Home Security 101: From Systems To Components To Lingo Explained

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Burglar cartoonThere are many other elements to home security that you should consider besides installing a security system. Have you considered how to protect your family from items like carbon monoxide and fires? What about securing your home when you leave for vacation? Or how about how you can deter a burglar from targeting your home? These (and more) are all parts of securing your home that we can help you with. We’ve spent countless hours learning about this topic and love sharing our knowledge with others in hopes they can make use of our extensive research.

Home Security: What Do I Need To Know?

Home Security Components & Terminology

Security camera on side of building (caption: Best Burglar Deterrents)When most people hear the words home security, they think of a security system. A home security system is comprised of different sensors and devices to help monitor your home. The equipment mentioned here do different things individually but can also work in tandem to ensure maximum protection. Keep in mind that it’s not just burglars that you want to deter and scare away, but you also want to consider environmental hazards.

  • Cameras – can be installed inside or outside of your home to keep an eye on people coming and going (including recording video when they sense motion).
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors – detects carbon monoxide, an odorless gas that can be very dangerous (if this goes off, go outside and seek fresh air immediately).
  • Control Panels/Hubs/Base Stations – is the brain of a security system. It keeps all of your devices and sensors connected, transmits events to a central monitoring station (for monitored systems), and alerts you of activities and events as they occur.
  • Door & Window Sensors – also known as contact sensors, they attach to windowsills or door frames and activate when opened (they can also be used to monitor pretty much anything that opens or closes, like medicine or liquor cabinets, for example).
  • Door Jammers – a quick and easy way to reinforce entrance doors.
  • Driveway Alarms – notify you when people and/or vehicles enter your property via the driveway.
  • Flood/Water Sensors – detects water leaks when they happen, so you can hopefully take action before the problem gets out of control. We recommend placing these next to your water heater, washing machine, in your basement, and anywhere you think water could be an issue.
  • Freeze Sensors – detects low temperatures to help you know when a thermostat may be broken or if your valuables may be in unsafe conditions. We recommend setting these at 41 degrees, so you have a heads up if temperatures drop before they hit freezing. This lead time could help prevent burst pipes or worse.
  • Garage Door Controllers – allows you to open and close your garage door remotely through the security system’s app.
  • Garage Door Tilt Sensors – these attach directly to your garage door. Since your garage door tilts as it opens, the sensor is designed to recognize and register this “tilting action.” These sensors could technically be used on anything that tilts to register the tilting action, but we can’t think of much in a typical household aside from your garage door. Can you?
  • Glass Break Sensors – a detector that sounds when glass is broken. The sensor uses an audio microphone that detects the frequency of broken glass. The radius of a glass break sensor can vary, but these are commonly placed in the middle of room where it can cover many windows or glass doors.
  • Key Fobs/Keychain Remotes – an alternative to your app, this is a remote control in keyfob format with basic arm, disarm and sometimes additional functions such as panic alarm, light controls and more you can use to control your system within your house. They typically work within a specific range of your control panel and are not meant to function outside your home. Could be a good idea to keep one in your nightstand for quick access in the middle of the night, although you may want to relocate it when you’re gone as the nightstand is a typical point of intrusion during burglaries.
  • Keypads – used to control a security system via a keypad or touchscreen interface. Typically installed near the hub and in an accessible area such as inside your garage or outside your master bedroom. The keypad lets you arm and disarm your system at a minimum, and some go as far as to let you control everything including smart devices, set lighting schedules, etc.
  • Motion Sensors – usually in the corner of a room, or a high traffic area, they activate when they sense motion within a certain range (one motion sensor can cover several windows and eliminate the need for multiple window sensors).
  • Outdoor Security Lights – activates the light when they detect motion within their range.
  • Panic Buttons/Pendants – with the press of a button you can have security or medical help sent to your home immediately. We also review comprehensive medical alert systems if this is something you’d like to learn more about.
  • Sirens – can be used to alert the household or neighborhood of an intruder. Typically your hub/main panel comes with a built-in siren. But if that’s not loud enough or you have a large home, you may want to consider an additional internal or external siren. Note that sirens outside your home, while effective, can be a nuisance to your neighbors, so use with caution.
  • Smart Locks – use Bluetooth and/or WiFi to provide keyless entry.
  • Smart Thermostats – can be used with home automation so you can control your home’s heating and cooling remotely. We have an entire article dedicated to the best smart thermostats if you’re interested in learning more.
  • Smoke Detectors – alert you when the presence of smoke is detected. It’s important to remember other fire safety measures included escape ladders and extinguishers too.

Examples Of Security Equipment

Here is what various components of a security system may look like. They are wireless and usually don’t require any drilling or holes in your wall.

