How to Prevent Home Security False Alarms

Safety Team
Updated Oct 12, 2020
11 min read
Security system false alarms can be a drain on your time and resources. Here's how to minimize them.

When your home security system is triggered, there’s always a chance that it’s a false alarm.  And if you aren’t able to figure out whether it’s a true emergency or not in a short time frame, you’ll likely have emergency responders at your door to make sure everything’s OK. Those scenarios can be pretty embarrassing, not to mention frustrating for first responders, but there are ways to keep those false alarms to a minimum. Let’s take a look at how to do that. 

How home security monitoring works

If you have a professionally monitored home security system, your home is being monitored by a company that specializes in getting the right responders to your door quickly. It’s pretty standard to receive a call from the monitoring center’s operators when the alarm is triggered. If you miss the call, their job is to send emergency services to your home, in part because it’s impossible to know whether you were unable to answer due to a real emergency. If you’re not quick, those false alarms can and will have the police at your door. But false alarms aren’t just annoying – they’re also a drain on law enforcement resources. These unnecessary visits to your home can also be expensive for you, because police departments may charge fees for false alarms, especially in cases where they’ve been asked to respond to more than one false alarm at your address. For example, the city of Stamford, Connecticut charges $90 when they respond to false alarms. Numerous cities around the U.S. require home security permits to reduce the number of false alarms so that emergency resources are not unnecessarily taxed. Five years worth of home security alarm statistics were reviewed by the Austin-American Statesman and revealed that out of the more than 80 security alarms the Austin Police Department responded to on any given day, nine out of 10 of those responses were unnecessary. But aside from the hassle they cause, those false alarms can also cause needless frustration and dissatisfaction with your home security system. Let’s explore the ways you can keep these false alarm mishaps to a minimum so you can rest easy knowing your home is safe and free from unnecessary visits from emergency personnel.

Arm and Disarm the System Properly

It’s important to arm and disarm your system properly, as improper use of the system is one of the main reasons there are false alarms to begin with. In order to do that, you should make sure you:

  • Remember the security codes needed to arm and disarm the system. Disarming and arming systems accounted for 38 percent of all false alarms, according to the 2018 Installation Business Report published by Security Sales & Integration. Keep track of everyone who has the code. If you aren’t convinced you’ll remember the code, try to choose a system that comes with remote key fobs that will arm or disarm the system instead. Still, even fob holders will need to know the code as a backup in case the key fob batteries fail you.
  • Make sure all household members know the difference between “armed” and “disarmed” status. If your security system has a mobile app, you can usually opt into the associated alerts without actually arming your system. That means you’ll get the alert but the monitoring company won’t, so you can handle any false alarms yourself. Doing so can be a good way to stay in the loop without unnecessarily summoning the authorities.
  • Close and lock all the windows before you arm the system. If you close your doors or windows after you’ve armed the system, it will probably trigger your window sensors.

Choose The Right Equipment

It’s a good idea to choose cameras that come with smart features, such as motion detection and people detection. Having those types of detectors ensures the camera won’t send you an alert because your pet was strolling across the room or a car was driving by on the street. 

Some motion sensors are also pet-friendly, meaning that your cat won’t be mistaken for a cat burglar by the alarm. Be aware, though, that big dogs can trigger motion sensors that aren’t normally sensitive enough to detect smaller pets. If you have larger dogs, you may want to purchase a system that utilizes door sensors, window sensors, and/or glass break sensors rather than motion detectors.

Some companies offer sensors or security cameras that differentiate between animals and humans. These high-tech tricks are life-savers if you’re worried about your beloved feline or canine tripping the alarm. 

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Install Home Security Devices Correctly

Motion Detectors

Placement of motion detectors directly affects how often they are activated. As a rule of thumb, avoid placing these devices near windows or heat sources, as the heat and sunlight generated by those sources can confuse the motion detectors. Try placing them in one of these spots instead:

  • Corner spaces. If a motion sensor is placed in the corner of your room and pointed at the door, an intruder won’t be able to waltz in without setting off the sensors.
  • Basements. Don’t forget about intruder-proofing your basement. Good places for motion detectors are near the bulkhead or on the stairs to the first floor.
  • Ceilings. Many intruders start looking for security devices like motion detectors as soon as they enter your home. Placing motion detectors on the ceiling is unusual enough that burglars might not notice them. Depending on the height of your ceilings and the size of your room, you may need motion detectors designed especially for ceilings.
  • Outdoor patios. If you’re going to place a motion detector on your patio, make sure it’s specifically made for outdoor areas so it can handle the elements. Some people may recommend wrapping your indoor motion detector with plastic wrap, but it’s best to use the appropriate equipment to ensure it works properly.
  • In the decor. Make sure nothing is obstructing your motion detector’s view, but if you can, try hiding those motion detectors among your decorations, like potted plants or picture frames. It’s a great way to make sure they aren’t easily found.
  • Near valuables. If someone has broken into your home, chances are they’re going to go after the valuables, like your jewelry and TV. Place motion detectors near your valuables so you're alerted if someone approaches.

