How to Set Up a Smart Home Security System
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Most of us know that installing a home security system is an essential tool when it comes to deterring potential criminals and keeping our properties safe, but while security systems used to require hours of installation time or even dedicated handymen to get the job done, these setups are now an easy project to put off. It seems expensive, time intensive, and annoying to maintain, but recent advances in technology make it a lot easier than it used to be.
According to the Bureau of Justice’s 2018 Criminal Victimization report, there were more than 1.7 million cases of burglary and over 941,000 cases of trespassing reported in that year alone. That’s a rate of 13.8 and 7.3 cases per 1,000 people.
A similar 2018 year-end report from the FBI pegged the total losses from property damage (defined as theft, burglary, and arson) at $16.4 billion. The trend seems to be headed downward, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you’ve been thinking about installing a smart home security system in your home, I’ve broken down the basics of what you need to know, along with equipment recommendations to help you get started.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Home Security System
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right home security system for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
What Makes It Smart? Traditional home security systems required a lengthy setup process that involved stringing wires throughout the inside of your home, chunky, ugly equipment, and relying on thick manuals for support if something went wrong.
Smart security systems streamline the process by connecting wirelessly to the internet, which allows you to monitor footage on your phone or smart-home hub and send it to the police with a couple of taps. If you have a problem, your smart security system will send a notification to your phone and tell you something is wrong, and offer solutions for how to fix it.
Many smart security cameras are battery-powered, and only need to be charged once or twice a year. Unlike those boxy cameras of the past, the newest home security cameras are streamlined and look subtle.
What Components Do You Need? You can build up a smart home security system up over time, but at minimum you’ll need an indoor smart security camera, outdoor smart security camera, home alarm system, and a doorbell camera. Each device can be purchased separately, but they’ll all work together.
Many companies offer home security components, and you have the freedom to mix and match pieces from whichever you’d like, but we recommend sticking with equipment from one company because it’ll be easier to set up and maintain your system.
How Do I Set It Up? This is the part that intimidates people, but setting up a smart home security system is pretty easy. Here are the two basic steps, which should take you under an hour to complete:
1. Pick a location for your cameras, motion sensors, alarm, and keypad. Cameras should be pointed at places that are most vulnerable, like doors or windows.
Motion sensors should be placed in high-risk points of entry, like the front door, back door, basement door, and garage door. Your home alarm and keypad should be in a central location, so they’re easy to access and hear.
2. Download the app associated with your home security system, and add each piece to your digital security system. This will enable you to receive notifications on your phone when your alarm, motion sensors, or cameras are triggered.
That’s it. The time it takes you to set the system up will depend on how many cameras and sensors you’ve picked up. Remember, you can always get more, so it’s fine to start small and work your way up.
What we recommend: I’ve tried a lot of home security systems over the years, but the one I keep recommending to people comes from Ring. The company has all of the pieces you need to create a well-rounded home security system that can be managed through a simple app.
Also, the company is owned by Amazon, which means it’s got a far greater chance of releasing updates to its current gear and new components to add to your system in the future.
Plus, it means Ring’s home security hardware can integrate easily into Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem. For instance, you can arm or disarm its in-home security system using a voice-assistant like Alexa, and monitor footage from its cameras using an Echo Show.
One additional thing to note: Ring’s cameras will alert you when they detect motion, but they won’t save and store video clips without an optional “Ring Protect” plan. To be clear, if you open the Ring app when motion is detected, you can save the video clip to your phone; if you miss the notification, the video won’t be saved or stored anywhere.
Ring Protect plans cost $3 per month or $30 per year for one camera, or $10 a month or $100 per year for an entire Ring home security system (multiple cameras for an in-home monitoring system).
Subscribers can access video clips taken every time any of their cameras detect motion. Clips will be saved in the cloud for 60 days. Cameras will also take periodic snapshots of the area they’re covering throughout the day, so you can keep tabs on your home even when motion hasn’t been detected.
Finally, Ring will provide 24/7 professional monitoring, and dispatch emergency responders when a break-in or security threat is detected.
1. Ring Indoor Security Camera
If you’re just starting to build your smart home security system, and can only get one component, Ring’s Indoor Cam is the best choice.
