7 Things That Might Surprise You About Your Home’s Alarm System

Home security systems can be quirky and may not work as we expect them to—or not work at all. What happens when you forget your password? Can the system be hacked? Here's what you need to know.

By Tony Carrick | Updated May 19, 2022 11:11 AM

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Investing in an alarm system is one of the best ways to prevent break-ins, protect cars sitting in the driveway, and monitor packages left on the doorstep. But, like most technology, even the best security systems have their quirks. Power outages, obscure passwords you can’t remember, overly sensitive motion detectors, and even overnight guests can cause false alarms or leave your home unprotected. Ahead, learn how to straighten out the alarm system kinks the security company technician forgot to warn you about when they installed it.

Forgetting your password brings the police to your door.

When your alarm goes off, you have about 30 seconds to enter the password you chose when the system was installed before the monitoring service jumps into action and demands a password through the two-way intercom. Under audible assault from the 100-decibel alarm, you may have a hard time recalling the middle name of your favorite aunt or whatever other obscure password you chose.

If you can’t produce the correct answer, the monitoring service will attempt to contact the homeowner through the first number on their contact sheet to verify it’s a false alarm. If that fails, they’ll send out the police.

Most municipal police departments will respond to three false alarms for free before charging you $25 to $400 each time your security system cries wolf. Avoid having a potential fine for multiple false alarms by knowing the password. Contact your security company to create a new one if you can’t remember it.

RELATED: Your Most Common Home Security Questions, Answered

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Backup batteries only last so long.

Most modern security systems are equipped with a backup battery that keeps the system functioning during a power outage, but that battery won’t last forever. During an extended power outage, expect it to provide enough juice to keep your security system online for about 24 hours before it gives out. To get the most out of your backup battery, make sure to replace it periodically. Most alarm systems will let you know if your backup battery power is running low.

Landline systems will keep you covered in the event of a power outage.

Whether or not your security system can still notify police and fire in the event of a power outage depends on the manner in which it communicates with the monitoring service. Those that use traditional phone lines or cellular radio will remain online as neither require power to communicate (the cellular radio will use power from the backup battery). However, security systems that use the Internet or VoIP, both of which require an internet connection, will go offline until power is restored.

RELATED: The Best Home Security Systems of 2021

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Using your alarm’s video monitoring the wrong way can get you in hot water. 

Using video cameras to monitor your property inside and out is generally legal, but there are instances where you may inadvertently be violating privacy laws. When you set up your outdoor cameras, make sure you do not point the camera such that you’re directly recording the inside of your neighbor’s house, which could put you in violation of privacy laws. While you aren’t doing anything wrong if your camera’s field of view happens to capture something in the house that any passerby could see, recording activity that isn’t easily visible with the naked eye is a definite no-no, not to mention creepy.

Adjusting your motion sensors will help you record would-be burglars, not bunnies. 

Many modern alarms use motion sensors to activate cameras, turn on floodlights, and even trip alarms. While motion sensors can be useful for catching activity on your property, they’re also notoriously temperamental. Unless the sensor is properly adjusted, small movements can be enough to trip the sensor, filling your cloud space video storage with hours of footage of a tree branch waving in a light breeze or the neighbor’s cat sunning itself in your front yard. This is why most alarm systems allow you to set motion sensor sensitivity to ignore small animals and even draw specific boundaries for the zone, eliminating false triggers from passing pedestrians and cars as well as swaying tree branches.

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Houseguests can be assigned their own (temporary) passwords.

While you may be intimately familiar with the ins and outs of your alarm system, overnight guests aren’t. This can lead to pandemonium when your mother-in-law decides to open the guest room window for fresh air at 2 a.m. or your visiting cousin attempts to exit the front door for an early morning jog before the rest of the household is up. Luckily, most modern security systems allow you to program temporary passcodes for your guests. Simply brief your guests on the home’s security system, inform them when it’s armed, and show them how to use their temporary passcode to arm and disarm the system.

RELATED: 10 Things to Do ASAP When You’ve Been Hacked

You must first protect your Wi-Fi router so your security system can protect you.

You may have a top-of-the-line security system, but if you never bothered to change your Wi-Fi router’s default settings, your system is vulnerable. One of the easiest ways for would-be hackers to circumvent an alarm system is by going in through an unsecured network. If you haven’t already done it, rename your router, update its default password to a secure one that’s at least 12 characters long, and activate all of the router’s firewalls.