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Burglar alarm and security installation tips from our Which? Trusted traders

By Rebecca Milligan

Protecting your home with a combination of burglar alarm, CCTV and security lighting will deter most opportunist burglars. We talked to our endorsed security-system installers, who share their tips in this guide.
Designing an alarm system

When it comes to choosing a security system, your lifestyle and the size and nature of your home will play a big part in deciding which one works best for you. Beyond simple security measures such as installing deadlocks on windows and doors, you can also opt for one or a combination of an alarm system, CCTV and security lighting.

Mike Cavanah from CAVHIL Ltd said: ‘Home owners want something that’s reliable and doesn’t go off in the middle of the night for no reason. A lot of homeowners installed burglar alarms in the 1990s, due to high burglary rates. But the technology has moved on, and a lot of these older systems aren’t really up to standard.’

Find out more about choosing and installing security lights, or read on for more about security system installation tips.

Find the right installer

If you want to install or upgrade your security system, the first step is ensuring you use the right company.  You can buy security systems from large manufacturers, which will also install them. However, Paul Hopwood from Hopwood Security Systems told us most people opt for a local installer: ‘You can build up a personal relationship with a smaller company, and you’ll see the same faces coming back to maintain your system.’

Check reviews from other customers to find a company in your area with a good reputation. Which? Trusted Traders endorses burglar alarm and security installers all around the UK. You can find installers in your area, then check the online reviews from previous customers on each company’s profile page, to find one that will work for you.

Find out more in our guide on how to hire a burglar alarm and security-equipment installer.

Choose the right system

There’s a wide range of security systems on the market designed to protect your home and belongings. Which? surveyed more than 3,000 members to find out about their experiences with some of the most popular alarm systems. If you’re a Which? member, you can see the results in the burglar alarm brands review.

Your installer should be able to advise you here, too. Before giving you a quote, they should visit your property to assess your needs, and explain the range of different options available to you. For burglar alarms, these will include:

  • a bells-only system – this makes a noise alerting anyone in the neighbourhood
  • a dialler system – this will make a noise and call either you or a monitoring centre
  • a smart system – this connects to your mobile and gives you notifications via an app
  • a monitored system – this is connected to a monitoring centre that keeps an eye on the signals coming through, and will incur a monthly or annual fee.

Your budget and personal requirements will determine which one works best for you. More expensive alarm systems often have more features, such as built-in smoke detectors, panic buttons or heat detectors. You can find out more about the different systems in the Which? guide to burglar alarms.

Wired or wireless?

As well as deciding between the different systems on the market, you can also choose whether you want your system to be wired or wireless. A wired installation requires cables running through your property to connect the different sensors. This creates more mess during installation, but the parts involved are often cheaper.

However, wireless installations are generally more popular. Paul Hopwood said: ‘A wireless security system is great for a clean, reliable and tidy installation with no visible wiring around the home, and without interference from other radio transmissions.’

Around 80% of installations use a wireless system. Mike Cavanagh said: ‘Apart from the ease of installation and lack of cables required, you can take it with you if you move.’ He also advises ensuring you can expand your wireless system in the future, in case you want to cover more rooms or add more sensors.

What to tell your installer

When your installer comes to visit and provide you with a quote, they will want to look at your property, but also find out some general information from you. This could include:

  • the purpose of the security system
  • when you will want to use the alarm
  • whether the property is generally occupied during the day or at night
  • where you store valuables – this room will need to be alarmed
  • which areas in particular you want to cover
  • the location of your electricity source
  • where is the best place to put the control panel
  • how you would like to turn the system on and off
  • whether you also want to install other security measures, eg locks, lighting or CCTV.

Sensors

Security systems use sensors at the point of entry (windows or doors), as well as movement or heat sensors within rooms to detect an intruder. The size of your property and how you use it – whether you keep valuables in a particular room, have pets or children, are on one or several floors, for example – will determine how many sensors you need. Generally speaking, the more sensors you have, the more your installation will cost.

When you’re comparing quotes from installers, try to compare like with like. Some will charge per sensor, others will offer a set price for 5 or 10. Also, installers will operate differently – some might put several sensors on one window, while others would only use one.

Think about the areas of the house that you would like alarmed or monitored, and talk to your installer about the best way to cover them. The more sensors you use, the higher the cost of the installation will be.

Activation methods

Another choice you’ll need to make is how to turn your security system on and off. There are four main ways, including:

  • via an app on your mobile phone
  • with a customer code
  • with a tag (you would hold this up to the panel)
  • via a wireless button (like a remote car key).

Again, your installer should be able to talk you through the options and work out which one suits you best. It might be that a fob or tag would be ideal for someone with poor vision. You may find it easier to swipe a tag if you struggle with buttons. Or you might prefer to use a keypad, so you don’t lose your tag or wireless button.

Maintenance and monitoring

It’s important to stay on top of maintaining your system. Delaying an annual service of the burglar alarm often leads to problems with electrical components,’ Paul Hopwood explains. ‘This can result in additional and unnecessary costs. Changing the batteries regularly will help to keep the system in better condition and ensure backup in the event of a power cut.’

If you sign up to a monitored system, where the alarm signal goes through to a monitoring centre, then that should include a couple of maintenance visits a year.

Costs of monitoring contracts will vary enormously – from £180 to more than £700 a year - depending on the equipment involved and the regularity of the monitoring. Some equipment will check the alarm signal every 10 seconds, others every six minutes; the more regular the checks, the higher the cost.

If you don’t have a monitoring contract, you may want to sign up to a maintenance contract for a small monthly fee. This should be something around £80 a year. Look for a company that includes free call-out charges as part of the contract.

Installing CCTV

CCTV is still something of a luxury for many home owners, although the number of installations is growing. The benefit of installing a CCTV system alongside your burglar alarm is that it lets you monitor what’s going on inside the property, should the alarm be activated. 

Paul Hopwood told us that he installs the CCTV circuit and system separately from the burglar alarm, for the simple reason that if one fails, you’ve still got access to the other one.

CCTV has moved on a lot from the illegible images that we might associate with something from Crimewatch. Modern systems use state-of-the-art iP cameras, which provide clearer images than ever before. Prices of CCTV systems have risen slightly as a result of this new technology, after falling steadily over the past few years as the tech got cheaper.

It’s not just about installing your security system, though, as Mike Cavanagh explains: ‘It needs to act as a deterrent. Cameras are important, but you also need window stickers and CCTV warning signs to let potential intruders know that it’s there.’

If you’d like to review your home security, contact one of our Which? Trusted Traders endorsed home security specialists.

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