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Insurance Types

Your Alarm System is a Great Tool


A CLOSER LOOK: Having a system may bring a discount on your home insurance policy

Thinking of going south for a few weeks to escape the winter weather? If so, now might be the time to consider a burglar alarm system for your home.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) and the RCMP can help. Their How To Lock Out Crime series of publications includes information on different burglar alarm systems and how installing one can help prevent break-ins.

It should be mentioned that though helpful, alarm systems are no substitute for good physical security.
In most cases, well-planned landscaping and exterior lighting, sturdy doors and windows and quality locks provide better and more cost-effective protection against burglars.

If you live in an "average" neighbourhood where your home is much like those around it, if your house has well-secured doors and windows and you take security precautions, you probably don't need to consider an alarm.

But an alarm system might be a good choice if:

  • You live in a remote location where surveillance by neighbours is impossible You have valuable or irreplaceable possessions.
  • You spend prolonged periods away from home.
  • You want the peace of mind.

Once you've decided you need an alarm, you must then decide which type is right for you.
There are two types: perimeter alarms, designed to protect doors and windows, and area alarms that protect interior spaces.

A perimeter alarm provides protection through sensors on doors and windows. A sensor can be a magnetic contact that triggers an alarm when a door or window is opened. Other detectors can sense the sound waves transmitted when the glass breaks.

An area alarm system relies on electronic motion sensors to "sweep" a room or hallway. The alarm is triggered if the sensors detect movement.

There are different types of motion sensors, and if you have a cat or dog there are sensors that will not normally be activated by your pet's movement.

Sensors used in both perimeter and area alarm systems are connected, either by wires or miniature radio transmitters, to a central control panel. Wireless systems are easier to install, but replacing the batteries that power the transmitters can be time-consuming and costly. Wireless systems are also harder to test for correct operation.

Remember a perimeter alarm acts like an early warning system, detecting an intruder who is still outside; the area alarm will only alert you after the intruder has broken in.

Unless you have a sensor in every room and hallway, the intruder may spend considerable time in your home before actually setting off an alarm.

But because of their greater sensitivity, area protectors are generally more difficult to bypass or disable.
Though no alarm is perfect, the most effective systems use a combination of motion and heat detectors in key locations to enhance a good alarm.

The alarm you choose should be tailored to your specific security needs, your lifestyle and your home's design.

Some contact-type window alarms, for example, can't be used on the window frames in older homes because the frames have warped with age.

Area alarms may not be suitable if they might be triggered by a pet or a child who gets up in the night to use the bathroom. However, most systems allow for the area alarm to be bypassed at night with the perimeter alarm remaining active.

Alarm systems range in price from less than $50 to several thousand dollars. The cost of batteries, maintenance and monitoring services can be substantial. Consider only what you can afford, rather than what you'd like to buy. If you're like most people, you'll likely have to compromise.

The quality of equipment and its installation should outweigh initial purchase price in determining which system to buy. Buy from a dealer or agency with a verifiable record of quality installations, and one that maintains and guarantees the equipment it sells. You should also check with your insurance company as many offer discounts on your home insurance policy if you have an alarm system installed.

The Better Business Bureau, your local chamber of commerce, provincial licensing authorities, reputable locksmiths and people you know who have alarm systems are good sources of information about the security companies in your area.

Rob Parker is a registered home inspector with the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors and master inspector with the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors who does home inspections in the London area. 

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