Buying an Alarm System

Services/Resources - Crime Prevention and Safety Tips

Buying an Alarm System

Courtesy Edmonton Police Service


With our high standard of living, almost everyone has possessions worth stealing. No city, suburb, or neighbourhood is immune from residential break-ins. Research shows that the greatest deterrent effect is achieved through a combination of efforts, including strong community education activities; participation in "Neighbourhood Watch" programs; installation of adequate locks and door systems; utilization of proper lighting systems; and use of quality security alarm systems. Only through this type of common-sense "self-help" action can citizens hope to help their police forces hold down the threat posed by intruders. Local crime prevention officers can assist in evaluating your specific needs, but ultimately, only you can decide on the extent of protection needed for your own peace of mind.

This link is intended to provide basic information on alarm systems - systems designed to detect a break-in and sound an alarm that will frighten away an intruder and bring help.


The best alarm systems for residences are designed for perimeter protection; to prevent the intruder from entering the premises.

Systems that rely on interior protection alone present two potential problems. First, they allow the criminal to enter the home before the alarm is sounded. When there are occupants in the home, the danger is obvious. Secondly, due to the nature of the component parts of these systems, they cannot be used without limiting normal family activity within the home.

Most important, however, is the simple fact that perimeter protection emphasizes personal safety, while interior protection primarily protects property.

From a practical standpoint, however, probably the greatest degree of protection is afforded by a system that combines perimeter protection with one or more interior "sensors" that can be turned on or off independently of the perimeter devices. Since no system is fool-proof, this procedure provides "backup" protection in the event an intruder succeeds in violating the perimeter. In addition, it makes practical the design of a "limited" perimeter system - one that protects the most vulnerable accesses but not every means of entry through the perimeter. Care should be exercised in such situations to utilize devices that practical in terms of freedom from accidental activation and which blend with the family's life style.


Perimeter Protection

Perimeter protection refers to sensors installed on doors and windows. They set off the alarm whenever a window or door is forced open. Full perimeter protection means that every possible point of entry has a sensor.

Interior protection, on the other hand, refers to a "motion sensor" being used to detect someone inside.

Putting full perimeter protection on a house is expensive, but this is the best way to ensure the alarm will go off before the intruder gets inside.

Installation of the perimeter devices is straightforward, while the installation of interior sensors can be tricky. If you have animals, a "pet alley" will be necessary to avoid false alarms. The installer must be careful to avoid putting the sensors where heating ducts or the sun's ray can cause temperature changes to be detected, creating a false alarm. Price of the sensors also determines accuracy. More expensive sensors often have higher immunity to false alarms. More expensive one have formulas and double checks that reduce the possibility of temperature changes, insects and flapping drapes creating false alarms.

Dual technology sensors, using both infra-red and microwave detection, reduce false alarms and cost more. Two sensors may also be aimed at the same area, from different angles, and wired to require dual activation before sending in an alarm. Again, this reduces false alarms and will double the price.

Two or three perimeter detectors backed up by a motion sensor is the most inexpensive possible layout. It is easy to violate. Since most false alarms come from the sensor and presumably a cheap layout will use a less expensive sensor, it may tend to cause more false alarms.

Reasonable perimeter protection (cover on the most accessible windows and all doors) with good motion sensors, well placed, gives adequate protection.

Audible sirens may be considered to scare away intruders.

A good system should have a remote keypad that is at a convenient location for entry/exits. The "brain' or "guts" to any system is called the "control panel". It should be in a remote location, hidden.

Glass Break Detectors

A number of companies make glass break detectors. These are devices that set off an alarm when breaking glass is heard. They tend to be sensitive to similar sounds, like jingling car keys or a dropped plate in the kitchen. If adjusted to avoid false alarms from anything other that the actual window panes, they may not work when those panes are actually broken. Fortunately, burglars rarely enter through broken glass. They reach through a broken pane to unlock and open the window frame or door. (Burglars don't want to get cut either). Opening the frame or door then sets off the alarm.

Therefore, these should be used only when a massive glass area represent the obvious entry point and careful calibration must be used for effective detection.

Hard-wired vs. Wireless

Hard-wired systems run wires through your walls and floors to connect the sensors. The advantage of a hard-wired system is dependability. There are no batteries to change. The sensors are easily concealed. The disadvantages to hard-wired systems are that they take longer to install, and require drilling walls and ceiling as well as lifting carpets during installation.

Wireless systems' sensors transmit a radio signal when they detect an intrusion. No wires are needed. They can be installed in a few hours with less mess. Changing the system later is easier.

Wireless systems have batteries that must be changed. Most should be replaced annually. More expensive lithium batteries last three to five years.

Supervised vs. Unsupervised

Supervised systems tell you when a door or window is open. They indicate if a sensor is not working, usually meaning a battery died. With most, the alarm control panel also tells where the problem is.

When you leave a door or window open, or if a sensor is not working, you won't know it with an unsupervised system. The danger is that your alarm will be set but a window may be open.


A proper home burglar alarm system should feature a distinct signal on the premises, both inside and outside. In this manner, the occupants, the intruder and the neighbours are alerted at the same time. The alarm signals may be a loud bell, buzzer, siren, horn or other warning device an may also be installed with various automatic lighting features which either turn on the household electric lights, or activate special emergency signal lights. Warning decals or similar emblems affixed to the home's point of entry are also useful in deterring intruders.

The mere fact that an alarm system exists is often sufficient deterrent to discourage a burglar even before he tries to force an entry. In addition, the local alarm signal is generally enough to scare off most intruders once they sound. Silent alarms which do not sound on the premises but merely alert an off premises monitoring source, are not recommended for residences, since they allow the intruder inside where he may be in a position to threaten an occupant while police respond to the silent signal.

