Security System False Alarms – Causes and Solutions

In this article we list common causes and the solutions to false alarms. The causes of false alarms in burglar alarms can be separated into a few basic categories. The number one cause of false alarms however is directly related to

the end user. The end user can make a very simple mistake and unintentionally cause the burglar alarm to trip and go into on alarm condition. An example of a user related false alarm would be going out the door to get the newspaper and forgetting to disarm the system first.  The moment they open the door the alarm goes off.  If the alarm is monitored the signal is usually automatically sent to the central station indicating the alarm has been tripped. Fortunately the person can go to the keypad to enter his or her disarm code number at the keypad to turn the system off.

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So many households have had burglar alarms professionally installed that the number of false alarms has almost overwhelmed law enforcement dispatch centers. We don’t want to confuse the difference between dispatch centers and a professional burglar alarm monitoring station. When a monitoring station receives that signal from a home security system which has been tripped, usually a monitoring station operator will contact the appropriate law enforcement dispatch center. This problem of false alarm has grown so significant that officials within the alarm industry and law enforcement have met in an effort to formulate strategies to reduce this problem. One way that they have figured out how to reduce this problem is by embedding simple yet advanced features into the programming of burglar alarms. One such feature is, when the alarm user inputs their code into the alarm, after the alarm has been tripped, the alarm sends a signal automatically to the central monitoring station letting the central station monitoring operator know  that the appropriate user code has been entered into the keypad. This feature helps the monitoring station understand a false alarm likely occurred and so, 
depending on other factors, dispatch might or might not be discontinued.

Although burglar alarms from different manufacturers are very similar, the alarm systems from each manufacturer’s brand operates a little bit different than their competitor’s system. Although each brand of alarm system, generally speaking, uses the same basic technology each manufacturer can and does build into it’s product… features that are a little different compared with a competitive system.  

Improper System Design can result in false alarms

Another cause of false alarms in home and small business burglar alarm systems is improper system design. Burglar alarm designs today include contact sensors on the doors and windows along with a motion sensor in an interior room of the houseMotion sensor technology has improved greatly over recent years. However if a motion sensor is installed in a poor location this can cause false alarms. (You can learn more here about alarm system installation.) For example, many motion sensors today are known as passive infrared motion sensors. Essentially, the passive infrared motion sensor is looking for a change in temperature in any given room. What this means is when a human body enters the room that passive infrared motion sensor sees their body heat and causes the alarm to trip. Well, if you think about this for a moment, there are other things in rooms of homes that can create heat. Fireplaces are very common in homes today. Both gas and wood burning fireplaces will cause the motion sensor to trip because they cause heat during and after a fire. Improperly positioning a motion sensor to look in the general direction of a fireplace is not a good idea and causes false alarms when the motion sensor is armed.

Defective or damaged alarm parts can cause a false alarm

A third cause of false alarms is from burglar alarm components which are bad out of the box. Although manufacturing and handling techniques have greatly improved over the years no manufacture’s products are perfect every time. Sometimes, when alarm parts are delivered to a job site and installed they malfunction immediately, right out of the box. The good thing is, this problem is typically noticed immediately and corrected immediately. This is a very important reason that before the installer leave your home or business you test every sensor to make sure it is working properly. Even consider allowing a newly installed alarm to remain in a test configuration for a couple of days to make sure everything is working correctly and your comfortable with operating the system.

False Alarms caused by Loose wiring connections

Surprisingly, wire connections can and do come loose over time. A home or building can often experience tiny vibrations continually throughout its lifetime and although the home owner might not feel them they can effect the wiring connections within an alarm and eventually cause false alarms. Wiring connections are made differently depending on the installer and the brand of alarm installed. Soldering of connections, although less frequently performed, is an effective way to minimize false alarms caused by loose wiring connections. However, it can make future servicing of the alarm a bit more difficult too.

Ways to reduce false alarms

False alarms can be reduced by paying attention to three or four basic principles:

Know How to Operate your Security System:

Make sure you take the time to learn how to operate your system. Work with your professional installer to learn about program features that help you avoid false alarms.

Careful Security System Design:

Carefully consider where you position all the alarm equipment including keypads and glass break sensors. Putting motion sensors directed at fireplaces and heat vents is a sure fire way to get a false alarm in the colder months. Crying babies and some glass break sensors not installed properly can cause a false alarm.

Check with your alarm installer:

Lastly, have a conversation with your installer as he or she is completing the installation and ask if any of the equipment had shown any signs of not functioning properly. Inspect the workmanship and make sure the work is not performed in a sloppy manner. Ask, before they are mounted, if tiny holes in the motion sensor are sealed with caulk etc.

Programming Features built-in home alarms:

Today’s burglar alarms have programming features that can be enabled to more closely work in concert with your habits and tendencies. These features, although simple in each design, are too numerous to mention but should be discussed with your installation company before, during and after installation.

Add surge supression

Often times a false alarm can be caused by electrical surges entering the home through the electrical wiring, telephone wiring etc.. This typically occurs during thunderstorms and when it happens the extent of damage to the alarm system can range from very minimal to wiping out the entire system. Damage to an alarm resulting from an electrical surge can sometimes be very challenging to trace down and repair.

In relation to grounding, there’s debate amongst industry professionals as to the benefits of grounded versus ungrounded alarm panels and whether today’s on board transient suppression is sufficient to absorb many electrical surges. In any event however, no suppression method will stop damage resulting from a direct lightning strike or a powerful strike in the immediate area around a home. If the alarm panel is monitored via a POTS line (plain old telephone service) then its also advisable to put surge supression on that line or any other communication wire too. 

Pets, Motion Sensors and false alarms

Pets and motion sensors can be tricky business if not given appropriate attention to sensor choice and location. Pet immunity is technology which has been developed into many of today’s current sensors. There are some limitations however, such as the size of the pet or total combined weights of more than one pet. And oddly, the type of flooring and/or the distance separating your pet(s) from the motion sensor are all factors to take into account. For example, a cat which is able to climb furniture and get within 6 feet of the motion sensor might often cause a pet immune motion sensor that’s activated to false alarm.

Questions & Answers  

1. Can a faulty keypad cause a motion sensor to go off?

ANSWER. Although this is a straight forward question it doesn’t always have an easy answer. Generally speaking the answer would be NO. However, the question does not provide all the information needed in order to determine what seems to cause a motion sensor to go off.  Usually a keypad is connected to the control panel via a 22 gauge, 4 conductor wire and thus has no interaction with the motion sensor yet in other cases the control panel and keypad are built into one unit and if a motion sensor goes off for no apparent reason then it might be thought that a faulty keypad is to blame when in reality its the control panel which could be to blame especially if it’s suffered any sort of electrical surge in the past. We would have to say that in 9 out of 10 times however, when a motion sensor goes off for no apparent reason its because of the motion sensor itself and/or the environment in which it’s functioning. Look for spyder webs around the motion sensor and consider using bug spray around the boundary of the motion sensor. Look for and seal off any tiny holes in the motion sensor housing, holes in the housing, believe it or not, might cause the motion sensor to go off for no reason when the alarm system is in the armed state and the reason is because changes in air temperature, however slight, cause air to flow into or out of the motion sensor body and often could cause the motion to false alarm. Plug any holes, no matter how small, with a small amount of caulk.

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