As long as humans have been around, systems to protect self, family, and belongings have been necessary. The peace of mind of knowing that you are safe and secure is not unique to modern life—though modern life may present new challenges, and especially new technologies that keep you safe.
The modern consumer frequently hears terms related to home security that they may not be familiar with or understand. What is monitored vs. unmonitored home security? What is an IP address? What are ZigBee, Z-Wave, and IFTTT technologies, and what do they do?
In our all-encompassing home security dictionary, we’ve got it all covered. Every nook and cranny of the home security space is here at your fingertips. Every last definition and word that you may need to know before you embark on securing your home.
Home Security from A-to-Z
A device or sound that warns of danger.
- Alarm Battery
The life-source that keeps an alarm operating.
To get technical: Contains one or more cells which use chemical energy to convert into electricity and provide power.
- Alarm Communication Path
This is how a security system communicates with a central monitoring station (See No. 17). The old form of communication was a POTS (plain old telephone service), but thanks to technology advancements, wireless options are taking over. These wireless options include: Cellular monitoring (See No. 16) and IP (internet protocol, See No. 54). Wireless options don’t require a hardwire telephone to perform their function.
- Alarm Event
This is any event or activity that triggers an alarm to go off. It could be something as simple as a dog, you forgetting to disarm your system, or an actual break-in.
- Alarm Signal
This is the initial signal that is triggered by an alarm and sent from your control panel (See No. 20) to the central monitoring station (See No. 17).
- Alarm Transmitter
This is an electronic device that sends wireless alarm signals from the alarm device to the main control panel of a system.
- Alarm Verification
This is how the operators at central monitoring station verify that alarm event actually took place, and it wasn’t a false alarm (See No. 31). This is a good system, because a false alarm will cost you a lot of money. Ways to verify an alarm took place are via phone, video, and audio.
- Backup Battery
If your main alarm battery dies, you don’t want the system to shut off completely. The backup battery is a secondary unit that turns on if the primary battery dies. This battery usually lasts 24 hours.
The security industry uses the term “bell” to reference any sound that’s made by your devices. You’ll hear this word interchanged with “chime (See No. 18),” but these devices don’t usually make bell or chime sounds. The likeliest noise you’ll hear is a siren or your system will speak to you, kind of like Siri on an iPhone.
Fun fact: This term started being used because original home security units had bells on the outside of buildings or homes.
- Bell Cut Off
The cut off is the amount of times that a a “bell” rings before it automatically turns off. Many areas only allow an alarm to sound for five or ten minutes before they are cut off to avoid a noise complaint.
Not to be confused with theft (See No. 99), robbery (See No. 80 ), or larceny (See No. 58), burglary is simply defined as the entry into a building illegally with intent to commit a crime, the crime likely to be committed once inside of a building is theft.
This refers to the ability to deactivate specific zones in a house or a structure prior to arming a system. This means you can pick which parts of the home are monitored while others aren’t.
- Call Verification
This is similar to alarm verification seen above (See No. 7). Call verification is the act of the alarm monitoring station operator placing one or more phone calls so they can verify that an alarm has actually occurred. This is a prohibitive measure to ensure a false alarm does not occur.
If someone answers this phone call there is usually a false alarm password request. If the call is not answered, the monitoring station might try other numbers to reach someone. If no answer occurs, law enforcement dispatch likely occurs, which you want to avoid to prevent a false alarm.
In some parts of the country, they use enhanced call verification, which means that an operator must place two phone calls before dispatching an alarm. This has been found to reduce the number of false alarms.
- Carbon Monoxide
This is a detector used to monitor the presence of carbon monoxide, a toxic, colorless and odorless gas that can cause death or severe injury. CO is often referred to as “the silent killer.” If CO is detected the device will sound an alarm.
CO is caused by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. This can occur in the home via open flames, space heaters, chimneys with improper circulation, leaving a running car in a garage, and other possibilities. Symptoms that you are experiencing CO poisoning are: confusion, headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, etc. If you feel as though you have been poisoned with CO, get outside to fresh air and contact emergency officials immediately.
A CO detector attached to a monitored home security unit means that paramedics will be sent immediately when they are notified of a CO signal. A local detector will only turn on the alarm, leaving emergency reach-out up to you.
- CCTV (Closed Circuit Television)
Also known as closed-circuit television, CCTV is a video surveillance technology that uses video cameras to transmit a signal to specific place, on a limited set of monitors.
