Wired vs. Wireless Security Systems
There are many advantages & disadvantages to both wireless and hardwired systems. “Hardwired” implies that virtually all devices (accept wireless key fobs) are hardwired back to the main control panel, the heart of your alarm system. “Wireless” systems instead of having wire run to each peripheral device such as window and door sensors will have a wireless, battery powered transmitter next to every window sensor, door sensor, motion sensor, etc. Today these transmitters are quite small and the batteries last years. Whether it is wireless or hardwired, we are generally referring to the whole system within your house. Then there is a communication link between your house and the 24 hour monitoring station that signals through a land telephone line (hardwired), a land cable line (hardwired) or a radio transmission (wireless). For the pros and cons of these transmission methods to the central station see “Transmission Method” (LINK)further on in this article. The wireless installing company loses in component costs what it gains in being able to use less skilled / cheaper labor. The hardwire installing company gains in being able to use less expensive components what it loses in having to pay more skilled, traditional installer, technicians.
Permits: Whether “Hardwired” or “Wireless”, ALL professionally installed and user installed alarm “systems” require that the installing party secure appropriate “Electrical Permits” if being installed in New Jersey. The only exception to the previous statement is a system that has a self-contained plug in cord for power and is being set up in the house by the owner of the house, but if that system is to be monitored you may be required to register it with the local police authority. At your request, if Protective Services Group installs your system, we will apply for and file all required permits; this is a service included in the price of your alarm system. We do not know the cost of permits until your local jurisdiction processes the them so you will be billed for those permits when they are approved. We will do all of the leg work in applying for and filling out these forms. Simple residential permits are generally though not always between $35 – $75. Commercial and institutional permits generally cost a little more.
Hardwired System Advantages:
- Hard wire for the most part, essentially has a closed path conduit if you will, in which to communicate sensor alarms from windows, doors, motion detectors, glass break detectors, smoke detectors, etc., back to the alarm panel. As a rule, they will generally not be interfered with by outside radio waves (RF) such as those associated with close by cell towers, powerful computer routers, police & fire radios, etc. While there are exceptions to this rule, those exceptions are far more likely to affect wireless systems ((which are themselves transmitting and receiving radio signals (RF)).
- Contrary to what many dealers who only sell wireless systems will tell you, if a hardwired system is installed in your property correctly, cutting wires from a detection sensor will trip the alarm system, not disable or defeat it.
- A wireless window sensor is not only a switch (as in a hardwired system), but it is also a mini wireless battery operated transmitter/receiver. It must convey many more conditions than a hard wired window sensor; a wireless system tends to transmit more signals that the customer must understand and address. A hardwired window displays an open window condition at the arming station when the system is off. If the system is turned on and the window is opened it trips an alarm signal. With wireless it does that as well, but it also sends signals like “Low Battery” and “Trouble”. In the newest wireless click here for more information systems today, batteries typically last 3-5 years or more and then can be replaced either by the homeowner or a technician. If you are going to buy wireless, you should plan on every 3-5 years replacing all batteries so that as their life wears down you are not replacing a different battery every other month.
Wireless System Advantages:
- They are installed quicker and with less mess during installation than hardwire systems.
- Wireless systems are generally less expensive because they require lesser skilled technicians to install. Lesser skilled translates into cheaper labor. At Protective Services Group we install both wireless and hardwire depending on what the customer is willing to pay for.
- Squirrels, rats, mice, raccoons, opossums, chipmunks, and other assorted critters can and occasionally do chew through wires, requiring a service call. In fact I have one squirrel outside my office window that used to chew through Verizon’s six line drop to my office on a fairly regular basis. He’d have sooner eaten copper than cashews. This is of course usually only an issue with outside wiring or when you have squirrels in your attic or rats in your crawlspace which is a whole other problem.
