Purchasing an Alarm Systems

Lease or Purchase?

Some alarm companies install an alarm system as a lease, others as a purchase you will own. When you lease, the company owns the equipment; initial installation costs are often much lower than buying your own. There is usually a monthly fee, typically with central monitoring of your alarm system, and they require you to sign a contract for one or more years. If you are not sure you will keep the system, or if your budget is limited, leasing is a good option. If you sell your home during the lease time you may have to pay the lease off, or if the home buyer chooses, they may be able to assume the lease contract. When you buy your system the initial cost is higher, but monthly costs may be lower, or non-existent, depending on whether you purchase a monitoring service.

Hardwired or Wireless System?

Alarm systems can be wired through the walls of the house (hard-wired) or operated by transmitters (wireless) positioned beside the doors or on the windows; these send a signal to a central unit. It is largely a matter of personal preference unless you have a special consideration such as an electrical substation or power transmission lines in your neighborhood that might interfere with transmission signals. Wireless systems require a battery in each unit. It is good to get a system that has some way of notifying you of the condition of the batteries (a fully supervised alarm system) so you will know when a battery is in need of replacement.

Central Monitoring, Residential Alarm, or Both?

Snohomish County Sheriff's Office recommends you always have an audible alarm that sounds at your residence. The objective is to let your family know of any danger and to scare the intruders away! It is not to let you sneak up on intruders and catch them. The intruders need to be aware that the alarm has been tripped. Preferably the alarm will sound both inside where you and the intruders can hear it, and outside where the neighbors can hear it. When neighbors hear the alarm, they know there may be a problem and they can look for danger and call 911 if needed.

Having your alarm system monitored will mean that a monitoring company will call the Snohomish County Dispatch Center when the alarm is tripped. When an audible alarm is heard by neighbors, they will often assume that the monitoring company will call 911; don't assume. If you decide not to have a monitored system, talk to your neighbors and let them know what you want them to do when they hear your alarm. Monitoring companies usually will not monitor systems they have not installed because of equipment incompatibility and their desire to sell their equipment, so if you are considering a "do-it-yourself" system check with the monitoring companies beforehand.

What Kind of Interior Sensors?

Few alarm systems will monitor every door and window in your home. Typically a sensor will be placed on doors, and perhaps high-risk windows. Interior sensors can be placed in the interior and can be infrared, photoelectric beams, pressure under mats, etc. Discuss with the alarm companies how different sensors and alarm systems will fit your lifestyle. Consider pets, children, and others who have access to your home when considering your options. You want to work with a company that will take your lifestyle and household into consideration rather than simply offer you their system package.

Consider the pattern of coverage any interior sensor provides. Do not assume that intruders will always go to a specific room of your home. Try to position interior sensors to protect as much of the interior as possible. Often placing a sensor in a hall that must be used to reach several rooms is effective. You may want to consider more than one sensor if you cannot get adequate coverage from one.

How to Choose a Company?


The key to selecting an alarm system is being a good consumer. Get three or four estimates and ask questions. Be aware that over 90 percent of all home security alarm trips are false and you can be charged accordingly. Know what you want to protect and get a system that works for you and your family.

Washington Burglary and Fire Alarm Association, Inc., now Electronic Security Association, is a self-regulating association of company members who can be contacted if you have any questions about alarm systems or alarm companies. You may contact them online at: www.WAESA.org. You can also contact the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, or your local law enforcement office.