Securing your property – what system is right, and what does it really cost?

publication date: Sep 29, 2014
author/source: Kate Faulkner, Property Expert and Author of Which? Property Books
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This month is Home Security Month, so when thinking about home security, you’ll need to cut through a huge number of alarm devices and monitoring systems available. To ensure you get the right one for your property, it’s a good idea to start by asking three simple questions:

  • What does the system do and how does it work?

  • What’s the difference between them all?

  • What will it cost me? Is it a one-off payment or monthly/annual payments?

There are three categories of alarm system, and here we take you through what they do, plus their main advantages and drawbacks.

Sound and non-monitored systems
This is the simplest system which many choose as it is relatively cheap and straightforward to install. The unit is a visible deterrent to would-be prowlers, and the noise scares them off, besides waking you up if you’re at home. The neighbours will always hear when the alarm has been tripped, and it’s backed up by a battery so that even a power cut will not affect its operation. All you do is enter a code to activate or deactivate, and there are no service charges or running costs

On the down side, it is a very basic system and apparently, the noise can be muffled simply by putting it in a bucket of water!

Read - Maintaining your property quick guide

Contact systems
These work by using speech or text messages

Speech diallers use your existing land line; you record a message and add any phone numbers you want dialling if the alarm is set off, and you can add different messages according to whether it’s an intruder, an attack, or a fire incident. It’s relatively cheap to buy, but the phone line is vulnerable to being cut, besides the cable that links your phone line to the speech dialler unit. You also have to nominate reliable people who live nearby who will receive any alerts and act according to your wishes, which may or may not be appreciated!

Text diallers are different in that they use mobile phone networks. They transmit voice or text messages to the numbers you’ve added. You need to buy a SIM card to insert into the dialler, which then connects to the alarm system. They are relatively cheap to buy and run, and are a possibility if you don’t have a land line. However, you need to remember to keep Pay As You Go SIM cards topped up to ensure the system transmits messages if the alarm is triggered, and a poor mobile signal can mean patchy reliability.

Monitored alarm systems
These are the most complex and, inevitably, expensive systems but are the most reliable. They communicate with an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) which is staffed 24/7 and always responds by calling key holders and/or the police. It’s the system of choice for most commercial premises and also for big properties in isolated areas, or those that are high-risk or only occupied part-time. If you have very valuable items at home, such as expensive jewellery or perhaps run a business from home, and have specialist equipment or technology, this is probably an option to consider.

There are three types of monitored systems:

Digital use their own dedicated phone line so can’t be blocked by other incoming calls and sends secure messages to a 24/7 ARC which always responds. It’s the cheapest of the three options, but you’ll still have to pay line rental, and annual subscriptions to the ARC and alarm installation company – and if the line is cut, the system can’t dial out.

Single path signalling systems use mobile networks or your existing home phone line. What’s handy is it can distinguish types of incident – an intruder, say, or a fire – and where it’s happening and, importantly, its signalling path is monitored so that if a line is cut or fails, the ACR still knows and can respond. However, you’ll need to pay an annual ARC subscription, you may need an ADSL filter for your land line, and there’s a monthly SIM card subscription too.

Dual path signalling systems use a primary and a back-up channel, in many combinations to suit your existing infrastructure. There are plenty on the market, which has driven the price down – good news when you will have to pay annual subscriptions to the ARC and alarm installer for maintenance, besides needing two reliable signalling paths. On the plus side, dual signalling gives the highest level of security for properties identified as most at risk, and it uses any UK mobile network, switching between networks to ensure it’s using the strongest signal.

Read - Maintaining your property quick guide

Check products meet the required standards
Secured by Design is owned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and aims to ensure consumers can work out for themselves who to trust, from a trusted source.

How do you know the installers are reputable
British Security Industry Association (BSIA)
Their role is to promote and encourage high standards of equipment and service.

Master Locksmiths Association (MLA)
The Master Locksmiths Association licenses approved companies which they vet with regular visits.

National Security Systems Inspectorate (NSI) for Alarms & CCTV
The National Security Inspectorate inspects companies providing home and business security as well as fire safety services. 

Security Systems & Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) for Alarms & CCTV
SSAIB is a Certification Body for those who offer fire systems and electronic security. 

Read - Maintaining your property quick guide

How much will it cost to secure my home? 
Cost depends on three main things:-

  1. The level of security you want and need

  2. The size and function of your property

  3. Whether you live in a high-risk area

  4. If you do the work yourself

  5. Whether you have a one off cost or an on-going cost through monitoring

But, here’s some budget, standard and premium costs for security systems. Whichever you choose, please make sure the alarms meet the necessary security standards and any companies belong to trade organisations which offer warranties on their work.

A one off audible alarm system which you kit out yourself would cost around £100 to £200.

If you have it professionally fitted, you are probably looking at £500 to £1,000 and if monitored, anything from £15 a month.

At the other end of the scale, for a 4-5 bed house which has all the ‘kit and caboodle’, monitored alarms etc, then you are likely to be looking at £2,000 or more, but with the reassurance that your home is pretty well protected, however hard the burglars try to shut your system down.

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All our information is brought to you by Kate Faulkner, author of Which? Property books and one of the UK's top property experts.
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