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Technology and Innovation

Types of Security Sensors — Which Is Right for You?

Posted December 13, 2022 by Cove

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People who incorporate security sensors into their home security systems are better able to prevent and mitigate disasters like floods, fires, and break-ins. Security sensors detect and alert you early on about smoke, leaking water, carbon monoxide, and broken glass, giving you the advantage of being able to react early in an emergency. This ensures a better outcome for you and your family — and it’s the reason that having security sensors around your home is so crucial.

Today, there are several types of security sensors that all serve unique purposes. The options can feel overwhelming if you’re in the market for a home security system, and it might be hard to figure out which one is right for you. This guide to the various categories of security sensors will serve as an introduction to these home security products, the way they work, and the benefits of having them.

Burglary Intrusion Sensors

What Is a Security Sensor?

A security sensor is a small piece of equipment that can alert you to different types of threats by detecting changes in your home environment — whether outside threats like burglars or inside threats such as a CO leak. When the device senses changes in temperature, motion, or something else, it reacts quickly to trigger an alarm or warning signal to your control panel and your security provider so they can send emergency dispatch if necessary.

The best placement for your sensor depends on what it’s meant to detect. For example, glass break detectors should be placed near windows and doors. House alarm sensors can sometimes function as a single unit, but more often come as part of a total security system (or as add-ons). When used in conjunction with other security products, you can provide your family with comprehensive safety 24/7.

Types of Home Security Sensors

As technology has advanced, more types of security sensors for the home have become available and in sophisticated varieties. You can learn about the most common and reliable security sensor types below.

Home Intrusion Sensors

A home invasion occurs every 15 seconds in the United States. This startling statistic makes it clear that you need to take every safety precaution you can to protect your property and loved ones from external threats.

Home intrusion house alarm sensors — which typically consist of window alarm sensors, door sensors, glass break detectors, and motion detectors — are your first line of defense in a home intrusion. Once your security system is armed, they’ll alert your monitoring center when they detect motion or broken glass.

Window and Door Sensors

How they work: Window and door sensors are comprised of two pieces connected by a magnet. When the system is armed, and a door or window is opened, the separation of the two pieces triggers the sensor. Using a 345 radio frequency, the sensors then communicate with the main security panel to let it know the door or window has opened. If you’re active at home, you can put the sensors on stay mode, which deactivates them until you re-arm the system.

Benefits: These sensors make it easier and more efficient to monitor the traffic flowing in and out of your home’s main access points. If someone is coming into the house and shouldn’t be, you’ll know it — and if you have kids prone to wandering or pets who manage to slip out the door, you will be able to reduce these instances by knowing exactly when the door gets opened.

How and where to install: Most door and window sensors are wireless peel-and-stick devices, so you can easily install them yourself in seconds without requiring invasive screws. Door and window alarm sensors should be placed on all the doors and windows on the main level of your home. Mount the sensor on a flat surface with half of the magnet on one half of the door or window and the other half adjacent to it on the frame.

Glass Break Detectors

How they work: While some glass break detectors stick onto the window and detect vibrations, the most reliable ones instead listen for the frequency and tone of shattering glass across from the window. Once that specific tone is detected, the sensor uses a radio frequency to tell the main security panel that a window has been broken. Your security provider will immediately contact you to find out if you broke the window by accident or need police assistance with a home intrusion.

Benefits: Smashing a window is a better indicator of criminal intentions than the mere opening of a window. Glass break detectors provide an extra safeguard against illegal home entry that conventional window sensors cannot. While these detectors won’t necessarily deter a break-in, they will minimize the damages a criminal can cause by immediately alerting you and the police sooner.

How and where to install: Glass break detectors are wireless and can usually be adhered to a wall in seconds via the peel-and-stick mechanism. Place the detector on a wall opposite the window no farther than 15 feet away so it can hear the glass break frequency. When placed within this range, one glass break detector is usually sufficient to cover an entire wall of windows.

Motion Detectors

How it works: Motion detectors that bounce sound waves off nearby objects to detect motion were found to cause too many false alarms with passing cars, trees, insects, and pets. That’s why most motion sensors for home security today instead use passive infrared (PIR) technology to detect infrared energy and heat signatures. PIR motion detectors only trigger home security systems if the detected heat signature weighs as much as a human. House alarm sensors like these can detect motion nearly 50 feet away.

