A guide to security systems

Unwanted intruders gaining access to your home is a terrifying prospect. It's bad enough if you're out at work when it happens, even worse if you're upstairs asleep. In this article we look at the options available to homeowners wanting to improve their home's security. We cover the most common burglar alarm systems - wired, unwired and monitored - and also look at different outdoor security lighting options. Don't forget, an alarm can also sometimes reduce your home insurance premium.


  • DO get into the habit of setting your alarm whenever you go out
  • DO make sure your shed and garage are locked and alarmed
  • DO get it serviced once a year and test your system every 3 months, and keep spare batteries for wireless detectors
  • DO make sure your alarm has anti-tamper protection
  • DON'T leave your house unsecured.
  • DON'T annoy neighbours with nuisance alarms. If your system gives false alarms it needs checking
  • DON'T give your PIN to strangers
  • DON'T let pets into areas protected by personal intruder alarms (PIR's)

What are the different types of burglar alarm system available?

Burglar alarm systems have various ways of detecting an intruder, coupled to various methods of raising the alarm - from loud noises and lights, to informing a security centre, and any combination of the above.

Home systems tend to use two main types of detector.

  1. Magnetic contacts on doors and windows which activate an alarm if the contacts are separated
  2. Interior Passive Infrared Detectors (PIRs) which activate an alarm when they react to body heat and movement within a defined arc. This is the most common type of detector used.

DIY alarms

If you're a reasonably experienced DIYer a self-install security system is a great option. Available as wired or wireless, the latter is easier and quicker to install, but both feature upgrade options such as extra PIRs, magnetic contacts, cameras and remote controls. With both variants you "personalise" your system with a PIN that activates and deactivates the alarm. A key benefit of a DIY package is that there are no on-going monthly fees.

Monitored alarms

The main appeal of a monitored alarm is that if it goes off you know it won't be ignored because it alerts a security centre that's manned 24/7, which in turn alerts one or more of your nominated key holders. Fitted by professionals, monitored alarms are more expensive than off-the-shelf kits and have monthly fees attached.

Cost of installing a burglar alarm

Single magnetic alarms for windows and doors start from as little as £20 each while full DIY security packages range from £100-£300. Monitored security systems usually start at £100-150 for installation plus monthly fees of £20-30.

What about extras like GSM functionality, panic buttons and CCTV?

The new breed of GSM alarms are designed to let you use your mobile phone as a remote control for your security system. A whole raft of different options is available including GSM temperature detectors and water/flood detectors.

Panic Buttons give peace of mind to the elderly and vulnerable. A wall-mounted panic button is typically combined with a personal pendant and when either is activated it dials one or more of the programmed contacts as well as alerting a customer security centre.

If you own your property it is legal to install CCTV provided planning permission is not required and provided the camera is trained on your property not your neighbour's. Cameras trained on areas beyond property boundaries could amount to harassment and contravene The Human Rights Act.

Is it worth getting a dummy burglar alarm box?

The short answer is no. Professional thieves can tell the difference between a working alarm system and an empty yellow box sitting on the outside of a house. It won't reduce your contents insurance either so you're better off spending the money on improved locks.

How do I identify my "at risk areas"?

It all depends on the layout of your home. For example in a second floor flat the key risk area would be the hall adjacent to the entry door as this is the only reasonable entry route. A house with front and back doors will require detectors at both entry points, such as magnetic contacts on each door or PIRs positioned on the walls opposite. In practice the front door is generally deemed the entry/exit route and the control panel is sited nearby so you can activate it when you leave your home.

Tell me about exterior lighting to improve security

Outdoor lighting is a simple, yet effective, way of protecting your property against vandalism and burglary - intruders would much rather go about their business in the dark! Remember it isn't just the front of your home that needs security lighting: back doors and side alleys are just as vulnerable as the front and will benefit from lighting too.

The different types of outdoor security lighting include PIR motion sensor lighting which is activated when someone walks within the detection area; "dusk-to-dawn" lighting provides all-night illumination and "hi-lo lighting" which switches on automatically to a low level of brightness at dusk and increases to full brightness when it senses movement or body heat within range.

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