Frontpoint Equipment on white background

Z-Wave & Zigbee

Z-Wave and Zigbee are wireless communication protocols used for home automation equipment. Companies that support these protocols are able to expand their product lines to support many third-party devices, giving you access to more equipment options. The two protocols broadcast at different frequencies and send data at different rates, so they are not equivalent to one another.

IFTTT (If This, Then That)

IFTTT is a way to integrate your devices and apps to work together. All you have to do is sign up for a free account, turn on any Applets you want to use, connect the services needed for the Applets and tell them what you want them to do. For example, you can back up your Instagram photos to Dropbox, have your lights turn on when you enter your home or remind a Slack channel about a meeting.

Smash Proof

“Smash Proof” is a term used to indicate that a panel is not vulnerable to a criminal disabling your alarm capabilities by destroying the brains of your home security system.

What Is Crash & Smash?

“Crash & Smash” is a term used when a burglar gets to the brains of an alarm system and disables it before it can send a signal to your monitoring station alerting them of the break-in. Newer panels have built-in protection mechanisms to prevent this vulnerability. They carry different names, such as “Crash & Smash Protection,” “Smash Proof,” or “Smash Protected.”

In general (check with your security company for specifics), the protection works like this – if a sensor is tripped while your system is armed, a signal is sent to your central monitoring station and your system is put into a special status. This status only clears if a disarm signal is received. In other words, if your panel or hub is smashed, there won’t be a disarm signal sent, and the incident will be treated as an alarm event.

Each Home Is Unique In Its Needs

Keep in mind, every home is unique, so not all homes need the same security setup. For instance, a 4th story condo might not need window sensors since that would require quite the ladder. But they could benefit from a motion sensor. A stand-alone, ranch-style home, meanwhile, could benefit from door and window sensors as well as a driveway alarm.

Why Do I Need A Home Security System?

Person looking outside a windowAccording to the FBI, in 2017, there were 7,694,086 property crimes in the U.S. (that’s just one of the many crime statistics we’ve gathered — you wouldn’t believe some of the others!). While rates vary by geographic area, home intrusions, property damage and burglaries can happen even to the best of us. In addition to general security purposes, there are many other benefits to having a home security system:

  • Find out if there are unwanted animals or intruders in your garage or yard.
  • Know when people are entering and leaving your home.
  • Let people in remotely via access codes (such as the cleaning person or babysitter), or unlock the door for them via your smartphone.
  • Receive alerts when smoke or CO is present in your home (a good way to keep pets safe when you’re not there).

Having a home security system can also help decrease the time it takes for police to arrive at your door. Instead of missing a break-in because you’re sleeping or hiding in a closet without your phone while a stranger ransacks your home, you could have someone else contact the police for you. You’d be surprised to learn what happens when you dial 911 and what the average police response time is.

Security When You’re On Holiday

Flip flops on the beachSelf-monitored home security systems have mobile apps that notify you when something triggers a sensor. This is especially handy when you’re away for vacation or a holiday and can’t check on your home easily. If you receive one of these alerts, you can contact police or a neighbor to check your home for you. In addition to having a home security system installed, we have more advice on keeping your home safe on vacation.

We also have more holiday-specific safety tips to share with you to help ensure you have a safe and happy holiday season. Read our holiday safety tips.

How Do I Pick The Best Home Security System For My Home?

Installing a security system is an excellent way to monitor your home, but how do you choose a company? There are hundreds of home security companies on the market, and it can be time-consuming and overwhelming to sift through them all. We’ve done extensive research, taken our findings and put them into a comprehensive, detailed home security systems guide that can make your decision easier.

Do you have any home security tips to share?

About The Author:

Kimberly received her Bachelor of Arts in multimedia journalism from Simpson College. Her natural curiosity helps her research as she seeks the truth when learning about, comparing and personally testing products and services.

Kimberly has been writing about security and safety since 2013, covering subjects such as home security and automation, identity theft protection, home warranties, medical alert systems and more. In 2018, she had her first child, and that opened up a whole new avenue of security experience with baby gear. She wanted to purchase the safest items for her family.

Security is a passion of hers, and she knows it isn’t a one size fits all category. With every piece she writes, her goal is to help our readers find the best fit for their unique needs.

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

Leave a Reply

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Ron A
I’m a little confused by the different integrations that are possible with home security, specifically home automation devices. Are Z-Wave and Zigbee the only communication protocols available, or are they just the most popular? And how can I find out what’s available in either format – are there listings of all the Z-Wave or Zigbee devices available somewhere?
Ethan Hansen
I didn’t realize cameras were such a deterrent to burglars. My wife and I are in the process of building our new home and we want to make sure it is the pinnacle of safety and security when we leave to visit our grandchildren. Do you know if there are outdoor security cameras that are DIY (i.e. that don’t need expensive hard-wiring)?
Alex Schenker (Admin)
Great question Ethan. Our outdoor camera review covers 3 cameras that can be wirelessly installed.