Furnishing

Alarm systems: a simple, standard model, or smart technology?

Arne Schätzle

There’s no need to be afraid of a burglary: an alarm system allows you to protect your home from unwelcome intruders. But which alarm system is right for you? What different types are there anyway? What are the benefits of connecting an alarm to a smart home system? And what costs should you expect to pay?

A woman enters a numerical code on an alarm system on the house wall.
© Getty Images / iStockphoto

In this article

How does a house alarm system work?

A burglar alarm system is defined as any electronic system that warns house and apartment owners by alerting them in the event of a burglary. Many of the alarm systems commonly used to protect your home work on a similar principle: a hazard warning system represents the central point of the security system. It can receive and process signals of various types.

Signals can be triggered by glass breakage detectors on windows, opening detectors on windows and doors, and motion detectors in the rooms, for example. Systems often also have an integrated smoke detector. If the alarm system is activated, it sets off the corresponding alarm.

The most popular entry points for intruders are windows, patio doors, front doors and basement windows.

A burglar alarm system has the following functions:

  • It prevents burglaries, thefts and robberies by deterrence.
  • In an emergency, it alerts services such as the police or security service.
  • It also alarms the immediate surroundings and people present.
  • It minimizes the action time of burglars.
  • It helps to reconstruct a break-in by revealing when and where the intruders entered the house.
A burglar uses a crowbar to pry open a window.

Greater security against intruders: windows with mushroom head locks make it harder for burglars to get into the house.

First secure your house with mechanical systems

Before you invest in an electronic burglar alarm system to protect your home, you should always start by securing the windows and doors with mechanical systems: instead of fittings with simple locks, systems with mushroom head locks ensure greater security.

Thanks to this locking system, windows and doors can no longer be simply levered out. A lockable window handle – in combination with a security fitting – also makes it more difficult for burglars to enter your house. Standard window glass can be replaced by bullet-resistant glazing.

To protect your front door against burglary, we also recommend a multiple locking system with a rod lock or a swivel hook as well as certified profile cylinders with drilling protection and protective fittings with pull-out protection. These measures will hold up the burglars for a while at least. Sometimes this is enough to make them abandon their plans.

An electronic alarm system should always represent a supplement to these mechanical measures.

The window of a house is secured by a vaulted grille with plants growing inside.

Before you use technology to secure your home, you should first make sure you have mechanical solutions in place.

Surveillance for outside and in

In principle, a distinction can be made between two types of alarm system:

  • outside surveillance
  • inside or trap surveillance

Outside surveillance mainly involves monitoring windows and doors. It’s important to make sure that the windows are also equipped with breakthrough contacts that react not only if the windows are opened, but also if the glass is damaged.

Inside or trap surveillance, on the other hand, only triggers the alarm if the burglar has already entered the property. To do so, motion detectors are usually installed in the areas that burglars are most likely to enter. In practice, both systems are often combined for burglary protection purposes. Equipping a house with window and door contacts is usually somewhat more expensive, while motion detectors are more susceptible to false alarms.

Why are there always false alarms?

False alarms can be triggered by moving sources of heat (e.g. pets, vacuum cleaner robots or self-regulating heaters) or objects that are moved by wind or drafts, for example. Inexpensive, easy-to-install motion detectors are a reliable solution in basement rooms with a stable temperature that are inaccessible to pets.

To avoid false alarms, many homeowners also integrate a camera into their alarm system. This allows you (or someone else entrusted with the task) to check whether there is actually a person in the house or whether the cat has simply set off the alarm. However, if you want to be able to access the system from outside your home, the system needs to be connected to the Internet.

Three means of notification: external alarm, internal alarm and remote alarm

An alarm system has various notification options:

  • External alarm
  • Internal alarm
  • Remote alarm

In the case of an external alarm, an audible alarm outside is designed to deter burglars and draw the attention of neighbors. Visual signals are also possible. If you want to use external sirens, it’s best to consult the local authority, as some audible alarms require a permit.

An internal alarm can only be heard inside the house. The aim is to frighten intruders and wake up and alarm the inhabitants if they are at home.

A remote alarm forwards the intrusion report to the security company. It may be a good idea to mute the alarm in the house at the same time so that the burglar is not alerted.

Of course you can also combine all three types of alarm.

A button referred to as a panic button can also be installed as an option. You can use this button to request help yourself in an emergency. This type of button is particularly suitable for people with physical disabilities, so it is often located near the bed.

An external siren on a house facade

External sirens are intended to frighten away intruders as well as to awaken and alarm the inhabitants.

Which system is more suitable: cable or radio connection?

You can install an alarm system either as a wireless alarm system or as a model that is connected via cables. Hybrid alarm systems are also available, in which radio and cable components are combined in a single system. IP-based systems in turn combine the possibilities of modern network technology with tried-and-tested wireless alarm technology or cable alarm technology.

