When shopping for an intruder alarm, the “Grade” is one of the most important criteria to check.
You spend time researching features, prices, technical specs, then follow-up with customer reviews, and then maybe you ask friends and family for recommendations. All helpful, but when it comes to quality assurance, the Grade is king.
So what are Grades?
An alarm’s Grade refers to its ability to meet UK and European Standards on intruder alarms (described in BS EN 50131).
The standards relate to core functionality, and are designed to reduce false alarms and protect you against low quality or faulty products. Choosing a Graded alarm should give you peace of mind, more so than any customer or magazine review can.
For alarm hardware to be Grade certified it must have certain core functionalities and be certified by an independent test house. It must also installed by an NSI or SSAIB accredited installer.
Most DIY-install alarms in the UK aren’t built to UK and European standards, making them cheaper to manufacture. This financial saving is normally reflected in the RRP. You also save money as you don’t need a professional to install them. However, a DIY-install alarm may be more unreliable. You also won’t have the option of professional monitoring with a police response.
The Boundary alarm will available as self-install or pro-install. Though, to meet Grade 2 standards, it must be professionally installed. Even if you prefer self-install, you can take peace of mind from that Boundary is even capable of being Grade 2 certified. As we explain below, it’s kind of a big deal!
A closer look at these grades…
EN 50131 defines four grades of intruder alarms, and each Grade is defined according to how its performance against intruders.
Grade 1: This alarm system can fend off opportunistic burglars with no specialist equipment or knowledge of the alarm system. Alarms that fall into the Grade 1 category are ones that only protect the most obvious entry points, such as the front door. This level of alarm is suitable for properties with few items of value and a low risk of burglary.
Grade 2: Can resist intruders with knowledge of the alarm system and a general range of equipment. These systems protect core entry points, such as front doors and windows, as well as the home’s interior. A Grade 2 alarm is appropriate for flats, houses and offices.
Grade 3: A more sophisticated system with the capability of defending a property from intruders with expert knowledge of the alarm system and specialist tools. Grade 3’s protect large premises with many entry points, so they are well suited to commercial properties like shopping centres and warehouses
Grade 4: A top end alarm system that can protect a property against professional burglars with in-depth knowledge of an alarm system and a full range of tools and resources. Any premises requiring a Grade 4 alarm is the type to be targeted by a team of criminals, so think banks and embassies.
How does an alarm pass a Grade?
Intruder alarms are put through rigorous testing procedures by accredited laboratories such as TÜV SÜD and Intertek. Testing takes several months, during which all components are assessed, including the control panel, motion detectors (Passive Infrared Sensors), door and window sensors, and the bellbox.
Tests will look at many things, there will be
i. General tests
- General tests look at the alarm’s core features, like its ability to arm and disarm, send notifications and respond to user-inputs. They will make sure all sensors can consistently connect to alarm’s Hub and if the motion sensors are pet-friendly, like Boundary’s, then the test house will test it with animals too.
ii. Functional tests
- The second group of tests are functional tests and centre on the alarm’s signalling. Passing these tests means the system can tell you whether the issue is a potential intruder, a fault, low battery or something else.
iii. Anti-tampering tests
- These check the system’s ability to detect and respond to tampering, which can take several forms. An intruder may use a brute force attack, like interrupting the power supply or disconnecting the Wi-Fi – effective if there’s no cellular back-up. To detect these tampering techniques, sophisticated technology needs to be integrated into the system.
iv. Environmental tests
- Environmental tests measure the alarm’s resilience to the elements. These are things like dry heat, cold, steam, smoke, dust and sunlight. There’s also the device specific tests. For the window / door sensors, the test house checks that innocuous impacts won’t set the alarm off, like the vibrations of a lorry driving past.
v. Power supply tests
- Other than tampering, power may be lost when a fuse trips or there’s a powercut. The system must firstly, have a back-up battery and, secondly, know when to switch it on.
vi. Response and Recording tests
- These tests assess the alarm’s ability to sound the alarm in the event of a break-in and keep an event history. Lab technicians will look at the location of the sirens, the siren’s volume and duration. As well as how the alarm keeps a log of events
Why aren’t all alarms Graded?
Not all alarms are Graded; most new generation “smart alarms” aren’t. The time and financial investment put many manufacturers off. Also, many smart alarms are part of a wider family of lifestyle IoT devices, so security isn’t always the main focus.
However, grading remains the gold standard in alarm security, which is why we’re aiming to be Grade 2 certified. We’re taking what’s good about traditional systems and incorporating IoT features to produce the next generation of alarm.
To give further clarity on Graded alarm systems vs Ungraded, here are the pros and cons of each.
What are the pros of Graded alarms?
Minimises false alarms. As part of the certification process, Graded alarms are tested for all the common issues that cause false alarms, from a bug flying in front of a motion sensor, to a window with a contact sensor vibrating in the wind.
Quality Components. Because there are so many technical standards to meet, the components of a Graded alarm system are generally better quality, designed to last for years.
Smash and crash protection. Every alarm system gives an entrant between 30 – 60 seconds to deactivate the alarm when they enter the property. ‘Smash and crash’ is when the burglar ‘crashes’ through the entry door, locates the alarm and ‘smashes’ it before the countdown finishes. Graded alarms aren’t vulnerable to these types of attack.
Can offer monitoring with a police response. If the alarm is Graded then the alarm receiving centre, which monitors the alarm, can request a Category 1 “Immediate Response” when 2 sensors are activated. The police will attend the property as quickly as possible and secure it. This reduces the burglars time significantly and more likely to result in an arrest.
Insurance Approval. Your intruder alarm needs to be Grade 2 to get approval by most home insurance providers. This means that many of today’s smart alarms won’t be taken into account when calculating insurance premiums.
What are the cons of Graded alarms ?
Cost. The significant investment every company makes to get their alarm certified with a Grade often means that these alarms are typically more expensive than those that are not Graded. Definitely worth it though.
Requires Professional Installation to be Grade 2 Certified. Graded alarms require a professional installation, which costs around £200.
Integration. Graded alarms may not be able to integrate with another brand’s sensors. The Boundary central hub cannot integrate the sensors of another brand’s Ungraded alarm system because they have not been independently certified.
With it becoming more common to achieve 4 to 5-star reviews, it becomes trickier to decide the best alarm. If you decide you need a Graded alarm, this instantly makes comparisons easier as fewer brands offer them. You also know you’ll be getting value for money.