Home Security 101: Sensors, Cameras, Smart Home Integration & More

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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 important aspects of securing your home that we can help you with. Our home security experts have spent countless hours researching, calling companies, and personally testing gear to bring you the latest accurate information and data on home security products and services.

Article Overview

Home Security Systems: An All-In-One Solution?

Burglar breaking into house tracking on smart phone app (caption: What’s The Best Home Security System In 2020)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. These days you have the option of piecing a security solution together yourself using various DIY components, but for many, the simpler path is to invest in a home security system. Competition is fierce, which makes pricing competitive and affordable if you choose the right provider.

Our researchers have a combined 65 years of experience evaluating and testing home security systems. You’ll find our top 3 providers for this year, along with four category winners, in our best home security systems article. If you’re interested in a specific company and not seeing them there, head on over to our home security systems reviews, where we review a total of 14 companies.

And if you’re just getting into home security systems and want to learn more about how the systems work, what they’re made up, and what happens behind the scenes, check out our comprehensive home security systems guide.

Lastly, keep in mind that it’s not just burglars that you want to deter (or downright scare away), there are environmental hazards and other home security concerns that we’ll address below.

Keep An Eye On Things With Security Cameras

Indoor Camera
Indoor Camera

Cameras are another layer of protection that can give you additional peace of mind, especially when you’re not home. You can see and interact with unwanted (and invited) guests from your smartphone (or website) and record footage of them to (potentially) use as evidence to help catch intruders.

Security 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). There are all kinds of cameras available now, including night vision, outdoor, WiFi, doorbell, app-based, hidden, CCTV, and more. Learn more in our dedicated security camera guide.

Detect Household Hazards Before They Become A Disaster

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector

Let’s face it, humans aren’t the only thing to worry about when it comes to keeping your home safe. Weather conditions and other accidents are prone to happen, and this equipment can detect when disaster strikes so you can take immediate action. In some cases, automated technologies can even take action for you – with flood sensors, for example, it’s possible to install a shut-off switch that will turn your water off if a leak is detected.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors

These sensors detect carbon monoxide, an odorless gas that can be very dangerous (if this detector goes off, go outside and seek fresh air immediately). Natural gas fireplaces, furnaces, and cars are potential sources of carbon monoxide. Learn more, including how to protect yourself in our carbon monoxide guide.

Flood/Water Sensors

Flood/Water Sensors
Flood/Water Sensor

These sensors detect 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, dishwasher, basement, and anywhere you think water could be an issue. Learn more in our dedicated article covering water leak detectors.

Freeze Sensors

These sensors detect low temperatures to determine 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.

Smoke Detectors 
Smoke Detector

Smoke Detectors

These sensors alert you when the presence of smoke is detected. Our smoke detector article has our expert researchers bringing you everything you need to know. Read our fire safety guide to learn about additional protective options, including escape ladders and fire extinguishers.

Sound The Alarm

In some situations, you need to sound your alarm without waiting for a sensor to go off. This can help the elderly, those with medical conditions that need monitoring, and even those living in remote areas where an audible alert may be necessary.

Panic Buttons
Panic Button

Panic Buttons & Pendants

With the press of a button, you can immediately have security or medical help sent to your home. While panic buttons are included or an option with most home security systems, their functionality tends to be very basic. We review comprehensive medical alert systems that give you more control if you’d like to learn more about it.

Sirens

Alarm sirens can alert your household or neighborhood of an intruder right when the intrusion occurs. Typically your hub/control 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 Home: Live Like A Jetson

As home security enters the Do-It-Yourself age, you’re able to expand your home security system to just about anything you can imagine. Here are some devices/technology that can take your line of defense to the next level.

Security Lights

These outdoor lights include a motion sensor and activate when they detect motion within their range. The classic versions that simply detect motion and turn on have been around for a while, but in our comprehensive security lights guide, we cover new smart versions that offer features such as app integration, video monitoring, alerts, solar power, wireless, weatherproofing, light rotation and more.

Smart Thermostats

Not your typical thermostat – these smart thermostats let you set schedules based on your average day. They can sense when you come and go and control your home’s heating and cooling remotely. They can lower your energy bill (because they’re only active when you need them to be), work together with your smart speaker, and more.

