intruder cuts the phone line beforehand.
- Cellular connection: This avoids the shortcomings of a landline connection and provides a faster connection, but may not work in areas with poor mobile phone reception.
- Network connection: This is faster than a fixed line connection, but not as reliable as a mobile connection, as it will not work if the power is cut or the router is disconnected.
Smart Burglar Alarm Systems
Many burglar alarm systems today can notify homeowners directly via text message, email and other means when the alarm is triggered. Homeowners can also access the system remotely via their smartphone or computer to check the status of various areas, disarm the alarm and perform other operations. Some alarm systems are also compatible with home automation features, such as remotely controlling lighting and temperature in the home.
Unmonitored alarm systems
When the alarm is triggered, a deafening sound is emitted to scare off intruders, but the system is not connected to a monitoring centre. Although this can save on monthly service charges, there is no professional assistance to report the incident to the authorities.
Functions of home burglar alarm systems
Most home burglar alarm systems consist of the following components:
- Central hub/control panel: All suspicious signals are transmitted to the control panel, which then relays them to the monitoring centre or other alarm devices.
- Control panel: Traditional security systems are usually armed or disarmed via a keypad and require the entry of a password.
- Door/window sensors: The alarm is triggered when a door or window is opened.
- Motion sensors/detectors: Detects suspicious movement and triggers an alarm.
- Alarm/Siren: Produces a loud sound to deter intruders.
- Remote control/key fob: Allows remote control of the intruder alarm system, including setting and disarming the alarm.
- Interactive Monitoring/Remote Access: Provides access to the burglar alarm system via network connections, such as a computer or smartphone app, allowing users to view and control the system remotely.
- 2-way voice communication: Allows communication with the monitoring centre via the controller’s built-in speaker and microphone, useful in situations where a phone call is not possible.
- Cameras: Provides real-time video surveillance of the home and records evidence to assist law enforcement.
- Smoke sensor: Detects fire based on the presence of smoke in the air.
- Heat sensor: Detects fire based on changes in temperature, usually in combination with smoke sensors.
- Glass break sensor: Detects broken windows or glass doors using sound waves.
- Garage door sensor: Detects unauthorised opening of the garage door.
- Carbon monoxide detector: Detects colourless, odourless and poisonous carbon monoxide gas.
- Gas detector: Detects natural gas leaks.
- Home Automation: Supports Z-wave or IFTTT to control other home devices such as lights, air conditioning, door locks and appliances via a smartphone app or internet connection.
- Flood/Water Sensor: Typically installed in basements, detects water leaks and infiltration to prevent damage to the home.
- Freeze sensor: Detects low temperatures to prevent burst pipes.
- Personal security/medical alert: Allows users to call for help via a panic button in the event of a medical or other emergency.
- Panic button: Typically installed in bedrooms, allows users to request help from the monitoring centre in situations where a phone call is not possible.
- Equipment warranty: Many burglar alarm companies promise to repair or replace faulty equipment within a certain period of time. This is an important factor to consider when choosing a burglar alarm system.
- Upfront costs: This usually includes the cost of the equipment, installation fees and activation service fees.
- Subscription costs: This refers to the monitoring service agreement with the burglar alarm company, which provides 24/7 monitoring by professionals. The monthly fee is usually between $20 and $60, depending on the company and the service plan chosen (which determines the level of functionality).
- DIY installation: This differs from professional installation and usually allows for cost savings on installation fees.
How to choose a burglar alarm?
Contract vs. no contract
Traditional security and monitoring companies such as ADT require homeowners to sign long-term contracts. The advantage of signing a contract is similar to buying a mobile phone with a contract price, which can significantly reduce the initial cost. However, the cost of the equipment is often spread over the monthly fee, and a long-term contract of 3-5 years is usually required, which may also require a credit check.
If you plan to stay in your home for a long time, signing a contract may not be a big problem. In addition, many homeowners and renters insurance policies offer additional discounts after installing a security system with professional monitoring.
