Burglar alarms are generally considered to be the main component of a traditional residential security system. Today, tens of millions of homes across the nation are protected from intruders with alarm systems in a wide variety of configurations. When a burglar alarm system is in use or “armed,” it’s primarily function is to monitor when an exterior door is opened, when a window has been broken or whether there is motion activity inside the home.
Modern alarm systems come in both hard-wired and wireless form. Wired systems are best suited for new construction, as wires often need to be run through the walls of the home, making an installation costly and inconvenient in a finished home. While wireless system hardware may be more costly than hard-wired counterparts, the savings in installation costs for a wireless system generally offset the increased cost of the devices. When purchasing a wireless system or devices to add to an existing system, it is crucial to keep in mind that the wireless technologies used are usually proprietary to each system manufacturer. It is therefore imperative that all add-on system components are of the same brand and series to ensure compatibility.
The central component of an alarm system is the controller or control panel. This serves as the “brains” of the system and it is the central hub that all devices are connected to. Controllers come in a variety of different shapes, sizes and functionality providing many different options to select one that meets the needs of the particular application. The control panel traditionally consists of a PC board housed in an aluminum enclosure. While this is the central hub of the system, a keypad is used as the interface to interact with the system both for programming and maintenance uses as well as for general system operation. Alarm system keypads are system-specific and the one selected must be compatible with the panel being used in order to function. Keypads can come in the form of LED-based interfaces, alphanumeric keypads, graphical touchscreen keypads, or as is becoming very popular for wireless systems, control panel / keypad combination devices that combine both a keypad and controller into one device.
The next aspect of the intrusion protection system to consider is the communication functionality. One of the main traditional benefits of an alarm systems is the system monitoring which is often provided by a central station alarm company. Using a variety of different communication formats, alarm conditions such as a forced entry, a system failure or even a low-battery can be transmitted to the central station who then follow pre-arranged protocols such as contacting law enforcement or the owner directly. The most basic type of communication for monitoring is done via a telephone line.
These copper “POTS” (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines are very reliable and are present in almost every home or business making them the ideal default communication method. However, as telephone land-lines are being phased out in some locations and with the increasing popularity of newer technologies, other communication formats such as IP or internet communicators and GSM cellular radios are very commonly used as backup or in some cases even primary communicators. Regardless of what type of communicator is used, professional monitoring is always a paid service provided by a central station and is often provided via monthly subscription. Depending on which type of communication is used, the fee for monitoring services can vary.
Modern alarm systems now integrate advances features such as video monitoring, home control devices including thermostats or lighting control and even remote system administration capability allowing for system management from anywhere in the world. One of the most popular remote management tools is Honeywell’s Total Connect which can be used with the Honeywell alarm systems. The services available for particular systems can vary and most systems that provide this functionality require a monthly subscription-based service in addition to the monitoring subscription in order to be able to receive these additional features.
Once you've chosen the main system components (control panel, keypad, communicator), the next step is to decide which points in the premises need to be secured. For doors and windows, there are many different types of Door & Window Contacts which can be selected depending on the application. Recessed Mount Contacts are installed into the frame of the door or window to provide a flush, low-profile look. Surface Mount contacts are the simplest style of contact, mounting directly onto the surface of the door or window, but are also the most visible. Overhead Door Contacts, an ideal solution for garage doors and gates, provide a more rugged design that can withstand the wear and tear associated with installing contacts on those doors. Many of these contacts operate as either normally closed (NC) or normally open (NO), providing even further flexibility for additional uses.
While contacts are typically the main sensor devices in burglar alarm systems, there are other components that help increase the safety and security of the home or business. Glassbreak detectors, which come in the form of acoustic glassbreak detectors or shock sensors, monitor windows for breaking glass (the acoustic detectors can monitor multiple windows by sound as they are designed to detect the frequency of breaking glass, while shock sensors are ideal for installing on each individual window as they are triggered by vibrations). Motion Sensors are used to detect activity in a given location. There are a variety of motion sensors available such as outdoor motion sensors that are usually more heavy duty and weather resistant, Dual Technology motion detectors that operate on infrared and microwave or other technology that helps reduce the amount of false alarms and Beam / Curtain Motion Sensors that create a 'wall' that if broken, raises an alarm signal.
Burglar Alarm Systems also carry the added benefit of integration with Life & Safety Devices such as Smoke Detectors, Carbon Monoxide Detectors and Heat Detectors which will raise an alarm signal if a detector's threshold for any of these dangers is passed. These auxiliary devices can mean the difference between life or death and are usually mandated or at the very least strongly urged in most states.