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Technology.

17 September 2021

How to buy the best burglar alarm

Find out about the different types of burglar alarm available, and read expert advice on how to decide which one is right for you.
Andrew Laughlin
Setting a burglar alarm 465031

According to both London's Metropolitan Police and a Which? survey of ex-burglars, you're less likely to become a victim of burglary if you have a well-fitted and well-maintained burglar alarm system. That means buying one is a worthwhile investment.

The best alarm for your home depends on your personal preferences, your budget, where you live, what your home is like, and what level of protection and response you're after.

Read all our reviews of burglar alarms and smart security systems to choose the perfect model.

Video: how to buy the best burglar alarm

Get the lowdown on the most important things you need to know before you buy a burglar or smart alarm.

How much do you need to pay for a good burglar alarm system?

Bells-only alarm systems are cheaper than you might think – we've found a Best Buy model for under £100. Typically you can expect to pay £100-150 for a good alarm system from a reputable brand. 

If you want to step things up a bit, Best Buy smart alarm systems start at around £200.

Scroll down for more information on each of these options. Costs vary between the different alarm types – ranging from under £100 to potentially close to £1,000 with a recurring subscription cost on top.

For ratings of big-name burglar alarm brands, such as ADT, Honeywell and Yale, based on the experiences of real alarm owners, visit our guide to the best burglar alarm brands.

Types of burglar alarm systems

Firstly, you need to decide what type of burglar alarm you want, and crucially what you would like to happen when your alarm goes off:

  • Bells-only alarms: These alarms usually consisting of a box with an alarm sounder, and then sensors/detectors placed in key locations around the home, such as near doors or windows. The alarm is controlled via a fixed panel and/or key fobs supplied with the product. The alam only sounds when the system is triggered and doesn't directly alert you or anyone else. 
  • Dialler burglar alarms: These alarms automatically dial your phone number, or that of nominated friends and family, when the alarm is triggered. Dialler alarms aren't common these days, and instead most alarm brands offer a a contact alert monitoring service. 
  • Smart security systems: Control your home security via an app on your phone with a smart alarm. You can sometimes link your alarm system to other home security devices, such as cameras, and they often work with voice assistants.  
  • A monitoring contract: You can pay a monthly or annual fee and a company monitors your alarm for you. They could call/text you or key contacts if the alarm goes off, or send out the police or even a private security team to investigate what has happened, depending on how much you are willing to pay.

Below, see the top three best bells-only alarms based on our latest tests. To see the top three smart alarms, head over to How to buy the best smart security system guide

Best bells-only alarms

  • 88%
    £79.99

    This fantastic alarm shows that you don't need to spend a fortune to get an effective and reliable alarm to protect your home. For a very affordable price, you get a top quality bells-only alarm that aced our tests.

    Sign up to reveal

    First month only £5, then £9.99 per month, cancel any time

    Already a member?Log in
  • 79%
    £129.99

    Another affordable and impressive bells-only alarm has been unearthed in our testing. This alarm starter kit didn't make it as a Best Buy, but it is easy to use, reliable and effective at safeguarding your home from burglars.

    Sign up to reveal

    First month only £5, then £9.99 per month, cancel any time

    Already a member?Log in
  • 79%
    £111.00

    You'll know the brand behind this alarm thanks to its distinctive design. This bells-only alarm isn't a Best Buy, but it impressed us during testing, and so could be the right option for your home.

    Sign up to reveal

    First month only £5, then £9.99 per month, cancel any time

    Already a member?Log in

Wired or wireless burglar alarms

The next decision you'll need to make is whether to opt for a wireless alarm system or a traditional wired one. 

Wireless alarms use battery-powered sensors that communicate with a control panel using radio signals. 

These alarms tend to look nicer and are generally easier to install - you can often do it yourself. You can easily add additional sensors, and removing the system when you move house is a lot less tricky than for wired versions. 

However, you will need batteries for all components, such as the control panel and all sensors. These will need to be replaced periodically - check our reviews for claimed battery life of each wireless alarm.

Wired systems, on the other hand, need wires running to each of the sensors and device to work. 

These systems are usually more complex and multi-function, with additional control panels and wired in detectors.

However, they are trickier to install: the wires need to be hidden away, and so it is more challenging for the DIY novice.

Therefore, you may have to consider the additional cost of paying a professional to install your alarm. 

Installing your burglar alarm

As covered above, wireless alarm systems (and notably smart alarm systems) can usually be self-installed with sufficient confidence in DIY. 

The hardest job is mounting the sounder on the outside of your home. When doing this, do consider how you are going to change the batteries when that is required. 

