A decent home alarm system has the power to deter intruders. Either it puts them off from entering in the first place, or makes them flee the scene when they trigger the alarm.
The type of alarm you choose depends on the level of security you’re after and how much you’re willing to pay for it.
If you’re thinking of installing an alarm system in your home, it’s worth considering what the police response would be if the alarm goes off. And, if it might have any effect on your home insurance costs. These factors vary depending on the type of home alarm system you choose.
Wireless or wired alarm?
Your first choice is whether you go for a wireless alarm or a wired alarm system.
There are pros and cons to each option. Let’s look at each in more detail.
Wireless burglar alarms
Wireless burglar alarms are battery-powered and have sensors that communicate with a central control panel via radio signals.
Without the need for wiring, wireless burglar alarms tend to be quicker and easier to install - you could possibly do it yourself. These home alarm systems often look better on your wall too.
Other pluses are that it’s easy to add additional sensors if you decide you need more, and it’s portable if you move house.
Wireless burglar alarms are usually more expensive than wired versions, but that might be a price worth paying if you don’t need to pay a professional to install it.
You need to regularly replace batteries, but your control panels should let you know when they’re running low.
Wired burglar alarms
Wired burglar alarms are your bog-standard home alarm systems. Just like with wireless alarms, you get sensors and a control panel, but they’re all hooked together by wires.
While this option tends to be cheaper than with wireless models, you need to have it installed by a qualified engineer.
This could inflate your costs a little bit, so it’s worth comparing with wireless models to see which works out best.
Another plus point for wired burglar alarms is that they tend to not need a great deal of maintenance once they’re installed. However, they are less flexible - it can be a pain adding new sensors and you won’t be able to take it with you if you move house.
The best home alarm system for you depends on your property and preferences. Wireless alarms should work well in most homes - the exception is larger properties as the range might not be enough. However, wired (or hybrid systems) could still work well in a new build or renovation so long as the wiring is done during the construction.
Monitored burglar alarms
A monitored alarm connects to an external security company, which monitors signals from your alarm for a fee.
Typically, someone at the security centre calls your home for a password and to check everything is OK, should your alarm go off.
If they don’t get the right password, or the phone isn't picked up, the company notifies a nominated key holder or the police.
The main advantage with monitored burglar alarms is that there’s someone able to keep an eye on your property all the time.
As you might expect with a service like this, it likely comes with an additional cost. Monitored systems often come with a contract or a subscription to the service.
Bells-only burglar alarms
A bells-only alarm is the kind of burglar alarm that you’re probably used to hearing at some point. It’s a ringer alarm that makes a noise when it detects a break-in.
The external alarm only continues for a maximum of 20 minutes. But the internal alarm and outdoor light should continue to flash until the system is turned off.
These systems aren’t connected in the same way that monitored alarms are. They’re mostly there to scare the burglar off and to try and attract attention to the fact that someone’s trying to burgle your home.
Unmonitored systems are typically better suited to lower-risk homes, or those without a significant amount of home contents or valuables.
Usually the police won’t come unless there’s proof that an offence is taking place, for example a witness is at the scene.
Smart security systems
Smart burglar alarm systems keep you connected to your home 24/7 by allowing you to connect your security system to your smartphone.
This allows you to keep an eye on your home anywhere – even when you’re on holiday. No more relying on neighbours to check up on your house!
Some smart burglar alarms also hook up to police systems in the same way that monitored systems do.
This means that there’s likely to be a subscription fee, making these kinds of burglar alarms more expensive than others.
For more examples, check out our guide on home security devices.
Dummy alarm box
This is arguably the cheapest option. A dummy alarm box is literally a hollow box that you mount to your wall that makes it look like you’ve a burglar alarm installed.
Some of them even have flashing LED lights to give the appearance of it being functional.
This could help prevent burglars from targetting your home. But be mindful that professional burglars might be able to spot a fake alarm from a mile off.
What’s more, it’s unlikely to have any effect on your home insurance costs as it’s not a real security device.
How are burglar alarms installed?
Burglar alarms typically come in two parts - the central control panel, and the sensors.
Unless you’ve opted for a wireless burglar alarm, you need to hook up the central control panel to your home’s electrics. You should get a qualified installation engineer to do this for you.
The specifics might vary between burglar alarms, but you generally arm and disarm the alarm from the central control panel.
You can place the sensors more or less wherever you like around your house. Again, unless you’ve shelled out for wireless tech, you need to connect the sensors to the central console.
Most burglar alarm sensors are Passive Infrared (PIR) detectors. These sensors measure changes in heat in a room. If the temperature fluctuates past a certain point after you arm it (indicating something that gives off body heat is in the room), it’ll go off.
Some burglar alarms come with a separate keypad. This lets you arm and disarm the alarm without having to make a dash to the central console before the alarm goes off.
Anyone can install an alarm in your home but it’s best to use a reputable installer. Companies with National Security Inspectorate (NSI) or Security Systems & Alarms Inspection Boards (SSAIB) approval come strongly recommended.
They're fully audited against British and European Standards for things like system design, installation, monitoring and maintenance.
Identifying high risk parts of your home
Before you install a new burglar alarm and decide where your sensors should go, it’s worth thinking about which areas of your property are at highest risk. These are likely to be your entry and exit points, or any natural blind spots where a thief could work unobserved.
You might want to install additional devices like security lighting and cameras too.
Maintaining your burglar alarm
Unless you go for a dummy box on your wall, it’s important to maintain your home alarm system to ensure it’s doing its job. With wireless systems an important part of this is checking that the batteries aren’t running low.
Regular maintenance gives you the peace of mind that everything is working as it should and - importantly - lets you catch something early if it does go wrong.
If you get a maintenance contract with your burglar alarm it’s usually checked once a year - twice if you have a police-monitored arrangement.
Your insurance company might also insist that it’s regularly being checked too.
How much do you need to pay for a good burglar alarm system?
You can get a reliable bells-only burglar alarm system for less than £100. However, costs do rise the more sophisticated your system is, the higher the level of monitoring it offers you and whether you take up a maintenance contract.
A monitored alarm is likely to set you back around £500 for the basic alarm with monitoring as much as £400 a year.
Smart security systems can cost in the region of £400 for a smaller home, with an additional monthly fee for monitoring. Hive charges £9.99 a month for its HomeShield dashboard.
Does having a burglar alarm lower the cost of home insurance?
In some cases, you could get a discount off your normal premium if your property has a higher degree of protection against intruders.
Typically, you’ll be given five options for alarms:
- NUD Audible-Only Alarm
- NUD Monitored Alarm
- Nacoss Audible-Only Alarm
- Nacoss Monitored Alarm
- SSAIB Alarm Fitted.
Check your home insurance policy for any on-going conditions or requirements relating to alarm protection, and make sure you comply. If you don’t it could invalidate your policy.
Compare home insurance quotes
Don’t forget to switch your alarm on when you’re out of the house. If your home gets broken into and you didn’t have your alarm switched on, it could impact your chances of making a successful home insurance claim.
Insurers might also need to know if the alarm system has been certified by an approved organisation. Check the documentation that came with your alarm to see if it has either NSI or SSAIB approval.