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Home Security Systems
Although the promise of flying cars has yet to materialize, futurists were at least mostly right when it comes to smart homes. Every electronic device in your home is either “smart” or can be made smart and operated remotely. Thankfully, that extends to home security. The smart home security market is practically bursting at the seams, making it easy for even a tech newcomer to set up a complete smart home security solution in just a few hours.
Still, as easy as it is to get started, there are numerous options to explore and some notable limitations anyone should know about before buying smart home security products.
What does all this upheaval in the industry mean for you? Lower prices and more choice as manufacturers seek to beat the competition. According to a 2019 report from market research firm Mintel, 26 percent of U.S. consumers are interested in owning a smart security system. That’s compared to 29 percent who are interested in owning smart speakers—currently one of the most popular types of smart home products.
Many home security systems now double as smart home hubs, centralizing controls for lights, thermostats, locks, and more within one app on your smartphone.
What is smart home security?
Certain devices under the wider umbrella of smart home technology protect the safety and security of your home and those inside of it.
Smart home security cameras
Smart security cameras are a common go-to for smart home security. These products also come with a multitude of functions, depending on the device, which makes them good standalone options for home security or a good choice to cover multiple security needs housed in one device.
There are two broad types of smart home security cameras: indoor and outdoor. There are multiple camera designs to choose from, to include bullet and dome cameras, and unclassed cameras that don’t fit into a defined category (such as the Wyze Cam pictured just above). You can also choose between wireless IP cameras or wired cameras. Additionally, some cameras may come with solar panels, while others are battery-powered and/or hardwired.
Outdoor security cameras
An outdoor smart security camera is any camera that can work outside of your home. Such cameras can be installed onto the exterior of your home, either through adhesive pads, screws, a magnetic base, or a combination of these. These cameras can also be hardwired, battery-operated, or powered through a solar panel. Most outdoor smart security cameras now use a wireless IP connection, but some offer both wired and wireless connectivity options.
Common outdoor cameras include more traditional bullet or dome cameras, as well as video doorbells such as those sold by Ring and Remo. There are now dozens of outdoor smart home security cameras on the market. Some have unique features, but most incorporate variations of different features you’ll find desirable and necessary for smart security cameras.
Key features to consider when purchasing an indoor security camera include:
- Push notifications
- HD-quality video
- Facial recognition and person alerts
- Works with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa
- Night vision
- Geofencing (less important for indoors, but still an option)
- Continuous recording
- Live video streaming
- Local and cloud storage
- Two-way audio
- Wide-angle lens
- Digital pan and zoom
Key advantages of indoor cameras include:
• Often less expensive than outdoor cameras
• Less likely to experience wireless signal interruption
• Will capture criminal activity before they can be tampered with
Indoor cameras are mostly limited in how much you’re willing to pay. Cheap cameras will come with fewer features or diminished reliability (or both) and may have more features and software limitations, as well.
How much do indoor smart security cameras cost?
Indoor security cameras don’t need to be weatherproofed, which can help to reduce the price by a small amount. Still, you’ll find the price range is similar to outdoor security cameras. Low-cost options such as the $25 Wyze Cam exist. A good number of popular and well-regarded devices sit in the $100-$200 range, as well. At around $150, the Arlo Q is a good example of the upper-bound for widely-tested devices that cost a bit more.
Indoor/outdoor smart security cameras
You may come across some security cameras labeled as “indoor/outdoor”. An indoor/outdoor security camera is one you can use either indoors or outdoors without making any changes to the device, making the class highly versatile.
Indoor/outdoor cameras mostly differ in that they offer various base setups that make them easy to install either indoors or outdoors. However, since they’re all designed to work outdoors, indoor/outdoor cameras are in effect outdoor cameras that can also be installed inside your house with an aesthetic that makes them look less out-of-place inside your home.
How much do wired and wireless IP cameras cost?
