And with the rising popularity of smart assistants, you can even integrate the two together with something as simple as a $50 smart speaker.
Where Do You Start?
Before overwhelming yourself with all of the options, first ask yourself: what do I really need? If you’re renting a top-floor apartment then 24/7 professional monitoring might be overkill – but a smart doorbell and some leak sensors could work a treat.
The key things to consider are the size of your home, what areas need to be secured, and of course, your budget.
That last one’s super important because some systems have ongoing costs for things like cellular backup (good for when the Wi-Fi goes down), as well as installation and monitoring fees, and it can all add up. It’s also worth thinking about what you already own. Do you have a bunch of Alexa gadgets and want a system that will play nicely with that? Good news: you can make that happen.
You should also consider specific devices. Security systems can include cameras, locks, video doorbells, smoke alarms, and various types of sensors. But again, I’d recommend doing this only once you’ve determined what your security needs are.
Diy or Professional?
The biggest change in home security has come about with the rise of DIY systems, but professional systems are very much still thriving: companies like Brinks, ADT, Vivint and even AT&T still sell professional systems. They’ll decorate your home with all the secure tech you could want and ensure it all works as one cohesive whole. They also tend to charge you for installation, along with recurring costs for professional monitoring.
Professional systems are still a good choice for many, but the rise of DIY systems has democratized home security: you can now buy a system off the shelf (or the website) and do all the installation yourself. A lot of that is thanks to these systems reducing the amount of drilling and awkward cabling required for setup.
Simplisafe has made a name as one of the best DIY systems out there, and having used it myself, I can see why. Simplisafe lets you build a custom package, comprised of a hub and whichever sensors and cameras you need, with the option to add smart locks, doorbells and more beyond that. Abode’s system is good too, and similarly lets you add as many accessories as you think you’ll need.
Ring, which Amazon now owns, is another major name in the game with its smart doorbells and cameras, but it also has a central security system you can install yourself – as does Google Nest.
Some of these DIY systems still offer professional installation if you want it, and depending on your home and what you need, I’d recommend considering it if it will bring peace of mind.
My other advice with DIY systems is to look for the starter kits, as these often get the basics right for less than the cost of buying the devices individually. You can then build on more accessories as needed.
Should You Get Professional Monitoring?
If you’re opting for one of the more robust security systems, such as SimpliSafe or Nest, you’ll have the option of adding 24/7 professional monitoring (the traditional systems often make this mandatory). This gives you access to a crack-squad support team who will, for a monthly fee, monitor your alarms and alert the authorities should an alarm sound or anything suspicious arise.
Many systems come with the choice of professional or self-monitoring, the latter being a situation where you and/or your family get a notification or text to tell you an alarm or one of your other sensors has been triggered. Professional monitoring puts your home under adult supervision, usually by a team of trained agents who can contact you in addition to the emergency services should they detect a threat.
Again, whether you need professional monitoring depends on what you’re working with. And some of the plans are flexible. Abode, for example, will let you “switch on” and pay for professional monitoring only in the times you need it.
Let’s Talk Cameras
Any security system worth its salt has some level of video monitoring. Ring, Google Nest, Wyze, and plenty more sell individual smart security cameras that can slip into a setup, with varying specs and prices.
But I think the biggest consideration when it comes to cameras is whether you go for cloud or local storage. Local storage will let you save footage on a memory card, but not all cameras include them, so you may have to buy your own. Cloud storage, which is the more common way it’s done, will let you back up recorded footage on the company’s servers, but this almost always comes with a recurring fee.
This ongoing cost may be more or less dependant on how far back you want the recorded footage to go. The other thing to bear in mind is that you’re relying on the company keeping its servers alive to do that. Personally, while I enjoy the convenience of cloud storage, I like at least knowing I have an offline option. In some cases, you get both.
With cameras, it’s usually a case of getting what you pay for. Yes, there are budget cams out there that promise the world, but in my experience they tend to be less reliable – and I’d be extra cautious about how those companies are handling your data.
Working with the Smart Home
Many of the modern security devices are compatible with smart home platforms like Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit. However, not everything plays nicely; SimpliSafe supports Google Assistant and Alexa, but it’s Abode that gets the homekit functionality.
Smart Home Devices
Having smart home integration means you can do things like view video camera footage through your phone when you’re out of the home, or ask your assistant to arm your security system as you leave the house. Naturally, there are some restrictions here to stop randoms yelling at Alexa through your door to unlock it. That would be pretty dumb.
An interesting trend we’re seeing is some of these smart home platform holders offering their own native security features. Amazon launched something called Alexa Guard, which turns an Echo speaker into a listening device that will alert your phone if it hears breaking glass or a smoke alarm. Apple also recently launched something called HomeKit Secure Video, which lets you upload your camera footage to Apple’s cloud, rather than the cloud of the company who made the camera.
I reckon we’ll only see this trend continue, and it will probably be a good thing for everyone, as home security becomes more accessible and affordable for the masses.