Everything you need to know about choosing a home alarm

Keeping your home safe and secure is of paramount importance. But how best to do it? The right alarm system is a good place to start.

Securing your home has come a long way since the post-war days of the “door shakers” – organised groups who would rattle your door at night to check that it was locked.

Today, however, there are any number of home alarm systems available. And that means there are all manner of options to consider.

The first thing you need to do, before committing to a system, is think about your own situation. “Houses with alarms do show lower rates of burglary but they generally come with other forms of security,” says Dr Rick Brown, Deputy Director of Research at the Australian Institute of Criminology. “Start by focusing on the basics – external lights, window locks and deadbolts. The combination of physical and technical security is extremely effective.”

Here’s a checklist of the most important things you should consider when you’re shopping for an alarm system.

Back-to-base monitoring

Many security companies offer monitoring services as part of their instalment package. Generally speaking, this means they will ring or text you when an alarm goes off, and even tell you which alarm was triggered – information that can help you tell a blip from a genuine robbery.

“My advice would be to always choose a monitored system,” says Brown

“The reason is twofold. First, it prevents a degree of false alarms, which can be a nuisance for neighbours. Second, there are some areas where the police will only respond to monitored alarms, so this will give you more peace of mind.”

Motion sensors

Offering a more nuanced protection system, infrared motion detectors are located in specific rooms or areas, which means your notifications provide more information on where the breach has taken place. In some cases, sensors can be programmed to activate security cameras to record what’s happening.

And for animal-lovers, there are pet-friendly scanners that can tell a human from a dog or cat, so your furry friend won’t set sensors off.

Other features

In addition to alarms, motion sensors, external monitoring and cameras, there are even more protection devices you can add to a home security package. These include perimeter security switches that are triggered if someone tries to force a door or window, and panic buttons which silently send word of a home invasion to your monitoring company. These are also available as wearable pendants or “wristwatch” buttons for less mobile residents.

In addition, remote access is becoming more common in home alarm systems, allowing you to access and control your set-up remotely.

DIY vs professional installation

The most obvious benefit of installing a system yourself is that it costs nothing on top of the price of the system (plus your time, of course). If you’re handy and don’t mind following instructions, this could be your best bet. Of course, DIY means you’re responsible for ensuring it has been set up correctly, as well as keeping an eye on maintenance.

Professional installation, on the other hand, usually comes as part of a package that includes the system and monitoring. Of course this will cost you more, but comes with the assurance that the system is set up and running properly.

Be aware

However, for all these features, Rick Brown says that even the best alarm systems work best in conjunction with personal awareness. “A significant portion of burglaries are walk-ins,” he says, “so even if you have the system, make sure your doors and windows are locked – even when you’re at home.”