According to the National Council for Home Safety and Security, only 17% of houses in the US have a security system. Many people have avoided home security because of the costly, long- term monitoring fees and annoying false alarms that plagued home security systems decades ago. But systems today have improved. They are both simpler to use and more sophisticated than ever before.
Homes that are targeted for crime are usually unoccupied homes with lots of cover, such as lots of tall bushes around the house. Homes with easy escape routes and easy access through unlocked or unsecured doors and windows are also favorites of criminals. Home security system deters criminals. Think about it, when an alarm sounds and interior lights come on in response to an alarm, and when exterior lights start flashing, or a voice comes through a video doorbell when a potential intruder approaches, the bad guys are more likely to leave your house alone and go after an easier, quieter target.
Homes without alarms are three times more likely to get burglarized according to The National Council for Home Safety and Security. Some say that statistic is overstated since overall crime rates have dropped in the US over the last several years. But whether that number is inflated or not, I don’t think anyone can argue that home security systems, at the very least, give criminals pause when they are considering which homes to violate. And for many people, especially as they age, a home security system brings peace of mind.
This week, I’ll give you the basics of home security systems. You’ll be able to find lots more detail on the websites of specific home security system brands, but this mini lesson should help you decide whether you have enough interest in home security to even seek out more information.
Many of today’s security systems are do-it-yourself systems that most experts agree are easy for homeowners to set up. And they can be monitored with or without the involvement of a third party. These systems can be as simple as having a video doorbell, or a few door or window sensors, or one or two cameras set up around your home that you can monitor with an app on your phone.
Do-it-yourself security setups, without a third party monitoring service, are great for homeowners who want to control the cost of their home security system. These DIY systems save you a ton in installation costs and subscription fees. And you can configure them to suit your needs and budget.
As easy as it is to install a DIY security system, nothing is as simple as sitting back and having the system professionally installed. After you decide what system is best for you, the company’s technicians set everything up for you and show you how the system works.
More elaborate, professionally installed systems are made up of multiple surveillance cameras, inside and outside of the house, plus locks and alerts that are all monitored 24/7 by a professional home security service. As you can imagine, the more coverage you have, the more you can expect to pay.
Typically, with a professionally monitored system, when a smoke alarm ,or door or window sensor is triggered, an agent will initially try to reach you, the homeowner. If you don’t answer, the agent will call 911 and send police and/or the fire department to your home.
Old school, full service home security companies, like ADT, used to require you to sign a multi-year contract for monitoring. And even though those types of agreements still exist for those who want them, most full service security companies today realize it’s hard for that model to compete with today’s DIY systems that don’t tie homeowners to long term contracts. So many of those full service companies are now offering options without the long term contracts.
Both non-monitored, DIY systems and monitored systems let you create rules for the different components and different situations. For example, you can turn the security system on and off according to a schedule that works with your living habits. You can have the lights inside the house turn on when indoor or outdoor motion is detected. You can create a rule to have your doors unlock when a smoke alarm is triggered, and you can have your surveillance cameras begin recording when a door or window sensor is triggered.
For those who want simple entry level, DIY smart home security, there are basic systems that include a few door and window sensors and a motion detector. In addition, an app that lets you use your smartphone or tablet to arm and disarm the system is standard for many brands. Many entry level systems will let you add on extra sensors, motion detectors, and cameras, piece by piece, as your budget increases and your needs change.
Alternatively, you can build a comprehensive DIY security system for your entire house, that includes door locks, window and door sensors, garage door openers, indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras, motion sensor lights, alarms, and even smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
More sophisticated home security systems have phone apps that will send you notifications when alarms are triggered and allow you to do things like view live and recorded video, lock and unlock doors, and silence alarms. Some apps will even tap into your phone's location to automatically arm or disarm the system according to how close you are to home.
A communication hub in the form of a wall-mounted panel comes with more expensive systems. The panel is often an ipad or some other type of tablet with a touch screen. This communication hub will allow you to control the home’s system and communicate with the company monitoring the home, if you decide to use one.
If you choose a system that records video when a sensor is triggered, you’ll have to decide whether you want the videos to be stored on an SD card or on the internet-based cloud system. SD cards are those little one inch long memory cards that you can find at Walmart or Office Depot.
SD card storage of surveillance videos is a good choice for homeowners on a budget, but they have limited storage so you have to be careful not to record over video that you may need in the future. With SD card storage, you’ll have to remember to save your recordings on your computer periodically, before those videos are overwritten by new recordings.
In contrast, the cloud let’s you store lots of video and you can access it from almost anywhere with an internet connection. But cloud based storage can sometimes cost hundreds of dollars per year.
Most of the latest home security systems, even the budget friendly ones, can be used with Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and sometimes even Apple’s Siri. Using these devices, you can verbally command your security system to unlock doors, open the garage, and arm or disarm the system.
One type of basic home security system is a simple camera system where one or several cameras are positioned inside and outside your house to monitor and record activity. Most camera systems notify you by text or email of motion in and around the house.
Some cameras systems also come with night vision and can tell the difference between a passing car, an animal, and a person. You also find cameras that act not only as security cameras but also as floodlights or porch lights. Some of the more expensive cameras are equipped with humidity and temperature sensors and will interact with and adjust smart thermostats within your home.
Video doorbells are another basic security measure that could be a good starting place for those on a budget. They offer an easy way to see who is at your door without having to open the door or be at your residence. Video doorbells connect to your Wi-Fi and send you an alert through your phone when someone approaches your doorway. They'll record video when the doorbell is pressed or when motion is detected. Many models also allow you to speak with the visitor using your phone app even if you are not at home.
Most video doorbells use regular, low voltage doorbell wiring and are fairly easy to install. But there are also battery-operated models available that are even simpler to put in. Ideally, you’ll to look for a model that offers high resolution (at least 1080 pixels), wide angle lens, meaning views of 140 to 180 degrees, night vision that ranges up to 25 feet, and affordable cloud storage for recorded video.
Perhaps the most basic smart home security feature you can install is a smart lock. Smart locks are usually a part of a more comprehensive home security system, but you don't have to invest in an expensive, full-blown system to use a smart lock. You can add one to a smart home automation system that controls your lighting and thermostats. Or, if you don’t want to use any other home automation or security system components, you can look for a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth smart lock that can be used on its own.
Smart locks use standard pre-drilled holes and are pretty simple to install. Some models attach to the inside of your door and use your existing deadbolt and key cylinder. Other smart locks require that you remove and replace your existing interior and exterior lock components.
A Smart lock can be opened and closed using your phone app and it will send a notification when someone locks or unlocks a door. Most smart locks also allow you to create permanent and temporary access schedules for family members and friends.
Smart lock features to look for include geofencing, which uses your phone's location services to lock and unlock the door, voice activation using the Siri HomeKit, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa, and integration with other smart home devices such as video doorbells, outdoor cameras, thermostats, smoke alarms, and smart lighting.
There are lots of smart lock models to choose from, including keyless no-touch locks, touch-screen locks, and combination keyed and touchpad locks. Personally, I would always choose the later — a system that allows you to combine the new keyless technologies with traditional keyed locks. In case your WiFi or technical equipment temporarily fail, you’ll have old fashioned keys as a back up.
PC mag.com tested and rated several home security systems. You can see the article here.
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Well that’s all I have for you this week. I hope you learned as much as I did.
Thanks for stopping by.