- Generally Easier to relocate – Fact or Fiction? This is an actual fact but often an impractical undertaking. IF… you are willing to go around and remove all of your components from windows, doors, walls, floors and closets, then patch up holes and repaint, you can take it with you, so long as it is the right collection of components (doors, windows, etc.) for your next site (rarely the case). You can reinstall it as long as you don’t mind having old components with old paint from your previous house on them. In practice this is rarely done. Some companies advertise they will move your system to the next site free of charge. If you are counting on this promise, give a critical read to the contractual fine print regarding just what will be reinstalled for free. That does not mean they will do the patch work once components are removed. Marketing companies frequently have disclaimer contract language (in fine print) indicating that only the panel, motion detector and arming station can be moved, and new peripheral components will all have to be purchased. Remember that even with a wireless system some components typically get hardwired: keypads, sirens, power to the alarm panel, grounding wires, antennas, etc. If these components are not being hardwired, yours’ is less a system and more a device, near totally self-contained and not a “security system” in the traditional sense. Finally, if you do plan to take your system with you be sure to remove all components and do repair work before showing the house so that it is known that it will not be part of the sale. In New Jersey, in order to get a “Certificate of Occupancy” to permit sale of the house, an existing alarm system must be fully functional. Finally you should know that you can generally assign at least a thousand dollar value to a traditional alarm system when pricing a home for sale.
Nuances relative to the above information:
- Outside Siren – Companies that specialize in or only sell wireless systems generally speaking have fewer traditionally experienced alarm technicians who are actually capable of fishing wire through walls in a workmanlike manner. This fact, frequently causes those companies to avoid when at all possible doing some of the things traditional alarm companies consider standard or mandatory. One of those things is installing an outside siren. They’ll simply place an indoor siren in close proximity to the alarm panel if they even do that. You should have an outside and inside siren whenever possible. Hardwired outside sirens cost more and may require an upgraded panel. Battery operated outdoor sirens work fine but must be installed well out of reach.
- Central Station Connection Hardwired or Wireless? – There are three typical types of methods / technologies generally used to transmit your alarms to the 24 hour central station monitoring center from which your signals are dispatched. They are:
- Over copper, coax or fiber land telephones –
If those lines are cut, the system loses the ability to transmit a signal and the central station will not know it. Signals will no longer be sent to them until the line is fixed or when a programmed daily, weekly, or monthly test signal fails to come in.
If your system utilizes this technology, you should look into getting regular test signals set up for your system.
Most modern systems can also be programmed to ring your outside siren if your telephone line is cut. Since the attacker is still outside with a siren going off to call attention to him – that siren will often scare him off.
- Broadband / Internet – most often achieved through Fiber or Coax land lines –
With this technology your system is wired or wirelessly connected to your internet router. It is usually sending test signals through to the central station anywhere from every so many seconds or minutes (depending on how much the customer is willing to pay for more frequent test pings). This method is more secure than method number 1).
- Radio / Cellular – In this case a radio transmitter/receiver is installed near or in your alarm system control panel. This radio transmits alarm signals over the airwaves to the central monitoring station. The vast majority of these systems work on the same cellular wireless service your cell phone does. Unlike the Broadband option which tests frequently, the average cellular radio is set up to test only daily, weekly or monthly because with no wires to cut, it is generally considered to be the most secure method of outside the house signal transmission. Monthly monitoring costs for method (2) are a little more expensive than method (1) and monitoring fees for method (3) are generally a little more expensive than method (2).
When installing an alarm system yourself:
- If you lack sufficient hand tool experience and at least a reasonable understanding of parallel vs. series DC electrical circuits, the effect of a resistor in a circuit, and the difference between voltage and current, you probably should go wireless, or be prepared to do some reading before installing.
- If you are going wireless, you pretty much merely need the willingness to thoroughly read instructions, follow programming instructions to a tee, and attach components to surfaces with double stick tape.
- Before attaching any components to a metal or glass surface, clean the surface with non-detergent liquid ammonia, and dry thoroughly, try to clean all other surfaces with cleaners that do not have residue leaving traits such as “lemon scent”.
- Pre-warming / drying a clean, cold surface with a blow dryer before attaching double stick tape will increase the longevity of the attachment many fold. I like to get the surface hot.
- Metal shielding – keep in mind that wireless systems can be negatively affected by metallic shielding between the wireless device and the main alarm control panel causing a trouble signal to be sent. This can take the form of suddenly redoing your kitchen entirely with stainless steel paneling, re-wallpapering a room with foiled wallpaper, having a metallic balloon drift and pause right next to a device, moving a large metal appliance, etc.
