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Home Alarm Systems

Monday, 4 September 2006

Have you ever had your home robbed? If you haven't, it's likely you know someone who has. A home alarm system is definitely a deterrent to thieves; you're less likely to be broken into than your neighbour's home that doesn't have an alarm. And even if you are hit, thieves get away with much less. We talk to the experts on both sides of the fence to find out what we need to know to pick a home security system.

The Basics

Our experts say the systems that work best are those that alarms that are linked to all windows and doors, and not just certain entry points. 

Here is a list of the basic alarm systems that are available. Knowing what is available is the first important step in choosing your system and this choice will often depend on the structure of your house.

  • Hardwired alarms have all devices hardwired to a control panel. These account for half of all alarm sales and cost less than wireless models. The one drawback is that if wires are not already in place, these models can be difficult to install. Most houses can be retro-fitted, but may be a big project that involves painting and other touch-ups.

  • Wireless alarms also account for about half of all alarms installed in the market. This system operates on batteries whereby a locked and hidden control panel sends radio-frequency signals to motion sensors, magnetic contacts and other devices. If triggered, the system automatically calls a monitoring center. These systems used to run into problems with low battery life and false alarms, but today there are longer lasting batteries on the market. The wireless models are generally double the price of a hardwired system.

There are also different levels of alarm systems to consider:

  • masic alarm partially covers the first floor, where 80% of break-ins occur. There are sensors on some entry doors and windows and one motion detector per level. A lot of these devices can be installed by the home owner.

  • mid-level alarm covers more of the doors and windows in the house and uses infrared motion detectors. Many of these systems are now modular, so you can keep adding features. These may include glass-breakage sensors, pressure mats, a panic button, smoke detectors and cell-phone alternative in case the phone lines are cut.

  • high-end alarm system covers all ground floor doors and windows with sensors. These also include a number of other features including interior motion detectors and key pads that allow the homeowner to enter a distress code if the intruder is already inside – this call will go directly to the police department and the burglar will think you have turned off the system. The expensive systems also offer a remote control key and video intercom. In some homes, these cameras are linked to the internet, so homeowners can check on their house while at work. The monitors include smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors

Important points to consider when choosing an alarm company:

  • Ask insurance company, friends, family or neighbours for referrals.

  • Check out how long the company has been in business and its history of performance and service.

  • States, provinces and countries usually have a professional organization that reputable alarm companies belong to, such as the Canadian Alarm and Security Association.

  • Check the company out with your local Better Business Bureau.

  • Ask if the company conducts any pre-employment screening. You don’t want to be hiring an ex-con with full access to your home.

  • When the company sends a technician over for an estimate or installation, make sure to get his name beforehand so that you know for sure it is him when he knocks on your door, and also try to have other family members or friends present.

  • Find out what services are offered and if monitoring is always done through the installation company.

  • Are technicians available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to service malfunctioning equipment?

  • Is maintenance included? Most will start to charge per visit after the warranty is up.

  • Will the company be responsible for false alarms caused by defective equipment or improper installation?

  • Do they have a false alarm reduction program?

  • Get a couple of quotes in writing and ask for the manufacturer’s name and model numbers of the equipment that will be installed so that you can make informed comparisons.

  • Ask what any re-installation charges are in case you move.

Other Considerations

  • Owning a dog can be a great deterrent and can increase safety for your neighbours as well!  But with owning a dog comes a lot of responsibility, so make sure you do your homework before taking that route.

  • Consider leaving porch lights on and making sure that there is nowhere for the burglar to hide when they run outside. Keep bushes by the front door small and neat and consider buying lights that come on with a motion sensor.

  • Use your common sense. When you go away, be sure to leave one light on and have neighbours or friends collect the mail and newspaper from your front door. Letting thieves know that you’re away is like leaving a welcome note on the door!

  • If you do not have an alarm yet, consider getting a sticker that warns of an alarm anyway. This will not deter a professional but may sway a smash and grab.

Be Aware

Alarm systems are big business, which increases chances of fraud that may have you spending more than you need. We had our Mystery Shopper check out a few alarm companies to see which one proved to be the most legitimate and trustworthy.

  • A professional alarm company will do a very thorough on-site inspection of your property – indoors and outdoors. This can take some time, so be wary of the company that is in and out within 15 minutes and then asks you to sign. It takes longer than that to develop a comprehensive security analysis. They should note down all points of entry and even give you useful tips on how to protect your home – apart from an alarm system – such as using motion lights outside. This will at least give you some assurance that they’re not simply out for your money, but that they actually believe in what they’re selling – security.

  • Find out how long the company has been in business and ask to see their license. Security companies need to be bonded so seeing a license will tell you that they’re legit.

  • Often free systems and low monitoring fees are just a promotional way for the salesperson to get in the door. Then they’ll start adding on additional fees.

  • Take your time to decide on the right company and security system for your home. The average system will cost you between $600 to $1,300 so you want to be sure that you’re money has been well spent and you’ll be able to sleep safely at night. Also remember to calculate monthly monitoring fees into your costs if you are taking that route.

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