Choosing a smart home system or home security system

Since your home is kinda like your castle, it's important to choose the right security system. Smart home systems let you control a number of things by voice, a smartphone or a remote controller.

If you’re interested in turning your home into a smart home, you’ll find some systems focus more on controlling lights, heating and other devices, while others focus more on home security.

If you want the simplicity of smart home systems, like voice activated lights, smartphone operated heating or weather controlled garden watering systems, then consider a smart home system.

But if your main aim is to receive an alert for things like a break-in, indoor flooding, a fire or just someone at your front door, then it may be worth starting with a home security system. Some will also control smart lighting and thermostats.

Home security system basics

The last decade has seen increasingly affordable wireless technology, widespread home internet connection and countless smart home devices. This has led to a big shift in the home security market.

Historically, a security company would install a hard-wired security system for you. It typically involved a central box in a cupboard wired to sensors, a siren and your phone line. You didn’t have to pay for all of the equipment upfront, provided you signed up to a long-term subscription contract to have your system professionally monitored. These systems are still available today. Most now offer wireless sensors and connection to their monitoring service through your mobile.

The big change is you can now buy the components you want and connect a system yourself in a couple of hours. This is particularly easy if you’re happy with battery operated components. Some of these DIY home security systems come with an optional professional monitoring service, but most let you monitor it yourself from your smartphone using a free app. The more recent addition of affordable video cameras you can monitor through your smartphone has really caught the public’s attention.

What’s in a standard DIY home security kit?

Most DIY home security brands have a starter kit. The contents of each kit will vary, but they typically include the following:

  • A central base or hub that contains the system’s smarts and connects to your internet router via an ethernet cable or WiFi. Sometimes the smarts are built into a single component like a camera, so you can start with just the one device and no central hub is required.
  • A siren to scare away intruders and a keypad to arm and disarm your system. These can be separate components or built into the hub. Most modern systems can be armed or disarmed from a smartphone app.
  • Window and door sensors. You can usually set up a delay on your main door sensor to give you time to enter and disarm the system.
  • One or more motion sensors. They’re usually the type that detects moving heat, to avoid false alarms from things like moving curtains or prevent pets setting them off.

If your starter kit doesn’t include enough window and door sensors, you can always buy more. Keep in mind however that a carefully located motion sensor can usually cover a door and several windows with only a slightly longer delay before an intruder triggers the alarm.

Adding more DIY home security features

Most DIY home security brands have additional components you can buy individually. Here's the main examples to consider:

  • An image or video camera. These are so popular that some starter kits are now including them. Some cameras are a complete system, so you don’t need a hub, just a free smartphone app. There's indoor and outdoor models and some are built into a door bell. Most include night vision. The more expensive models typically offer better image quality. Some activate with built-in floodlights and others have a microphone and speaker, so you can communicate with couriers, kids, visitors and potential intruders from your smartphone.
  • A keyring remote control or a second keypad. Arming and disarming your system is the most common interaction you’ll have with it. While you might be able to do this from your smartphone, they can often make life even easier.
  • Smoke detectors. Many systems let you detect smoke, fire or carbon monoxide.
  • Water detectors. Well-placed water leak sensors can alert you to a problem, like a flood in your laundry, before you the damage becomes too great.

Some DIY home security systems communicate with components from other brands and others don’t. If you can’t get all the sensors you want from a preferred brand, ask if the system will work with the third-party components you have in mind.

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