The camera clocks in at 1.81 x 1.81 x 2.95 inches, which is small enough that you (or a would-be burglar) won’t notice it’s there. It has a 115° horizontal and 60° vertical field of view, and a 1080P lens, so it can monitor a large portion of one room in high definition.
Ring’s Indoor Camera supports live video, so you can check in on your home at any time, and will send you alerts when its motion sensor is tripped. It has night vision to record clear video at night, and a two-way camera, so you can talk to an intruder if you catch them in the act.
Ring Indoor Cam, $59.99, available at Amazon
2. Ring Doorbell
Ring came to prominence because of its video doorbell, and for good reason. It allows you to monitor the most commonly-used entrance and exit of most homes: the front door.
This second-generation Ring Doorbell has many of the same features as Ring’s Indoor cam. It has a 1080P lens, two-way talk system, motion detection, and night vision. It has a 160° horizontal and 90° vertical field of view, which is wide enough that it should be able to keep an eye on your entire front yard.
The Ring Doorbell 2 can be powered by hooking it up to wiring from your existing doorbell, or an internal battery pack. Ring says the battery can last for several months without a charge, but how quickly it drains depends on the temperature, and how often it’s triggered.
One knock against the original Ring Doorbell is that it needed to be fully removed in order to charge the battery. This second-generation has a quick-release battery, which you can easily remove, charge via MicroUSB, and put back. Ring says it should take between five to 10 hours to fully recharge the doorbell depending on whether it’s connected to your computer, or a USB wall plug.
Ring Video Doorbell 2, $169.99, available at Amazon
3. Ring Spotlight Security Camera
Ring’s Spotlight Cam combines the excellent technical features found in its indoor camera and doorbell, and adds a couple of practical deterrents for anyone attempting a break-in.
The Spotlight Cam has a 1080p camera, two-way microphone, motion detection, night vision, and a 140° horizontal and 78° vertical field of view.
As its name suggests, this camera has a spotlight that gets triggered any time motion is detected, so anyone snooping around your house will see that they’ve been caught. It also has a remote-activated siren, which you can trigger from Ring’s app to alert neighbors that someone has tried to break in.
Ring has two versions of the Spotlight Cam: one that needs to be connected to an outlet, and one that runs on a battery. The battery-powered version has a slightly dimmer spotlight (300 lumens instead of 350), and doesn’t support Ring’s “advanced motion detection” feature.
Ring says the Spotlight Cam’s battery should last between six to 12 months per charge, and fully recharge between five to 10 hours.
Ring Spotlight Cam (Wired), $199, available at Amazon
Ring Spotlight Cam (Battery) $199, available at Amazon
4. Ring Home Security System
If you’re concerned about what would happen should a thief successfully break into your home, it might be a good idea to set up an indoor home security system.
Ring has several options available, but I recommend the eight-piece set, which comes with a base station, three contact sensors, two motion detectors, a keypad, and a range extender.
The base station is what connects each of the other pieces in the set to the internet; the contact sensors detect when a door and window has been optioned; the motion detectors sense when there’s movement in the room; the keypad (with a password you set) can arm and disarm the system; and the range extender ensures that the contact sensors and motion detectors stay connected to the base if they’re far away.
If any of the sensors are triggered while the system is armed, a 104 decibel siren built into the base station will activate, alerting everyone in the home that someone has gotten inside. If you have Ring cameras, you can get a live view of the situation without leaving the room you’re in.
This home security system should have enough sensors to cover the first floor of a house, but Ring does have two other options for people with smaller or larger abodes.
Apartment owners may only need the five-piece set, which only comes with one motion detector and one contact sensor. Those in larger homes can opt for the 14-piece set, which includes eight contact sensors, two motion detectors, and an additional keypad. Ring’s base station, range extender, and keypad come with every system. The 14-piece set also comes with a bonus Echo Dot.
Whichever you choose, having an indoor home security system is a great way to protect your place in case of a break in. I’d definitely recommend getting cameras, too, since visual evidence is the best way to help police catch a criminal, and it’s always good to have photos or footage for insurance.
Ring Alarm 8-Piece Home Security System, $239, available at Amazon
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