How to Choose a Home Intercom System
Home intercoms allow you to communicate clearly and easily from room to room throughout your home, as well as from outside areas like gates and entranceways. Intercoms also help make your home more secure by allowing you to know who’s at a door before answering it, monitor a child’s room remotely, or stay in touch with a sick family member in another room.
This guide will explain the different types of intercoms so you can feel confident you’re making the best selection for your lifestyle, home and family.
Intercoms may be wired systems, which are typically installed when a home is built and often included as part of a home networking/structured media solution, or wireless systems, which function using radio waves.
Wired intercom systems are more easily installed when a home is under construction, though it is possible to retrofit a wired system if you aren’t intimidated by installing behind-the-wall wiring.
Can be installed as part of a whole-house, structured media plan, which may include a security/surveillance system and home automation.
The master station, or control panel, is hard-wired into your electrical system and the low-voltage wires that support the substations in rooms throughout your home or at your front door or entry gate are run behind the walls or outside from each substation to the master station.
A wired system is closed. No one outside the system, such as someone with a similar intercom or other device operating on the same radio frequency, can listen in.
Operates with little interference from outside sources such as a microwave or other wireless device.
Offers high-quality sound throughout the home. There are no dead spots where an intercom doesn’t work and no quality loss for substations that are farther away from the master station.
Wireless intercom systems are the most cost- and labor-effective choice for DIYers who want to add an intercom to an existing home.
Wireless intercoms are up and running within minutes of installation because the master station and substations all plug into ordinary electrical outlets or operate on batteries.
Wireless substations are completely portable. Move them from room to room anywhere an outlet is located.
Additional substations can be easily added later if your needs change. Just be sure the new ones are compatible with the ones you have.
Depending on the range of your system, you can use a wireless intercom in an outbuilding, such as a detached garage or workshop, allowing you to stay connected to home even when outside.
Most wireless systems operate at a range of 1,000 to 1,500 feet.
Whether wired or wireless, the main components of an intercom system consist of the control panel, or master station, and substations with speakers.
The master station is the control panel. It contains the electronic circuitry for the intercom system, and may have the power switch for the entire system as well as radio or other music distribution controls.
Some basic systems only allow you to talk from a substation to the master station, rather than from substation to substation. Keep this limitation in mind when you are shopping for a system.
Substations, also called slave or remote stations, consist of a speaker, which can deliver audio and act as a microphone during a reply, and a switch to transfer from listen to talk modes.
Check the range on wireless substations if you’re planning to install one in an outbuilding or at a gated entry. The range of wired substations is limited only by how far you are willing and able to run the wires connecting it.
Outside substations, often installed at an entry door and with a doorbell, allow you to know who is ringing the bell without having to open the door.
More complex intercom systems allow you to talk from substation to substation, rather than having to go through the master station, and offer a privacy setting, which turns off a substation at the substation itself, rather than only at the master station.
Choose from features such as video systems or voice-activated systems to ensure that your intercom meets your family’s needs.
Most standalone intercom systems are audio only, meaning you can talk and listen from station to station, but not see the person with whom you’re talking. However, video systems are becoming more affordable and available. A video intercom includes a camera, with a monitor at the control panel, which allows you to see who’s at the front door or entry gate while you’re talking with them, or you can keep an eye, as well as an ear, on your child’s room or on an ill family member.
Voice-activated systems allow you to answer a call from the front door or another room without having to leave your chair or interrupt your task to push a button. Voice-activated systems are also helpful for people confined to a bed, who can call for help without having to get up or struggle to reach a button.
Radio or other music piped throughout your home is a feature of some intercom systems, usually wired ones. Turn the music on at the master station and listen to it wherever an intercom substation is installed. This feature is perfect for a party or if you’re moving from room to room and want to enjoy the music.