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The Right System for You

The right kind of security system for you will depend on many factors. The first one to consider is the kind of dwelling place you live in. Do you own or rent? You also want to determine how many months out of the year that property is occupied. If you are only going to live in it for 3 to 6 months out of the year then you need to consider other factors than if you were buying an alarm system for a home or area that you occupy all of the year.

For instance, if you live in a rental house, condominium or apartment, you need to get a plug and play wireless alarm system. In this unit, the wireless receiver, panel and keypad all come together. The only hard wiring that you need to do is from the phone line to the unit. The other devices such as window and door sensors are wireless.   
Let's have a look at the basic terms you need to familiarize yourself with so that you can have a better understanding of your particular alarm system needs.

Panel -This is the "box" that holds the "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.

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.  Most alarm panels start with 6-8 zones, but some can be expanded. See "expand, expandable, expansion module" for more details.

Keypad- This is the device you use to enter your code to arm or disarm the system. It is sometimes confused with the word "panel".

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 billable service call.

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.

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, if possible.

Own- An arrangement where you pay for the alarm and installation, and own the equipment outright, allowing you to choose who services and monitors the system for you. Owning the system will add value to your home, as whoever purchases your residence can have the freedom to choose who monitors and/or services it.

Rent or Lease- An arrangement where you pay a monthly fee just for the monitoring of the alarm. However, you do not own the system, nor do you have the freedom to choose who monitors or services it. As a general rule, it is best to own the equipment if you own the dwelling in which you live. It will add to the value of the home, as any potential buyer will have the freedom to choose who monitors and/or services it. There are certain cases where renting a system is appropriate, however. See "design an alarm system for details.

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.

Expand, Expandable, Expansion Module- An expandable alarm system is one that starts out with a fixed number of "zones", but can be easily expanded to a system with many more "zones" by adding an "expansion module" to the panel. In this way, you can instantly give your alarm system the capability of holding more devices (motion sensors, doors, etc) at a relatively low cost. Most systems start out as 6 or 8 zones, and can be expanded in increments of 8. Not all makes and models of alarm panels have this capability, and it is a feature usually used in commercial or industrial applications. If you think you might be adding an addition to your home or business in the future, be sure your alarm panel has this capability, as most basic alarm system do not.

Pre-Wired- Many new home builders will offer to run wiring for any future alarm system you may install. Many alarm companies offer a small discount if your house is pre-wired, as the cost of hard wiring and paying the installers are included in the price of the alarm. Many of the "free" alarm system companies will insist on using wireless equipment whether your home is pre-wired or not, as it costs them much less in labor to install a hard wired system. See "Rent" or "Lease" above.

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.


Please contact First Trust Alarm for a free product and installation quote.