What to ask when buying a home alarm system


Posted: 24th March 2017

Buying alarm systems is becoming increasing complicated as technologies advance - in particular as smart home technology and phone technologies and apps drive forward the ‘smart home’ agenda with more and more devices now linking with mobile phones.

The following are the key questions to ask when buying an alarm system for your home or business:

- Wired or wireless?

- Bells-only or monitored?

- Monthly monitoring fee or not?

- Yearly maintenance service or not?

 

Wired or wireless alarm system

Wireless alarm technology has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years, becoming more reliable and better quality.  That said, going for a wireless system isn’t necessarily the best option as there are numerous issues to consider.  

Here’s a quick overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the two different options:

 

Wireless alarm

- Strength: quicker and easier to install (N.B. most wireless systems do have some element of wiring involved e.g. in most cases the control panel and sometimes the keypad are wired, and then the sensors are wireless).

- Weakness: comparatively unreliable, with faults usually linked to batteries failing.  (N.B. batteries normally last 12 to 24 months, but some fail more quickly used / activated frequently).

 

Wired alarm

- Strength: very reliable and robust.  Rarely go wrong.

- Weakness: require hard-wiring into your property, meaning you will have wires across your property (N.B. in most cases wires can be hidden, however in most cases you will be able to see some of the wires).

 

The other option to consider is a ‘hybrid alarm system’ like the Texecom Premier, which mixes both wired and wireless technologies together to give you the best of both worlds.

The two biggest considerations with the wired / wireless argument is ‘ease of installation’ over ‘reliability’.  Arguably reliability is the most important aspect to consider, especially as security systems should be fail-safe, working in the in-frequent occasions you really need it to work.

 

Bells-only or monitored alarm system

In the past most alarm systems were bells-based system, meaning that when the alarm was activated a bell sounded outside the property to alert people in the neighbouring area that there had been an activation.  Because of high-levels of false alarms, and because people found bells ringing in the street annoying, bells only systems have become less effective and therefore a lot less popular.

Monitored alarm systems, i.e. systems that are connected to an ‘alarm monitoring service’, have proven a lot more effective at providing a response to an emergency.  The main reason for this is that because the alarm is connected directly to a monitoring station (via a telephone line) you’re guaranteed response 24/7 - meaning there’s no need to worry, as the monitoring station is there ready to respond in the appropriate manner e.g. by calling emergency services in the case of an emergency, or calling your key-holders in the case of a suspected false alarm.

 

Here’s a a comparison the strengths and weaknesses of the two systems

Bells-only alarm 

- Strength: generally cheaper, no ongoing monitoring cost

- Weakness: not at all effective as a security system as people ignore alarm bells

 

Monitored alarm system

- Strength: as a rule highly effective as you’re guaranteed a response to the alarm activation every time

- Weakness: generally more expensive than bells-only systems and require a monthly monitoring fee

 

Monthly monitoring fee or not

If a monitored alarm system is connected to a monitoring station (i.e. a central station where monitoring staff are working 24/7 reacting live to alarm activations) then you’ll be required to pay for monthly monitoring fee.

The monitoring fee isn’t always paid monthly, but can also be quarterly or annual too (depending on circumstances).  For example, it’s fairly standard for businesses to pay on a yearly basis, but for home owners to pay on a monthly or quarterly basis.

If a monitored alarm system just uses an ‘auto-dialler’ (i.e. the alarm isn’t connected to a central monitoring station but instead automatically dials / sends an SMS to a number of pre-programmed people like the property owner or neighbour), then normally you are not required to pay a monthly fee - as there is nothing to really pay for.  That said, some companies do make their customers pay a monthly fee for ‘auto-dialler monitoring’, which in our opinion is a rip off.

 

Typical monthly alarm system monthly costs are as follows:

- Auto-dialler monitoring: free (although some alarm companies charge for this, so you should check)

- Call-back monitoring: £12 to £30 a month

- Call-back monitoring with Redcare (or similar line-cut technologies): £30 to £45 a month

- Immediate audio-response monitoring: £17 to £45 a month

 

Yearly alarm maintenance contract or not

Typically when an alarm company sells you an alarm system they’ll also try to sell you a yearly maintenance contract.  An alarm alarm maintenance contract typically involves an alarm engineer visiting your property and testing various aspects of your alarm:

- Sensor tests: making sure the sensors all work (e.g. PIR sensors in your rooms)

- General alarm activation tests: making sure that the alarm works when activated, and in the case of having alarm monitoring, your alarm calls the monitoring centre correctly

- Battery tests: making sure that the various batteries in your system are OK (and fully charging).  N.B. battery failure is most common on wireless alarm systems

 

Arguably visiting every year is over-kill, not much can really go wrong with an alarm system if it’s been left un-touched.  The biggest / most-common issue is battery failure which is (as mentioned earlier) most common with wireless systems. If your alarm is wired then your system will only have 1 battery, and this battery should last 3 to 5 years at a time.

 

Summary

These are the most common questions to ask when buying a home alarm system.  If you have any further questions, please get in touch with our team at AMCO Security - who are some of the most informed in the industry.