Choosing a home alarm system can seem overwhelming given all of the options available on the market. Which features should you include? Should you go wireless or purchase a traditional, wired system? Who should do the installation? Do you want to own the equipment? Take a look at our guide to selecting a system based on existing features, new technology, and what works for your budget and lifestyle.
With dozens of add-ons and special features available for you alarm system, it can be difficult to know which features are right for you. A few to consider include motion sensors, environmental sensors that test for humidity and temperature levels, smoke detectors, open/close sensors for windows and doors, pressure sensors for your doormat, surveillance cameras and panic buttons.
Larger homes with more than one entry point may require multiple motion and open/close sensors to ensure that every point of access is being monitored round the clock. For a small space such as a studio apartment, it may be sufficient to purchase one central alarm system hub that monitors your main entryway.
On the other hand, if you have pets or small children, motion sensors may not be practical for your home given the high probability that it will be triggered accidentally, leading to false alarm and unnecessary scares.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are always a good idea to have in your home, especially if you frequently use your stove or oven and have gas lines running to your house.
If there are elderly or disabled persons living in your home, panic buttons may prove invaluable in emergency situations when movement has been impaired.
Video surveillance comes in handy when you’re away on vacation, or even for the added convenience of checking who’s at the door before you get up or knowing exactly when your children get home from school. However, security cameras can be an expensive addition for those on a budget.
2. Wired or wireless
Wired home alarm systems are connected directly to your landline and require professional installation. This may seem cumbersome when there are so many wireless alarm system options, but having multiple alarm system backups – cellular, internet, and landline – is a good way to make sure you have all your bases covered in the event of an emergency.
Wireless alarm systems are decidedly the most convenient, as they can remain active even if phone lines are cut or the power goes out. Wireless systems can also be monitored remotely from your smartphone or computer, and you can receive instant notifications the minute your alarm system is triggered. While some wired alarm systems can be controlled remotely and set up for mobile access, this often requires additional fees and monthly subscription costs.
3. Professional or DIY
While professional alarm system installation provides the relief that comes from knowing your system was expertly installed and is functioning properly, DIY alarm systems can save you a little bit of money, and is often more simple than you think.
A professional is often required for wired alarm systems, as these require hard wiring and electrical work that only licensed specialists should handle. Professional installers also allow you to remain hands-off while an expert does all the work for you.
Wireless alarm systems, however, are easy to install yourself, often requiring a simple connection to your WiFi system and strategic placement of sensors. There is the added cost of your time, however, as DIY installations can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours. From there, you can monitor your system through mobile apps or computer software, or pay a monthly fee for live monitoring from your alarm system provider’s control center. Many DIY alarm systems can also be purchased without any sort of contract (provided you’ll be monitoring them yourself), making them an affordable, easy option.
4. Home Automation
Today’s technology allows for a tremendous amount of home automation, most of which can be controlled through you alarm system’s central hub. You can turn your lights on and off remotely, lock and unlock your doors even when you’re away, and control your thermostat right from your phone. All these features can be added to your wireless alarm system for an additional fee, depending on how “smart” you’d like your home to be.
Different alarm systems and their corresponding contracts allow for different levels of equipment ownership. Many wired, professionally installed alarm systems require a second (and third, fourth, fifth, etc.) installation fee if you move and plan to take your equipment with you. To some, this can be considered a convenience since you don’t have to worry about re-installing your system yourself, or even taking it with you, in the event of a move. Once you schedule the installation date, it’s entirely out of your hands.
Do-it-yourself wireless alarm systems, however, are often completely owned by the purchaser, allowing you to take your equipment with you wherever you go without penalty. This is something to consider if your living situation is in flux or you plan on moving in the next three to five years, as the fees can quickly add up. You’ll also want to consider the extra time that comes along with installing your system again, which can add stress to the already-stressful situation of moving.
Choosing a Home Alarm System that Fits Your Needs
Whatever home alarm system you choose, make sure to think through all of your options before making a purchase or signing a contract. Take into consideration your budget, your living situation, your time and which features and technology will fit best with your needs, and ask your preferred companies how their options match up with these needs.