Not long after Lam Huynh bought his Montrose home, he was heading to the gym and saw a man jump his fence and head to the house.
He confronted the man, who offerend an excuse about thinking that he knew the person who lived there. Huynh didn’t have a home security system then, but the incident — as well as understanding the realities of life in a big city — prompted him to consider otherwise.
Door and motion sensors provide a little peace of mind, as do cameras that keep track of outdoor activity. The software designer works from home, so he’s also interested in knowing when someone’s delivering a package to his front door.
“Thieves are going for houses that are not secured. The easiest path is what burglars go for,” said Huynh, who spent less than $500 on DIY security cameras and pays just a few dollars a month for monitoring. “I’m lucky because I’m on a corner lot and I have a fence and electronic gate. To get to my door you have to climb the fence or get over the gate. That’s one layer of security that helps to deter burglars.”
Cameras: Among cameras, watch for image resolution to improve. For example, the Nest Cam IQ with a 4K video sensor will give you more of a high definition view — rather than true 4K quality — but it will also allow you to zoom in to see what’s in the picture, says Daniel Wroclawski of Consumer Reports.
Footage: When assessing what you get from a camera’s video, don’t forget to find out if footage is captured 24/7 or in 30-second clips. Once you assess that, it’s also important to know how long that footage is stored.
Video storage: When considering the cost of cameras, don’t forget to factor in the cost of video storage, whether it’s on a server or in a cloud. A camera with a memory card may be more affordable, but your access to it will be limited. Paying for server/cloud storage allows you to see it from a smart phone no matter where you are.
Night vision: If you can, compare the quality of night vision in cameras. After all, burglars don’t only work during the daytime. Make sure you can see activity clearly in the dark.
Monitoring zones: Watch for this — literally what is in the frame of your camera’s view — to improve, Wroclawski said. Advances should include the ability to block out the street so you don’t get an alert every time a big car drives by your home. Also, you should be able to highlight areas such as your front door so you have better control over alerts.
Facial recognition: This feature naturally comes with discussions of privacy, but improvements should be able to tell the difference between general motion and an actual person. “In terms of facial recognition, they are identifying and matching faces with the Nest Cam IQ. You can basically teach it faces so you can get an alert that Bobby came home from school and it will recognize that Bobby has come home based on his face. There are privacy concerns about that; it’s a feature you don’t have to use,” Wroclawski said.
If home security systems were once a luxury, improvements in technology and increasing competition in the electronics market have made home security cameras and other devices available to just about anyone. NPD Group data shows that sales of home security devices are skyrocketing.
In the U.S., from May 2017 to May 2018, sales of smart doorbells increased 147 percent and sales of home security system kits increased 190 percent, according to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service. For many homeowners, those DIY systems replace the traditional systems offered by ADT, Vivint or Honeywell that come with lengthy contracts and equipment that largely works only with their monthly service.
You can buy nearly any DIY gadgets online, and they’re available in electronics stores, hardware stores and even wholesale clubs. The popular Ring doorbells range from the basic, entry-level model at $99 to its professional-grade one for $499. Nest cameras cost $199 and up, and kits include hard drives and cameras at a variety of price points. Google “DIY home security system” and you’ll realize quickly that virtually every company that makes consumer electronics products makes something to help keep your home safe.
Experts at Consumer Reports test and rate DIY products that homeowners and renters can install themselves. Advances in camera quality and internet speed have meant an explosion in the home automation/electronics market — and that products improve greatly with every new generation.
Daniel Wroclawski, home staff writer at Consumer Reports, said that they test products like smart doorbells and cameras, and they’re just beginning to test full-home DIY kits.
He singled out Ring doorbells and Nest cameras as top-rated products that perform well, but don’t necessarily excel at any one thing. And, their larger expense can be in ongoing cloud or server costs for storing video, services with monthly or annual fees.
“What we find is that video quality never really meets what the companies claim … but we find that with everybody,” Wroclawski said. “In general, though, you don’t need amazing quality. It’s not like you’re going to play it on your TV. You want to be able to make out ‘who’s that person outside my house?’ or ‘whose dog is in my yard?’ — that sort of thing.”
Wroclawski and others touted smart doorlocks as a good investment and a way to control who gets in your home and when they get in, allowing homeowners to set codes for different people at different times.
