What is home security in the first place, how does it work? This article will answer all this and more. Let’s get started!
What is a home security system?
A home security system is a group of physical electronic components that work together to protect your home. It will often consist of the following items:
- Security cameras: smart surveillance cameras are connected to Wi-Fi, which allows us to remotely view video of our system and receive notifications when our cameras detect motion in their area. Many cameras include infrared or color night vision, cloud or local storage, and two-way audio, allowing us to talk to anyone on the camera. Some cameras also have intelligent platform integration such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
- Motion sensors: these should be placed in the main entrance or in the hallway on the first floor of the house so they can detect motion and alert us when our system is armed. Some motion sensors are not sensitive to pets, so they don’t go off every time our dog walks by.
- Entry sensor: also known as contact sensors, entry sensors consist of two parts: one is mounted on the window or door, and the other is mounted on the frame. These sensors use magnets to detect when one of these entrances is open or closed. If the sensor thinks the entry point is open, it alerts us. We suggest installing entry point sensors on first floor windows or doors. Most are battery operated, and many even have an adhesive backing for easy installation.
- Glass break sensor: sometimes, instead of opening windows the old-fashioned way, intruders simply break them to prevent entry sensors from going off. However, the glass break sensor also detects the sound of breaking glass and alerts us via mobile notification.
- Siren: Sirens exist in home security systems both on their own and as part of other devices, such as a base station (which we’ll talk about below). Units often go off at the same time as other alarms and are designed to scare away intruders or alert our neighbors.
- Keypad: to arm or disarm, security systems usually require a code, which we enter on a keypad attached to the wall or placed on a flat surface.
- Keychain: we have keys to our cars, so why not have them for our security system as well? Keychains allow you to disarm or arm your security system without using a keypad.
- Alarm button: if something goes wrong, an alarm button is an easy and quick way to alert emergency services, whether it’s the police, the hospital or even the fire department. Like key fobs, panic buttons are not particularly installed anywhere, but they are always on hand in case of an emergency. We recommend that everyone keep at least one by their bedside table.
- Base Station: Base stations sync all connected devices to our mobile app so that we can receive the notifications mentioned earlier. It’s like a post office that receives packages and gives them to the right user
- Signs or stickers: many security systems also give out signs or stickers letting the user know that the site is protected. They are installed on gates or windows. Often burglars are not at risk if they see such a warning, so it is a good idea to have these signs.
- Smoke and CO detectors. We recommend installing a smoke and carbon monoxide detector in every home. With this simple sensor, we will be alerted if the air in our home becomes unsafe to breathe.
Safety components vary greatly, including only sensors for some companies and all the same components and more, but for others.
Many systems also come with other services, such as 24-hour professional monitoring or cellular, landline or battery backup, which allow the system to remain on during a power outage.
Security alarms rarely connect directly to emergency dispatch centers. Instead, the alert first goes to the security company’s monitoring center, which determines whether to call the emergency services. Usually, when the monitoring center receives the alert, they call the numbers on file. If that call is answered, the center officer will ask for a “safe word” or password to confirm that the person is not under duress. If the call goes unanswered or the safe word is not reported, the monitoring center will contact the appropriate emergency dispatch center for fire/police/medical assistance.
Specifically, smart home security systems connect all components to a mobile app, allowing the user to control remotely. As smart home ecosystems become more prevalent, they have begun integrating with voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, allowing users to control their system using only their voice. Because we’ve set them up to work only with our voices, hackers can’t disarm our system. To see some examples, check out our list of the best home security devices.
How do home security systems work?
In most home versions, all components are connected to a base station. From there, they connect to a mobile app, which allows us to monitor and control everything remotely. Most use Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or cellular to connect to our phones. Other systems prefer to use a landline phone or a battery in case of a power outage.
When we go out, we turn it on. When we get home, we disarm it by entering the password on the keypad, using a voice command, pressing the key fob, or using our app. When our system is disarmed, none of the sensors are triggered and our camera automatically stops recording. In contrast, our smoke and carbon monoxide sensors remain on whether our security system is on or off.
We use a mobile app to live stream video from our security camera, receive notifications from our sensors, two-way audio communication, and other features.
Unlike a local alarm system, smart home security allows us to see what’s going on at home no matter where we are. A local alarm system simply triggers a siren in our home, which is not very useful.
Professional monitoring and self-monitoring
So what happens if someone triggers our alarm system? Our sensors immediately communicate with our base station, which sends a message to our mobile app. Depending on the system, app, and our phone settings, we get an email notification, a text notification, or an in-app notification. From there, we either broadcast live what’s going on or use the two-way audio of our camera to talk to whoever is in front of the camera. If we notice that there is an intruder, we call the police.
Of course, we’re busy people and can’t always keep up with our security notifications, so many companies offer 24-hour professional monitoring with their systems. If one of our sensors or cameras goes off, the professional monitoring team at the monitoring center is notified. Once convinced of the emergency, they call emergency services for us.
We recommend 24-hour professional monitoring because we understand that no one can deal with the safety of their home every hour and every day. However, if we want to avoid monthly or annual fees, self-monitoring is also a viable option. Many systems now also offer do-it-yourself installations. Systems with self-monitoring and self-installation greatly reduce our costs. Sometimes all we have to pay for with these systems is the hardware.
We highly recommend getting a siren that will go off along with the alarms, built into the base station or a separate unit for anyone who chooses to self-monitor. The siren should have at least 85 decibels, which makes it about as loud as a diesel truck. Remember, the louder the sound, the more likely the neighbors will hear it as well, which is ideal in case of danger.
Pros and cons of a home security system
Now that you understand what a home security system is and how it works, let’s look at the major pros and cons of buying a home security system.
Alarm systems can help expedite the dispatch of law enforcement officers in the event of an emergency.
Of course, the main purpose of a home security system is to let you know if someone is in your home who shouldn’t be, but let me expand on that even further.
Pros of a home security system
- Quick contact with the police: with professional monitoring, we can be sure that the police or other emergency services will be notified when we’re not home.
- Having a system in and of itself can deter burglars: even having a sign and window stickers stating that we have a security system can convince thieves to turn around.
- Simple security alerts: if you often have problems, such as accidentally leaving the front door open or forgetting whether or not we closed the back window, a home security system can help. Entry sensors can remotely show us if our home is safe through smartphone apps. Notifications also inform us if a person or motion is detected, allowing us to check in and make sure our home is okay while we’re gone.
- Possible discount on homeowners insurance: many home insurance companies offer discounts when you buy a security system, putting more money in your pockets.
- Live streaming: live streaming is not just for crime. It’s also a great way to find out what’s going on at home, whether our pets are mischievous or our teenage niece is having “little parties” while we’re out of town. With live streaming, we can always be at home no matter where we are.
Cons of a home security system
- Cost of equipment: home security systems are expensive, averaging around $400. Of course, there are huge differences here, as the most minimal ones include only sensors, while some include 15 or more components.
- Monthly fees: if we add in 24-hour professional monitoring or cellular backups, we usually have to pay monthly fees. They can range from less than $10 to over $60.
- False alarms: from time to time we get false alarms that even cause police intervention. It’s embarrassing and a waste of time.
- Could forget to turn it on: this is more of a personal issue, but some people say they have trouble remembering to turn the security on when they leave the house, which makes the whole system a moot point. Although there are ways to arm an object remotely.