In a cable alarm system, all the components are connected to the control panel. The installation of this kind of alarm system is usually easiest in a new building because you can plan the required cable shafts from the outset. If the cables are laid later on, the installation usually involves high costs. On the other hand, these systems incur lower maintenance costs, as there are no batteries to be replaced, for example.

In a wireless alarm system, the individual components are not connected to the alarm center via cable, but wirelessly via radio. This is often less expensive and also much less complex to install – which is the main difference in relation to a wired system. A high-quality alarm system has an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). An integrated rechargeable battery ensures that these models are permanently supplied with power.

Do I need a smart home alarm system?

In addition to the two models described above, there are also smart home alarm systems: providers promise you a complete system for monitoring your living space, plus an alarm function: motion detectors, sensors for windows and doors, cameras, sirens – it is even possible to control blinds, lights and the stereo system to make intruders think that there is someone at home.

Video surveillance is also included in some packages so that you can get an overview of the situation at home even when you are out and about. If the smart home alarm system detects an incident, your mobile phone will alert you and you can check what’s going on via your Internet connection while on the move.

There is no need to lay any cables for a smart home system either, so these systems are also cheaper than wired ones. They allow you to secure your house with a comprehensive alarm system that is easy to operate via app.

Some suppliers provide a service including mobile control and app control – for a monthly fee. And you don’t have to worry about setting up the system and its maintenance.

Smart home vulnerability: the alarm center

In most of these systems, however, the control center represents a significant security gap in the protection against burglary. If the current is cut, the systems stop operating. The cause does not even have to be an intruder; pets, a cleaner, careless guests or children can also pull out the plug unnoticed.

This is an unnecessary deficit: this security gap could easily be closed with a battery and an alarm triggered by an interruption to the power supply.

A woman operates the display of an alarm system inside her house.

An internal alarm can only be heard inside the house. It is designed to scare intruders while alerting the inhabitants of the house at the same time.

A comparison of the most important alarm system models

Wired system

  • Concealed complex cabling
  • Reliable signal from every corner of the house
  • No batteries, less maintenance
  • Also suitable for large houses and houses with massive reinforced concrete walls
  • More suitable for newly constructed or renovated properties
  • Price of around 7,500 francs including installation

Radio system

  • Fast, inexpensive installation without cables
  • Flexible and expandable
  • Larger components due to batteries
  • Massive walls or jamming transmitters can affect the radio signal
  • Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for high-quality systems only
  • Price of between 3,000 and 4,000 francs approx., including installation

Smart home system

  • Fast, inexpensive installation without cables
  • Can be operated via app
  • Notifications by mobile phone
  • Video surveillance by computer and smartphone
  • Control of blinds, lighting, etc.
  • The alarm center represents a security gap: power supply easy to cut off
  • Prices for basic sets from about 1,000 francs, including installation

Installation: can I install an alarm system myself?

Many smart home systems in particular advertise that they are easy to install. And even a radio system, where no complex cables need to be laid, can be self-installed. However, in doing so, you lose out on the expertise of the professionals. Specialists are familiar with all the components and their properties, so they can set up and install everything without difficulty. In addition, experts can identify any security gaps in the building and make suggestions on how to solve the problem. Overall, installing your own burglar alarm system is therefore not advisable.

How much does an alarm system cost?

The total cost of the system is made up of various factors. It depends on how many doors and windows need to be secured and on which extras you want. The cost of installation in an apartment with one front door and four windows is lower than for a complete single-family house. Depending on the equipment, you can expect to pay between 1,000 and 7,500 francs, depending on whether you live in an apartment or a house.

Smart home systems are at the lower end of this range. In fact, there are products available for as little as several hundred francs – without installation. However, when opting for one of these systems, you usually have to make compromises in terms of reliability, durability and usability.

Even a simple standard system with radio technology, on the other hand, usually costs between 3,000 and 4,000 francs for an apartment or a small single-family house, including installation. However, the simple systems are often not expandable. For a more flexible system, you should allow around 4,500 francs. And for a system with cable installation, you will have to pay about 7,500 francs if you want to fully equip a single-family house with sensors and a central control unit. Additional components such as external sirens or surveillance cameras always result in additional costs, as does the connection to an emergency call and service control center.

Conclusion: focus on deterrence

Many intruders are deterred simply by the fact that opening doors or windows takes too much time. The mechanical security of your home should therefore always be your first priority before you decide to add an alarm system.

Smart home systems are often inexpensive, but sometimes have weak points. If you choose a system from a safety expert, you’ll be on the safe side with regard to functions and installation.

You should carefully consider the selection of the right system for your house because you don’t buy an alarm system every year. Asking a professional for advice on site is the best way to decide on the ideal alarm system.

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