There’s no real cost difference between wireless and wired IP cameras. Even cameras that offer both a wired and wireless option can range in price between $20 to several hundred dollars.
Hardwired vs. battery vs. solar-powered cameras
All smart security cameras require a power source. There are three options that exist for this: hardwired (usually via an A/C adapter), battery-powered, and solar-powered. Each has benefits and limitations.
Some hardwired security cameras have the same limitations as IP cameras that require an Ethernet connection. You’ll find they can be placed in fewer locations, and they may require additional setup and some tampering with your walls to get them installed. Once they’re in place, it’s difficult to move them, as you’ll need to go through the time-consuming installation process again.
However, many hardwired cameras also provide WiFi connectivity. This makes some of them more versatile and makes it easier to place them in more unconventional locations, so long as they’re within reach of an outlet or an extension cord.
Many smart home security cameras run off of battery power. Some cameras use replaceable batteries, while others utilize an internal battery that can be recharged. In either case, battery-powered cameras are the most flexible variety as you can place them anywhere. Many will also continue to record motion-activated events to an internal hard drive should the power go out, and can still communicate with your mobile phone via a Bluetooth connection, as well.
Most battery-powered cameras use internal, rechargeable batteries that can last anywhere from 6 to 12 months to a charge. They come with charging cables that allow you to recharge the device indoors. Some devices require changeable batteries. You’ll need to check manufacturer specifications for the type of batteries to be used in those cases. As someone who’s tested home security products for several years, I’ve seen everything from AA to D batteries required.
Considerations for DIY-Installed Security Systems
Professional Monitoring vs. Self-Monitoring
A big factor in your purchase—and the long-term cost of your system—is whether you want professional monitoring. With pro monitoring, a team of trained dispatchers will monitor your system 24/7 and alert the authorities, if necessary.
Self-monitoring means no monthly fees, but it also means that missing a notification on your smartphone can be the difference between being robbed and thwarting a potential burglar.
Many self-monitored systems offer optional professional monitoring, sometimes called on-demand monitoring. With these systems, you can sign up for professional monitoring indefinitely or temporarily, even for just one month.
A few DIY security systems require professional monitoring with a multi-year contract, but they are the minority. Other systems might offer optional multi-year contracts in exchange for lower monthly monitoring fees.
Additional Component Costs
Security system companies like to advertise that their systems start at just $200, $300, or $400. But the reality is that you could easily spend over $1,000 when you factor in the cost of the additional components you might want.
That base price usually only includes a handful of contact and motion sensors. One contact sensor for a DIY system, for example, could cost anywhere from $15 to $50. Depending on the model you choose, a security camera could cost anywhere from $75 to $350.
Other Factors to Keep in Mind as You Shop
What Do You Want to Monitor?
While all home security systems guard against burglary, consider whether you want additional forms of protection. You can set up a security system—using some of the sensors defined above—to alert you to fires, high levels of carbon monoxide, leaks and floods, and extreme temperatures. Some systems offer panic pendants you can wear and activate in the event of personal injury. Keep in mind that if you pay for professional monitoring, some providers might charge higher monthly rates for these additional features.
Smart Home Integrations
Many home security systems now double as smart home hubs, allowing you to automate and control connected locks, lights, thermostats, and more from a single app on your smartphone. And if you have other smart devices, the integrations can add convenience.
For example, some systems will automatically arm and disarm your alarm system when you lock and unlock a smart lock. Others will automate your home’s lighting to make it look like you’re home when you’re not.
Some municipalities require that anyone running their own security system with professional monitoring obtain a permit, so local authorities have a record of all alarm systems in their jurisdictions.
Check with your local police department to see if they require alarm permits and if there’s an associated fee (some are charged at the time you obtain the permit, and some are charged annually). Yonkers, New York, where Consumer Reports’ HQ is based, requires permits but does not charge residents a fee. The City of Dallas, on the other hand, requires its residents to pay an annual fee of $50 for alarm permits.