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Intruder Alarm Systems

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Basic Alarm Systems can be split into two categories;  Wired systems and Wireless systems.  Both have good points and bad points for you to consider when deciding which route to take.  The most obvious is the ease of installation of a wireless system and the limited damage to decoration in the property.  It should be noted that the main control panel will still require mains power as often does the outside bell box (Not always).  In considering a Wireless system, you should look into what kind of batteries are used in the alarm’s parts and how long they will last.  A more expensive wireless alarm will likely use more specialised batteries and so will generally last longer.  It will also monitor the condition of batteries and warn you on the control panel when a specific battery is running low.  A cheaper system will not do this and you may need to replace batteries every 6 months or so and generally need to change all batteries at the same time as you will not be sure which battery is running low etc.

A Wired Alarm System will be much more stable and cause far less problems once it has been installed.  There are no batteries installed within sensors just the standard BACK UP batteries for mains failure in the control panel and sometimes in the bell box.  ALL Alarm systems should have BACKUP Batteries installed in the main control panel.  This is the single most found fault on an existing system.  Back up Batteries may be slightly different for various alarm systems but ALL should operate the system for approximately 12 hours during a mains failure.  BACKUP Batteries will last for around 4-5 years and then should be replaced.  You will know your battery needs replacing if you experience alarm problems either during or after a mains failure.

Generally, a decent wireless alarm system will cost a lot more than an equivalent wired system.  When you compare this with the cost of installing a wired system ( which may well be less than a wireless system) then the two systems will likely be comparable in overall cost.  Therefore, where possible depending on damage to decorating etc, you should try and install a wired system – It will last much longer! 

Damage to Decorating during Installation

Again generally, an alarm system will only be installed downstairs in a property (Unless upstairs windows are accessible from garage roofs etc) and so most of the wiring will be done underneath the upstairs floorboards.  Assuming you don’t have wooden floors or tiles upstairs on the floors then carpets and floorboards can be easily lifted and replaced allowing access for wiring 80% of the system.  The other 20% will depend on exactly where the control box is installed as a cable might be needed for a keypad next to the front door and one will be required for the outside bell box which will often be located outside of the loft.  Most systems can be installed with a bit of thought and care with minimal damage to decorated properties.

Experiencing Alarm System Problems due to BACKUP Batteries

As mentioned there are usually two BACKUP batteries in the system (These are over and above any wireless alarm system batteries).  If you do have a BACKUP Battery in the outside bell box then this is not usually serviceable or replaceable.  Seldom do these batteries cause any problems during the life of the alarm system.  The BACKUP battery in the control panel does, however, often cause problem, simply due to not being replaced in a timely manner.  Once again, most BACKUP Batteries should last around 4-5 years.  You will know you have a battery problem if any of the following occurs;

– Your outside bell box is activated whenever there is a mains failure (This will only occur if your outside bell box has its own backup battery)

As soon has the mains power is interrupted the bell box will sound.  The internal control panel or keypad will not and the buttons will not do anything.  When power is restored the bell box stops sounding  and the internal control panel or keypad now activates and sounds.  This is because the backup battery was not operating and so the control panel completely powered down.  The outside bell box could  not communicate with the control panel and so thought there was a fault and sounded.  Sometimes (Depending on the length of power outage) the control panel may lose its memory.  In this case the outside bell box will continue to sound until it’s own backup battery goes flat which could be many hours.  Over this time the actual sound will change as the battery reduces in charge.

– Your internal control panel is activated when mains failure is restored (This will only occur if your outside bell box does not have its own backup battery)

During a mains failure all is well – Actually your alarm panel will have powered down but you may not be aware of this

When power is restored the control panel or keypad will now spring to life and sound (once again the panel may have lost its memory depending on the length of time of power outage).  The outside bell box may also activate

How to change a burglar alarm battery?

If you’re relatively confident with DIY and electrics, then changing the battery in your burglar alarm system is relatively straight-forward.  The main steps for changing an alarm battery are:

– Identify type of battery used in your alarm

– Buy replacement alarm battery

– Unscrew front of alarm panel (usually at this point the alarm will start sounding, as there’ll be a tamper on the system)

– Remove and replace alarm battery (making sure you don’t short the red/black terminals, and don’t touch the 240V transformer

– Replace the alarm panel lid, and press RESET (or whatever the reset procedure of your specific alarm is)

WARNING: there is 240V inside burglar alarms, and often a hornets nest of wires.  Please make sure you don’t electrocute yourself or knock a wire that may cause a fault on your system.

How Many Sensors And Keypads will I Need?

We need to ensure we cover any accessible areas to the property.  If a room has no doors or windows and does not lead to another room then there is little point installing sensors in that area.  You should definitely cover accessible doors into the property and then any windows which can be accessed from ground level or by easily climbing onto a fence or single story roof.  If you use a door contact on a front door and then the hallway has no windows then there is no need to separately cover the hall with a PIR Sensor (Passive Infra Red).  Try to cover the perimeter rooms of the property and then do not bother with internal spaces.  Only cover upstairs if there are accessible windows.  A sensor in a garage is always a good idea. 

Depending on the system you go for you may need to decide whether to have the keypad built into the control panel or to have a separate keypad next to the front door with the main control panel tucked away in a cupboard.  The latter means a smaller neater keypad on show with the main control panel and thus most of the wiring out of view in a cupboard.  You then might want to consider having an additional keypad at another point of entry to the property or even upstairs if you are going to set the alarm at night when you are in bed.

Most systems would include an external Bell Box at the main point of entry of the property but again you may consider additional bell boxes either at the rear of the property or at another accessible location.  These can both act as a deterrent but also in order to make neighbours aware that there is a problem.  There is a fine line between making your neighbours aware there is a problem and how much of a nuisance false activations may become.  All going well, a fully functioning well designed system should have very few nuisance or false activations.

Other devices to consider?

Some systems will allow remote control via key fobs or proximity chips.  A key fob will be able to set and unset the system from anywhere within it’s range – for example from inside your car.  A proximity chip will quick set or unset the system by presenting the chip to the keypad.  These are handy but are not remotely controlling the system.  Higher end systems may also allow for remote access over broadband.  In this case you can control the alarm from your smart phone from anywhere you have a 3g or higher signal.  These will dramatically increase the cost of your system.  Generally, because of the integration with your broadband system via WIFI, they will usually be completely wireless systems rather than wires systems but that is not exclusively the case.

A cheaper option may be a voice dialler or text sender.  These add on modules will connect your alarm system’s control panel to a phone line and can be set to call or text a list of people with pre-recorded messages or texts during an alarm activation.  This will let you know your alarm is going off but will not allow remote access to actually reset or arm or disarm the system.

Finally, consider using magnetic door contacts on entrance doors instead of PIRs.  PIRS are great at covering whole rooms say for example if there are more than one window whereas a magnetic door contact will only protect the door it is installed on.  However, this can be more suitable for properties where there may be pets.  Door contacts can also give more functionality during programming. 

And sound bombs can be used internally in the property to increase the audible level during an alarm activation.  These are particularly suitable if you are using remote keypads as generally a keypad will not be as loud as the control panel.