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Many homeowners and business owners are often confused by the terminology and the explanations given them by a security alarm representative. Sometimes what is recommended may be a good system, but it may also be beyond the budget of what many homeowners or business owners can afford or want to pay.

The purpose of this article is two-fold: first, to explain the basic system and terms most widely in use today, and second, to make clear there are different levels of protection available that can translate into different investments with higher or lower degrees of overall protection for the home or property.

The typical electronic security system today is comprised of the following elements:

  • Control panel which processes the signals received from the sensors, powers the sensors which require power, dials the monitoring central station to report alarms or events, powers the audible or visual devices, such as sirens and strobes, and provides battery back-up in the event of AC power loss.
  • Sensors, such as door/window sensors that require no power, a wide variety of motion detectors, such as PIRs’ or “dual” type detectors, glassbreak sensors, hold-up or panic switches, environmental sensors, such as water, CO2, or temperature, and of course, fire and heat detectors.
  • The audible and sometimes visual devices that are placed in the attic or under eaves as well as inside the dwelling.
  • The wire to connect the sensors and devices to the central control panel, or in many cases today, the use of wireless transmitter sensors to a receiver often integrated into the control panel so few wires are needed (the AC transformer and phone line still have to be “hard wired”).
  • The labor and programming to make the pieces all work together.

    The highest level of security–and of course the one that will cost the most–is full “perimeter” protection plus motion detector backup. What does this mean? It means every exterior door and window (at least on the ground floor) has a magnetic switch, either recessed or surface mount so that the alarm will go off before the intruder gets in the house. It also means placing some type of glassbreak detectors either in each room that has glass or on each window itself so that, again, the alarm would go off before the intruder gets in.

    If in addition, motion detectors are strategically placed so that in the unlikely event an intruder would somehow defeat a protected perimeter entry point, and actually gain entry inside the premises, he would now face devices that look for motion by typically measuring the background temperature of a room against the temperature of an intruder (basis for “passive infrared technology” or PIR; that is essentially a sort of specialized camera looking for rapid changes in temperatures measured against a background temperature).

    These more complete type systems are also typically monitored by a central station for a monthly monitoring fee. Lastly, for those concerned about possible phone line cuts (and yes, 99% of all alarms systems that are monitored by a central station use your phone line that is often exposed on the side of the home or building) there are a variety of backup services available, from cellular to long range wireless to TCP/IP modules that go over the Internet to a special receiver at the central station.

    Are these systems expensive? Yes, because there is a lot of labor in addition to the equipment costs and if you choose wireless to cut down on the labor then the equipment costs shoot up considerably. Do alarm companies often subsidize the installation/equipment costs in order to get you to sign a multi-year monitoring contract? You bet. This recurring revenue is important to the security provider just as it is to the cable company.

    However, when you see the $99 deals advertised by large national companies, typically, these are not full perimeter protection systems, but usually 2 doors and 1 motion detector and do require multi-year contracts. Are these bad deals? Not necessarily, but it depends upon what you are looking for and you should understand what you are getting and what you are not getting.

    Are there alternatives to a professional installation, such as products an average homeowner or business owner can buy and install? Yes, of course, but you have to be careful here. There are places on the Internet where you can buy a full fledged security system just like the professionals buy everyday, but beware. Most of these systems–even the wireless ones–require a good deal of programming and a good amount of time to learn and understand them. If you want a monitored system then it is best to hire a professional security company to install the system, period. Central stations will not typically allow you to be monitored except through a licensed alarm dealer and programming for this capability is complex for the inexperienced.

    If you want a local alarm system with some generic alarm decals and yard signs there are “plug and play” products that make this easy today. There are stand-alone motion detectors and door alarms with the loud sirens built-in and with entry/exit timers so you can get in and out of your home without setting off the siren. Will these simple systems deter many potential intruders? Sure, of course. Are they as good as the $2,000 or more full perimeter systems with monitoring? No, but then not all us of can afford those systems and when it comes to security, some security is certainly a lot better than no security!

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    Source by Jeff Hyndman