Home Security – Smart Home – How to choose

How to Choose between a Home Security System and a Smart Home

How to Choose

Yes, it can be an overwhelming decision but I will help you overcome it.  You will be interested in either one or the other.  If you are interested in how to integrate both, then there is an answer for that as well.

Either way, my goal is to provide you will the help and information necessary for you to make a solid decision.  So for now, you’ll need one cup of coffee or tea to get to the end.

Home Security or Smart Home

Home Security:  is both the security hardware in place on a property as well as personal security practices.  Security hardware includes doors, locks, alarm systems, lighting, motion detectors, security camera systems, that are installed on a property.  Personal security involves practices such as ensuring doors are locked, alarms activated, windows closed, extra keys not hidden outside.

Smart Home Systems:  Also called domotics is building automation for a home, called a smart home or smart house.  A home automation system will control lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances.  It may also include home security such as access control and alarm systems.  When connected with the Internet, home devices are an important constituent of the Internet of Things (“IoT”).

Research & Decisions – What’s Important to You?

One of the first decisions you’ll be faced with before beginning your project or making a decision is,  weighing security features (home security) against convenience features (a smart home).  You will likely find that most packages will emphasize one or the other, even if they offer elements of both.

If you’re mostly interested in being alerted to break-ins, porch pirates, fire, or water pipes bursting, you’ll be happier with a home security system.  You can add in a service that can dispatch first responders on your behalf as well.

However, if you’re more interested in the fun and convenience of a modern home technology: voice commanded lights, thermostat, sprinkler systems, etc.,  you’ll opt for a smart home system.

Two Options for You

I have produced two stories that will help you understand the fundamentals of each type of system, so you can decide which is right for you. This one focuses on home security systems.

If you’re more interested in adding smart home technology, I encourage you to  read the other story.  

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Home Security System Basics
  • Home Security System Kits
  • Beyond Home Security Basics
  • Self-monitoring or Professional Monitoring
  • Getting the best of both worlds

Home Security System Basics

Methods of the past:

The old methods of installing a home security system have, for the most part, gone by the wayside.  They are still available and still “pricey.”  In recent years though, newer and advanced technology, followed up by the the less expensive DIY (do it yourself) consumers have driven the home security market to an all time low for customers.

Service providers of the past, would send a technician to your home to install a central hub in your closet, connect it to your land line, and run wired sensors to all your doors and windows.  You could sign up for an expensive long-term contracts for professional monitoring, without which the system would be useless.

You can still buy professionally installed systems—from vendors such as ADT, Vivint, or even Comcast—with monitoring included in the price of the package.  Some localities require you to obtain a permit before installing an alarm system, and they might charge you a fee if their first responders are dispatched based on a false alarm.

The vendor you’re considering doing business with should be able to tell you if such a permit is required where you live.

The New DIY Consumer:

With the demand for cheaper security, the technology advancements, and consumers wanting to get rid of high fees and installation prices, a DIY’er can acquire equipment that’s every bit as good, install it easily and opt for self monitoring within an hour or two.

Opt-in professional monitoring is available with many of these systems, but if you’re looking to save even more money, vendors let you monitor your own security using a smartphone app for free.  The home security businesses of old have been upended in recent years, driven by the availability of always-on broadband services, low-cost wireless technology, and most recently—smart home technology.

Home security system kits

Most security systems are sold as kits, which ensures that all the components are known to work together. What comes in a security system starter kit will vary from one manufacturer to another, but the typical kit will include:

  • A hub that connects to your router, either wirelessly or with an Ethernet cable. This is the “brains” of the system. There will be a siren to warn you and frighten an intruder, and a keypad you’ll use to arm the system when you leave or retire for the night, and disarm when you come home or wake up and start your day. In some systems, the alarm, hub, and keypad will all be in the same enclosure.

 

  • More advanced hubs will contain a battery backup and a cellular radio, so that alerts are sent even if you lose power or your broadband connection goes down. In most cases, however, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee for that peace of mind.

 

  • Door/window sensors: These are small, typically two-piece devices that attach to your doors and windows via tape or screws. One side of the sensor has a magnet and the other a small piece of steel. Separating the two breaks the magnetic field between them and sends a signal to the hub to report that the door or window has been opened. The hub can typically be programmed with a delay that allows you to open a door, walk to the keypad, and disarm the system before the alarm goes off. Window sensors trigger an immediate alarm, since no one should be entering or exiting the home via a window.

 

  • At least one motion sensor that will detect movement within its field of view. When you plan to remain in the house, you’ll arm your system “home” or “stay,” and the hub will ignore messages from the motion sensor. When you leave the house and arm the system “away,” any unexpected movement will trigger the hub to go into an alarm state. Most motion sensors include a pet mode that will prevent small animals from triggering false alarms.

It’s always a good idea to count the number of doors and windows you’ll want to monitor, because the starter kit probably won’t have enough to cover all of them.  But here’s a pro tip: One motion sensor can cover at least one door and several windows, depending on where it’s placed.

It might not trigger an alarm immediately after a breach, but there shouldn’t be an appreciable delay before an intruder sets it off by walking in front of it.