Benefits: Motion sensors are considered to be among the most important features of a security system. If an intruder attempts to burglarize your home, the motion sensor can scare them off before they’re able to cause much — if any — harm. Whether you’re home alone at night or your whole family is away on vacation, you will know the instant someone is lurking around your property, and you will be empowered to take swift action.

How and where to install: Wireless motion detectors also tend to be peel-and-stick, so you don’t have to deal with complicated installation directions. These detectors should be placed in high-traffic areas of your home and pointed away from windows where neighbors and passing cars out the window may trigger the sensor. Keep in mind that most have a 90-degree viewing angle and should be placed within 45 feet of the area you want to monitor. So if your home is especially spacious, or if your main living areas are partitioned, you may need to install multiple sensors to cover the entire area.

Environmental Sensors

It’s important to remember that intruders are not the only threat to your home. Without proper protection, your house is also prone to CO leaks, fires, floods, and other environmental emergencies that can harm your family and cause substantial property damage. Find out how the different types of detectors can save you tens of thousands of dollars — and how they can even make the difference between life and death.

Fire/Smoke & CO Sensors

How it works: Combination smoke and CO alarms defend homes against fires and carbon monoxide poisoning with one simple device. In the best combination CO/smoke alarms, the smoke-detecting component of the detector is photoelectric. This mechanism senses when smoke seeps into the sensing chamber and reflects light to trigger the alarm.

On the other hand, the CO component is electrochemical, which offers some of the most precise measurements of CO levels. Electrochemical detectors contain several electrodes immersed in a chemical solution to measure CO-related changes in the electrical current. When changes are detected, the device sounds an alarm.

Users won’t need to worry about distinguishing a smoke from a CO warning, as the device will have different alert noises and patterns for each. Refer to the user manual to find out what they are.

Benefits: Smoke and CO alarms are necessary for every home; fires can occur when you least expect them, and you need to know the moment they do. What’s more, carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause long-term damage to your health or even death upon long-term exposure. Having these detectors present in your house affords priceless peace of mind that you and your loved ones are safe. What’s more, having a combination detector saves you the money and space of needing two separate units. They’re especially convenient for those with small living quarters.

How/where to install: Most CO/smoke alarms today are battery-powered, so you can easily install them yourself by adhering them to a smart place on the ceiling or wall. Before doing so, check your local codes for requirements on how many detectors you need and where to place them. The National Fire Protection Agency says you should have one on every level of your house, inside each bedroom, and outside the sleeping areas of the house. The levels without sleeping areas need detectors in the living areas or near the stairs. And because CO is a light substance that rises, the detectors should be placed on the ceiling or at the highest point on the wall. If you have gas-burning appliances, make sure to have additional detectors within 15 feet of them.

Water Leak Detectors

How it works: Water leak detectors measure the moisture levels in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms, checking for small leaks and alerting you before they can turn into floods. They have a few small bearings that detect water and react instantaneously upon contact.

Extreme temperature fluctuations, which happen as the seasons change, are a main contributor to burst pipes and flooding; flood sensors are also designed to trigger an alert whenever pipe temperatures fall to 41 degrees to prevent freezing and eventual burst pipes and flooding.

Benefits: Just a single inch of standing water resulting from a flood can contribute to $10,000 worth of damage to your home. Some of that damage may be fixable, but water damage can also destroy precious family heirlooms, antiques, photographs, artwork, and other memorabilia that can’t be replaced. Having a flood sensor is an easy and affordable way to avoid the heartache and frustration of losing your most cherished possessions.

How/where to install: To install your water leak detector, peel off the adhesive backing and stick it directly on a bathroom or kitchen pipe or slightly above the ground. That’s pretty much it! With battery-powered flood sensors, you can practically set it and forget it until the battery signals that it needs to be replaced.

Wired vs. Wireless Motion Sensors for Home Security

Security technology is going wireless. Most security sensors you find today will be battery-powered, meaning they will operate and integrate with other smart home security products without needing to be hardwired. However, wireless products may still need a power source in some cases. If you have a security system already in place that’s wired in, you’ll want to find wired security sensors to integrate with it. Talk to your security provider about whether wired or wireless sensors are best for your integrated security needs.

