A home security system is meant to protect you and bring you peace of mind, but it’s only useful if it’s working as intended. Test your system regularly so you can catch any problems before they cause a system failure when you need it most. This security system maintenance checklist will guide you through testing your home security system. Remember, each system is different, so refer to your manual for instructions for your specific model.
Turning on test mode
Before you run any tests on your system that might trigger an alarm, place it in test mode, if applicable.
- Notify your monitoring company. If you have a monitored system, it’s essential that you let them know you’re testing so they don’t send emergency services to your home.
- Put your system in “Test Mode” if available.
Preparing for the test
Whether you’re testing smoke detectors or your whole system, inform all household members and any close neighbors about the test and what they should expect. You may want to relocate kids, pets, and others who might find the testing disturbing — although some kids may enjoy helping to test the sensors.
- Close all sensor-equipped windows and doors.
- Arm your system.
Most home security systems have at least a few sensors. These might include sensors to detect doors and windows opening or glass breaking, motion sensors, and water and flood sensors. These can degrade over time or build up dirt and dust that makes them less reliable. Occasionally testing them will let you know which sensors need to be cleaned or replaced. Some may also use batteries which need to be replaced regularly, too.
- Window- or door-open sensors: Open all windows and doors with this type of sensor.
- Glass-breaking sensors: There are two main types of glass-breaking sensors. One senses vibration — you may be able to test this with a sharp rap on your window. For sensors that use sound, you can find clips of glass breaking online to use for your test.
- Motion detectors: Enter zones covered by motion detectors. Don’t forget any outdoor motion sensors you may have.
- Water and flood sensors: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for testing. This may involve pressing a test button (like what you’d find on a smoke detector) or exposing the sensor to a small amount of moisture. Following the instructions will ensure that you don’t break the sensor while testing it.
How to test a smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detector
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors come equipped with a test button. Check this monthly to make sure the circuitry is still functioning. For a more thorough test, you can purchase an aerosol smoke detector tester and a CO detector test kit. These will ensure your detectors can sense an actual emergency. Follow the directions on the packaging to avoid damaging your system.
- Check each smoke detector and CO detector in the home.
- For wired or connected detectors, make sure the alarm triggers all units at once.
- If you have visual detectors, look for a visual alert as well as an audible alarm.
Checking security cameras
Most home security cameras today have access for the homeowner, typically via an online portal.
- Check each camera feed to ensure the camera is facing in the intended direction and not obstructed by trees, bushes, dirt, or other objects.
- If the cameras are set to record motion, test each one by walking past.
- If needed, gently clean the lenses as part of your regular security camera maintenance.
Look at all security lights to check for broken, missing, dim, or burnt-out bulbs. For outdoor lights, double check their placement and housing to make sure they remain stable and pointed in the correct direction.
While some results will be immediately obvious, others may take a bit more investigation.
- Gather feed from security cameras to see if motion was captured.
- If you have an online portal or receive emergency alerts, check that you have at least one signal for each sensor tested.
- Contact your monitoring company and go through the results with them based on the information they have gathered.
- Immediately create a list of items that need to be cleaned, fixed, or replaced.
Resetting your security system
When your testing is done, it’s time to get everything up and running again.
- Turn off your system test mode or disengage the system.
- Contact your monitoring company to let them know that your testing is complete.
- Reset all sensors as needed.
When should alarms be checked?
The standard recommendation is to test smoke and CO detectors monthly, and some alarm companies recommend the same for their systems. This doesn’t mean you need to test every door sensor and light bulb every month, but checking the main system and a few key components is wise.
Make a schedule to test various components each month, with a full system test a few times a year. You’ll also want to check your system if there are any changes to your Internet, wiring or electrical system, or any other home services that could impact the security system’s ability to do its job. If you’re heading out on vacation, it’s also an opportunity to give everything a good check.
Your home security system is only a safety feature if it’s working. Taking the time to keep it properly maintained and tested is an important part of protecting your home and family.