Finding an alarm system manual starts with knowing the manufacturer / brand and model of your system. Over the years, dozens of manufacturers have produced many hundreds of different security panels, so you really need the brand and model info to narrow the search down to the right manual.
Most manufacturers place this information on a sticker inside the lid of the panel enclosure, but you may find partial model names or numbers on the outside of the enclosure too. For help, see the photos in the next section.
For decades, panelguides.com was the go-to source for manuals for virtually any brand and model of alarm system. Sadly, this resource was shut down in early 2017. This makes finding manuals a bit more difficult, but usually not impossible.
This great FREE resource is back up, and seems to list all the manuals as before. Just visit the site, click on "panelguides" in the upper-right corner, and find your system by manufacturer and model number.
July 15, 2017 Update: Panelguides.com is back online!!
If you need an Ademco alarm system manual, see my page on Ademco manuals.
Some alarm systems, most notably those from DSC, have two names: The Model Number and the Marketing Name. For example, the PC5010 (Model Number) is also known as the Power 832 (Marketing Name) which can be found on your control panel.
User Manuals, often called Owner Manuals, explain the everyday operation of the system, and only include basic, user-level programming instructions. A User Manual will typically show you in simple terms how to arm, disarm, bypass zones, and possibly change your own passcodes.
Functions covered in a User Manual usually include:
Alarm User Manuals are widely available at no charge from many sites. Most manufacturers have a “Literature”, “Manuals”, or other "Support" section on their website where you can download User Manuals. Aside from that, many third-party sites have User Manuals available for free download.
An Alarm Installation Manual is intended to help an alarm technician install and connect all components of a system. They usually don’t have any background information on specific techniques for doing this; it is assumed that an experienced professional will be doing the work and has the tools and skills needed.
Alarm Programming Manuals describe in detail how to access installer-level programming, and how to enter data to control every function of the panel.
Although intended primarily for use by an installation technician, a determined (and patient) homeowner or DIYer can also follow the programming instructions to make changes to their system.
Functions shown in Installation Manuals include:
Installation and Programming Manuals are getting more difficult to find. Many alarm companies only share alarm system manuals with their own installers, and forbid third-party sites from posting manuals or programming sheets for public use. Other third-party sites, like Alarmsbc.com, charge a fee for them (although they still offer user manuals for free.)
The important thing to remember is that without an Installer and/or Programming Manual, you can't fully control how the panel works.
So, let's suppose you "inherit" an alarm system when you buy a new house. If the existing system was programmed to report to a central station, you have no way to turn that off without an Installer Code and programming information.
If you’re a do-it-yourselfer and you buy a new system, you will typically get a copy of each alarm system manual: alarm installation manual, programming manual, and user instructions included with the new panel purchase. These manuals may be either printed or on CD.
Like panelguides.com, lists manuals for many more brands and models than most other sites.
Alarmsbc offers FREE User Manuals and charges a small fee for Installation Manuals. Manufacturers include:
Free DSC Alarm User Manuals direct from the manufacturer.
Free DSC Installation Manuals direct from the manufacturer.
Free User Manuals for many brands, no Installation Manuals.
Not sure you have the skills needed to install an alarm system yourself?
Or, do you have plenty of skills, but not enough time?
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