- If you are going hardwired
- The Cost of Wireless components rather than Hardwired components rises disproportionately and rapidly, the more openings you protect and the more electronic traps you create. The reason for this is that with wireless components you are not only purchasing the door or window contact, motion detector, glass break detector, smoke detector, or some other security appliance, but also the combined wireless transmitter and receiver with battery that permits it to communicate with the alarm panel.
Should I Go Wireless or Hardwired? :
Dollar for Dollar, opinion for opinion, my 38 years’ experience in electronic protection in a suburban (18 minutes from downtown Phila. PA) environment tells me a majority of security professionals historically and currently view hardwired system as somewhat better than wireless. Thousands of purveyors of wireless security components will of course disagree with me, but here is why I conclude there is an edge. First of all there is an ever so slight ability to literally manipulate wireless components so as to get around them rather than actually defeat them electronically. Defeating hardwired components in this manner can be done, but not quite as easy. A wireless motion detector, sometimes without so much as removing a screw, can be relocated to a new position 30 feet away without the alarm panel even detecting it has been moved. In such a case, an area assumed to be under electronic surveillance might not be. For obvious reasons I will not go into the ways security components can be defeated physically or electronically. That said – for the vast majority of homes and businesses, a properly installed wireless system (not a Free System) is probably more than sufficient protection for most applications.
Having had over 6,000 customers / systems over my 38 years of protecting homes, businesses, and institutions, I don’t think I have seen a professionally designed alarm system installed as it was proposed, and professionally maintained, that was defeated either electronically or physically more than a very 2 or 3 times. In fact, sitting here I can only think of 2 such systems. The alarm systems in both properties were old, basic and under designed for the present day value of the properties they were meant to protect. Periodic updating of technology makes sense in the security field. The old adage that “Any Security System Can Be Defeated” with regard to a professionally designed and installed one is from a practical standpoint not very accurate. If you are willing to spend the required money to achieve the desired level of security few systems if any on this level are ever defeated.
Since wireless systems generate more signal activity that has to be paid attention to by the user, an issue that escapes some alarm owners, the failure to address any of these signals sometimes leads to disregarded maintenance issues. Sooner or later all devices need occasional maintenance.
I always felt that if the local Chevy / Ford dealer was not driving a Chevy / Ford, they probably should not be selling them. For the sake of those who wish to know – my personal system is hardwired, but my partner’s system is wireless. That should pretty much tell you that we are really splitting hairs when comparing them, however it does bear saying that if you are dealing with a company capable of putting in either, then you are probably dealing with a more experienced company and capable company and should feel safer taking their recommendations which way to go.
Some of the reasons why some supposedly operable alarm systems are seemingly defeated might be as follows: Some are defeated when a section of the alarm system falls into disrepair and because of a lack of finances or just inattention are not repaired. A higher number are defeated because the buyer wanted to cut costs and he/she eliminated portions of the proposed system (Not installed as proposed). Most successful attacks, though they are still a very small number of systems, get defeated by attacks on the electronic link between the property and the central station, when the protected building does not have good outside siren/bell capability and is isolated from immediate neighbors who can hear sirens and, or see strobes. In South Jersey for a long period of time we experienced knuckleheads nearly simultaneously cutting communications (Telephone or cable) lines and, or electrical service feeds on the outside of isolated (little traffic) gas stations and convenience stores, tearing sirens off the side of the building, then pounding through the cinderblock wall with a sledge hammer, grabbing the whole safe and driving away in probably less than five minutes. In one such case a group was caught driving down a lonely country road dragging a safe behind them on a chain. Pretty crude stuff compared to what you see on TV which of course is virtually all nonsense. I would not normally discuss this but as it happens this was in all of the newspapers.
To combat the above, professionals immediately started suggesting to high “At Risk” customers that they should have wireless communications (today that is cellular radio) instead of hard lines but remember, that is because the hard lines were running down the outside of the building , openly exposed to the “bad guys”.
Remember that unlike an electrician, plumber, carpenter, or other skilled worker, the alarm technician literally has human beings trying to figure out how to destroy or get around their efforts to protect people and property. Codes dictate minimal protection for the other tradesman based on natural and catastrophic failures. The alarm professional has to understand code requirements plus he has to understand intelligent human beings who try to defeat his work. If you place yourself in the position of designing your security system, you pretty much only have what I previously described as nonsense (TV) as your experience with knowing how the criminal mind works.