With more and more people preferring to install burglar alarms themselves, some security and monitoring companies now offer no-contract monitoring services. This requires the full purchase of equipment, but the monthly fee is usually cheaper than traditional services (similar to a pre-paid mobile phone plan) and there is no contract to cancel at any time, making it particularly suitable for tenants or those who move house frequently.
Professional installation vs. DIY
Traditional burglar alarm companies require homeowners to make an appointment for an assessor to visit their home and then schedule a professional installation, which may include installation fees. However, for those who are afraid of the hassle or lack DIY skills, a full range of professional services is the most worry-free option.
Nowadays, almost every home has Wi-Fi and many burglar alarms have moved from wired devices to wireless ones, using batteries instead of wires and glue instead of nails. As long as the device is simply set up to connect to the router and Wi-Fi, homeowners with DIY skills can save on installation fees.
Alarm monitoring services
Burglar alarm systems with monitoring services offer better security, but the quality of different monitoring centres can vary. In addition to checking online customer reviews, it is important to check whether the monitoring centre has CSAA 5 or UL certification.
It is a good idea to ask if the company will contact the homeowner to confirm the alarm before reporting it to the authorities, as false alarms can result in fines in some US cities. Other important factors to consider include how quickly the monitoring centre contacts the homeowner after receiving an alarm and whether the monthly fee includes professional monitoring services.
There are many scammers and high-pressure salespeople in the burglar alarm industry, especially those who come to your door making lofty promises. However, once you have signed the contract, you may find that things are not as advertised. It is important not to make hasty decisions. Many salespeople will say that discounts are only available today and urge you to sign a contract quickly, or convince you to install lots of extra accessories and services that you may not need.
It is important to do your homework before making a decision. For example, ask for references from other customers, ask your neighbours what they think, check online reviews, compare prices from different companies, ask for a written quote and read the details of the contract carefully.
Whether it is a door-to-door salesman or a Yellow Pages listing, you should ask for the following information from the burglar alarm company
- Name of the company
- Street address (no PO Box)
- Telephone number
- Contractor’s licence number
- State that issued the licence
- Name under which the licence is registered
You can usually verify that the information is real and valid by checking the local government’s official website.
Compare Burglar Alarm
ADT is currently the largest burglar alarm brand in the United States and probably the best known. It has a presence in almost every region. ADT offers a wide range of features, including the option of cellular connectivity (CellGuard) and smart home automation (ADT’s Pulse). It also has a 6-month money-back guarantee and most home insurance companies offer discounts for homes with ADT services. The equipment is covered by a lifetime warranty. However, ADT subcontracts installation services, and different dealers may offer different choices and prices, and the quality of service may vary. It is recommended that you search for local dealer reviews.
ADT systems must be installed by professionals, usually require a 3-year contract, and monthly fees are generally higher. Consumers can look out for promotions such as credit card cash back.
FrontPoint has the best customer service and user reviews of any burglar alarm brand. It is wireless, with 100% cellular connectivity, and comes pre-configured for easy do-it-yourself installation. It also offers a 30-day free trial, optional interactive monitoring and supports Z-Wave smart home automation. The device comes with a lifetime warranty and requires a 3-year contract.
On the downside, it cannot be used in areas with poor mobile coverage, lacks two-way communication and requires a 3-year contract, although it does offer free relocation.
Vivint offers the most advanced smart home security system with free in-home consultation, professional installation, lifetime equipment warranty, wireless equipment and cellular connectivity. It also comes with a free mobile app, making it easy to manage and suitable for people who move around a lot.
On the downside, it requires a 3-5 year contract and has higher monthly fees.
Protect America’s basic home security package has no upfront costs, free do-it-yourself installation, lifetime equipment warranty and monthly fees starting at $19.99. It also offers free interactive monitoring and can be upgraded to a smart home security system.
On the downside, it requires a 3-year contract and the lower-priced plan does not have mobile connectivity.
SimpliSafe offers home security without a contract! It has wireless equipment, cellular connectivity, do-it-yourself installation, a 60-day money-back guarantee, remote control via a mobile app and the ability to connect to a smart home system. Its monitoring service costs just $14.99/month.
The downside is that customers have to pay for the equipment.