Smart Lock
Smart Lock

Smart Locks

Smart locks like the ones pictured at right use Bluetooth and/or WiFi to provide keyless entry. Not only that, but they can sound an alarm, notify you of activity via smartphone app, enable guest access, integrate with Apple TV, HomeKit, smart doorbells, and cameras such as Nest and Ring and more. Learn all about them in our smart lock guide.

Garage Door Controllers

A classic smart home feature, garage door controllers, allow you to open and close your garage door remotely. Most home security companies offer this feature through their respective smartphone apps.

Smart Home Technology, Protocols & Integrations

Alarm.com

You might have also heard of Alarm.com. It’s a cloud-based, smart home security and automation service available through your home security provider. You cannot receive service from Alarm.com directly. You must subscribe to a home alarm monitoring plan and they use their App to control the system. Learn more about Alarm.com.

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.

Person interacting with smart home devices from phone (caption: Smart Home Protocols)Z-Wave & Zigbee

Z-Wave and Zigbee are wireless communication protocols used for smart home equipment. Companies that support these protocols can 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’re not equivalent to one another.

Are You Prepared If Things Go Dark?

While the latest and greatest integrated and connected technologies are great, what are you going to do when the apocalypse hits? No seriously, thieves are no strangers to finding ways to take connected devices offline so they can do their dirty work. But you can have the upper hand – consider doubling down with some of this old school home security hardware that has stood the test of time.

DIY Home Security: 6 Ways To Secure Your Home Without An Alarm

Door Jammers

Door Jammer
Door Jammer

Deadbolts are a thing of the past. Most intruders can kick down your front door and won’t be deterred even by multiple deadbolts. Door jammers take physics into account and make it nearly impossible for an intruder to enter through your door. Learn all about them in our door jammers guide.

Garage & Shed Security

Garage security includes a variety of specific measures you can take to protect your garage from intruders. Since each garage has a different layout, check out our garage security tips & tools article to see what you can do to provide the best protection. We also have a guide to securing your shed.

Lock Boxes

Intruders are smart enough to know to look for the old “key under the rock” trick. So don’t leave spare keys in obvious locations. It’s basically giving them an invite to break in. If you have the need to let other people in your home while you’re away (like cleaners and dog walkers) it’s best to keep the backup keys in a lockbox with a code. You can also leave the code with neighbors in case they need to get inside in the event of an emergency.

Security Bars

If you live in an urban area or place with higher property crime, you might consider putting up security bars on the windows and doors of your lower-level points of entry. They’re not the most attractive security feature, but they are effective in keeping burglars out (in addition to scaring them away).

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!

About The Author:

Kimberly is our home security expert and has been writing about security and safety since 2013, covering everything from security systems and home automation to identity theft protection, home warranties, medical alert systems, and more. She has personally tested hundreds of system components and interfaced with dozens of home security companies to find out what’s happening behind the scenes. Her work has appeared in many notable brands, including The New York Times' Wirecutter, Reader's Digest, Forbes, People, Woman's World, and Huffington Post.

In 2018, she had her first child, which opened up a whole new avenue of security experience with baby gear. She wanted to purchase the safest items for her family.

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.

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.

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Shaylee Packer
June 8, 2020 9:19 am

I didn’t realize that you could set different unlock codes for different people, so you know how many times they come in or out. We are looking to get a security system in our new home to keep everyone safe. I will have to share these tips with my husband, and see what he thinks.

Zachary Tomlinson
June 2, 2020 10:19 pm

Thanks for helping me learn more about home security! My uncle heard that there were a couple of theft incidents around his area and he’s interested in beefing up his home’s security. I find it amazing to learn that you can now install a security camera to keep watch for suspicious activity and people going in and out of the house. I’ll share this with him so he could contact a security consultant regarding home security services.

Nelson Fogerty
April 23, 2020 11:20 am

It’s good that you point out that a security system can help protect you and your home. I want my home to be as safe as possible for my family, so I’m considering hiring someone to install a security system for me. I’m going to look for a good company in my area that does home security system installation.

David Johnson
August 16, 2019 2:17 pm

That’s really interesting that over seven million property crimes are committed each year in the US. Recently, I moved into a new home in a less than ideal neighborhood. I’ll have to look more into home security system services.

Ron A
August 16, 2019 1:46 pm

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
May 23, 2019 2:55 pm

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)?

(Admin)
Alex Schenker
November 9, 2019 2:38 pm
Reply to  Ethan Hansen

Great question Ethan. Our outdoor camera review covers 3 cameras that can be wirelessly installed.