By R.K. Kliebenstein
The self-storage industry is always looking for a "better mousetrap." After careful consideration of the merits of individual door alarms, I went to the marketplace to get as much information as I could about the wireless version. After spending some quality time with Steve Cooper, Jon Loftin and John Locke of Digitech International, I had a newfound respect for individual door alarms. Following is a transcript of our conversation:
Why would an operator want to have wireless door alarms?
Individual unit door alarms have proved to be the feature with the greatest appeal to prospective tenants. Knowledge that a storage facility has 24-hour security--alarms in particular--generally will attract a better clientele and generate an income premium over competition without equal security features.
What are the advantages of a wireless over hardwired system?
Wireless door alarms offer distinct advantages over hardwired alarms in ease of installation for new construction and retrofitting of existing facilities. With regard to construction, wireless alarms eliminate the need and associated cost for expensive conduit and wire runs. With hardwired systems, there is a relatively low cost of technology and a high cost of labor. With the wireless alarms, the cost of technology increases, but the labor costs are substantially reduced.
Typically, the security vendor is one of the last subcontactors on the site during construction. Wireless alarms require substantially less time to install, which translates into a quicker completion and earlier opening. The biggest advantage is in adding alarms to existing units. With wireless systems, units are installed on the exterior of the building with the transmitting device mounted to the door frame and an associated magnet affixed to the door curtain. Requiring only a few minutes and a minimal amount of skill, the units can be installed by almost anyone.
This fact lends appeal for some owners who would want to use the alarm unit for an incremental income opportunity by making it an option for individual tenants. Most consultants agree it is better to alarm all units and charge an overall premium, but there are owners who want to offer alarms on a unit-by-unit basis.
Given the wireless system's ease of installation, a site manager or maintenance employee can easily add a transmitter to any individual unit. This also makes it easy to add alarms in groups, expand the system with new construction, or mix and match with an existing hardwired system on a site that is being expanded.
What are the advantages of hardwired over wireless systems?
Hardwired alarms have been accepted by the industry as a good investment, even after a rocky history through their product- development phase. Equipment and installation techniques have improved significantly just over the past couple of years. Now it's easy for the manufacturers to prove that when the equipment is installed properly, the systems are highly effective and reliable.
There are some locations where using wireless alarms is not appropriate due to isolated transmission problems. Other than that, the only distinct advantage is that a properly installed hardwired system requires virtually no maintenance. The wireless system, through its built-in sensing circuits, will let you know when a transmitter battery needs changing. That should occur about every 10 years.
In an average application, without installation, what would it cost to fit a 300-unit project with hardwired alarms? With wireless?
There are essentially three variables in the cost of an alarm system. The greatest of these is labor, which can vary from city to city and installer to installer. On average, we're seeing installation costs in a range of $25 to $45 per door for hardwired systems. Another of the cost variables is the total number of units being added to a site. Volume counts and, typically, the pricing reflects it. Add to this the cost of hardware and you wind up in a range of $16,000 to $20,000 for a 300-unit project. However, this does not take into consideration the construction costs of adding conduit for both power and data lines, or the cost of the wire itself.
With wireless systems, the same variables exist, but at different levels. Most of the hard construction costs associated with the alarm system go away. Then, the cost of installation labor drops to a range of $3 to $6 per door. The number of repeaters required to handle the signals for each site can be somewhat of a variable, though some transmitters use the maximum transmission power allowed by the Federal Communications Commission. Added together, the costs for wireless alarms on a 300-unit project will likely land in a range of $15,500 to $19,500.
How does an owner/operator get a review of his site to determine the cost of installation of a wireless system?
Always, with hardwired or wireless systems, a site plan should be submitted. Notations should be made of any unique features of the site, such as high-tension power lines, cell towers or other radio- frequency devices in the immediate vicinity. They may or may not affect the effectiveness of the alarm system. A good security company will provide a site survey kit to discover any interference and the number of repeaters necessary for complete coverage.
The site I have in mind is under a utility easement with high-capacity power lines running over the property, causing no or poor radio and TV reception. Will this affect the wireless alarms?
Interference may be possible, but is unlikely. As already mentioned, they may or may not affect the effectiveness of the alarm system. Again, a survey kit provided by the security vendor should discover any interference before installation and implementation is attempted.
Our wireless telephones do not seem to work at the far end of the property. Why will the alarms be able to do better?
You should purchase a wireless system engineered to overcome limitations inherent in telephone systems. Both transmitter and receiver should be more reliable. The way the system transmits its digital information requires less fidelity than most voice transmissions. In addition, the system should use repeaters as necessary to extend the operating range far beyond the capabilities of a phone set.
With hardwired individual alarms, there is a high incidence of false alarms. Is the wireless technology more stable?
In most instances where hardwired systems have not operated reliably, the quality of the installation is far more suspect than the equipment. This has been especially true over the past couple of years as each of the manufacturers has measurably improved its systems. In some competitive systems where the wiring was installed properly, false alarms may have resulted from the use of off-the-shelf magnets and reed switches.
After this conversation, I felt I had a good grasp of wireless individual door alarms and the latest technology available. They can provide a distinct advantage in new installations as they save on wiring costs, and in retrofits because of their ease of installation. A special thanks goes out to the guys at Digitech for making this article possible.
R.K. Kliebenstein of Coast-To-Coast Storage provides consulting services for new and existing self-storage owners. The use of technology to increase the ability for older stores to compete with current sate-of-the-art construction is a specialty of Coast-To-Coast. Call 561.367.9241 to discuss a technology audit for your store, or to offer suggestions about other technology you would like to see featured in this column, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org