Don't put the sounder somewhere hard to access and difficult to renew the batteries. Besides, you want it clearly visible anyway to scare off potential intruders. 

With a wired system (or if you just aren't comfortable doing the installation yourself), you will need to pay a professional. Some alarm companies offer their own service, or you could engage a trader. 

If you're ready to get a burglar alarm installed you can use our Which? Trusted Trader service. All of our endorsed traders have been thoroughly vetted and checked by ex Trading Standards assessors so you can be ensured that whoever you hire is a reliable local trader. 

Use our search tool below to find a Which? Trusted Trader in your area.

Find out more about installing your burglar alarm in our in-depth guide to Burglar alarms and installation costs

Bells-only burglar alarm 

When a bells-only alarm (also sometimes called an 'audible alarm') is triggered, it makes a loud noise, which will hopefully alert someone in the area to the situation and/or scare off an intruder. 

These are the cheapest and most common types of alarm system, and favoured by around 60% of Which? members.

However, unlike a monitored, dialler or smart alarm, it won't automatically contact a named person or the police, so there is no guarantee that any action will be taken if you're out. 

It's worth thinking about the kind of area you live in before deciding to get a bells-only alarm. Is there an active neighbourhood watch that gives you confidence that someone will call the police in an emergency? If not, do you have friends and relatives who live close by who you could count on to take action?

You can install one of these alarms yourself, or you can pay a one-off fee to have it installed by a professional. 

Pros

  • You don't have to pay for a monitoring contract (read more on these below).
  • Having an alarm, no matter what type, can help to deter a burglar.
  • You can usually install it yourself.

Cons

  • You won't be alerted when your alarm goes off unless someone nearby hears it and knows how to contact you.
  • Without anyone to stop a break-in, the alarm on its own may not deter burglars.

Dialler burglar alarm

If you're not comfortable with the idea of relying on a neighbour to let you know if your alarm goes off, you could consider a dialler alarm, also called an auto dialler. 

With these alarms, the dialler will contact you, or nominated friends and family, when your alarm is triggered. This means that you or they can then contact the police or ask a neighbour to investigate the issue.

Most dialler alarms allow you to program a list of between three and 10 phone numbers, which will be called in the priority order you've set. The first person it successfully contacts is able to stop the rest of the numbers from being contacted.

Some more hi-tech models can also alert you if there is a fire or flood in your home, or connect to a panic button. 

There are two types of dialler alarm:

  • Speech diallers use your phone line to call the numbers you have assigned. This means you'll need to have a landline, and wires connecting it to the alarm. These alarms are hardly being sold now as the PSTN phone network is due to be switched off in 2025. 
  • GSM diallers use mobile network signals, so you don't need a phone line. You will have to buy a Sim card and make sure it's topped up with enough credit to make the calls when needed. You'll also need to make sure your home has a strong mobile phone signal before you go ahead.
Pros
  • You won't have to pay for a monitoring contract.
  • You or the people you've nominated will be alerted when the alarm is triggered.
  • If you buy one with additional detectors, it can also warn you about other dangers, such as fires.

Cons

  • You or your nominated contact(s) might be unavailable when alerted.
  • If you choose a GSM dialler, a weak mobile network signal will affect how well it works.
  • If you get a speech dialler, you'll need a landline and will have extra wiring in your home.

Smart home security

Smart home-security systems connect to your smartphone or tablet, or those of family members. This means you, or they, will be alerted when your alarm is triggered. These systems also allow you to control your smart security from your phone, even when you're away from home.

Only around 14% of members have a network-connected smart alarm, but the sector is growing rapidly. 

You will usually need a central hub that connects to all other compatible devices via wi-fi, in the same way that a standard alarm connects to sensors around your home. 

You can then connect up the motion detectors and contact sensors, as you would with a normal alarm, but also sometimes other smart devices, such as wireless security cameras and smart locks.  

Most people can install a smart security system on their own. However, bear in mind that they are expensive - our cheapest Best Buy starts at over £200. 

Some smart alarms do not come with external sounders, or a box on the wall to act as a visual deterrent. You might have to buy one at an additional cost. 

As with any smart product, poor security can leave a smart security system open to hackers. We test all alarms for how well they protect your security and privacy. 

Check our reviews to see whether the one you're considering has passed our in-depth assessments. 

Pros

  • Sends alerts when the alarm is triggered.
  • Can be monitored and controlled from your smartphone.
  • You can usually set up a smart system yourself.

