What to look for in an alarm company


Please try to consider more than just "price" when choosing your alarm company.  If you're only considering price you are really not looking to protect your home, lives, and property.  It is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make, one that could save the life of you or a loved one and should not be taken lightly.  Here are some things to look for in a potential alarm service provider:


Locally Owned And Operated

Look for years in business not to be confused with  years of experience 

Do they have an actual business location or working out of their car or garage

Business owners who live within the same community usually have a personal desire to do an excellent job. It is important for them to protect their reputation in the community in which they live

24 Hour Service
Make sure that the alarm company offers 24 hour service.  You wouldn't want your alarm malfunctioning on a weekend and have to wait until Monday to get it fixed.  Any alarm company who is truly committed to their business will offer 24 hour service. 


Avoid $99 specials or free installation (nothing is free ask yourself how is this company making their money)

*An “all in one” wireless keypad, siren, control panel and dialer.
*One wireless door or window contact, one wireless motion sensor.
*A long term monitoring contract, that automatically renews (sometimes even up to five years).
*Extra charges for additional contacts, motion sensors, etc. 
*Extra charges called “activation fees” or “police and fire registration fees”.
*Especially sneaky:  Some companies that use central monitoring stations that are out of your telephone area code will actually CHARGE you to use their 1-800 number, in order for your alarm to send its signal.

Most of these “free” alarm companies go with "all in one" wireless because

 it takes virtually no skill to install.  A lot of the programming can be done ahead of time, so the “technician” that installs the system can get the job done as quickly and easily as possible.  Many of these employees have little to no skill, because their employers pay them as little as possible.  Really talented technicians are paid well, because they are a surprisingly rare and valued commodity in the industry these days.

They’re extremely vulnerable.

The best set up for your alarm is to have the keypad, control panel (the “brains” of the system) and siren installed in separate places.  So for example if a thief rips the keypad off your wall, it doesn’t matter.  The communicator that sends signals to the central station is located inside the control panel, which is most likely installed in your basement, and is not damaged.  If you have an “all in one” system, not only is the keypad disabled, but so is the entire alarm system, including the siren!  

They Give A False Sense Of Security.

Protecting your home with one motion sensor and one or two door contacts would not be even adequate protection for the average home owner.  It will leave huge gaps in your security protection, allowing an intruder to easily enter your home, and stay a lot longer, before the alarm actually goes off.


Basic Security Alarm System Terms And Definitions:

"Panel"- This is the metal "box" that holds the circuit board or "brains" of the alarm system, along with the back up battery that powers your alarm during a blackout.  In a normal installation, it is installed in the basement, usually somewhere near the circuit panel and telephone demarcation point (where the telephone line first enters your home).  In an apartment or condo, it may be installed in a closet or above a drop ceiling.  Be sure your panel is installed in an area where it cannot easily be tampered with.

"Keypad"- This is the device you use to enter your code to arm or disarm the system, and to see which device caused an alarm.  Most systems they are mounted by your main entry exit door, and many systems have more than one it is good to put one near your master bedroom to be able to control your system at night.  Your installer will use the keypad extensively to program your alarm.  It is sometimes confused with the word "panel".

"Zone"- This is simply a way of separating the devices (motion sensor, door sensor, etc.) that are attached to your alarm panel.  If your front door is attached to zone 1 for example, every time that door is opened the "zone 1" light on the keypad will light up.  In addition, if your alarm is set off by "zone 1", the monitoring station will know it was the front door that caused the alarm.  Some alarm companies will combine devices on one zone (a door and motion sensor in the same room) if they run out of zones to attach devices to.  While this is not recommended, it is pretty standard practice in the industry. Most alarm panels start with 6-8 zones, but some can be expanded.

"Away Arming" - This simply means that when you turn your alarm system "on", all perimeter devices (door contacts, window contacts, glass break detectors) and interior devices (motion sensors) are activated.  Use away arming when you are "away", or not in the house when the system is armed.

"Stay Arming" - With stay arming, only the perimeter devices (door and window contacts, glass break detectors) are activated, and not the interior devices (motion sensors).  This allows you to arm your system while you are in your home, without tripping the motion sensors.

"Hard Wired"- Each device (motion sensors, door sensors, etc) is physically attached, or "hard wired" to the panel in the basement.  It is always best to have a hard wired system if at all possible. Obviously, a device that is physically attached to the panel will be more reliable than a wireless device that is not. 