My Top Recommendation for easy to use DIY, Home Security Kits by Ring

Click here for more information

Beyond Home Security Basics

Some home security systems provide or allow you to add other security components, such as:

  • A remote key fob or a secondary keypad: Your most frequent interactions with your security system will probably occur via a smartphone app, but better systems offer more flexibility. You might set up a second keypad at another entry location, or push a button on a remote control on your keychain to arm and disarm the system. Nest Labs offers an NFC-enabled remote that you tap on its hub to disarm its Nest Secure system, which might be easier for children to work with.
  • Glass break/vibration sensors: These sensors either listen for the specific pitch of glass breaking or adhere to a window, monitoring for the vibrating shock of damage, tripping the alarm if a break is detected.
  • Smoke and/or carbon monoxide detectors: Many security vendors have been expanding their definition of security by adding the option to protect your home and its occupants from smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide.
  • Water leak sensors: Insurance claims for water damage from burst pipes and similar disasters are far more common than fires, so a system that can warn you of the presence of water where it shouldn’t be can deliver big benefits.
  • A security camera: Surprisingly, most security systems do not include cameras as part of their base package, but many offer them as an add-on, or they partner with a third-party provider to incorporate cameras.

If the home security system you’re considering doesn’t include a component you think is essential, ask if you can add one from a third-party vendor.  Some companies are relatively open or at least run a certification program that tests and approves third-party products for inclusion in their systems.  Others operate cut offs, essentially saying “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”  Remember, they are not the only merchant in town.

Self-Monitoring, or Professional Monitoring

Your final consideration with a home security system is how to monitor it. Some vendors give you the option of doing it yourself for free, while others don’t give you a choice.

If you opt for self-monitoring, know that it means you’re responsible for keeping tabs on your own security, whether you’re at home or not. If you get a notification from the app that your alarm has been tripped, you’ll need to decide whether to call the police or fire department, ask a neighbor to investigate, or simply ignore it and hope for the best.

Professional monitoring is typically offered as a subscription service, but many companies expect you to sign a contract committing to the service for a year or longer—and in some cases, much longer.

Cancelling the contract before the term is up can leave you owing an early termination fee. Ring offers one of the least-expensive optional monitoring plans: $3-$10 per month for Ring Alarm users, and that includes cloud storage for an unlimited number of Ring cameras.

What’s more, you can cancel any time. But if Ring Alarm doesn’t fit your needs, it doesn’t matter how cheap the service plan is.  So what do you get from a professional monitoring plan? In almost all cases, a 24-hour watch by human beings who will call to check on you if an alarm is triggered.

If they can’t reach you, they’ll attempt to contact any secondary contacts you’ve provided. And if they can’t get in touch with anyone, they’ll call the police if a break-in is suspected or—with plans that include smoke alarm coverage—the fire department if there’s a fire.  Professional monitoring fees typically also cover the cost of backup cellular service for the hub.

Service fees, terms, and the fine print that accompany professional monitoring services vary widely. If you sign up for a plan, make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting into.  You’ll also want to be aware that self-monitoring is not an option with some home security service providers.

Getting the Best of Both Worlds

If you want a home security system that can also be used as a smart home system, pick one that at a minimum supports smart lighting and a smart thermostat, along with all the most important security features we’ve already discussed.

Whichever type of system you settle on today, know that you won’t be locked into it forever, provided it’s based on the most common types of radios: Wi-Fi and either Z-Wave or ZigBee. No one vendor controls all of those standards, and many of the hubs on today’s market today use all three.

While it might be little tedious to re-pair tens or dozens of sensors and other devices with a new hub if something better catches your fancy in a few years, it won’t be impossible.

Most systems can be integrated quite easily.  Either way, the manufacturers will list what is compatible with your current system and how to add on.

Have you decided?

If after digesting all this information, you’ve  settled on investing in a home security system, you can learn about our top picks in both categories and see all of our current reviews here on this site.  Enter the category “Reviews” at the bottom of the page.

If you’d like to learn more about smart home systems first, you’ll find an equally in-depth story about them here.

Comments

  1. Sharon F says:

    Hi Brian,

    Very informative article, I can imagine the smart home systems growing in popularity, would you agree? I know a good few of the older population enjoy elevated peace of mind from the professional monitoring plans.

    Thanks for all the information, I never knew there was so much to home security!

    Sharon

    • Brian says:

      I do agree. The home security and automation market will grow to $165 in the next 5 years. It just makes sense to take advantage of new technology at cheaper prices to make life easier and more secure.

  2. Rob..... says:

    Hi Brian,

    Very thorough explanation. I still have remnants from the old school alarm systems in my house. I’m hesitant about the new wireless DIY systems only because of a real or perceived gap in hacker protection. Outsiders either taking over the camera or overriding the system and manipulating the smart devices. Any thoughts on how to prevent that?

    • Brian says:

      Hi Rob, yes – very real and valid apprehensions too. The truth is that we as consumers need to have a two teared safety measure for communicating with our smart/home security hub devices. Most companies tell the buyer this but we don’t abide by it because it seems to cumbersome. The fact is, by using the two teared verification log-in (available to us), hackers will have a much more difficult time breaking your password. Even Ring, mandated the two teared authentication process for the consumer.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know of anything that there isn’t an opposite affect on as technology grows, but there are safeguards in place that really work.

      a.) two teared authentication process
      b.) a good VPN (very inexpensive, approx $4 a month)

      Thanks for the good question,

      Brian

  3. Jen Bree says:

    Another great article from Brian. I like the idea for having both home security and smart home. I’ll be visiting your website again once I am ready to take this route. Thanks for this great article. I’ll bookmark.

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