I have installed thousands of wired and wireless security systems over the past two decades. For commercial installations, we have always used hard-wired systems for their durability and low maintenance operation, and for residential applications, wireless systems have become the standard due to the low cost and ease of installation.
What is better, hardwired or wireless security systems? One is not better than the other by any means, each type of security system has its benefits and drawbacks depending on your application. Both wired and wireless security systems, if installed correctly can provide years of reliable service.
Before we go any further keep in mind that installing a wired security system is a skilled art that not many security companies perform for residential installations anymore. For the past 20 years, most of all home security system installations have been wireless because they are so easy to install. In fact, a lot of new security installers have never even installed a wired alarm system before.
The only time we install wired systems is when the house is under construction, and the walls are still open, so you might have a hard time finding a company that will install a hard-wired system for you if your house is not under construction.
What is a wireless security system?
Wireless can mean three things
1. you can have a wireless security system that is entirely free of wires inside your home.
2. Some wireless systems require some wiring for power, keypads and touch screens and sirens, with all the perimeter and interior sensors being wireless.
3. The connection from your security system to the outside world can be either wireless, (cellular) or wired to the telephone line or internet connection.
Before I recommend what is best for your home, I can tell you what I installed for my home security system. I installed my security system about 17 years ago, and it was initially completely wired.
I had to run wires from the security system’s control panel located in my basement to all the sensors throughout the house.
I installed sensors on every door and window, motion detectors in the main living areas, glass break sensors in every room, smoke detectors in every bedroom and every floor including the basement, carbon monoxide detectors in every bedroom and the main living areas, and keypads by each entrance doors.
I did this when I was renovating my house so all the walls were open and I was to run the wires through the walls with no problem, this is called a pre-wired system.
A pre-wired system is one where the wiring is done before the walls are sheetrocked and painted. Once the walls are complete, we go back and install all the devices on the walls and ceilings and install all the sensors on the doors and windows. When this is all done, you don’t see any wires at all, it’s a neat and clean installation.
All this work can still be done when the walls are closed, but it takes a lot more time because we would have to snake the wires through the walls and ceilings and remove moldings around the windows and doors to run the wires so that they are completely concealed.
Some installers do not hide all the wires, so you end up with wires stapled around your moldings, doors, and windows.
Fast forward a few years later, and I added a couple of rooms to the back of the house, and I needed to add new sensors for all the new windows and sliding glass doors, add motion and glass break sensors, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
During this time, I was very busy at work, I was working six to seven days a week, and the last thing I wanted to do was to run wires in my house when I got home from work. So I just decided to use wireless sensors instead, and I’m perfectly happy with it, I trust it 100% because I have installed thousands of wireless sensors and I know that they are reliable.
If installed correctly both wired and wireless security systems can be reliable and trouble-free for many years, but they both have their pros and cons that you need to be aware of.
Benefits of wired security systems
- Almost no maintenance required: The only maintenance required on a wired security system is the replacement of the battery in the control panel every three years, the battery can be purchased on Amazon for about $30, and it can be replaced by the homeowner without having to pay for a service call from the alarms company.
- Many years of reliable service: We have systems that were installed over 30 years ago and are in perfect working order.
Capital improvement: Check this benefit with your accountant, hardwired security systems are a permanent fixture to your house, meaning it cannot be easily removed, it is considered a capital improvement, so you don’t have to pay sales tax.
Paying sales tax might not sound like a big deal, but with a $5000 security system, you can save $450 to $500 on the installation if you don’t have to pay sales tax.
Drawbacks of a wired security system
- Very labor intensive: Compared to a wireless system that can be installed by one person in 1 to 2 days, the same hard-wired systems can take two installers 5 -7 days to install depending the degree of difficulty.
- More expensive: Because wired systems are much more labor intensive the cost of installation is much higher.
Quality of the installation
- Installing a wired security system is an art, finding quality installers is very hard in the security industry, and that is why almost all security companies use wireless systems because they require very little skill to install, some installers just staple wires around your doors and windows.
- A wired security system that is installed by an experienced technician is one where no wires are exposed. all the wiring is hidden behind the walls and ceilings
- Wires in your closets, attics, and basement end up being very sloppy. You will be very unhappy if your system is installed by an unskilled installer.
- Drilling holes in your walls, doors, and windows. Removing moldings around your doors and windows to hide the wires means that you will likely have to touch up the paint, so figure in the cost to hire a painter in the installation of a wired system.
Stay away from wired systems if you are not comfortable with holes being drilled in your door and window frames.
Can’t take it with you when you move
According to statistics, the average person moves 11.7 times in their lifetime. Installing a new system every time you move can get expensive.
Benefits of wireless security systems
- Very easy to install: Because there are no wires, wireless systems can be installed in a matter of a few hours by just one installer.
- Less expensive: Even though the wireless equipment itself is more expensive than a wired system, there is a minimal cost for labor, alarm companies can hire installers with little experience to do the installation.
- No drilling in walls, doors, and windows: Window sensors simply stick on to the doors and windows with double sided tape, so no drilling is involved.
- Other devices such as motion sensors, glass break sensors, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors can be attached to the walls and ceilings with just two screws.
- Take it with you when you move. It is very common for homeowners to take their security system with them when they move. They just pay their security company to take out the security equipment from the old house and install it in the new home, sometimes saving thousands of dollars.
- Sometimes the alarm company might give you a free system for your new home or a significant discount on a new system because they want you to leave the security system in the house for the new homeowners so that they keep the monitoring account.
- Installation can be done by the homeowner: Homeowners can install their own security systems with little or no programming. All the programming is done for you when you buy the equipment, all you have to do is stick on the door and window sensors and screw the other devices with a couple of small screws, all you need is a screwdriver.
Drawbacks of wireless security systems
- Battery replacement in every sensor every 3-5 years: Replacing batteries every 3-5 years is not a big deal unless you have a lot of sensors. Most wireless sensors use lithium-ion batteries that cost around 3-5 dollars each so the cost can add up if you have a lot of sensors.
- Bigger sensors: Some door and window sensors are much bigger than hard-wired sensors. You might not like the way it looks.
- Improper installation: The wireless sensors for your system communicate with a wireless receiver that is mounted somewhere in your house.
This wireless receiver can be built into your keypad or mounted in a closet or attic. Some sensors might not be able to communicate with the wireless receiver if the receiver is installed too far away from the sensors.
If the receiver is not installed in the proper location, the wireless sensors can be out of range with the receiver causing constant trouble signals and false alarms.
- Wireless interference: This was never a problem until recently. I have experienced some issues from Wi-Fi routers interfering with wireless security devices. Even though these devices operate on different frequencies, the long-range power of the new Wi-Fi routers is overpowering the much weaker signal from security sensors.
This problem can’t always be detected during the installation and can be hard to troubleshoot because there are no tools that can be used to measure wireless interference.
Monitoring of your security system
As mentioned before the connection of your security system to the central monitoring center can also be wired through the telephone lines or internet service, or it can wireless using cellular communication.
With some wireless systems, a wired connection is not even an option, most wireless systems use cellular communication to send signals to the central monitoring center while most wired systems have the option of using both the telephone lines and cellular communicator.
A strong cellular signal is required for the cellular communicator to work reliably. Weak reception can cause your system to lose signal and not communicate with the central monitoring center and go into constant trouble.
I personally have both, cellular as the primary connection and a phone line as a backup. This is very common with wired systems.
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