"Wireless Receiver" and "Wireless Devices"- The wireless receiver is a device attached to the "panel" which communicates with any of the wireless devices (motion sensors, door sensors, etc) that you may have installed.   Wireless devices require batteries to operate, which obviously grow weaker with time, which can sometimes have a negative affect on the performance of your alarm.  Some companies require that only an "official" technician can replace the batteries (due to "technical" or "insurance" issues), requiring a service call. 

"Hybrid"- A system that uses both hard wired and wireless devices.  This is sometimes used in a home with two stories, where the first floor devices can be hardwired, but the second floor devices cannot.  Or, a home is hardwired, and a detached garage needs a door contact, motion sensor, etc.  Always try to use a fully hard wired system.

"Line Seizure" - Your alarm system must have priority access to your phone line, above all telephones, internet modems, answering machines, etc.  "Line seizure" simply means that your alarm panel will disconnect these secondary devices if the alarm needs to send a signal to the central monitoring station.

"Cellular Monitoring"- Usually used as a backup to regular phone monitoring.  In the event of an alarm, your alarm system will attempt to send the signal through your regular phone line.  If it does not detect a dial tone, it automatically switches to the cellular transmitter, and makes a "cell phone call" to the monitoring station.  This system is not 100% effective (have you ever lost your signal while making a cell call?), but nonetheless very effective.

"Partition"- This is the process of splitting your alarm system in two or more "partitions", arming and disarming each area separately while using only one phone line, and paying only one monitoring fee. Many small businesses use a system with this option.  For example, if a machine shop has an office area that is open during business hours, and a shop that is open 24 hours because of the midnight shift, they can protect the office area while allowing the employees to move freely in the shop area. Sometimes this option can be used in a residential setting, as well.  For example, a homeowner who rents a portion of his/her home to tenants can arm his/her portion of the house separately from the tenant's portion. Or, a homeowner has a garage or work area that is not attached to his house, but wants to arm that area separately while he is at home.  Each partition can have its own keypad, or one keypad can be used to access each partition.  The monitoring company will know which partition is sending the alarm, and will send the authorities to the appropriate area of the house/business.

"Handshake" - When your system goes into alarm, it seizes your phone line and automatically dials your monitoring station (aka central station receiver).  Upon answering, the receiver sends out a special tone, or "handshake".  The "handshake" lets your alarm know that the central station is ready to receive data regarding the alarm. 

"Kiss Off" - When the central station receives the information it needs, it sends a similar tone called the "kiss off" that instructs your alarm to end the call.  This allows your central station to call you and confirm the alarm.  The entire process (from handshake to kiss off) usually takes from 10 to 30 seconds.

Using VOIP can cause problems for alarm systems

VOIP is an acronym for Voice Over Internet Protocol.  It simply uses your broadband internet connection to place voice calls digitally over IP based networks.  Generally, a consumer will pay a flat monthly fee for local and long distance calls, often for considerably less than a regular analog land line.  Companies that offer this service include Time Warner, Vonage, MagicJack, AT&T CallVantage, and Ooma.

1.  An alarm system is designed to send its signals over an analog phone line.  To transmit emergency signals properly using VOIP, the signal must be converted to digital, then converted again to analog.  It is during this conversion that problems develop.  Usually the signals arrive at the central monitoring station with errors, or not at all.

2.  Your alarm panel comes equipped with a back up power supply in the event of a power failure.  Because traditional phone lines will still work even if your power is out, your monitoring station will still receive the proper signals.  With VOIP, your phone service (specifically your IP router and/or modem) will not operate during a power failure, preventing any kind of signal transmission from your alarm to the monitoring station.  You can prevent this with the purchase of a UPS (Un-interruptable Power Supply) for your PC.

3. VOIP services tend to be more prone to “mysterious” technical issues and dropped calls.  Your alarm panel may be communicating vital data to your monitoring station, and a dropped call will obviously interfere with this.  Or, your alarm’s signal may go through without a problem on one attempt, but will fail on another for no apparent reason.  Some possible explanations? You may be using a caller ID blocking service that masks your alarm's identity to your monitoring station.  Or you may have adjusted your VOIP signal's quality settings too low, to reduce bandwidth requirements. 

4.  Similar to a land line, your VOIP line (specifically your cable connection) can be cut or disabled by a potential intruder, severing your link to the monitoring station.  

Because of the issues noted above, many customers end up paying extra to use cellular or radio as a back up to their VOIP monitoring account.