This expert how-to explains how an alarm system works, including how alarm systems are wired, how signals are sent to the alarm company, and more.

Hardwired and wireless alarm systems have made protecting your home and family easy and affordable. Here you can see how they work.

You want your family and your property protected from harm, be it a home invasion or a fire. Fortunately, home protection has become more sophisticated and at the same time simpler.

House alarm systems are about peace of mind, ensuring the safety of your family and your property while dissuading potential intruders. Unfortunately, most people consider a house alarm system only after they’ve just been burglarized.

The most common type of home protection is the house alarm. Security alarms have sensors that are connected to a control unit via either a high-voltage hardwire or narrowband radio-frequency signal that interacts with a response device.

The most common types of sensors indicate the opening of a door or window or detect smoke. Most infrared sensors are for indoor use only. Outside sensors are available but are costlier and are not false alarm–proof.

If there is an unauthorized entry, an active alarm system sends a signal to a central monitoring station, which monitors systems every minute of every day. If necessary, the central monitoring station alerts local police to send an officer to your home.

Quality alarm systems combine audible and silent alarms triggered by sensors placed throughout the home, not just on doors and windows. It is recommended to use a combination of both hardwired and wireless sensor technologies for fewer false alarms. Some alarm companies do not offer the wireless option, even though it is the easier of the two types to install.

Entry-level wired systems utilize a “star network” topology where the panel is placed centrally and all devices “home run” their wires back to the panel. Installation of a hardwired system is obviously much cheaper if wiring already exists in the home.

If no pre-wiring exists, wireless is a less costly option because installers do not have to drill any holes, lift any carpets, nor string any wires throughout the house. Wireless systems, however, do require frequent changes of lithium batteries to maintain their effectiveness. One or two wireless repeaters may be required to get the signal reliably back to the alarm panel. Wireless systems are also easier to expand outdoors because they do not require any ditches to be dug.

The main control panel for an alarm system is usually hidden in a closet or garage because hiding the “main brains“ lowers the risk of a burglar disabling the system. A keypad is placed inside the house, usually by the front door, where residents can easily arm or disarm the system as they come and go. Another keypad near the bedrooms allows for convenient arming of the system at night.

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort