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As security camera systems are becoming more affordable than ever before, you may want to take matters into your own hands & turn your house into an impenetrable fortress. Well, before you start searching for autonomous killer sentry robots, you first need to decide on one crucial thing: the type of security wire that you are going to use.
This wire, also known as burglar alarm wire or security cable, is used to wire various components, such as passive door sensors & motion detectors to your alarm panel. The most used security wires are 22 AWG and 18 AWG. Both are available in 2, 4, & sometimes even 6-conductor configurations to accommodate for a variety of security components.
Let’s go over the main components of a wired alarms system to see which type of wire is best suited for each:
Keypad – Typically, a keypad is generally the only way users interact with their wired alarm system. It’s used to arm and disarm the system by entering a security password, and, as such, has to be reliable under all circumstances. A steady flow of power is best delivered via 22/4 security wire connected to the main panel. Two of the four wires are used for power, while the remaining two are used for data connection. Additional keypads can be connected to the previous one, thus eliminating the need to run another wire all the way to the panel.
Main control panel – Is the brain of any security system. Not only does it register & analyze input from all of the components of the system, but it also facilitates communication with your telephone distribution panel & connection to smart home automation system or computer. A Cat5e or Cat6 cable is used to satisfy the need for versatility & guarantee that the system is both ready for expansion as well as for future upgrades.
Motion detectors – are active components that require a steady supply of power & two wires to carry the data signal. Some more complex systems may have extra connectors for tamper protection, though this is rarely the case in home security systems. A good quality 22 AWG security wire with 4 conductors will provide for everything you need.
Smoke & carbon monoxide detectors – these sensors have the same wire requirements as motion detectors, but can be daisy-chained together for more efficient wiring.
Door & window sensors – as passive devices, door and window sensors don’t require a separate source of power. A 22 AWG security wire with 2 conductors should be used to connected them to the main panel. Just make sure to double-check that your sensor is truly passive. If it’s active, use 4 conductor wire.
Siren – since sirens draw more current than other components of home security system, it’s recommended to use an 18 AWG security wire with 2 conductors. Doubled up pair of 22AWG wire could also be used, but it’s best not to cut corners when you can do it properly with an appropriate wire.
Given how widespread computers & sophisticated home-networking solutions have become, it’s no wonder that many people are considering using Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable for all their home security needs. While this approach is possible, it is important to be aware of all downsides that come with it.
Cat 5 & 6 cable have more wire strands than what all security components (with the exception of the main control panel) require. This both increases the cost & makes the installation look very messy. Future repairs and upgrades will take much longer, not to mention that the individual wires are often thinner than your typical 22 AWG security wire, which means higher resistance.
We strongly recommend using the appropriate security wire for each component of your home security system to begin with & use Cat5e or Cat6 cables only where they are truly needed.
For all practical purposes, your choice is going to be limited to Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables. Yes, there’s a good chance that there’s still some Cat5 cable lying around your house, but it’s now considered to be obsolete and should be avoided. The Cat 5 is limited to 100 Mbps and 100 MHz, & you deserve much better than that. So, wipe that tear & let’s look at better options available now.
The “e” in Cat5e stands for “enhanced”, & the cable can support fast speeds of up to 1000 Mbps, while greatly reducing interference between individual wires inside the cable – something you absolutely don’t want in any alarm wire. This would be your cable of choice, if it wasn’t for the existence of cat 6 cable.
Cat6 makes the already great Cat5e cable even better. It can handle 10-Gigabit speeds, up to 250 MHz, and its internal wire separator and individual wire shielding for crosstalk reduction make this wire as future-proof as it gets. No, it won’t change your personal hovercraft, but it will definitely support all your security and networking needs for many years to come. The only problem with Cat 6 wire is that all that extra shielding adds a lot of weight and extra bulk.
While a wireless system is convenient & cool, the stability of such network will depend on the wireless signal coming from the router. Unless you have a very solid network with a very solid (most likely expensive) camera to go with it, you could be at the mercy of dropped signals in the wee hours of the night when you hear breaking glass or rattling around & want to see what is going on outside your home. Let’s just say that all inexpensive IP cameras out there have not necessarily become ready for prime time.
Wired security systems have been on the market for a very long time & have a proven track record of reliability. The technology has been improved to perfection by many individual manufacturers from all over the world, and it is now more available & cost-effective than ever before.
That being said, wireless systems have definitely not been slacking behind. They are so available and advanced that many people consider them as a worthy alternative to old-fashioned wired systems. What these customers don’t realize is that wireless systems are hardly worry-free and are usually not entirely wireless, since many of them require an additional source of power.
Wired alarm systems don’t need regular battery changes, yet are just as resistant to power outages as wireless systems, thanks to the ability to install backup batteries for all active components.