Monday, October 1, 2012

I'm shopping for an alarm system...What are my options?

I get this question regularly. "I want to help protect my family, I'm interested in electronic home security. Where do I start?" There are several factors that determine the answer to this question. My intent with this posting is to simplify the options available and make it possible for you to make an informed decision.

Step 1: Which business model is right for me? 

DSC PowerSeries 
There are really only two business models in the electronic security industry. The traditional model of purchasing equipment and installation from a reputable local custom alarm company is alive, well and highly recommended if your budget allows it. You can easily expect to pay from $1500-$2000 for a traditional basic consumer grade burglary system in a medium sized home. The more areas you want protected, the more you can expect to pay for equipment and labor.
GE Concord IV

This will typically be a "hard wired" or "hybrid" system that uses a separate panel box and keypad. Wireless devices may supported 'on-board' as is the case with the GE Concord or may require the addition of a wireless transceiver.  Typical panels used are the Honeywell/Ademco Vista/Via Series, GE/ITI Concord Series and DSC PowerSeries.
Honeywell Ademco Vista 20P

In this scenario the installing custom alarm company is usually who provides the monitoring-either at their own in house facility or by contract with a national monitoring provider. In the Chattanooga, TN/North GA market the type of services described here are available from Action Alarms, Dependable Security, PM Alarms and ADT Corporate. Please note that I do not specifically endorse any of these companies. Plenty of information is available online to help you determine whether the alarm provider you have chosen is reputable.

GE Simon XT Wireless All-in-one panel
The second choice is the alarm dealer business model. Typically alarm dealers provide basic systems at little or no up front cost in exchange for a specified contract term, commonly 2-3 years. Usually a minimum credit score is required. The ads you see for a $99 system are typically alarm dealer ads. The monitoring is provided by a national monitoring company such as ADT or Monitronics. The systems initially offered are usually wireless all-in-one systems such as the Honeywell Lynx Series, GE/ITI Simon series and DSC Impassa series. Wireless all-in-one units have the keypad, sounder, panel circuitry and wireless transceiver all in one self contained unit. The installer simply has to set up a connection to power and to phone and mount it on the wall. Hard-wired and hybrid systems are also offered with no up front cost by reputable dealers to customers with an existing system of this type.

DSC Impassa Wireless All-in-one panel

Alarm dealers make their money by selling the monitoring contracts to a national alarm monitoring company. This action makes you direct customer of the national monitoring company and effectively removes the dealer from the transaction-usually after your unit has been installed for 90 days.  If you require service, the national company can at their option send a technician from the installing dealer, another dealer or one of their own corporate technicians.

Honeywell  Lynx/QuickConnect Plus

Here are the main bullet points of comparison:

 Custom Alarm Company 
* Up front cost for equipment                                                                                                              
*  Hard wired or hybrid system                                                    
*  Short or no monitoring contract                                                

Alarm Dealer
 *  Little or no up-front cost
 *  New installs will usually be a Wireless system
 *  2-3 year monitoring contract

Now you have the basic information to make an informed choice about purchasing an alarm system. 

Stay tuned for the next segment!