Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the first things I should do in securing my home?
A: Without a doubt, the first and most important things are to make sure your doors are adequate in strength, and equipped with decent deadbolt locks properly installed into re-inforced strikes in the doorframe, held with 3 inch screws. The door itself should also be reinforced around the area of the door where the bolt sits in the actual door (called a door surround kit). Following closely behind that is to make sure your patio door is fitted with screws above the track to prevent lifting the doors out of their tracks, and also equipped with a swingdown bar behind the door itself. Last but by no means least, is to ensure all basement windows and low lying ground floor windows are equipped with proper window bars. In our area, one third of break-ins are through kicking in a door, and one third are through forced entry of basement windows. There is no reason to think that it is necessarily any different in any other area. Consider reading this.
Q: How necessary is it to purchase an alarm system?
A: That depends upon your individual circumstances. Ask yourself these questions:
1-Are you prepared to live with the nuisance of an alarm system?
2-Are you comfortable that you will be able to understand some of the necessary intricacies of use of a system?
3-Are you prepared to pay for an addition to your home which will cost over time as much as a furnace installation?
4-Will you actually use the system if you put it in?
If the answer to all these questions is “yes”, and you have done the physical security upgrades already, then the time could be right to add an alarm system to your home.
Q: What is the very first thing to consider before actually calling an alarm system company?
A: Before calling any company, first decide how you wish to purchase your system. On one end of the market, if you decide upon one of the financed, no money down systems (widely advertised as a “free” system), then the large alarm conglomerates are an obvious choice. Should you wish to pay a full and fair market price, then you should shop for a company that markets this way, and insist upon much lower monthly ongoing service, warranty and monitoring costs. Or you may decide to shop in the middle ground from within the vast majority of the alarm dealers in the market who’s price proposals can and do vary all over the price map !
Q: How do I know who to deal with in selecting a supplier?
A: Ask around among your neighbours. Consult the local Yellow Pages. Search in smaller localized publications for dealers in your immediate area. Above all, shop around! This is a fiercely competitive business, and the consumer is in the driver’s seat! Pay special attention to the information in that portion of my article in dealing with electronic alarm systems, and don’t be unduly swayed by proposals for so-called “free systems”. Although, I readily admit to a certain amount of bias on this point, it is my experience that you generally get a better overall deal if you deal with a small to medium sized local dealer, rather than one of the brand name, larger national alarm companies. Size and market presence don’t automatically equate to value or price! See also our cautions in the section on Electronic Alarms.
Q: Should I lease or buy my system?
A: If you are adding a system to your home, it is far preferable to purchase the system outright, thereby allowing you to negotiate the best monitoring rate with the shortest possible contract. However, if you are installing in a business, and / or don’t plan to be at that location for a long time, it may be better to lease. There may be a tax advantage to leasing the system as well. However, if you do lease, know that this will likely cost you over time, a great deal more than an outright purchase.
We also strongly suggest you pass over those highly advertised companies specializing in “all in one” rental systems, boasting 2 way voice service, for only a low monthly rate. These “money machines” are as close to a scam as one can get in this industry without actually being one.
Q: All my neighbours have alarms. If I don’t get one, aren’t I more likely to be targeted?
A: That depends! Remember, thieves are not generally targeting specific houses per se; they are generally looking to get in anyone’s home, and in the easiest way possible. So if your home is very difficult physically to break into, they will likely pass you by for “easier pickings” (with or without an alarm!) The presence of an alarm system simply tells them they have less time to work in the home should they do decide to break into it. A big problem resulting from the current push for alarms is that once the consumer puts one in, he then relaxes his guard, thinking he is totally safe! Some of the very best things you can do are to form “neighbourhood watch” type community programs (talk to your police). These programs let the world know you are watching out for your neighbours. Word gets around to the thieves very quickly who generally tend to avoid such neighbourhoods provided it is evident to them that it is being done properly !! Bottom line, though, common sense would dictate that a thief seeing a home equipped with an alarm system would probably pass it by in favour of another home without an alarm system (all things being equal), and provided he is also convinced that it is properly monitored.
In the world of security, there are no absolutes, because you are dealing with people!! What will scare off one thief might be largely ignored by another.
