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Alarm Systems 101: Finding the Right Security System - What to Know Before You Buy

A Brief Overview

Home security systems run the gamut from very basic to quite complex.  Like with any significant purchase, having an understanding of the market and available products before you buy can increase your satisfaction while limiting losses, which is exactly what you want a home security system to do for you in the first place.

At its most basic, a home security system is comprised of a control panel that is connected to various sensors on one end and an alarm at the other; its job is to transmit an alarm signal to the monitoring company (aka central station) when the alarm is tripped. The control panel is where you enter codes to turn the alarm on or off.  In more sophisticated systems, it can be programmed to integrate with and activate electronics and appliances (lights, stereo, tv, sprinklers ) and can even be set to turn on the thermostat at certain times to prevent frozen water pipes while you are away.  

Security Equipment

In addition to basic equipment, you will want to evaluate your property’s perimeter. How many levels of access control are necessary to make your property impervious to intruders (think vandals, solicitors, wild animals and trespassers in addition to burglars)?   Do you have animals that you’d like to keep inside the perimeter and, if so, are you in need or an electric fence - or perhaps additional strategically placed video cameras will suffice.

You will also want to consider what threats you most desire to protect against, e.g., intruders, vandals, environmental hazards.  The majority of insurance claims are due to damaged property caused by environmental factors like water leaks, so environmental sensors are extremely practical additions.

Monitoring and Alarm Signals

Next determine whether you want to invest in a hard-wired system or a wireless system.  Keep in mind that some systems are easier than others to customize and add features to than others.  Hard-wired systems, for example, are usually installed by a professional and often require you to have a landline, whereas wireless systems use a cell phone or VoIP signal to connect to the monitoring provider.  Wireless systems are often more compatible with remote monitoring via IP and can even be portable.  Many allow you to monitor your home security virtually any place that has an internet connection.  Other features include voice annunciation, two-way speakers and touch screen consoles.

The monitoring provider, or “central station,” who is responsible for dispatching help is perhaps the most critical factor.   Not only must they accommodate your preferred security system’s technology (by being able to appropriately receive the alarm signal transmission), they must also augment your lifestyle.  We recommend that you call and speak with a representative of the central station before making any final decisions.