Home security systems: are wired or wireless systems better? There is no easy or straightforward answer to that question. It all depends on your individual requirements, your budget, the layout and location of your home and what you’re ultimately looking for in a home security system. As a general rule of thumb, however, it’s probably accurate to say that hard-wired security systems have the edge in terms of reliability; whereas, wireless security systems are cheaper to install, are more streamlined and can be used in more inaccessible places than hard-wired systems.
What’s the difference between ‘wired’ and ‘wireless’ security systems?
Wired home security systems
Wired home security systems operate on a ‘closed’ electrical circuit basis, meaning that when the alarm is activated the system is completed. Hard wired home security systems operate via a control panel/hub which is connected to a series of sensors at entry points to the home via wires. If there is any interference, for instance the cutting of wires, then the alarm will trigger. These systems require wires to be run from the control panel to each sensor. A fully hard-wired alarm system connects the sensors to the control panel with a network of wires, concealed within the walls and floors of your home, and then to the outside world using your home’s telephone line.
Wireless home security systems
Wireless home security systems use individual sensors throughout the home which communicate wirelessly using radio frequency technology, rather than through wires or cables, between the control panel, sensors and cameras. Wireless home security systems are battery-powered, so there’s no need for expensive wiring.
Battery-powered sensors transmit a radio signal to the control unit to trigger the alarm. Many modern wireless home security systems can be armed and operated using a remote key fob, which also doubles as a mobile panic alarm. Some wireless systems even offer a repeater unit which increases the transmission rate so that outbuildings can also be protected using the system.
What about wireless home security cameras? Are they value for money?
Well, not necessarily.
Wireless cameras run on batteries and are power-hungry; most batteries will only provide roughly 24 hours of power to the camera. Another potential drawback to wireless home security systems is that most don’t have the ability to be connected to a telephone land line
What are the main advantages of wired home security systems?
Wired home security systems arguably offer maximum reliability at a lower cost: however, they are probably not a great option for anyone thinking of self- installing home security. It can be tricky and time-consuming to create a wiring solution which doesn’t affect the aesthetic appeal of the property, yet makes it difficult for burglars to subvert.
- Wired security systems can often accommodate several ‘zones’ of protection.
- Wired systems are reliable.
- Wired systems generally tend to be less susceptible to radio or electrical interference.
- Wired systems use a backup battery system during electrical interruptions.
What are the principal disadvantages of wired security systems?
- Wired systems can be difficult to install.
- Hiding wiring in an existing property can be problematic.
- Once installed, hard-wired home security systems are not really portable.
What are the advantages of wireless home security systems?
- Wireless home security systems are a great alternative for people living in older homes, flats or apartments.
- Since wireless systems have their own batteries, they can be installed in locations in a home where there is no, or restricted electrical access.
- The wireless system can easily be expanded if needed.
- Wireless security systems can be connected to a phone and/or computer systems for remote monitoring. Wireless security systems can be integrated with other home automation systems.
- Wireless security systems are portable, so if you move house you can take them with you.
What are the principal disadvantages of wireless home security systems?
- The major drawback when using a wireless system tends to be the question of its reliability when the system is subject to any form of electromagnetic interference. Although wireless security systems can offer homeowners protection at most times, they can – although is rare – occasionally be affected by interference, just like Wi-Fi routers and mobile phones. Any unpredictable interference can cause the sensor on a home security system to malfunction. Sometimes the sensor may simply fail to respond: at other times, the sensor may respond unpredictably, triggering false alarms and causing unnecessary worries.
Where does this electromagnetic interference come from? Well, any number of external factors can cause this: structural interference from walls, floors, ceilings and external wires, for example. Everyday home devices can also trigger the interference; devices like remote control units, baby monitors, microwave ovens and even fluorescent lighting.
- The added factors to bear in mind are the issues of sensor location and battery life. Wireless components need to be located close to the central control panel: this can limit the placing of sensors. Moreover, each wireless sensor will have its own battery. These generally work well, and are particularly useful when there is a power cut. However, batteries can also fail if not maintained correctly. Always check the batteries in each sensor and change them regularly to maintain peak performance.
Wireless or wired: Pros and the Cons
- Wireless alarms, wireless PIRs, door contacts etc, are more expensive to buy than wired versions. However, they are also much easier to install, thereby reducing the installation time and overall cost of the project.
- Hard wired alarm panels and devices are typically cheaper to buy compared to their wireless equivalent, but you also have to factor in the additional cost of the cable, cable clips, trunking etc. Wired systems are usually more expensive in a domestic property due to the complexities and time involved routing and hiding the alarm cables.
- Batteries in wireless devices (PIRs, Door contacts, keypads, sirens etc) need replacing roughly every 2 years, and the main control panel requires a back-up battery change approximately once every 3-5 years, therefore you will incur slightly higher running costs with wireless.
- Since the devices in a hard wired alarm system do not run on batteries there’s no battery replacement cost involved. However, the back-up battery in main control panel and the external siren battery will require changing approximately every 3-5 years, just like wireless security systems.
Style and looks
- Wireless systems are cleaner and less disruptive to install so typically look neater and tidier once installed. However, the final aesthetics of the system will look very similar, whether wireless or hard wired.
- Since hard wired systems require cables connecting the main control hub to each device, there may be unsightly trunking and/or cables clipped around door frames and skirting boards. However, it is possible to minimise the extent of intrusive cabling and exposed wiring by careful planning and skilled professional installation.
- Wireless intruder alarms used to falsely trigger more regularly than hard wired systems. However, technology has come a long way in the last decade, so that is now less of a problem. You can minimise false alarms on wireless security systems by opting for one which operates on the 868MHz frequency band, rather than 433MHz The former is a quieter and more stable frequency for alarm systems.
- Wired home security systems are generally very reliable. Most false alarms are caused by mains failures where backup batteries have not been replaced and no longer hold enough charge to temporarily power the system until mains is restored. This can happen on both systems. Always keep a check on the state of the back-up batteries, or opt for a maintained contract.
- There used to be genuine concern about the potential to jam RF signals; however, since wireless systems now conform to national regulatory standards, they have to have in-built anti-jamming detection, eliminating these worries. Also, like hard wired systems, modern wireless intruder alarm systems have anti-masking technology to ensure motion detectors are not intentionally obstructed.
- In a hard wired home security system, if a cable is cut, accidentally damaged or even chewed through by vermin in loft spaces or cellars, the system should alert you via the tamper circuit – assuming the system in correctly installed. However, unless you’re able to programme the control unit to omit the damaged zone, in the event of damage, an engineer’s visit will be required to repair any damage before the system is useable again. In the meantime, this could leave some areas of the property insecure.
- If batteries are left to run low, the responsiveness of wireless keypads and devices can decrease. However, this should never happen as the control panel will alert you to low batteries/system maintenance before issues arise. That’s why it’s advisable to take out an annual maintenance contract so you minimise any such risk.
- Hard wired systems always perform well unless there’s a system fault. However, both systems perform as well as each other and are required to in order to meet and comply with standards such as the EN 50131 British Standards.