The Internet of Things has made it easier than ever to set up a smart home in which you can remotely control your door locks, lawnmowers, lights, thermostats, vacuums, and even pet feeders, using your smartphone and an app. It’s also made it very easy (and relatively affordable) to monitor your home from just about anywhere with a smart security system. Smart security systems are highly customizable and are available as do-it-yourself kits or as full-blown setups that require professional installation.
Depending on your needs you can go with a system that you monitor yourself, or pay a subscription fee to have your home monitored 24/7 by professionals who will contact your local police and fire departments when alarms are triggered. Of course, the more coverage you have the more you can expect to pay. Here’s what to look for when deciding how to outfit your home, along with the top systems we’ve tested.
A smart home security system connects to your home Wi-Fi network so you can monitor and control your security devices using your smartphone and an app. Entry-level systems typically include a couple of 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.
Integration and App
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 that 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.
All of the systems here feature a mobile app that let you use your smartphone as your command center to arm and disarm it, create rules, add and delete components, and receive push notifications when alarms are triggered. Most apps also allow you to do things like view live and recorded video, lock and unlock doors, change thermostat settings, and silence alarms. Some apps will even use your phone’s location services to automatically arm and disarm the system according to your physical location. The more expensive systems usually come with a wall-mounted panel that acts as a communications hub, with a touch-screen display that allows you to do everything the app does, as well as communicate with a professional monitoring service when an alarm is triggered.
DIY or Professionally Installed?
Do-it-yourself setups such as the iSmartAlarm, the SimpliSafe Home Security System, and the SkylinkNet Alarm System are ideal for homeowners on a budget, because they can save you a bundle on installation charges and subscription fees. Most DIY systems are sold as kits that you can configure to suit your specific needs, and give you the option to add additional components at your convenience.
The iSmartAlarm system is easy to install and configure but it doesn’t offer a monitoring option, which means if someone is breaking into your house, it’s up to you to call the local authorities. It offers a variety of components, but lacks support for door locks, smoke alarms, and thermostats. The SkylinkNet Alarm System is one of the most affordable DIY kits out there and installs in minutes, but it is very basic and uses a proprietary wireless protocol (M-Code), so it does not work with third-party Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, or Zigbee components. The SimpliSafe system also lacks support for third-party devices, and its mobile app could use a makeover, but it offers a (paid) monitoring service and is very easy to install.
If you don’t want to go the DIY route, the Vivint Sky is an excellent alternative. This soup-to-nuts system has door and window sensors, door locks, glass break detectors, indoor and outdoor cameras, light switches, motion and water detectors, smoke/CO alarms, thermostats, a video doorbell, and more. It’s a multi-protocol system that communicates with RF, Wi-Fi, and Z-Wave wireless components, and offers complete 24/7 monitoring with direct alerts to your local police and fire departments. It features a well-designed mobile app and a 7-inch control panel that lets you communicate with a live representative when an alarm is triggered. You can also use it to view live video from the doorbell camera before opening the door. It requires professional installation and certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s a comprehensive home security system that doubles as a home automation system.
If you live in a small apartment and want to keep tabs on your place when you’re not home, a surveillance camera like the Canary All-In-One Home Security Device$175.00 at Amazon or the iControl Networks Piper will get the job done. These cameras have built-in sensors that track motion, along with humidity and temperature levels. They will send push notifications when motion is detected, and when humidity and temperature thresholds are exceeded. The Canary system also monitors air quality, while the Piper nv is equipped with Z-Wave circuitry that allows it to double as a home automation hub to control things like lights, smart plugs, and water sensors. Both are solid cost-saving alternatives to full-on security systems.