When you look at what is written about hard wired and wireless security system you see there are strong opinions in support of one or the other. It is similar to when people discuss various eating choices like the low carb vs low fat debate. Each side believes they are totally right and the other side, of course, is completely wrong. This makes it all the more confusing for the person who is just looking to protect their home and not too to indulge in a philosophical debate.
I’m going to try and avoid this approach by comparing the two and presenting the facts without the hype as I see them and hopefully give you the basis for making an informed decision.
The difference between the two is how the systems communicate between the security devices (sensors, sirens etc) and the control panel (where you program the system, it sounds the alarm when a sensor is tripped, and sends a notification). With a wired security system this is done along wires normally hidden in the walls, ceiling and floor. As the name implies in a wireless system the communication is done wirelessly using radio signals.
Also with a wired system everything is normally powered by the power supply. In a wireless system the control panel or equivalent is plugged in and the sensors and the other devices are usually powered by battery (but not always).
When either a wired and wireless system communicates with you or a professional monitoring center (if you choose to have this service) they can do this over a cellular network or through a fixed line or over the internet by being plugged into the router.
Here are the things to consider when making your choice between a hardwired or wireless system.
Wireless home security systems are relatively easy to install with many of the various systems being able to be up and running in just a few hours and can be installed by most people (people who own the Simplisafe Wireless Home Security System say it can be done in less than 2 hours). There are few DIY skills required if you choose to install yourself. It may involve a little drilling and screwing to mount the sensors and control panels, although in some cases these can be fixed in place by using double mounted tape. Also, many of the systems are pre-programmed to work together out of the box.
A hardwired system involves more skills to install them and because of this most people opt to have them professionally setup. It requires the drilling of holes in the walls to feed and run wires through the walls and under the floor which can be difficult to do. If you are having a new home built this is the ideal time to have it pre-wired. Some modern homes come pre-wired as standard to help with home automation and security.
In more established homes it can mean that you can’t completely wire it and may need a hybrid system so you have wireless devices where it is not possible to get wire to.
If you want to add devices and sensors at a later stage it is easier to add them to wireless systems because you only need to sync them with the control panel and put them in place. A hardwired system involves installing more wire to the device’s location.
Once you have the system installed there is the matter of maintaining. For a wired system there is little maintenance required. However, with a wireless system you will need to be replacing batteries in the security devices on at least an annual basis. Most systems today are “supervised” and this means they will let you know when the battery charge is getting low and needs replacing.
If you are renting or looking to move sometime you are may want to take your security system with you. A wireless system is much easier to take down, move and set up in your new home than a wired one – as there are no cables to recover and re-lay. Also there will be less holes to cover up which is going to be concern if you are renting.
If you want re-locate a sensor or device you can easily do this by simply moving it to the new location when you have a wireless system. A hardwired system will need you to install additional wire to the new location unless you have a pre-wired house.
Hard wired systems are considered to be the most reliable system. There is less that can go wrong as there are no batteries in the sensors, weak signals or radio transmitters to worry about.
When wireless systems were first introduced they had issues with false alarms and interference from other radio signals but they are now much more robust and this is not such a big problem – the difference between the systems is not that great now. Many have their own wireless technology that means other household appliances won’t interfere with the signal.
Upgrades And Technology
Wireless systems have come a long way in a short period of time. What this means is that many of the older systems are out of date and no longer supported so it can be difficult to find replacement sensors. If you want to upgrade to later sensors or a control panel you are probably going to have to replace the whole system. Unless your system is Z-wave or Zigbee compatible (industry standard wireless protocols) you can only use devices supplied by the manufacturer of the control panel you have installed.
Wired systems on the whole tend to be much more backwards compatible, so newer components normally work with installed systems saving some costs when it comes to replacing sensors or the control panel as needed. Many times devices from different manufacturers are compatible with your current system, too.
The cost of the components for wireless systems has come down recently and they are now more comparable with wired systems. The difference in price is due to the cost of the radio transmitters which are much cheaper.
However, on top of the cost of the components is the cost of installation. Installing a wireless system usually only takes a few hours at most and can be done by most householders. But a wired system takes much longer and is more involved. Most people choose to have them professionally installed adding to the cost significantly. In addition you need to choose carefully who you get to install it to ensure it is done properly.
Wired home systems can cover up to 1000 feet from control panel to sensor. Wireless systems can cover up to 300 – 500 feet depending on model and what the signals need to travel through (concrete and other materials will reduce the range) which is fine for most homes. The distance can be extended by using repeaters which of course adds to the cost.
There can be a limitation on wireless systems as to how many devices can be added to it with an upper limit of 40 – 50. Newer systems, like the iSmartAlarm have overcome this limitation and you can now add as many devices as you like. Most hardwired systems don’t have any limitation. However, for most homes 40-50 devices will be more than enough – , it will be only very large homes that will need more.
Wireless Monitoring And Sending Notifications
I mentioned that with both types of home security systems it is possible for them to be monitored and send notifications via the internet, landline or cellular. The method used depends on the product you buy. So, just to be clear you could buy a wireless home security system and it could send a notification out through your landline and not over a cellular network (wireless monitoring). With many homes no longer having a landline it is important to check this out before buying. Conversely a wired system can have wireless monitoring and notifications over a cellular network.
A wired system is good for any size home but is definitely better for very large homes of several thousand feet. If you are building a new house this would be s good time to get it pre-wired ready for installing your home security system. If you want a system where there is little maintenance required then these systems would be preferable as you don’t have to be checking and replacing batteries.
If you don’t want holes drilled into walls (although holes are covered by the security devices), floorboards lifted or panels installed to hide the wires a wireless system will be the way to go. You can also save the cost of installation by doing it yourself. A wireless system also makes sense if you are a renter or moving soon as you can take it with you and not have to fill in too many holes when you leave.
Wireless home security systems advantages are that they are more portable and quicker and cheaper to install (little DIY skills needed) and hardwired systems advantages are that there is less maintenance, cover a larger area and are considered to be slightly more reliable as there is less that can go wrong.
For most people either a good wired or wireless system will be a good choice in protecting their home and it comes down to reliability, coverage needed , cost (including installation) and portability.