As security camera systems are becoming more affordable than ever before, maybe you’ve decided to take matters into your own hands and want to turn your house into an impenetrable fortress. But before you start searching for autonomous killer sentry robots, you 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 and motion detectors to your alarm panel. The most used security wires are 22 AWG and 18 AWG. Both are available in 2, 4, and sometimes even 6-conductor configurations to accommodate for a variety of security components.
Components of Wired Alarm System
Let’s go over main components of 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 wires are used for power and the remaining two 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 and analyze input from all other components of the system, but it also facilitates communication with your telephone distribution panel and connection to smart home automation system or computer. A Cat5e or Cat6 cable is used to satisfy the need for versatility and guarantee that the system will be future-proof and ready for expansion.
- Motion detectors – are active components that require a steady supply of power and two wires to carry the data signal. Some more complex systems may have extra connectors for tamper protection, but this is only rarely the case in home security systems. A good 22 AWG security wire with 4 conductors will be everything you need.
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – these sensors have the same wire requirements as motion detectors, but can be daisy-chained together for more efficient wiring.
- Door and 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 really 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 serve as an alternative, but there’s really no reason to cut corners when you can do it correctly with an appropriate wire.
Why Not Use Cat 5/6 Cable for Everything?
Given how widespread computers and 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. This approach is, indeed, possible, but it’s important to be aware of all downsides that come with it.
Cat 5 and 6 cable has more wire strands than what all security components (with the exception of the main control panel) require. This increases the cost and 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 you to install appropriate security wire for each component of your home security system and use Cat5e or Cat6 cables only where they are really needed.
Cat 5e Versus Cat 6
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, and we can do much better than that. So, wipe that tear and let’s take a look at something better.
The “e” in Cat5e stands for “enhanced”, and the cable is able to 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.
Wireless, Sure, but wireless networks are not as reliable
While a wireless system is convenient and cool, the stability of such a network will depend upon the wireless signal coming from the router. Unless you have a very solid network with a very solid (probably 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 and want to take a look at 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 and 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’s now more available and 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 usually not even completely wireless, since many of them require an additional source of power.
Wired alarm systems don’t necessitate regular battery changes, yet they are just as resistant to power outages as wireless systems, thanks to the ability to install backup batteries for all active components.
And if the burden of maintenance isn’t enough to convince you, just consider how much more expensive wireless systems are. You can install a complete wired security system for the cost of a few minor wireless sensors.
The only real benefit is how portable wireless systems are. If you are renting and planning on moving out soon, a solid wireless system might be a good solution for the time being.