- Cellular Monitoring
Cellular transmitters use cell phone lines to call a monitoring station instead broadband or landlines. Years ago, landline phone services were the primary means of communication for an alarm system, but with advances in technology, systems have gone towards cellular.
- Central Monitoring Station
This is the location that an alarm monitoring company uses to monitor their alarm systems. You might hear the terms “central station” or “monitoring station” or other variations interchanged. This is the station that communicates with emergency personnel at all hours of the day. They are covering your home 24/7 and always ready for an alert.
Similar to “bell” that we covered above, a chime is the noise that a home security system makes alert of an open door or window via the sensors in your house. This lets you monitor the home.
This term is most often referring to the sensors that you’ll be placing on doors and windows to monitor activity in the home.
- Control Panel
A control panel is basically the motherboard of home security. The control panel is where all of the main components of a system are stored, including: backup battery, main circuit board, and the keypad or touch screen that lets you interact with your unit to arm and disarm, other commands, or even call emergency personnel.
- Disaster Sensor
This is a unique sensor that detects common hazards in the home. A home disaster sensor notifies of an emergency and gives time to save a home from costly damage. This sensor detects extreme conditions, the presence of water, and temperatures between 0 °F and 120°F.
This is the term used after an alarm event has been occurred and authorities or called. This means means that the monitoring station is in contact with emergency responders to send them to your home.
- Dispatch Operator
This is the person who calls in a dispatch, and serves as the phone caller to direct emergency responders to locations where an event has occurred.
- DIY (Do-it-yourself)
DIY is an acronym for do-it-yourself. In the home security world it refers to security equipment that you yourself can install. DIY equipment can be monitored, like ours at Protect America, so you don’t lose the advantages of all-encompassing security.
- Dual Path (Cellular/IP)
This is a system that is capable of using both IP (See No. 54) and cellular to monitor alarms.
- Duress Code
This is the four-digit pass code created by a user that’s used in an emergency situation to alert authorities of an intruder emergency, but it doesn’t make any noise or sound any alarms within the system. This is basically a panic alarm where dispatch sends personnel to respond to the situation immediately without any alarm verification.
- Energy Efficiency
You’ve likely heard this term in recent years to refer to products that produce less harm for the environment by conserving energy. When it comes to home security, the term energy efficient is likely referring to smart thermostats (See No. 59) who learn and control temperature for you which in turn saves energy.
- Enhanced Call Verification
This is the monitoring station alarm verification that we referred to earlier where an operator places two calls before a dispatch of authorities.
- Entry/Exit Delay
This is the time that a security system allocates for a user to exit or enter a home or structure after a system has been armed or disarmed so an alarm isn’t set off. The time can range anywhere from 15 to 120 seconds.
This a a Local Area Network (LAN). It transmits speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, and some monitored home security systems use an Ethernet cable. You’ll mainly know these as cables that connect a system to the internet.
- False Alarm
This alarm is reported to authorities and a physical response occurs from authorities when an alarm event hasn’t actually occurred. These alarms are a waste of public resources and money because authorities respond to a false emergency.
- Fire Alarm
This type of an alarm lets homeowners or residences of an occupation know that a dangerous fire hazard is occurring. Notification may include alerting people in the surrounding area, the fire service, and the system may control sprinklers and other fire response devices in a building.
- Flood Detector
This is a sensor that only detects the presence of water. These sensors are usually placed in a position that water shouldn’t reach, so water is detected as early as possible. The best places to install flood sensors are in basements, cellars, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and anywhere where there’s potential for water damage.
- Freeze Sensor
This sensor detects when an extremely low temperature occurs. This differs from a temperature sensor (See No. 97) because it only detects extremely low or freezing temperatures. These are great options to monitor water pipes to prevent them from bursting.
This is a feature primarily used in home automation that adjusts the home based on a GPS location.
- Glassbreak Detector
This sensor detects broken glass by using an extremely sensitive microphone that can separate sounds and frequencies to hear for glass being broken and cause an alarm if an event occurs. These allow the perimeter of a home to be protected even further by knowing if a burglar breaks into a home.
- GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication)
This is the most popular digital mobile telephony system and is the most popular standard for mobile phones in the world. The GSM organization who control the product believes that 82% of the the mobile global market uses this standard, though GSM is considered a second generation (2G) system for mobile phones. GSM service providers use Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Cards.
