Structured Home Wiring

Future Wire your Smart Home:
From planning to installation for
audio, home theater, security,
surveillance & home automation.

Testing & Maintenance for a Security System / Burglar Alarm

The final part of an alarm installation is making sure all the sensors work properly. You should repeat this process regularly just to make sure everything is still working. Most manufacturers suggest testing the system, sensors, and batteries monthly. At a minimum you will want to test the system annually.

Most testing can be done without actually setting off the alarm. To start, close all doors and windows that have sensors and make sure that the display on the keypad indicates the system is ready to be activated. This might require that everyone in the home not move if you have motion detectors. You should also warn the family if you are going to set off the alarm & start making loud noises.

Note: At this point your system should not show any warning indicators. Even with every sensor properly closed, you could get warnings about primary power, battery backup power, lack of a phone line connection, a tamper warning on the control panel box... These will be covered below.

Testing Door/Window Sensors & Diagnosing Problems:

These are the easiest sensors to test. Simply open each door/window one at a time and verify that the correct zone changes to violated on the keypad. This can be a light turning on next to that zone number, or an alphanumeric message on the keypad. If multiple doors or windows are in the same zone be sure to test each one individually.

If the sensor always shows that the zone is violated then it might be a problem with the magnet part of the sensor not being close enough to the part with the wires. Also, large metal doors can decrease the power of the magnet meaning that the 2 parts of the sensor must be alignment very well or a stronger magnet must be used. You can verify that your problem is a magnet problem by using the magnet portion of another sensor and holding it right next to the sensor while to door or window is open.

If your sensor always shows tampered then you probably have a problem with your End or Line Resistors (EOLR) - either the resistors themselves are missing or not placed properly or the alarm programming for that zone (Normally Open (NO) vs. Normally Closed (NC), No Resistors vs. EOLR vs. DEOLR) doesn't match what you have actually installed. Read our pages on Normally Open/Closed & End of Line Resistors and Alarm Programming for more information.

Testing Motion Detectors & Diagnosing Problems:

It is best to test a motion detector with two people. One person simply needs to walk in front of the motion detector and the other is at the keypad to verify that the correct zone properly indicates a violation. Motion detectors work by emitting a series of beams and sensing a change in distance. Depending on the number of beams (more expensive motion detectors have more beams) and your distance from the motion detector, you may be able to take a couple of steps before tripping the motion detector. Standing and waving your arms will most likely not trip a low end motion detector. This doesn't mean the detector won't work. It should be fine for home use.

If you have dogs or other animals, you will want to have them walk in front of the sensor to make sure they do not trip the motion sensor. There are special motion detectors that are designed to not be set off by animals. If you are using one of these and animals can still set it off, then raise the angle of the sensor. Read the instructions that came with your motion sensor for information on how this is done. If your motion detector is wired properly but isn't detection motion from far away, then the motion detector might be aimed too low or too high. Try adjusting the angle to see if there is any improvement.

Most motion detectors have a red light on the detector itself that lights up when it senses motion. If your motion detector isn't working properly and this light is also not working, then you probably have a power problem - a wiring problem with the two wires for power and ground. If the red light on the motion detector is working, then your problem is probably a NO/NC or a resistor mismatch between what you installed and how the alarm is programmed.

Testing Glass Break Sensors & Diagnosing Problems:

Glass break sensors can be a bit more difficult to test. Assuming you don't want to start smashing glasses to test the sensor, your best bet is to get a glass break tester. These can usually be found online for under $50. With a glass break sensor, you want to test the power & wiring just like a motion detector. In addition, you will want to test the sensitivity of the sensor and ensure it can detect the noise of glass breaking from any of the windows it is intended to cover.

If your glass break sensor is setup as a 24 hour zone, then it will set off the alarm even if the alarm is not activated. This also means that if you drop a glass during dinner it could set off your alarm. To prevent this from happening, enter the installer code on a keypad before performing your test.

To test a glass break sensor, turn the sensitivity on the sensor up to the highest setting. Then, using the highest setting on the tester, put the tester right in front of the sensor and press the button to emit the glass breaking signal. If this doesn't work, then you most likely have a wiring problem. See above for some tips on diagnosing these problems. If you have entered the installer code on a keypad, then use the LED light on the glass break sensor to know that it has been activated.

Once you have verified that the sensors are functional, the next step is to tweak the sensitivity of the sensor. Starting at the lowest sensor on the tester, test the sensor from each window location that you want the sensor to protect. You want to find the lowest sensitivity on the glass break sensor that can detect the glass break tester from each window position. Turn up the sensitivity on the glass break sensor after each test until it can detect the glass break noise from each window.

If you don't want to pay for the glass break sensor, then start with the highest sensitivity on the sensor and turn it down one step at a time when it goes off for no reason. For example, clapping or any loud noise can set off the glass break sensor at maximum sensitivity. Turn down the sensitivity each time one of these false alarms occur until the stop. Of course, by doing this you don't have any idea how effective the glass break sensor actually is. To verify that the sensor is working after installation, try clapping right next to the sensor to set it off.

Testing Smoke Detectors & Diagnosing Problems:

To test a smoke detector, push the test button on each detector to verify that it makes a noise. Also, check to see that there are no low battery indicators on the detector. It is a good idea to replace the batteries on the smoke detectors once a year. Most new smoke detectors will start to beep when the battery gets low. Mine seem to always start to beep in the middle of the night. It is always a good idea to have spare batteries on hand.

Testing and Replacing the Backup Battery:

Your alarm system should automatically indicate that the backup battery needs to be replaced by displaying a "Replace Battery" message on the LCD keypad. Find a replacement battery that matches the specs of your battery. You can buy the battery on line for about $10-$40 (try ebay). Make sure it is roughly the same size so that it fits in the alarm box.

To replace the battery, first disconnect the main power to the alarm panel. Then remove the red & black power cables to the battery and attach them to the new battery. Then, restore main power and close & lock the alarm panel.

If you didn't install the alarm system and the alarm panel has a tamper switch (a switch that detects the alarm panel has been opened) then opening the panel to replace the battery will automatically set off the alarm. Assuming you can get into the alarm panel (you have the key or there is no lock) then I wouldn't worry about setting off the alarm to replace the battery. The alarm monitoring company will charge you more than $150 to replace the battery compared to about $25 to do it yourself.

Testing the Phone Connection:

If the phone wire is not detected by the alarm system, it should display an error on the keypad LCD display. Contact your monitoring company about generating a false alarm to test that you have the phone number entered correctly and the system configured properly.

Testing Wireless Sensors & Replacing Batteries:

Test wireless sensor as you would any other sensor. You should replace the batteries on your wireless sensors yearly when you replace the smoke detector batteries. As with the smoke sensors, if your wireless sensors beep when the battery is low, you may choose to wait until then to replace the battery. Just be sure to check that the sensor is still working on a regular basis to make sure the battery isn't completely dead.