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Smart home security systems new and old

You’re probably familiar with traditional home security systems, but do you really need a full system from one of the “usual” security companies? Today, the choices in home security for consumers have multiplied, with traditional security companies jumping into the smart home and the new smart home companies jumping into security. And, if you’re more “hands-on”, you can even piece together your own custom home security system and bypass the packaged systems altogether.

Long-term contracts are so 20th century

The usual players like ADT, Brinks, etc are more than happy to come out and install a more traditional security system in your home. And while there might be zero up-front costs, you’ll generally be placed onto a contract with monthly payments that helps pay for the equipment and install, along with providing monitoring of your home by a centralized communications center.

Lately, you’ll find some modern smart home abilities built into these alarm systems so you can check on them via Alexa and Google Assistant, or add popular cameras to the system. Vivint’s somewhat recent jump into the smart home world from previously only selling security systems tends to have good compatibility with smart home products beyond their own devices. Also, their Sky system with built-in AI is quite innovative and can literally build routines and schedules for you based on monitoring your home.

With a system that’s “packaged” from one of the larger companies, you also tend to get built-in power and communications backups in case of local power and internet outages. And there’s the usual benefit of having just one company to call for most equipment problems, and monitoring questions. And while the pieces of their puzzle might work great together, much of the equipment can be proprietary and not transferrable to other security companies. And don’t count on being able to customize your system exactly to your liking.

The Good: Backed by a large company, centralized monitoring, equipment upgrades can be included, one company to call. The Bad: Monthly contracts, you (probably) can’t take it to a different provider, smart home essentials not guaranteed.

The new middle ground

A few smart home companies have recently added or announced home security systems to their lineup, such as the Nest Secure system and the upcoming Ring security system. And then there are the dedicated smart home security companies with their own systems such as SimpliSafe, Canary and Aura, among others. All of these systems present something refreshing: A home security system that you purchase, install yourself, and that doesn’t come with monthly fees (unless you want them.)

The Wink Lookout security system

Monitoring of your home, along with cellular backup, are available with some of these systems, like Nest Secure and SimpliSafe. Fortunately, those options aren’t bundled with contracts. If you’re looking for a very minimal system, Canary has you covered with their “all-in-one” solution which includes a camera, motion sensing and a siren onboard. And relative newcomer to the industry, the system from Aura Home uses only radio waves to detect intruders, and understand when the people who are supposed to be in your home, leave and arrive. Their hub devices plug into outlets around your home and function without cameras or additional sensors.

Rounding out this new “middle section” are players like Scout Alarm and Wink. Scout’s system is customizable to your needs with sensors, a hub, two finish choices, and optional monitoring. Scout’s system may not receive the headlines it did from a few years ago, but still continues to receive positive reviews. Wink’s Lookout security system comes from a recognized name in the smart home world and includes the Wink Hub 2, door/window and motion sensors and a siren / chime device. The inclusion of the hub means that you could start with the Lookout system and then slowly create your perfect smart home, too.

And, for the most part, these systems can report their status to your favorite overly-zealous-to-hear-you voice assistant. One downside to these systems is that you may have different companies to contact if something goes wrong with the equipment / system vs who to call regarding the monitoring service.

The Good: No monthly fees (unless you opt for monitoring), pre-packaged systems or mix and match, you own the system. The Bad: Startup companies may not stick around long-term, monitoring company may not be the same as equipment company.

Mix-and-Match: The DIY Option

All of the security systems that are sold, whether yesterday or today, tend to promise one thing: peace of mind. But it’s more of a perceived peace of mind than anything, right? These security systems are basically supposed to alert us and/or the appropriate authorities when something happens and you’re not at home.

So ask yourself this: Are timely alerts all that you’re looking for? If so, then you could certainly go with the “roll your own” DIY option. It’s definitely a bit more for the hands-on, as you’ll be putting different products together in your home to make an ad-hoc home security system. You can get as fancy or as basic as you like, and the best way is to start small and grow based on your budget and needs.

While my own tiny smart home's “security system” happens to use different technologies and different products—watch the video for details—it happened to come together rather organically over the past few years but I’m still pretty happy with it. What I would recommend to the uninitiated is to stick with one or two smart home technologies / vendors. In general, security camera companies don’t always make sensor products and vice versa for sensor product companies, so you’d wind up with two different vendors. If you use a smart home hub such as SmartThings, Wink or another system, you may be able to bring the various devices together so that you would receive alerts through a single app vs multiple apps. In general, except for HomeKit products, sensors will need to communicate with a smart home hub in order to operate. HomeKit sensors work on Bluetooth, and can talk directly to your iPhone, but you’ll need an Apple TV, Homepod or iPad plugged into power to receive alerts from your sensors while away from your home.

One drawback of the DIY route is usually not having a “built-in” backup solution for power or internet outages. You can remedy part of this by placing any smart home hubs, Wi-Fi router and cable / DSL modem on a battery backup system. And there’s at least one specialized Wi-Fi router that has cellular onboard to take over in case your regular internet connection goes out.

And, it goes without saying for the DIY option that “centralized monitoring” will tend to fall squarely on your shoulders. But, that’s what you were going for, right?

The Good: System is customized to your needs, easy to start small, no monthly fees, gives you that warm and fuzzy “I did it!” feeling The Bad: System may require several apps, hubs and devices from different companies to receive alerts and updates, no “centralized” monitoring, power and internet backups not included.

Recommended companies that make devices for a custom home security system setup:

Smart home cameras:

Door/window and motion sensors:

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