Need a security system but don’t know where to start? We’ve tested DIY and professionally installed security packages to help you determine which is the best smart home security system for you.
The Internet of Things has made it easier than ever to set up a property in which you can remotely control your door locks, lights, thermostats, vacuums, and other appliances, using your smartphone and an app. It’s also made it simple (and relatively affordable) to monitor your property from pretty much anywhere. Smart security systems are highly customizable and available as do-it-yourself kits or as full-blown setups that include professional installation and monitoring.
Depending on your needs you can go with a system that you monitor yourself, or pay a subscription fee to have your property surveilled 24/7 by professionals who will contact your local fire and police departments when alarms are triggered. You can even take advantage of on-demand monitoring services for when you’re away.
If you’re not ready for a dedicated security system, there are plenty of individual devices available that let you monitor your property from anywhere using your phone, tablet, or computer including indoor and outdoor security cameras, video doorbells, motion sensors, and smart locks.
A smart security system connects to your Wi-Fi network so you can monitor and control your security devices using your smartphone and an app. Entry-level systems usually include some door and window sensors, a motion detector, and a hub that communicates with these devices using one or more wireless protocols such as Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee, or a proprietary mesh network. You can add extra door, motion, and window sensors to provide coverage for your entire house and build a comprehensive system that includes door locks, garage door openers, indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras, lights, sirens, smoke/CO detectors, water sensors, and more.
A word about wireless protocols: In a perfect world, all security components would use the same wireless standard to communicate with the main hub, but factors such as power requirements, signal range, price, and size make it virtually impossible to settle on just one. For example, smaller components such as door/window sensors typically use Z-Wave or Zigbee technology because they don’t require a lot of power and can be powered by smaller batteries. They also operate in a mesh topology and can help extend the range of networked devices. However, neither protocol provides the bandwidth that you get with Wi-Fi, which is why it is usually used in security cameras to provide smooth video streaming, and in other devices that require a fat pipe. Moreover, Z-Wave and Zigbee devices are connected and controlled using a hub, while Wi-Fi devices can be connected directly to your home network and controlled with an app. Finally, Z-Wave and Zigbee devices use AES 128 encryption, and since they operate in a closed system with a dedicated hub, they offer more security than Wi-Fi devices.
Any smart security system worth its salt offers components that work together in a seamless environment and can be manipulated using customized rules. For example, you can create rules to have the lights turn on when motion is detected, have your doors unlock when a smoke alarm goes off, and have a camera begin recording when a sensor is triggered. Some systems store recorded video locally on an SD card or a solid state drive, while others offer cloud storage. Locally stored video is a good choice for do-it-yourselfers on a budget, but you have to be careful not to overwrite video you may need later. Cloud storage makes it easy to store and access recorded video, but it can cost hundreds of dollars per year depending on your subscription. Some systems offer both cloud storage and local storage, and some provide a dedicated storage drive that gives you DVR capabilities with time-lapse recording, which makes it easy to find a video event that took place at a specific point in time.