- Hardwired System
This is a home security device that uses wires to connect its system to a control panel. This is no longer a common option in the home security world.
- Hidden Camera
This is a home security camera that is hidden from plain sight. This can be placed behind objects or other concealable areas. Hidden cameras are useful if you want cameras that a burglar doesn’t know are there, or if you simply want them out of sight so family areas don’t feel as though they are being monitored.
- Home Automation
Home automation technology allows for a house to connect with the internet using the Internet of Things (See No. 51) to control various household appliances with a smartphone or smart device. This includes controlling: lights, thermostats, home security system, appliances, and other devices.
The official term for a place where a person lives.
Similar to home, this is a place where a human lives, but pertaining more to the building and structure itself.
This refers to the center of an activity, region, or network. In the home security world you may here a control panel be referred to the “hub” of a system because it is the centerpiece where all action goes in and out of.
- Hybrid Alarm System
A home security that uses wireless and wired parts is known as a hybrid system.
- IFTTT (If This, Then That)
“If This, Then That” technology that works via the internet and lets people create a series or chain reaction based on simple events. An example in home security is: If you turn on your lights, then the home security system arms itself. IFTTT is possible through “Scenes” with Protect America.
- Image Sensor
These types of sensors have the ability to send pictures to a smartphone or smart device any time motion is triggered.
These devices are able to detect changes in electromagnetic radiation instead of noticing common changes in light. You may find infrared technology in motion detectors or LED lights, where they emit more light.
Referring to the person who has installed home security equipment. With security options that aren’t DIY, an installer usually comes into the home with screws and equipment and leaves holes and wires. He may take a long time to set up your equipment.
With Protect America’s DIY system, the customer becomes the installer and can set up their system at their convenience in a short amount of time.
- Installer Code
This code is often referring to a four digit code that is used to enter a security system’s programming menu.
- Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN)
This is the standard international communications tool for sending voice, video, and data through traditional telephone copper wire or digital telephone lines.
- Internet of Things (IoT)
This definition is used to explain the connection between the internet and computing devices to bring the internet to everyday products and let them send and receive data and signals.
A simple way to view IoT is to think of how devices in the modern age can connect to the internet—devices like cars, phones, watches, and others. The internet connects all of these things, thus the “Internet of Things.”
Similar to burglary, this is the act of intruding, or someone entering somewhere they should not be.
- Ionization Detection
This form of smoke detection is seen in the majority of smoke detectors because it is low-cost and detects even the smallest hints of smoke produced by flaming fires.
- IP (Internet Protocol)
These are rules that govern the format of data sent over the internet or another network. Likely referring to IP cameras which are types of digital cameras used for surveillance. Similar to CCTV, but unlike CCTV, IP cameras can send and receive data through the internet and computer networks.
This is the keychain tool that you can use to access your home and set certain features on a home security system. Features include a panic button, lighting, and sometimes minimal access capabilities.
Also commonly referred to as a “touch pad,” this is the set of keys and control buttons on a home security control panel that allows you to set options, and perform functions like arming and disarming.
- LAN (Local Area Network)
This refers to computers and devices that are associated with each other and share a common communications line.
This is the act of theft of someone’s personal property.
- Learning Thermostat
Otherwise referred to as a “smart thermostat,” this is a device that is used via home automation and controls the temperature, heating and air conditioning in a home. These save energy and money for homeowners and can be operated via smartphones or smart devices.
Also known as a “light-emitting diode,” these are semiconductor devices that emit visible light when an electric current passes through them. These lights aren’t unordinarily bright, but many are monochromatic, meaning they occur at single wavelength.
This refers to any part of a home security system or specific personal device that is used to save a life. Examples are: Fire alarms, panic buttons, medical alert systems and others.
- Local (Ex: smoke detector, security system)
This term refers to a device that is not connected to a central monitoring station, and thus, only “local” to the location where it is at. It has no outside source of contact.
This is the user code with the most authority of a home security system. The master code can add and delete other users, and also control parts of the system that some users can’t.
- Medical Alarm System
This refers to sensor or device that is used to detect the presence of a hazard that requires urgent attention from a medical personnel. This term may also be referring to a life-alert pendant.
