Wireless vs. Hardwired Fire Alarm Systems

In the security industry there is a long-standing feud that has been steadily growing; which is superior wireless or hardwired? The intention of this article is to compare the positive and negatives of both systems within the following categories:

• Ease of Installation
• Aesthetics
• Overall Expense
• Reliability

Ease of Installation

Wireless devices are very easy to install. They can be mounted with screws or even with double-sided tape. Providing that they are installed using the manufacture’s specifications; it takes a relativity small amount of time to install. If the devices are not properly located or not tested before they are mounted, it can take a great amount of time to test and relocate the devices.

Most wireless alarm panels require some wired components; these include:

• Transformer
• Phone line
• Keypads (some panels have wireless keypads)

The ease of installing a wireless system is greatly affected by the time it takes to install these wired components.

Hardwired devices are also easy to mount. Running the wire is the most time-consuming aspect of the entire installation process. There are three categories of hardwired installations:

• New homes
• Industrial buildings
• Older homes

Each type of installation requires a different amount of time to install the complete system. New homes can be pre-wired or “roughed in” prior to the drywall being installed. This makes the total time involved much less significant.

Industrial buildings usually require a lot of wire and must cover large distances. This type of installation is very time consuming.

Older homes also require a lot of planning and time. To properly install the wire so that it cannot be seen, an installer must remove trim and usually run wire to the attic. These installations are very time consuming.

Overall, wireless alarm systems take less time to install. Many individual installers can complete 2-3 wireless systems per day. As opposed to most hardwired systems which can take 1 or 2 days to complete.

Aesthetics

Wireless systems have come a long way in the last few years. The devices used to be large and bulky and not very pleasing to the eye. Now however, many manufacturing companies are producing smaller and more streamlined models. Providing the installation company is purchasing these newer devices, wireless can look just as pleasant as hardwired.

Hardwired systems in general look very nice once they are installed. All the wire is easily hidden by the devices. One downfall of hardwired systems is that there are holes in the wall behind each device. This is not necessarily a huge problem, unless there is a reason to remove the system.

Overall Expense

The following table gives a generalized view of the time spent, price of equipment and recurring costs of wireless verses hardwired systems:


  Time to Install Price of Equipment Recurring Cost
Wireless 2-3 hours Greater than hardwired

Panel Battery - $30 (every 5 years)

Device Batteries - $3 per device (every 5 years)

Yearly Maintenance - Making sure all devices work and test properly - $30 per year

Hardwired 1-2 days Relatively small

Panel Battery - $30 (every 5 years)

Yearly Maintenance - Making sure all devices work and test properly - $30 per year


As seen in this chart, it is difficult to gage which will cost more over time. Wireless equipment is more expensive than hardwired and it also costs more to maintain. However, hardwired systems take more time to install and therefore more man hours to complete. It seems as if the total cost to install is relatively equal between both methods. The real expenditure comes from the recurring maintenance of the system.

Reliability

Only a few years ago, wireless systems could not even compare to hardwired systems in this regard. Due to the technology being new and not yet well developed wireless was not very reliable. There were constant revisions to parts and standards. Now, wireless has become quite reliable. The most important issue in regard to wireless reliability is the application with which the system is installed. If the installer does not test the equipment prior to mounting it, this could later cause problems with the functioning of the equipment. Wireless devices are also very susceptible to excess moisture and metal, they must be installed in areas where these factors are not issues. As long as manufactures recommendations are met; wireless can be very dependable.

Hardwired systems are very reliable. Providing they are installed with end-of-line resistors as specified by all manufactures, there is great wire integrity. If a wire is cut or shorted, the panel can see this and give an alarm or warning signal. Due to the fact that hardwired devices and panels have been installed and field tested extensively over the years they do boast a greater overall reliability when compared with wireless.

Conclusion

It is very difficult to determine which is better. Certainly both wireless and hardwired systems have unique positive and negative points. It would make more sense to install a wireless system in a pre-existing home. However, in a large industrial metal building, hardwired would be a better option. Therefore, one is not superior than the other but rather each has a different purpose; it is all a matter of preference.