How to Choose the Right Security Sensors for Your Home

Each household will have unique requirements regarding the type and number of sensors it needs. In order to make that determination for yourself, you should consider:

The size of your property

Larger properties will need more sensors to ensure adequate coverage. These larger estates are more appealing to intruders as well, which means you’ll want to have all your bases covered with every kind of home intrusion sensor installed.

The number of doors and windows in your house

If you occupy a windowless basement, you obviously won’t need window sensors, but you’ll still need door sensors to cover each entrance/exit. On the other hand, if you live in a house with large windows taking up most of the wall space, you’ll want to invest in window sensors, if the windows open, and glass break sensors for every 15-foot stretch of windows. For homes with more windows than wall area, glass break detectors may be better than motion sensors, which could trigger false alarms when they detect neighbors walking on the sidewalk.

The number of stories in your house

Multi-story homes are best protected when they have smoke/CO detectors, flood sensors, motion detectors, and glass break detectors on every floor of the home. Keep in mind that you won’t likely need window or door sensors for second- and third-story access points if they aren’t accessible from the outside, but use your best judgment.

Whether or not you have children or pets

If you have littles or four-legged friends prone to wandering out of the house, having multiple door sensors, for example, makes it easier to keep track of where they are and when they go outside. Just keep in mind when placing motion detectors that dogs over 50 pounds can trigger false alarms.

Whether or not you live alone

Those living alone will have a difficult time keeping an eye on all the vulnerable areas of their house at one time. For single tenants, we recommend having at least one of each sensor type so no emergency never goes unnoticed.

The devices you already have in place

If you already have security sensors installed, consider which ones you could add for more comprehensive home security that would integrate well with your current infrastructure. Consider also if upgrading your current sensors may benefit you. Could you combine capabilities and save space by purchasing a dual-function CO/smoke-detecting device? Could you reduce false alarms by investing in a new PIR motion detector?

The biggest threats to your home based on where you live

Picking the security sensors for your home is also a matter of the environmental risks around you. For instance, do you live in an area prone to flash floods, low temperatures, or wildfires? Is your neighborhood statistically more susceptible to crime than others?

Talk to a Home Security Professional

The considerations above are just a starting point for designing your home security system. If you’re new to the industry and are still unsure of which security sensors will help you provide maximum protection for your home, a Cove home security expert can help. Get in touch with our team today to get professional advice and recommendations for your unique home configuration.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have further questions about home security questions, check out some of the answers to questions our customers frequently ask.

How much do home security sensors cost?

The cost of a security sensor varies based on what type it is, how many you need, and who you purchase it from. On average, you can expect to spend as little as $7.50 or as much as $40 per sensor. It tends to be that door, window, and flood sensors are the least expensive sensor type, ranging from $7-10 per piece, with motion, glass break, and smoke/CO detectors running slightly higher at $15-25 per component. Do some research to determine which providers offer the best value for your budget.

Is it worth it to upgrade my old security sensors?

Yes — it’s especially worth the upgrade if you have outdated glass break and/or motion detectors. It used to be that glass break detectors relied on vibrations from broken glass and that motion detectors bounced waves off the surrounding environment to detect motion. These mechanisms worked for the time but led to many false positives.

Today’s sensors for motion and broken glass are much more reliable and accurate than they used to be. They are specifically designed to prevent false alarms, relying instead on glass break frequency and infrared energy for greater accuracy.

Are motion sensors still effective if you have pets?

Outdated motion sensors will constantly pick up on inconsequential motion, like your cat running across the porch or a tree blowing in the wind. But, if you invest in a motion sensor that uses passive infrared technology and only picks up on changes in heat within your environment, you won’t have to worry. PIR motion detectors will not alert you about any heat signature below 50 pounds. If you have a large dog above 50 pounds, a PIR motion sensor can still work for you if you place them higher off the ground or in areas your dog doesn’t roam in.

Will a water sensor stop a leak or a flood?

A water sensor can’t stop a flood from happening, but it can alert you immediately to leaks and floods the minute it detects water. Ultimately, this will minimize the water damage your house sustains — as the sooner you know about it, the sooner you can turn off the water and start cleaning it up.

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