This term is used to imply that someone is observing or checking the progress or quality of something over a period of time. This is used to refer to home security systems that are connected to a central monitoring station.
- Monitoring fee
This implies the cost that is built into a home security plan to have a connection to a monitoring station.
- Monitoring Station
See No. 17
- Motion Detector
This device or sensor detects any movement in the home. Its definition may include a window or door sensor that detects motion.
- Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS)
Used to refer to the descendant of SMS (Short Messaging Service). This extends to text messaging and includes longer text, graphics, photos, audio clips, video clips, and any combination of the above within size limitations.
- National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA)
Founded in 1948, this is the oldest and largest association dedicated to the representation, promotion, and support of electronic life safety, security, and the systems industry.
- Panic Alarm
This refers to the electronic device that is designed to assist in alerting someone in emergency situations where a threat to people or property is present.
- Panic Button
This button is usually found on your keyfob and allows you to connect with emergency personnel to alert them that a situation where a threat to people or property is happening.
- Passive Infrared Motion Detector (PIR)
A PIR device detects motion by receiving infrared radiation. When people walk past this type of sensor, a rapid change of infrared energy is detected and a signal is sent. These are most commonly used for automatic lights or other equipment that turn on if someone enters a room.
- Periodic Test Transmission
This refers to the programming of an alarm control panel to send a monitoring station test signals. This is useful since homeowners often aren’t checking to make sure their systems are sending and receiving signals. This test can be set up automatically.
- Pet Immunity
Some motion sensing devices are weight sensitive to allow for pets of a chosen weight to cross through the sensor without setting off an alarm.
- Radio Frequency (RF) Wireless Signal
An electromagnetic wave that’s used for telecommunications or radar signals.
- Recessed Door/Window Sensor
This is a window sensor that isn’t mounted or stuck to a window or door, instead it is drilled into a door or window. This is often used to conceal sensors.
Likely referring to any device that can be controlled from outside of the home. Example: Items that are controlled via smartphone applications.
- Remote Control
This lets users control equipment in the home through remote access, automation system, and wireless devices.
This is when someone takes property from another person without his or her will through violence or intimidation.
Protect America’s system that uses IFTTT (If This, Then That) technology in the home. This means you can set up specific sequences of events to occur together, otherwise known as “Scenes.” Example: When the lights turn on at night, your home security system arms itself.
Technology that lets you set specific dates and times for events to occur in your home. Example: Lights turn on every Tuesday at 11 p.m.
- Security Phrase
This is not a password, but similar. It is a set of information that you give over the phone to monitoring station operators or other security personnel to confirm that you are who you say you are.
- Security System
The unit and control panel that is responsible for providing home defense technology for a house. This includes assets to the system, including sensors, cameras, alarms, and other devices.
- Sensors (Door and Windows)
Motion detecting devices that detects movements through doors, windows, or other parts of the home.
- Silent Alarm
This is an alarm that makes no noise. It lets security personnel or police know that a burglar has entered the property, but the burglar has no idea that an alarm has gone off.
Referring to a loud and prolonged sound or warning that goes off to alert of a burglar, oftentimes loud enough so those nearby can also hear.
Referring to a home that is outfitted with various technologies that connect it to the internet and allow for home automation. This is a home that can be operated via a smartphone
The telecommunications device that is a mobile phone and functions like a computer in an owner’s pocket. This device is touch screen, has internet access, and is capable of housing applications that allow a user to interact with their home through the phone.
- Smoke Detector
This sensor detects the presence of smoke inside of a home and sounds a high decibel warning to alert homeowners. Smoke detectors can be used without being connected to an alarm system, but we recommend connecting to your home security unit for complete protection.
Remember to place smoke detectors on every floor in the home, outside of every room. Replace batteries once a year and replace entire unites once every ten years. Run a test on your smoke detector once a month.
- Social Media
This is the internet tool that allows users to create and share content to connect with each other.
- Spare Key
This is a hidden key that is stored outside or near a home. Oftentimes spare keys are hidden in obvious places. We recommend hiding with a neighbor or somewhere a burglar can’t find.
- Stay Mode
This refers to a homeowner arming his system at night in a mode that allows them to continue to wander through the house without setting off an alarm. Only perimeter door and window sensors, glass break sensors, and other devices would be armed with this setting.
- Subscriber Identity Module (SIM cards)
These are the smart cards inside of a mobile phone that carry identification information and prevent operation if removed.
