Personal Attack Alarm
Here is some information gathered from a range of forums including the top frequently asked questions about home security.

What components or devices make up a home security system?

Usually, a basic home security alarm system will include a control panel, transformer, keypad, battery, motion detector, siren, RJ31X and contacts for doors/windows. This system can be wireless, wired or hybrid.

Alarm Systems

What's the difference between a Control panel and a keypad?

A control panel is the circuit board that comes in a metal enclosure along with the alarm system's standby battery.
A keypad is an outside device that is wired to a control panel. It allows you to enter data into the system if you want to arm/disarm your security alarms, or if you want to control the system functions and programming. The system's status information is constantly displayed on the keypad.

However, some manufacturers make integrated control/keypad units (such as ADEMCO's Lynx panels, where the control unit is also the keypad).

How long will my alarm system function in the event of a power loss?

It is generally said that most home alarms will standby for up to 8 hours, but if your alarm has an extended siren timeout and a large power load then the system will drain the standby battery a lot faster. If these factors are changed, your battery life will increase significantly.

There is no way to accurately estimate the total standby time your system is capable of unless you get a proper alarm load and standby calculation done. Routinely replacing your battery and frequently servicing the alarm will also greatly increase the standby time.

How do I go about testing my alarm system and how often should it be done?

It is actually advised that you check your alarm weekly.

When you are testing a monitored system, make sure you have the central monitoring station put your account on 'test' mode so you do not get a response. You should also test a monitored system for communication to the central station if you do not have a daily dialler test. To do this, arm your system and trigger a signal. Whilst your alarm is transmitting a signal, your home phone should have no dial tone. If the line doesn't go dead you should have your security system checked.

If the communications are fine, you should test each door and window to see if they are recognised by the system. This can be done by using the 'walk-test' feature or the chime mode of the system.

You should test motion detectors by walking in front of the unit's LED sensors. Remember, they are meant to detect any sort of movement, however small, not just jumping around or walking towards them.

Do NOT test smoke/heat detectors by burning something near it, as this may cause damage or mean the equipment has to be cleaned/maintained. It is not recommended that you test fire alarms unless you have the manual, or you are extremely familiar with alarms.

However, flood/low temperature units CAN be tested by creating a condition they are monitoring. Water or ice will work for whichever type you are testing.

After you have checked your system, make sure you have cleared and reset it to its normal state.

Even if you carry out all of these checks, getting a yearly service by a professional installer will ensure the chance of a malfunction is almost impossible.

When should an alarm system be upgraded/updated?

Most home alarm systems are designed to last up to 10 years, sometimes longer. Usually, the user will want to upgrade or replace their system when the installation is old and has a lot of devices but not so many zones.

Sometimes, the alarms will also benefit from partial re-wiring as well as the addition of new hardware. Replacing some burglary devices is also recommended for maximum security. Contact switches, fire devices, wiring and electrical tape should all be checked and replaced if necessary.

A lot of the time, the end user will simply want the newest features available or to increase the effectiveness of their existing system. For example, many users replace control sets or add wireless systems, keypads, access control or touch screens to their security. It is common, however, that the system has reached its maximum capability level and you will need to upgrade.

It is uncommon that burglar or fire alarms are replaced unless the user would like another feature or the unit is faulty.

It is recommended that you consider an upgrade between 5-7 years.

What is the difference between hardwired and wireless?

A hardwired system involves a wire connecting a main control unit to every individual device. It is a lot more time consuming to install than wireless, but most of the time the parts are less expensive. It is also cheaper to maintain, but the wire may be difficult to install or conceal in some buildings.

It is a lot easier to mix and match devices with a hardwired system, and the devices are also a lot smaller and more discreet if they are correctly installed. It is also a lot easier to update the system when it is wired.

On the other hand, wireless devices make use of a battery installed into the system, some using lithium batteries so the system can go for longer without requiring a service. Most of the time, you are limited to only 1 manufacturer's range of devices, and they are generally larger than wired units but will work in the same way. They are faster to install and do not require any wiring and are therefore less intrusive.

However, the batteries in a wireless unit will need regular maintenance and will eventually face becoming obsolete.

If money is your main concern, hardwired units are a lot cheaper, as wireless units will cost you more initially and over time.
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