Fire & Smoke Alarms

Modern furniture can contribute to how quickly a fire spreads across your home, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). You can help cut down on this hazard by making sure there are enough smoke alarms placed throughout your home, which will likely give you more time to exit in case of a fire. So where should you place those smoke or fire alarms? The NFPA recommend smoke alarms in all of the following areas:

  • Bedrooms. All bedrooms should have a smoke alarm inside and outside of the room on every level of your home.
  • Basement. The basement should have smoke alarms that are placed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the next level.
  • Shared living spaces. Whether it’s the living room, den, or the family room, all of these spots should be equipped with a smoke alarm.
  • Stairways. Smoke travels up through stairways, so it’s a good idea to make sure every spot in your home with a stairway has a smoke alarm installed at the bottom of the stairs.
  • High on walls & ceilings. Smoke rises, so smoke alarms should be installed high up on walls or ceilings. Don’t install wall-mounted alarms more than 12 inches away from the ceiling.
  • Pitched ceilings. Install alarms on pitched ceilings within 3 feet of the peak but at least four inches down from the peak.
  • Avoid windows, doors and ducts. Don’t install smoke alarms near windows, doors or ducts because drafts can trigger them to go off. Make sure the alarm is at least 10 feet from cooking appliances like your oven to avoid them going off while you cook.

Outdoor Security Cameras

Point them close to your home so you can focus on people who cross your threshold and not people on the sidewalk or the road. Make sure that they’re visible so anyone thinking of getting too close for comfort will think twice.

Keep Devices Well-Maintained & Up-To-Date

It’s as important to choose the right devices as it is to maintain them. If you aren’t making sure your safety gadgets work, you won’t know when they aren’t working, either. There are a few things you can do to make sure everything is in order and won’t malfunction, triggering a false alarm. Remember to:

Test and replace your batteries

According to professional home security installer John Cunningham, it’s important to regularly checking any security and smoke alarms that use batteries. “You won’t know what’s working and what’s not without regular checks of your equipment,” Cunningham said. “It only takes a couple of minutes to test things out, but if you don’t make time to do it, you could be literally playing with fire at some point.”

Make sure to replace your batteries as needed or your smoke alarm will beep incessantly, which is more than just an annoyance. It’s also a hazard, and failing to keep up with your security system batteries can cause false alarms.

“It’s not just pets or incorrectly installed systems that can trigger false alarms,” Cunningham said. “It’s also old batteries. If you aren’t checking your batteries or paying attention to the low battery warnings, it can cause some issues because a low battery can actually trigger a false alarm.”

Cunningham said it’s important to change your back-up batteries every few years. Every three to five should be sufficient but you’ll want to make sure you know what type of batteries your system uses and factor in how often you’re using the system. That can make a difference on how often your batteries should be changed.

Perform System-Wide Tests

To keep false alarms at bay, Cunningham said it’s important to regularly do system-wide trail runs. “Don’t just decide to do this on your own, though,” Cunningham said. It’s best to ask your service provider the best way to perform these checks and what way will work best to keep from causing false alarms during the trial run. “It’s probably worth it to try and do trial runs once a month,” Cunningham said. “That’s the best way to make sure your system is working properly. If it’s working properly, you’ll be more confident that any security alerts are the real deal.”

Educate Houseguests

If you have people over, let them know how the alarm system works. You’d be surprised at how easy it is for a friend or family member to accidentally trigger the alarm, and if you aren’t readily available to tell the monitoring company that it isn’t a real emergency, you’ll end up with emergency personnel at your door. 

Learn the Common Culprits

While most alarm triggers can be chalked up to user error, plenty of other conditions will also cause false alarms. Those include pets, strong storms, HVAC or utility equipment, sunlight, vents, old batteries, loose-fitting doors and windows, and everything from large bugs to balloons. Just about anything can trigger your security system if the conditions are right, so pay attention to factors like motion detectors and camera placement. The more you pay attention, the less you’ll have to answer phone calls from your alarm company. 

Ultimately, it just takes paying a little bit of attention and performing regular safety checks to avoid most false alarms. And if you do accidentally activate your alarm, don’t just ignore it. Make sure to answer any calls from the alarm company so you can convey that it was a false alarm. If you miss the call, call them back. This will prevent a lot of embarrassment and even potential fines. 

One last note – if you feel you're in over your head, don't hesitate to opt for professional installation! Most technicians will perform a post-installation trial run and will also answer any questions you have about the equipment. Many of the top home security providers, including ADT and Vivint, always require professional installation. Even select DIY providers, such as SimpliSafe, offer optional pro installs.

Home Security Experts

Safety Team

The Safety Team is a group of experts that handle provider research, product reviews and recalls to make your home safety and security search as easy as 1-2-3.

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