One of the first decisions you make before building your own Smart Home is balancing security and convenience features. Most of the packages you will come across will emphasize one or the other, even if they offer elements of both.
If you are primarily interested in alerting you to a burglary or disaster such as a fire or a fire you will be happier with a home security system – perhaps with a service that can send first responders on your behalf.
But if you're more interested in the fun and convenience of modern home automation – turn lights on and off, for example with voice commands, or with a sprinkler system that works in harmony with local weather ̵
We've created two stories that will help you understand the basics of any type of system so you can decide which one is right for you. This focuses on smart home systems. If you are more interested in a home security system, we recommend that you read this other story.
The Basics of a Home Security System
The home security business has in recent years been characterized by the availability of always-available broadband services, low-cost wireless technology and – last but not least – smart home technology. In recent years, a service provider would send a technician to your home to install a large metal box in your closet, connect it to your landline, and install wired sensors on all your doors and windows. You would have to conclude an expensive long-term contract for professional monitoring, without which the system would be useless.
You can still buy professionally installed systems – from providers like ADT, Vivint or even Comcast – with monitoring included in the price of the package. But a home improvement can buy devices that are just as good, if not always so flashy, and have them ready in an hour or two. Many of these systems allow professional monitor monitoring, but if you want to save even more money, you can use some providers to monitor your own safety with a smartphone app for free.
For some locations, you need to approve one before you install an alarm system, and they might charge you a fee if their first responders are dispatched due to a false alarm. The vendor with whom you wish to do business should be able to tell you if such a permit is required in your place of residence.
Home Security Systems Kits
Most security systems are sold as kits, ensuring that all components work together. What comes in a safety starter kit? This will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the typical kit includes:
- A hub that connects to your router, either wirelessly or with an Ethernet cable. These are the "brains" of the system. There will be a siren that will warn you and scare an intruder, and a keyboard to arm the system when you leave the night or retreat, and disarm when you get home or wake up and start your day. In some systems, the alarm, hub, and keyboard are in the same enclosure.
- More advanced hubs include a battery backup and a mobile device, so alerts are sent even if you lose power or your broadband connection is down. However, in most cases you will have to pay a monthly fee.
- Door / Window Sensors: These are small, usually two-piece devices that are attached to your doors and windows with tape or screws. One side of the sensor has a magnet and the other a small piece of steel. Disconnecting the two interrupts the magnetic field between them and sends a signal to the hub to signal that the door or window has been opened. The hub can typically be programmed with a delay that allows you to open a door, go to the keyboard, and disable the system before the alarm is triggered. Window sensors trigger an immediate alarm as no one should enter or exit the house via a window.
- At least one motion sensor that detects movement in its field of view. If you plan to stay in the house, your system will be "home" or "stay", and the hub will ignore motion sensor messages. If you leave the house and "hold" the system, any unexpected movement will put the hub in an alarm state. Most motion sensors have a pet mode that prevents small animals from triggering false alarms.