Imagine using your smartphone to see who’s at your front door while you’re thousands of miles away. Or hearing a unique beep when a door or a pool gate opens. Or having your home’s lights turn off automatically when you leave.
Many of these “smart” home features are possible with security systems. They aren’t just boring, mundane systems limited to arming and disarming an alarm and providing video feeds from surveillance cameras. Connect a security system to your home’s lighting, electronic door locks, thermostats, motion sensors and driveway sensors, and the Internet — and you can start enjoying the benefits of true home control and automation.
Whether your system is programmed by a custom electronics (CE) professional, or you go it alone by using DIY home security systems, a well-planned system can react to the information it receives from connected devices such as motion detectors and window sensors. For example, when the system gets a “tap on the shoulder” from a water sensor in the basement, it can respond by sending you a text message and flashing the kitchen lights. Another text could go out when the electronic door lock is unlatched or a surveillance camera detects motion at the front door.
Here are 10 of the smartest devices to consider adding to your home security system. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s compatible devices list or consult with your CE pro to ensure your security system supports these accessories.
The best thing to happen to surveillance cameras is the Internet. Almost every manufacturer makes an IP (Internet Protocol) model, which lets you view — and often pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) the camera — from any device with a web browser, such as your iPad, smartphone or laptop. If you don’t like what you see on camera, you can pop into the app that came with your security system to alter the security settings remotely. Surveillance cameras come designed either for interior or exterior installation. Consider using both.
Channel Vision manufactures several IP camera models
Smart Light Switches
Lights and lighting control are one of the first things a CE pro will suggest you link to your security system. This way, when the system senses someone in the backyard, it can flash the lights to scare away the intruder. When smoke is detected, the system can activate select lights to illuminate a pathway from the bedrooms to the front door, for example. The classic application is having the lights turn off when you arm the security system and are leaving the house (or having all go off except for a select few to make the home appear occupied). There are countless other ways lights can be integrated.
Simply closing the window drapes and blinds provides most people with an extra sense of security. Many motorized rollers, tracks and rods can be integrated with a home security system, enabling it to close the shades, drapes and blinds automatically when the system is armed or when a timer signals them.
Motorized window treatments like those from Lutron can be tied into security systems
In addition to triggering smart switches to light pathways in response to a smoke alarm, a security system can also tell the smart thermostats to turn off the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems to prevent smoke from spreading. And just as the lights can be set to turn off when the security system is armed, a thermostat can be set back automatically to save you energy and money while the house is unoccupied. (Here’s our review of Nest’s learning thermostat.)
Electronic Door Locks
In addition to being convenient — fewer keys to juggle — an electronic door lock, or smart lock, can report to your security system when someone enters or exits the house, as well as which passcode was used. The security system can send you a text or an email when this happens; it’s a great way to know that the kids arrived home from school safely. These locks can also be installed on interior doors to protect sensitive areas in the house, like wine cellars, home theaters and gun rooms. (Check out our review of Schlage’s Touchscreen Deadbolt.)
Yale Electronic Door Locks
It’s often better — and safer — to know you have visitors before there’s a knock on the front door. A driveway sensor can notify you that a vehicle has entered your property by sounding a chime or ringing the house phone. You can use your surveillance camera to see if you recognize the guest or pretend you’re not home. Like most products that can talk to a security system, hardwired and wireless models are available.
Dakota Alert Driveway Sensor and Alarm
Built with many of the same features as a traditional intercom system, a digital phone system lets you communicate easily with other members of your family. From a handset in the kitchen you can dial the extension of a phone in an in-law’s bedroom to be sure they’re doing alright. The phone extensions can even work as baby monitors. By activating the monitoring feature, you can listen in on a sleeping baby from any other phone in the house. These phones can also tie into a communications station at the front door so you can speak with a visitor before welcoming him or her into your house. They may not tie in directly with a security system, but they’re a great complementary piece. Some security systems have this feature built in, so you can communicate directly from the same keypad you use to arm or disarm the system.
Savant’s Telephony System
Placed by the sump pump, washing machine and beneath sinks, water sensors can signal a security system whenever they detect moisture. You can have the security system notify you by text or email, sounding a chime, or even turning off the water supply. Temperature sensors, freeze sensors and humidity sensors can communicate other potentially harmful environmental conditions to your security system. Read more about water leak sensors here.
We’re not referring to the DVR you use to record your favorite programs. Available for security purposes are DVRs that record images captured by surveillance cameras. You can have the cameras record continuously, which takes up more space on the hard drive, or only when the camera detects motion. If the DVR has a built-in web server, you can view the recordings remotely on your smartphone, computer or other mobile device.
Most security systems come with an alarm that activates in the event of an emergency. In some cases it’s wise to add other noise-making elements or devices to the system. A chime that rings when somebody opens the gate to the swimming pool area provides a great heads-up. You might also add a siren to the backyard to scare away intruders, and another to keep track of your kids by beeping when any exterior door opens.