Burglar alarm buying guide

Burglar alarm buying guide

John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton

Guide written by:

John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton

A burglar alarm is the best way to deter any potential intruders. Designed to monitor your home and sound the alert in case of an intrusion, a home alarm system can send you a remote warning or automatically notify the authorities. Looking for the perfect security alarm for your home? Read on to find out more.

Important features

  • Wired
  • Wireless
  • Sensor
  • Alert
  • Keypad
  • Control panel
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How do burglar alarms work?

How do burglar alarms work?

Broadly speaking, home alarm systems can be broken down into four main components. The overall function of these parts is to detect and prevent break-ins, and to monitor activity around the home. The main components are as follows:

  • Sensors - to detect potential intruders;

  • Alarms - to alert you or others to intrusions via sound, light or remote alerts;

  • Keypads - to set, activate and deactivate the alarm;

  • Control panel - to control all components.

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Home security alarms

Different types of alarm sensors

Alarm sensors are designed to detect the movement of any unwanted guests. There are a few different types of sensors to choose from.

1. Motion sensors 

1. Motion sensors 

Motion sensors usually provide what is known as volumetric protection. This means that the alarm is triggered when an intruder passes through the sensor's field of detection. For optimal efficiency, motion detectors should be placed in the corner of a room.

2. Window sensors

2. Window sensors

Window sensors are boundary penetration sensors. Installed around windows and doors, these detectors are designed to sound the alarm when any activated window is opened.

Alternatively, you can use a glass-break sensor which makes it impossible to break a window discreetly. These sensors should be hidden inside the window between the window and the window frame.

3. Vibration sensors

3. Vibration sensors

Vibration sensors are designed to alert you to any suspicious activity by detecting vibrations caused by lock picks or window panes breaking.

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Burglar alarms

Different types of alarm sounders

The purpose of an alarm is to sound the alert in the case of suspected intrusions and to scare off potential burglars. The alarm itself can be sounded in a number of ways.

1. Indoor sirens

1. Indoor sirens

An indoor siren is designed to alarm and scare off burglars. The sound level of the device will be indicated in decibels (dB). The louder the alarm, the more effective it will be!

2. External alarms and beacons

2. External alarms and beacons

These alarms are used to alert your neighbours in the case of a break-in. Any intruders will be greeted by a sound and light show worthy of Blackpool! However, if you live in a block of flats be aware that this type of alarm system may not be permitted.

3. Auto diallers

3. Auto diallers

A telephone transmitter is used to connect to your phone network and call one or several pre-set numbers in the case of an intrusion. Old-fashioned alarms will need to be hard-wired into an ADSL socket.

4. GSM alarms

4. GSM alarms

GSM alarms are more modern wireless systems designed to send texts to a pre-set number if any unusual activity is detected at home. You need to insert a SIM card into the alarm and ensure that you are able to receive a signal. This is a great option for a second home.

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Alarm control panels

Activating and deactivating an alarm

Activating and deactivating an alarm

Traditionally, alarms are activated and deactivated by entering a pre-programmed code into the system. It's also possible to activate an alarm using a remote control, a key fob or even a phone. Finally, you can programme your alarm to activate itself at set times throughout the day. This is a particularly important option for high-risk properties.

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Alarm remotes and keypads

Setting alarm zones

Setting alarm zones

Some alarms allow you to define various zones made up of different sensors. This allows you to activate zones separately. For example, you might want to protect your basement or ensure that one particular window is secured without turning on your entire alarm system.

How to set alarms

How to set alarms

Alarms can be programmed via their control panel. The more options your system offers, the more complicated it will be to set. But don't panic! These days, it's often possible to control your alarm using a computer or phone and this technology is much more intuitive. A smart alarm, for example, can be checked or controlled remotely.

Features of alarm sensors

Features of alarm sensors

Some sensors are designed to tell the difference between an intruder and a family pet if, for example, you've gone out but left your dog at home.

In this case, the sensors won't trigger the alarm until a certain weight is detected (usually above 15 kg). If you have pets, be sure to check that this option is available and that the upper weight limit is suitable for your pets. Otherwise, you might find your alarm going off more often than you'd like!

Wired vs. wireless alarms: which is right for you?

Wired vs. wireless alarms: which is right for you?

Once the only option, hard-wired alarms now have a rival in the shape of smart wireless alarm systems. Wireless alarms are easy to install which makes them a great option if you don't want to carry out a lot of building work to install. What's more, the technology offered by these alarms is always improving and you can move the sensors around easily enough if required. These days, wireless systems are the most popular choice when it comes to investing in an alarm. However, they do have their limitations. They have limited signal, require batteries and there is a risk of signal interference.