- Surveillance Camera
This term could refer to any camera that is used to watch a property or area, but also commonly used to describe an IP or CCTV camera option.
- Takeover (The Industry Term)
This term is used in the home security industry to describe when an existing home security unit (usually hardwired) is taken over by a new home security provider. This usually happens if an old system is in a house that was just moved into. Protect America has the ability to conduct this process.
- Temperature Sensor
This type of sensor sounds an alarm when the temperature you scheduled to program is set or if a rapid change in temperature occurs. These sensors differ from freeze sensors, because while freeze sensors only detect cold, these temperatures can detect extreme highs or lows in temperature.
- Test Mode
When a security system is placed in a mode to make sure the system is working properly, or any time a maintenance issue needs to be fixed. This ensures that a false alarm does not occur, or it allows to test the alarm.
Defined as the action or crime of stealing.
Devices that allow a security system to plug into a standard AC wall outlet.
- Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)
This communication language protocol allows messages to be exchange with other internet points at an information packet level.
- Two-Way Talk
This feature lets a security system control panel, and oftentimes the smartphone app, operate as a hands-free intercom so that users can speak with each other and dispatch operators using devices.
- UL Listed Central Station
A central monitoring station has proven itself as a monitoring service that complies with UL’s strict standards. UL has strict requirements for building structure, receiving and monitoring equipment, staffing issues, and installation and ongoing service. For UL to provide their service, the building, equipment, and staffing requirements have to always be met.
- Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
This is a non-profit in the United States that is privately owned and and operated. UL performs safety testing and certification for products, materials, components, assemblies, tools and equipment, mainly dealing with product safety.
UL is the leading agency of third-party certification for security, signaling products, and systems. UL certifies alarm companies and central monitoring station, and they are the surest way for a product to be accepted by regulatory authorities, insurers, law enforcement, organizations, government, retailers, and consumers.
This is a home security service that is not connected to a central monitoring station. This means that if an alarm event occurs, no police or emergency responders come to the scene unless a call is made by the homeowner.
Unmonitored systems receive push notifications to alert of emergency, but many of them are left in the dark if they don’t have cell phone service.
- User Code
The four digit codes that are used to perform commands on a security system like arming or disarming equipment. Most security systems allow multiple user codes to provide access to the system for different people, and the master code serves as the primary password that controls all of the other user codes.
- Video Surveillance
A security system that uses DVR (digital video recorder), and security cameras to monitor locations.
- Voice Dialer
A tool that calls telephone numbers that are programmed into a security system automatically. This automatic dialer leaves a message with the party that was called to let them know that an alarm event has occurred (or alerts them if someone is on the line). Newer systems can also send texts and emails.
- Wide Area Network (WAN)
This computer network stretches across a large area that includes all communication networks whose links cross metro, regional or national areas. The simpler definition is a network that uses routers and public communication links. The most notable example of a WAN is the internet.
A tool that allows computers, smartphones, or any other device to connect to the internet and send wireless signals to each other.
- Wireless Security
A wireless system does not use wired connections to connect your home security service with the internet or other communication signals.
This is an open global standard that implements low-power digital radio signals for personal area network for wireless technology. ZigBee creates networks that require low data and transfer rate with energy efficiency and secure networking.
This refers to an area of the home that is seen by an alarm system or specific component of your security or safety products. Examples: Fire zone to alert of fire, delay zone where a homeowner may be after arming or disarming, and a 24 hour zone (See No. 115) that is always activated.
Could also be referred to as Z wave or Zwave, this technology is a communication protocol for devices that use home automation. It primarily uses RF (radio frequency) technology for signaling and control. The Denmark based startup, Zensys Inc. developed Z-Wave and released it in 2004.
- 24-Hour Zone
This means that an area is active and running 24 hours per day, even if an alarm system is disarmed. Examples of systems that remain on 24 hours are: CO detectors, smoke detectors, panic buttons, temperature sensors, and similar life-saving devices.
Security is Simple
With all of the home security terms provided, it might seem like home security is a complicated matter, but to the contrary—home security is extremely simple. It comes down to two things: Protecting your home and family, and peace of mind.
Everyone with valuables, a home, and a family knows the importance of making sure they’re secure. For practical reasons, security is important. But all practicality aside, the peace of mind that home security provides matters most. Home security covers the most important need a human being has—safety.