DIY "friendly" panels

Here are some panels that, from a service tech standpoint, are better than others from a novice or DIY standpoint. If you’re considering doing a home system, consider what you REALLY want and what you REALLY need. I, for example, wish I hadn’t put horn/strobes everywhere. I would have preferred something more discreet, maybe even a voice siren driver and a speaker. I already got rid of my pull station, I’ve toned my home system down a lot but I have full smoke detection and heat detection where needed. If I can get it down to one zone, I may as well put it on my security panel. I currently have two zones - general smokes, and basement heat detectors, and one addressable smoke at the panel.

Ademco - tried and true, they have their quirks with some addressable stuff, but if done right, you’ll be fine. All programming can be done at the keypad with no special tools needed. Vista 20P panels are the standard for home security and home fire (one 2WF loop but all circuits can do fire). They offer wireless capability with a receiver for wireless anything - smokes, and now CO detectors, but they don’t offer addressable. Vista 128 panels offer two bell outputs - one for burglary and one for fire. Because the 128 is a commercial fire panel, it will be more pricy.

DSC - tried and true, but they don’t offer addressable unless you go with a Maxsys system (I don’t even know if DSC makes Maxsys panels anymore). For addressable, I highly recommend programming via the laptop and software. Good for home security and home fire (one 2WF loop).

DMP - stellar, but not typically available to the DIY market (DMP is an independent company who only sells to dealers). Very, very nice Aqualine keypads with blue backlighting. Small panels from the Super6 to the large commercial XR500 fire systems. Can communicate on a LAN. Very simple to program via the keypad, but I can guarantee you that if you’re looking at a used DMP panel, it has a lockout code and there is no back door.

Napco - also stellar, my favorite. Not typically available to the DIY market, but one or two sites do sell Napco equipment at a pretty steep price. Small panels like the Gemini 800 and 801 (the Gemini 801 is probably my favorite panel) can very easily be programmed at the keypad (really, five minutes, no lie) and include a dedicated fire zone that flashes a small flame on the keypad when tripped. Larger panels starting with the 816 all the way to the 9600s have a very unique feature that allows you to use both zones 7 and 8 for 2-wire smokes out of the box, by setting a jumper (most security panels only have one 2-wire fire zone). On top of that, panel zones 1-6 can be used for 2-wire smokes by cutting a jumper for each zone. So, you could use a Napco panel with 8 zones of 2-wire smokes. If you’re going to program one of these, I recommend doing it via a computer and cable, as keypad programming is rather conveluted. If you’re looking at a Napco panel, contact me first, as I’ll tell you what to look for before you make a purchase.

Moose - obsolete and outdated, BUT, if you can get your hands on a Z2000 with the LCD keypad, these are very nice systems and can be used for commercial fire. 16 panel zones, one for 2-wire smokes. 12-volt panel. Easy to program, no manual needed, signal coding can be set to steady, temporal, or fast march for fire.

Bosch/Radionics - Hit or miss, everything will require a programmer. Whatever you do, steer clear of the old D8112 panels. Newer systems like the 7412s and 9412s are great - you can view the status of any point at the keypad and do a number of functions - but again, you need a programmer. Not a novice panel by any stretch.

2gig - this is a new animal to the residential market. It’s a completely wireless system with a graphic touchscreen, a competitor to the Ademco Lynx wireless systems. Probably not what you’re looking for, but they are DIY friendly and can use Ademco wireless smoke detectors.

Fire-Lite/Notifier/Silent Knight - we’ve all used them, super easy to program. Not my first choice for a home panel unless the home needed an extensive fire system.

Edwards - forget it. proprietary, even I can’t touch these things. Same thing with Siemens/Pyrotronics. just stay away from them.

Simplex - ok, proprietary and probably more than you’ll need for a home system, but they work. Remember that the older panels like the 4001s and 4002s are obsolete. we all know the product line, no sense in going over it. again, not really my first choice for a home system, but they do the job.

Panel lockouts - yes, this can be done, any panel can be locked out with a dealer code. Some panels have a back door, others don’t. There is a guy in Florida who claims to be able to unlock any panel - I contacted him about unlocking a DMP XR20 panel I took out because a competitor locked it out, and he couldn’t do it. This is a gamble you take with any used panel. Ademco has a back door, but that back door can be disabled via the software. DSC’s back door is to default the panel, but that can be disabled, too. Napco panels have no back door, but the larger systems have the installer code (different for each individual panel) printed on a label on the CPU chip. The installer can remove this after the installation to keep it a secret. It’s not so much about money, but about security. Whenever possible, you’re better off with a new panel, or one that is known to not be locked out.