For example, if you have a maid who arrives at your home on a regular basis and stays a consistent period of time, you can give that person a code and a time frame for coming and going. You get an alert on your smart phone when the person has entered your home and left.
Your whole home
Maren Harbour, Smart Home Solutions Manager at ConnectOne, a Houston company that has specialized in home security for 30 years, said that home security has evolved to be just one part of whole-home automation, especially in new-home construction, when it’s easier to hardwire everything into your home.
“There’s a lot of DIY stuff you can do on your own, but you can end up with five apps to control your home and no one wants that,” she said.
For example, with ConnectOne, a one-room automation — which might include managing music, TV, lights and window shades from a family room — starts at $600. For home security, four outdoor-rated cameras cost $1,500 with a $99 annual fee for storage and remote access.
DIY kits on the market can replace those services, but leave you monitoring activity yourself, from a laptop, tablet or smart phone. Depending on how tech savvy you are and how much time you have, that may actually be what you really want.
Wroclawski said that Consumer Reports’ study of DIY whole-home security systems so far has only covered price comparisons — not on their reliability or value. For example, Ring Alarm, new to the market last week, is $519 for hardware; with five years of monitoring, the all-in cost is $1,119. Another product, SimplySafe, costs just $470 for hardware, but more expensive monitoring takes the full cost to $1,970. (Their cost comparisons were for devices to monitor a home with two doors and 15 ground-floor windows.)
Those examples lead the consumer testing company to remind buyers to look at all costs of a home security system: hardware, maintenance and ongoing monitoring.
“In general, these systems are a great option. I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t consider (professonally installed and monitored systems), but you’ll have better value out of these DIY systems,” Wroclawski said. “I never want to steer anyone from considering something blindly, but it pays to do your homework.”
Even insurance companies see the value in home security. Firms such as State Farm offer discounts of up to 10 percent on monthly premiums to those with traditional security systems such as ADT or Vivint. Now, State Farm allows a similar discount — 2 percent to 9 percent — for homeowners or renters who use the self-monitored Canary system because it includes a feature that lets a homeowner automatically call for emergency help such as police or firefighters.
“We definitely see it as a way to impact everything from reporting home theft to reacting to fire. Everyone leads busy lives, and we’re out and about more often than ever. To have that resource not only allows for peace of mind, but has also significantly reduced insurance claims,” said Heather Paul, public affairs specialist at State Farm.
She said that State Farm credits home security systems — at least in part — for a decrease in claims from 2011 to 2016. They had 12,440 claims per month nationally in 2011, decreasing annually to just 6,992 a month in 2016.
Paul said that she takes a Canary Flex with her when she travels for work; twice she’s caught hotel employees going through her belongings. “We don’t know what we don’t know, but these systems allow us to take back sense of helplessness that we have. What’s most important is the peace of mind of seeing what’s happening in your residence when you’re not there,” she said.
In new home construction, wiring for smart home features such as security cameras and monitoring is standard, said John Leggett, founder and CEO of On Point Custom Homes.
“There’s nobody not putting one in,” Leggett said. “Most of us are talking wirelessly and no longer do you have to have a land line for monitoring.”
Regardless of equipment quality and reliability, potential problems seem endless. Motion sensors can’t tell the difference between your pet or a burglar. Power outages can render everything at least temporarily useless. Factoring in the outdoors, something as subtle as falling leaves can result in a false alert; a big truck rumbling down the road might also set off a notification of potential trouble when there’s really none.
On the other hand, cameras can capture which cars sit outside your home or can allow you to identify a potential thief if a car that drives past your home repeatedly isn’t owned by a neighbor.
Your own internet service — and router or wifi booster distribution throughout your home — is a factor, too.
“One of the biggest things is going to be network. Most of these items are very network based, where you really need to have a strong wifi network in your home and it needs to be consistent,” Harbour said. “One of the items that everybody likes right now is the Ring doorbell —they’ve even got it at Costco. It’s $250, awesome, great price point and you can self install. Unfortunately, most people don’t have good wifi at their front door, so it can be inconsistent.”
If we’re all just installing our first cameras in and around our homes, Leggett believes wireless infrastructure improvements will soon make us wonder why anyone doesn’t have a camera or two at home.
“The biggest revolution in the next few years will be when 5G becomes available. Most of our phones are on a 4G network; as the number goes up, so does the strength of the signal and ability to access data,” Leggett said of improved internet signals set to start rolling out in 2019.