Our experience in this business has taught us one hard and fast rule:
Do do as much as you can; make it as simple and as strong as possible; do it as soon as you can, take nothing for granted, and address every single area of possible entry.
Q: Should I buy a hardwired system or a wireless system?
A: As good general rule, always select a hardwired system over a wireless, unless the construction of your home doesn’t allow reasonably easy installation (ie: basement ceilings finished with non – removeble tile or drywall over the majority of the basement ceiling area). On average, wired systems give less trouble than wireless over time. If you must opt for wireless, expect to pay substantially more for the same installation versus wired. Then, insist on only the very best quality equipment (made by Ademco, DSC, Interlogix and Paradox). Large companies use wireless to cut down labour costs, not worrying about the long term service calls that can be generated from battery changes. To them – this doesn’t matter, since most companies charge you for the service call.
Q: Should I have my system monitored? Won’t the horn and the decals scare them away?
A: Generally it is a poor decision to skip the monitoring to save a few bucks monthly, and bet your home and possessions (and in extreme cases your personal safety) that you can fool thieves. For a more detailed discussion on this subject, go to the section on monitoring, Remember too, that although you probably put the system in for purposes of burglary control, it can be made much more useful with other devices such as smoke detectors, heat and flood detectors, natural gas and CO detectors, all monitored through the central station receivers. In most areas of the country, insurance companies give discounts on home insurance for monitored systems. They don’t do that for no reason !!
Q: Can I expect superior monitoring service if I go with an established large alarm company rather than a small company who subcontracts their monitoring to a third party monitoring firm?
A: Absolutely not !! This is another myth the large nationals would have you believe !! Provided both stations are ULC approved, there is usually NO difference. Independent dealers choose their third party stations carefully, since their performance reflects directly on the dealer. This may well be the most regulated part of this industry (In fact, many large companies often subcontract themselves, allowing independent dealers (like myself) to use their facilities as required, charging us a monthly fee per account, and even doing the billing for us !!). Overall, the industry standards for monitoring services from professional monitoring companies is excellent, virtually without exception ! (Could we be so lucky with alarm companies themselves….!!!!!! )
Q: If I choose a small dealer, and he leaves the business, am I going to be stuck?!
A: Not at all ! If you own your system, and are not locked into a long term monitoring contract, you are always “in the driver’s seat” so to speak. If you put out the word that you need your system monitored, there will be dozens of companies beating down your door for your monitoring business. You will be in the position of being able to negotiate the best deal for monthly rate, service costs and ongoing equipment warranty among many different suppliers – all anxious and competing for your business. This is almost a gift to them – they don’t have to install the system, and are being handed the monitoring on a silver platter !!
Most dealers when they leave the business, sell their monitoring accounts to a larger company. If there is a long term contract associated with an account, it is worth far more on the market than a strictly monthly account, because you are under contract obligated to go to the seller while the contract runs its course !! In effect, the purchasing company is guaranteed a certain revenue stream for the balance of your contract. This is another reason why dealers much prefer to lock you into the longest contract possible, and another good reason not to do so …!!!
Q: Is there anything else I should know about and ask for from the dealer before I agree to purchase from them ?
A: Yes absolutely ..!! Make sure you discuss and get agreement about the following common industry practices:
1- If you are purchasing your panel outright, insist your dealer does not lock your alarm panel. If locked, only he can re-enter to program your panel to go to another monitoring station of your choice at some later date – effectively holding you hostage to his demands! In many cases, the board cannot be defaulted back to factory, thereby ensuring the board is no use to the next company. This is a common, unethical practice engaged in by many companies both large and small. (see Lockout)
2- Make sure the panel you are purchasing is not “proprietary” in nature (ie: is unique in its ability to communicate only with certain stations) thereby ensuring you must remain with the original monitoring station. Big, national chains are very guilty of this common practice, although this is fast disappearing !! (The Merlin system is one such system marketed here in Canada)
3- Get agreement that if you should decide at some future time to go elsewhere for your monitoring, that the dealer will change the unique installers code back to default value (necessary to re-enter programming mode).
Any reputable company should be glad to put these safeguards in writing if you need that to feel comfortable ! If not, go elsewhere !!