The latest advances in home security don't just make your home safer, they increase its IQ.
Modern next-generation security systems let you monitor your home — break-ins, smoke, comings and goings — using your smartphone, tablet or computer. And your home can talk to you, filling you in on what is happening with specific alerts, photos and video.
And since most newer systems use cellular connections, they are more reliable than older ones that relied on traditional phone line connections. So if you lose electricity and phone service, cellular systems retain power for at least 24 hours, plenty of time to alert you and a security company that there's a problem.
"You are buying peace of mind, that's really what it is, to know that I have a security system that is not going to go down if someone cuts these two wires," says John Sciacca of Custom Theater and Audio, an installer of audio/video, security and automation systems in Murrells Inlet, S.C. "I can check in on the system remotely and if the alarm is tripped I'm going to get notified."
More than 15% of U.S. homes have a home security system that will alert a monitoring firm in case of incidents, according to Parks Associates. The installations, equipment and recurring fees generate as much as $10 billion annually for the U.S. security industry. Home security spending is expected to double over the next decade, the research firm estimates, as nearly three in 10 homes are expected to get systems.
The killer app literally driving installations? All-in-one apps that let you monitor your home using portable devices. "The whole ecosystem that goes with smartphones has really helped it take off," says Tom Kerber, director of research for home controls at Park Associates. Monthly fees run a bit higher than with older systems — $30 on up to $50 or so — but, he says, "you get a lot more capability and functionality."
Until recently, only high-end security systems costing upward of $20,000 were truly "smart," with one system that handled security, video monitoring, motion detection, remote access and security-enhancing home automation features such as programmed lighting.
Now, those aspects are filtering down to more mainstream customers. "The lower- cost systems are moving up the chain and gaining functionally," says Ryan Boder, founder and president of SuretyCAM, a home security and automation firm in Columbus, Ohio.
New, more cost-effective sensors and video cameras operate wirelessly, cutting installation costs. And central control panels deliver real-time data via cellular signals to offsite security monitoring stations. "The actual brain is in the cloud," Boder says.
Competition is driving prices down, too. Traditional players such as ADT, Alarm.com and Honeywell have been joined in the home security marketplace by AT&T,Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, all of which are bundling security with pay TV, broadband and other services. Also getting into the act is home improvement retailer Lowe's, which offers GE and Iris systems that consumers can install on their own.
The typical do-it-yourself installation of a 24-7 monitored system starts at about $300 and includes a $20-$30 monthly service fee. Those who pay a slightly higher monthly fee ($50-$60), could get their system designed and installed by a professional and only have to pay an installation fee of $100 or so.
What you can get:
Security. The basics of a "smart" home security system include a security control panel that will, during an emergency, contact a monitoring company using standard cellular connections from AT&T, Sprint, Verizon or other providers. Systems can incorporate phone lines as a backup and broadband connectivity for video streaming.
Wireless door, window and motion sensors are deployed throughout the house to track activity. They can also be used to alert you when someone opens cabinets, a gun case or basement door. Other family safety-enhancing sensors can be added to monitor for glass breakage (for intruder detection), smoke and fire, carbon monoxide and flooding.
Security add-ons. Motion-triggered video cameras can be used to monitor activity inside and outside the house, letting you check to see that the kids got home from school or if an intruder is inside. These allow you to view real-time video or photos on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Some newer cameras use night vision and will pan and tilt to cover a wide viewing swath.
Home automation. With an "intelligent" home you can also layer on various automation features to increase security and efficiency. Home lighting can be turned on and off and dimmed based on your schedule to deter burglars — and to save on the electricity bill. Other nice touches can include your garage door automatically opening when it senses your Smartphone pull into the driveway.
Programmable door locks can be monitored and activated remotely using you smartphone or computer. Babysitters or dog walkers can be given their own time-sensitive key code to open the front door. Thermostat control can also be linked into most systems, allowing you to easily adjust those when you are away. "Your security system is now becoming a broader home awareness system," says Jay Kenny, vice president of marketing at Alarm.com.
The Vienna, Va.-based home security and automation firm — its system and equipment is installed by 5,000 dealers in the U.S. and Canada — uses cellular-connected security panels. That provides an added level of redundancy beyond standard phone line and broadband connections that many other firms rely on, Kenny says.
Once you've embraced a connected home, you can also create entire lighting and automation scenarios to personalize your system. Sciacca has a "bedtime" setting that locks all the doors, arms the security system, turns on outside lights and dims or turns off inside lights. "I push one button and all that stuff happens," he says. "Automation ties it all together."
The value of a fully connected system often isn't fully realized until a homeowner lives with it for awhile, Boder says.
Should you be thinking of selling your home in the future, it might help seal the deal. "I could definitely see (a system) as something that would help (a) buyer make the decision," Boder says. "It doesn't mean you will get more for your home, but it could help them pull the trigger."
Some considerations for those looking to add a security system to your home:
1) The installation. Do you want to install it yourself or have it professionally installed? There are DIY kits such as the Iris Home Management System (starting at $179 with no monthly fee) from Lowe's that will alert you via smartphone if your alarm is triggered. And some home security and automation firms will sell you equipment if you want to install it on your own. If you are considering a professionally monitored system from major providers such as Alarm.com and ADT, the cost of an installation might be less than you think because your willingness to agree to monthly monitoring fees can subsidize some of the cost of the project.
2) The connection. If you want the redundancy of a system that can send alerts even if landline and electricity are lost, make sure to get a system that uses cellular as its primary form of communication. Some systems continue to use phone lines or broadband connections as the link to a monitoring service.
3) Remote access. Most newer systems provide some type of app-based software that lets you use your security system via smartphone, tablet or computer. You will want to decide if you want to get photos and videos from home when you are away.
4) Home automation. Lighting and thermostat controls can easily be added to many security systems and lighting schemes that turn lights on even when you are way can enhance security. So decide if that – and energy-saving thermostat controls – is something you might want to add as part of your installation.