You hear the term alarm system all the time. Do you actually know what it is? How does an alarm system work? Why do you need an alarm system? This blog will break down what an alarm system is, how it works, and the benefits you get from having an alarm system.
An alarm system is a piece of technology designed to alert someone when it’s been tripped. Alarm systems deter and detect burglars. Every alarm has an alarm panel. This is the brains of the system. The security system then can have other equipment. These are called peripherals. All alarm panels need power to work. The panel is connected to the peripherals through either wires or a wireless signal. The peripherals are powered either through wires or batteries. The alarm may have a siren. Some sirens are external. Some sirens are located in the alarm panel.
There are two types of alarms – hardwired and wireless. Hardwired means that wires run throughout the home. The panel is usually in the basement. The panel looks like a circuit box. Wireless systems also communicate with a panel. The communication is wireless. This means through a wireless frequency (RF, z-wave, zigbee, etc). Wireless systems are easier to install and are usually less expensive.
The system can be armed or disarmed. When it’s armed, that means it’s active (could be detecting motion or door contact circuits activated, etc). In this state, it will be triggered when the system detects an intruder. Some pieces of equipment that can detect a burglar are door contacts, motion detectors and glass break sensors. A door contact will trigger when a door is opened. The contact creates a circuit. When the door is opened the circuit is broken. This will then send a signal to the panel. The panel will then send an alarm signal.
When the system is unarmed, a burglar signal will not be sent. The environmental sensors are always detecting though. So even if the system is off, a fire detector can send a signal if there’s smoke.
Alarm signals are sent through two ways – IP and cellular. IP means through the internet. The panel would be connected to the home’s router. When the alarm is triggered, a signal is sent through the internet. IP connectivity is affordable, easy and reliable. Cellular means the signal is sent through a cellular signal similar to a cell phone. This works well for homes that don’t have internet. It also works well for homes without reliable internet. For cellular wireless systems, the panel can be placed anywhere.
The alarm can either be professionally monitored or self monitored. Professional means it will connect to a central station when activated. This will allow someone to respond to the alarm 24/7. When the alarm is triggered a connection will be made to the central station. The operator will then notify the homeowner. They do this to see if it’s an actual emergency. It may also be a false alarm. The homeowner can let the operator know. If the operator is unable to reach the homeowner, they then call emergency contacts. If none can be reached, the operator will then notify police.
A self-monitored system only will send a notification to the homeowner. When the alarm is triggered a text or email may be sent. Nothing is sent to a Central Station. This means it’s up to the homeowner to respond.
Professionally monitored systems provide increased protection. Insurance companies give a discount in insurance rates with monitored systems. Some systems have a combination of monitored and self-monitored features. For example, a Central Station may be notified and also a text is sent to the homeowner.
Home alarm systems are either installed by an alarm company or the homeowner. Historically the company would send an installer. This would take between a few hours or multiple days. The installer would have to run wires all over the home. This is an expensive and technically complicated process. Better technology has changed the industry. Now anyone can do the installation. This is why there are DIY alarm companies. Installation for these security systems can be as quick as half an hour.
Alarms can do more than just security. They can also monitor for other things like fire detection, carbon monoxide detection, flood detection and high temperature/low temperature. These detectors can be easily added to most security systems. Usually this is without an increased monthly charge.
Some alarms come with a mobile app. This allows you to control your system remotely through your smartphone or tablet. Apps provide an increased experience. You can arm/disarm your system and see a history of alarm events. You can also control parts of your system (turn chime on/off, volume control, add additional users, etc). Some companies add the app for free. Other companies charge for the app. Also different companies have different features. An app is a fantastic tool though. It provides increased peace of mind and better user experience.
Smart home automation is another service that can be added to some alarms. This is the ability to control parts of the home remotely. This is done through an app usually. You can turn on and off lights, control your thermostat and unlock/lock your doors. Smart home automation has a coolness feature to it. Some alarms can add this service. This is usually at an increased cost. Others do not have the ability to add.
Some other things that come with alarms that are important are lawn signs and window decals. These provide fantastic value. Signs and decals let would be burglars know the home is protected. Think like a burglar. Would you want to get caught? Obviously, the answer is no. So if it’s between breaking into a home with an alarm or one without, which would you choose? Lawn signs and decals let a burglar know to stay away. Well placed signs are fantastic deterrents.
Monitored alarm systems work. This is why insurance companies give a reduction in homeowners rates for houses with monitored security systems. Homes with alarms are three times less likely to have a break-in than those without.
There are no shortage of alarm companies in North America. Three of the best known that provide installers are ADT, Brink’s Home Security and Vivint. These are all available throughout North America. There are also companies that only service some areas. CPI Security, Ackerman Security, Bay Alarm and Safe Home Security are all super regionals. Some cable companies that provide security are Xfinity, Rogers Smart Home Monitored, Bell Smart Home Security and Telus Smart Home Security. Well known DIY companies are Simplisafe, Think Protection, Frontpoint and Livewatch.
The price of an alarm depends on the company. Monitored rates range from $12/month to $60/month. Some companies also may charge upfront costs. Plus some alarm companies require the customer to sign a contract. These contracts usually are three years. Some companies like Think Protection and Simplisafe require no annual contract.