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, 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.

What do ‘Grades’ mean?

An alarm’s Grade comes from the UK and European Standards on intruder alarms (described in BS EN 50131). It relates to an intruder alarm’s ability to recognise genuine break-ins and avoid false alarms.

Choosing a graded alarm will protect you against low quality or faulty products. This is important because most customer reviews won’t tell you how an alarm performs during an actual break-in.

Most DIY-install alarms in the UK don’t meet UK and European standards, making the components cheaper to manufacture. This financial saving is normally reflected in the RRP, but you may get a less reliable product. 

How does an alarm get graded?

For alarm hardware to be graded it must be certified by an independent test house. This is the first check. The second is that it must be installed by an NSI or SSAIB accredited installer.

The NSI and SSAIB are not-for-profit certification bodies for the security protection industries in the UK.

Will the Boundary alarm be graded?

The Boundary alarm will available as self-install or  pro-install. However, to meet Grade 2 standards it must be professionally installed. If you do this you’ll have the option of 24/7 monitoring with a police response too.

But, even if you prefer to self-install, you can take peace of mind in knowing that your alarm is even capable of being Grade 2 certified. As we explain below, it’s kind of a big deal!

What are the different 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 claim to be pet-friendly then the test house will check this 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. If you’d like to know read our blog post: how cheap burglar alarms can be defeated.

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, duration and ability to withstand tampering.

Why aren’t all alarms Graded?

Not all burglar alarms are graded. It’s not compulsory and the time and financial investment put many manufacturers off. It’s also something that many consumers don’t even know about, not unless they’ve owned a graded alarm before, or read an article like this one!

Most of the ‘disruptor’ smart alarms from America aren’t graded. It’s partly because the US doesn’t have the same product standards as we have in the UK and Europe. It’s also why false alarms have become such a problem there.

What are the pros of Graded alarms?

  • Minimises false alarms. 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 football hitting a window with a contact sensor.
  • 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 24/7 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.
  • Insurance Approval. According to MoneySupermarket.com some insurers give a discount if you own a burglar alarm. Below is a screenshot from the home insurance questionnaire. 

To be able to say ‘Yes’ to the second and third questions, your alarm must meet Grade 2 specifications or above.

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.

Grading remains the gold standard…

With it becoming more common to achieve 4 to 5-star reviews, it becomes trickier to decide the best alarm. We hope this article has shown you that, on top of customer reviews, an alarm’s Grade is crucial.

For us it 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.