Cons

  • Not all smart security systems are a deterrent - it depends on the components you get and where you place them.
  • They can become expensive depending on the elements you choose.
  • Alarms with poor network security could be hacked if not properly secure.

Monitored alarm systems and contracts

If you want more peace of mind that a problem at your home will be dealt with quickly, you could consider a burglar alarm with a monitoring contract. 

You can get monitoring contracts for wired or wireless alarms, including both dialler and smart alarm systems. 

With most monitored alarms, though, both the alarm itself and the installation must conform to certain standards - and that means you probably won't be able to install it yourself. 

There are three main types of monitoring contract: keyholder or police/security response, along with the high-end package of a private security response.  

In all cases, you pay a monthly or annual fee, and then the monitoring company will take action when the alarm goes off.

The alarm system connects to a receiving centre, which is notified each time your alarm is triggered. First, the receiving centre will call your contact number to ask for password identification. 

If this is incorrect or no one answers, it will take action. This is either to inform other keyholders, or call the police or send a private security team, depending on what type of contract you have.

The costs can be high when signing up to a monitoring contract. Plus, only 14% of the people we spoke pay for a monitoring contract, suggesting that they are far from an essential part of an effective alarm set up.

Keyholder burglar alarm monitoring

Keyholder monitoring is done through a company (the 'receiving centre'), which will either respond itself when the alarm is triggered, or contact your nominated keyholders. 

These companies usually also offer maintenance contracts and can remotely check for problems - just make sure you get a breakdown of any extra costs this could incur before committing.

Nominated keyholders usually must live within 20 minutes of the house, be able to drive, and have access to the house. It's your responsibility to keep the alarm company up to date with their details, and suggest alternatives if they are away. 

A number of alarm installers we spoke to didn't believe monitoring contracts with nominated keyholders are any better than having a dialler, especially as there's an annual cost involved. 

However, the 24-hour service offered by monitoring may make you feel more secure, and the company will be liable if no action is taken in the event of a burglary.

Pros

  • A dedicated company is on hand to take action if there is a problem at your home, and is liable if it doesn't.
  • Can give peace of mind that your alarm is monitored if you go away for a long holiday.
  • Some companies also offer alarm maintenance.

Cons

  • Requires a potentially expensive subscription commitment each month or year.
  • You usually cannot install the system yourself.
  • Keyholders must live close to your home, and it's up to you to keep your contact list up to date.

You can read more about what burglar alarm installers recommended to us, as well as how their advice varied, on our burglar alarm and installation page.

Police burglar alarm monitoring

This type of contract means the receiving centre will contact the police when your alarm is triggered. If you would like this kind of contract, it's important to check that the company you choose is registered with the local police force. 

When your alarm goes off, two indicators within the house, such as a door contact and a motion sensor, must both have been triggered to warrant police call-out. This is to avoid false alarms wasting police time. 

According to the Metropolitan Police, a massive 92% of all alarm activations in the UK in recent years have been false alarms.

If your system has three false alarms (four in Scotland) in 12 months, you’re struck off the police register, and they won’t respond if the alarm goes off. 

It's worth noting that paying for this service doesn't guarantee that the police will come out. One police officer we spoke to, DCI Taylor, said that whether police go to your home - and how quickly - depends on what other incidents are happening at the time, and what resources are available. He said: ‘If we're fairly certain there's someone in the premises, it's a higher priority.’

Pros

  • The police will be automatically contacted if your alarm goes off.
  • Some companies also offer alarm maintenance.

Cons

  • You have to pay a monthly or annual fee.
  • You can't install the system yourself.
  • There is no guarantee that the police will go to your home.
  • After a certain number of false alarms, the police won't respond to any call-outs.

Private security response monitoring

Some companies, such as ADT, offer a Private Security Response service. This involves the company deploying a security guard to your home to investigate when the alarm is triggered.

If you have a large home with a lot of valuables, this might be worth considering. For most people, though, this is rather overkill for their needs.  

Maintaining your home alarm 

With any standard burglar alarm, regular maintenance should highlight and reduce defects, give you peace of mind, and give you more redress if something goes wrong.

If you get a burglar alarm maintenance contract, your alarm will be checked once a year (twice a year if you have a police-monitoring contract) either remotely or by an installer coming to your home. 

Costs for this vary, particularly as you can get different levels of maintenance, such as additional free call-outs or parts included. 

Our research has shown that you can potentially save nearly £400 on your alarm system and installation by shopping around.

Having your alarm system professionally maintained can help tackle any problems with false alarms. It is also a requirement for some insurance companies, and if you have a monitoring contract.