However, the procedure of transmitting an alarm signal off the premises to a monitoring location of some kind is an excellent additional form of protection when used in conjunction with a local alarm. Such an off-premises alert means that help will be on its way quickly in an emergency.

Alarm signals are generally transmitted via direct connection to a central monitoring station by means of special leased telephone lines, or by various forms of automatic telephone dialers utilizing the existing household telephone line. In the latter approach, there is a dialing device which utilizes a digital dialer which transmits a special coded signal. Where combination alarms are installed, the transmitter should differentiate between the various types of alarm signals., i.e. fire, burglary, medical emergency, etc. Systems should be capable of pinpointing the location of an intrusion within your home; such a feature is certainly an advantage to the police officer responding to an alarm signal; or to a technician trying to locate a problem sensor. The central station employs trained personnel whose ONLY function is to remain alert for alarm signals and act upon them which usually involves dispatching either alarm company personnel, a private guard service, local police or fire officers to the scene at once.


Two-way voice monitoring may be considered to help reduce false alarms. Here an amplified intercom is installed in your home. During an emergency the intercom is turned on and the monitoring center speaks out through it; challenging the intruder. The dispatcher can be heard throughout the home. (Larger homes may require remote speakers.)

  • If the signal is a medical emergency, the dispatcher immediately asks if a medic is required. The dispatcher can stay on the line until the ambulance arrives and gives instructions to the medics. They arrive knowing the situation, who the victim is, the physical condition and how to get in.
  • If the signal is a fire, the dispatcher can verify it without anybody needing to come to the phone. If they're asleep, the dispatcher can instruct them to stay low, below the smoke.
  • If the signal is an intrusion, the dispatcher will verbally challenge.


Care should be exercised when choosing an audible alarm or an externally audible component to a monitored system. Consideration should be given to:

  • Alarm systems that sound externally should include a "reset" feature to prevent the continuous sounding of the alarm. The Noise Abatement bylaw prohibits noise that disturbs the peace, comfort, and repose of others at any time.
  • What is the likelihood of the alarms being heard?
  • What will the response be from the people that would hear the alarms? Will the alarm be ignored, acted upon or treated as a nuisance?


With public interest in protection against fire and crime at an all-time high, it is no surprise that the alarm field is one of the country's fastest growing industries.

And while there are a good many experienced, reputable and reliable companies in almost every community, there are inevitably some people who are out to take advantage of the concerned home owner. So you must beware of the "fast buck operator" and be sure that what appears to be a bargain doesn't run out to be a costly mistake in the long run.

In addition, select a well-established company with a record of successful operation behind it. The failure rate among companies entering the field is high and you don't want to be left with a system that requires service with no one to do the job.

To help you make the right decision, there are a number of steps you can take. Don't wait until a salesman is in your home before you start thinking about the standing of his company. Check beforehand. Business and Trade Association are excellent places to check on a company BEFORE you invite anyone into your home. In this way, you can eliminate in advance the likelihood of being "pressured" by an unsavory or disreputable company.

Make sure any employees who have access to your home are bonded.

While it is possible today to obtain alarm component for "do-it-yourself" installation, such systems can provide a false sense of security. They normally do not provide full coverage of the home, may not be of the same quality as a dealer-installed system, and be false alarm prone unless in stalled by a person of sufficient technical skill.

Here are some additional points to consider when choosing an alarm company:

  • Does the alarm company have errors and omissions insurance?
  • Are there any hidden costs?
  • Does the alarm company meet industry accepted standards? Underwriter's Laboratories of Canada certification is a quality assurance program that will ensure that your alarm and monitoring company are following standards in installation, equipment use and business practices.
  • Does the alarm company provide a 24 hour customer support/service number?
  • Does the alarm company have an adequate training program in use and operation of their alarm system?
  • Does the alarm monitoring company have access to a bonded and insured key holder service?
  • Is alternative first response service available?
  • A security system designed for your specific needs using today's technology and proper installation will give you piece of mind for years to come; and provide trouble free operation.


An alarm system is only as good as the reliability of its power supply. The most dependability is provided by a system that operates on house hold electric power, with emergency backup power provided by a battery to assure operation during emergencies. A rechargeable means of automatically reporting battery failure should be included. In addition, a service and maintenance contract that includes automatic battery replacement when needed is highly desirable.

  1. Some visual or audible signal should be provided to alert you to a malfunction in the system prior to operation.
  2. Any components that can turn the system on or off or render it otherwise inoperative or ineffective should be tamper-resistant.
  3. A quality system should carry a reasonable warranty covering both parts and labor, from both the manufacturer and the installer for a period of one year from the date of installation.
  4. The alarm system should be capable of being easily upgraded at minimal cost to meet changing needs, e.g. smoke, fire, medical, water, temperature and any change in legal requirements.
  5. Since any system of this type will require service from time to time, you must be sure that the company you deal with can provide service promptly.
  6. Make sure you understand your system thoroughly. Be aware of what it does and what it does not do. You should be made familiar with all the details of operating the system and receive verbal as well as written instructions covering all circumstances.
  7. The alarm system should also be easy to learn to operate for everyone who may require access to your premises, e.g. children, guests and key holders.

Equally important, you should be sure to cooperate with local crime prevention programs, as well as with all reasonable requests and requirements made of alarm system owners by your police service. By properly maintaining your system, as well as advising authorities of whom to contact should you be away when your alarm sounds, you will greatly assist them in providing maximum protection to you, your family and your entire community.

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