Graded vs Ungraded: How to choose an intruder alarm

graded-alarm-vs-ungraded-alarm

When shopping for an intruder alarm, the “Grade” is one of the most important criteria to check.

You spend time researching features, prices and technical specs, then follow-up with customer reviews and maybe you ask friends and family. 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.

To be Grade certified an alarm needs to be installed by an NSI or SSAIB accredited installer. So if you choose a DIY-install alarm, the components are unlikely to be built to UK and European standards. The financial investment and research requirements put most manufacturers off, which is why no alarm has offered Grade certification or DIY-install, until now.

The Boundary alarm will conform to Grade 2 standards but you’ll have the option of professional install or self-install. 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 measured according to how it performs during its testing procedures.

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:Grade 2 alarms 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 sound the siren. They will make sure all sensors work like they should and can consistently connect to the Central Hub. If the motion sensors are pet-friendly, like Boundary’s, then the lab will make sure they activate only after human movement

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, someone tampering 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 destroying the central hub, or jam the radio signals emitted by sensors with electromagnetic frequencies. Other prosaic techniques include interrupting the power supply or disconnecting the Wi-Fi – effective if there’s no cellular back-up.

To defeat these tampering techniques, sophisticated technology needs to be integrated into the system. Only then can it pass these tests.

iv. Environmental tests

Environmental tests look at the systems resilience to things like dry heat, cold, steam, smoke, dust and sunlight. Invaluable as so many of these elements are found in the home.

There’s also the device specific tests: for the window / door sensors, the labs check that innocuous impacts won’t set the alarm off, like a football hitting a window.

v. Power supply tests

As well as tampering, loss of power may occur in other instances, like when fuse tripping. The system must firstly, have a back-up battery and, secondly, know when to switch power to it.

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 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. In practice, you’ll only notice the difference if you go from an Ungraded system to a Graded one or vice versa.

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.

Independently tested by an accredited lab. As mentioned, to achieve a Grade, an alarm must go through months of rigorous testing. Technicians check the alarm can deal with connectivity, tampering, environmental changes, faults, and generally functions as it should.

See above for a look at the different tests.

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.

There’s a minimum battery life. Wireless devices as every Graded device must have a minimum battery life of 12 months.

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.

However, with the Boundary alarm you can choose DIY install. Although, your alarm won’t meet Grade 2 requirements, you’ll still have components of the quality and reliability to meet Grade 2 standards.

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.

What are the pros of an Ungraded alarm?

Most of the alarm systems coming out of silicon valley, like Nest and Simplisafe, aren’t designed to meet Grade 2 certification. That doesn’t mean they’re not effective, it’s simply a choice they took when building their system.

Cheaper. Ungraded alarms currently on the market are known for being cheaper than most Graded systems.

Use of experimental technology. UK and European standards are fairly rigid, so the alarms that abide by them have limited scope to experiment, especially when it might increases the likelihood of a false alarm. In recent years other brands have added disarm buttons to door sensors, which aren’t permitted for Graded alarms.

Can still have professional monitoring. Just because an alarm is Ungraded, doesn’t mean that it cannot be linked to an Alarm Receiving Centre. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the ARC will only phone you or your nominated keyholders should your alarm be triggered.

What are the cons of Ungraded systems?

Reliability. Because an Ungraded alarm hasn’t met the requirements set out by the European Standards, consumers need to rely on the word of the manufacturer or on customer reviews when making a decision.

Effectiveness. Again, because the device has not gone through extensive testing, the system may not work as advertised. No independent body has been able to check the system’s response to various scenarios, such as false alarms or sensor connectivity. However, you can check customer reviews to address this issue.

Hard to distinguish between offerings.There are so many choices when it comes to Ungraded systems, from the tech brands out of silicon valley to lesser-known Chinese brands on Amazon. The UK’s traditional brands offer further alternatives. With it becoming common to achieve 4 to 5-star reviews, it becomes trickier to get value for money when choosing an 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.