Hard-wired alarms are cheaper and offer increased security. If you're in the process of building, a hard-wired alarm is a no brainer as you'll be able to plan exactly where to wire the system. On the other hand, installation in an older home will be much more complex than fitting a wireless alarm.

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Home alarm standards

Home alarm standards

Alarm systems have to conform to the European standard EN 50131, the requirements of which are set out in the enabling document PD6662.

This document splits alarm systems into a series of security grades which describe the type of intruder likely to strike as well as how much effort they would put into a burglary.

  • Grade 1: low risk of theft; opportunistic thieves rather than pre-meditated intrusions; assumes break-ins would happen via the front door.

  • Grade 2: higher risk of theft; property contains something of value that interests the thief and intruder is likely to have knowledge of basic alarm systems; Break-ins could happen doors, windows and other openings.

  • Grade 3: property presents reasonably substantial risk of intrusions; experienced thieves with knowledge of alarms and tools to overcome systems expected. Grade 4 represents high risk properties with valuables: thieves are expected to plan operations thoroughly and are unlikely to work alone.

If you go for a wireless alarm look out for a CE marking. This mark means that the product complies with all relevant product supply laws. However, bear in mind that it doesn't necessarily mean the product has been tested to rigorous standards. Always choose a reputable company even if this means spending a bit more. Check that the alarm conforms to EN 50131 standards and pick the right security grade for your property.

Smart alarm systems

Smart alarm systems

Nowadays, alarms can be connected to smart home systems which gives you a lot more options. With a smart home system, it's possible to connect all types of alarm systems including fire alarms, flood alarms, gas leak detectors and freezer alarms. The system will alert you to any kind of incident in the home and you'll have centralised control over a range of systems.

Equipped with a camera, these systems are able to start recording footage in the case of a suspected incident to provide you with proof. You can also archive footage which can be watched back on a laptop to find out what happened in the event of an intrusion or accident. You can even link your alarm to automated equipment such as electric shutters or lights to make it appear as though you are home.

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Fire alarms

How to protect your alarm system

How to protect your alarm system

Burglar alarms are complex systems that must be able to withstand any attempts of vandalism. Wireless alarms need to protected against signal interference.

Your control panel and keypad(s) must be vandal-resistant. If your alarm is powered by high-capacity batteries, it won't be at risk if there's a power cut (unless the alarm sends signals via a ADSL box which requires electricity). It's a good idea to invest in a system with anti-vandalism protection. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully when it comes to assembly. Sensors that aren't positioned correctly may not be able to warn you in the event of a break-in or they may be set off unnecessarily. Do not install your alarm control panel or keypads anywhere that can be easily accessed.

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Alarm batteries

Burglar alarms and legal requirements

Your home insurance company may require you to have a burglar alarm installed as part of your policy. There are no licensing requirements relating specifically to security alarm fitters but your system does need to be installed by a qualified electrician. That said, many modern wireless systems come in kits and can be installed by anyone.

Monitored intruder alarm systems

Monitored intruder alarm systems

Some burglar alarms are designed to work completely autonomously. Others are connected to a professional monitoring service for maximum security. If a sensor is triggered, a member of a monitoring team will check the CCTV footage in real time and send for the emergency services. They may get in touch with you first to check that it's not a false alarm. This option is great if you work far from home or for use while you're on holiday. If you are interested in this feature, be sure to check that the company you choose offers remote monitoring.

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CCTV

3 tips for choosing the right burglar alarm

3 tips for choosing the right burglar alarm
  1. Choose a modular system able to support all the sensors you need to protect your home. List your needs in terms of sensors and think carefully about any additional protection you might need in future.

  2. If you have a smart home, it's a good idea to pair your burglar alarm with the system for ease of use and to deter intruders.

  3. Connecting your alarm to a security company (paid for on a monthly basis) will provide you with unbeatable protection.

 
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Guide written by:

John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton

John, DIYer & IT developer, Brighton

Since I was a child, I was always interested in manual and technical work. Always fascinated by woodworking, I took advantage of my first flat as a playground. On the cards: electricity (of course, safety first!) and some partition walls; but also decorating with the help of the missus, made-to-measure furniture and little tricks to optimise the space, all the while remaining as original as possible. When the little one arrived, I started building bits and pieces for him! Lacking space, I have not got a permanent workshop and certain tools I dream about are not part of my collection. Not to worry, I already know a lot about DIY and I have a high-tech profile that I hope will guide you in your decisions!

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