These days, technology and residential security go hand-in-hand, which means more people are using home monitoring systems to protect their property. Equipment is affordable, easy to use, and many products interact with each other through smart home systems. Additionally, these easily accessible systems can help protect your family and your valuables in multiple ways.
If you're trying to figure out whether you need a monitoring system and what they can do for you and your family, read on. In this guide, I'll explain exactly what this type of setup entails along with its benefits.
About Home Monitoring Systems
One of the things that differentiate home monitoring from a simple alarm system is that it provides multiple functions. Depending on the components you choose, you can do anything from keeping track of your kids' comings and goings to receiving alerts in the event of a fire.
Deterring burglars is one of the main advantages of using home monitoring equipment. While property crime is down more than 20% compared to 2006 (according to FBI statistics), that drop may very well be related to the rise in the use of home surveillance and alarm systems. A decrease in home invasions doesn't mean you should relax your level of vigilance - in fact, it probably means that the presence of recording technology inside our homes is working against the bad guys.
Another way that home monitoring systems are proving useful is in a video surveillance capacity. Home security cameras come in handy for making sure the kids made it home from school safely, and even for catching abusive or thieving childcare workers. Your home video monitoring system may include indoor and/or outdoor cameras or may be built right into an all-in-one security hub like the Piper or Canary.
Video can also be a crucial element in verifying your need for police assistance, either via a professional security company or if you're calling 911 yourself.
Most security cameras available for home use are internet-enabled (or IP cameras) which allow you to live to stream the feed through a mobile app. Some systems alert you in the event of an intruder and save footage in case it's needed to identify the culprits. Video can also be a crucial element in verifying your need for police assistance, either via a professional security company or if you're calling 911 yourself.
Other Types of Home Monitoring
Of course, intruders aren't the only things that can endanger your family and your belongings. There are other home safety issues which can be prevented or damage minimized by using home security monitoring.
- Fire: According to the National Fire Protection Association there were 365,500 home fires across the U.S. in 2015. Many of these fires are preventable with the use of a working smoke detector system. You can monitor your house for fire with either a self-installed system or a professional security company like ADT.
- Carbon Monoxide: CO deaths are a serious concern. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data shows that more than 400 Americans die per year from carbon monoxide poisoning. Modern home monitoring systems are able to detect CO leaks and alert either you or a CMS (central monitoring station), giving you the chance to get out of the house before it's too late.
- Temperature and Humidity: These can be useful features in a monitoring system because they can assist in detecting a fire or moisture problem.
- Air Quality: This isn't a common feature in home monitoring systems, however, it is available in a couple of all-in-ones and even security cameras. Monitoring air quality in your house helps you to ensure a healthy environment for your family.
- Leak Detection: You never know when a plumbing leak might develop while you're at work, or unwanted moisture will creep into the basement in a hard rain. Water sensors allow you to catch the problem immediately, no matter where you are. Professional home security companies and DIY smart home systems are the most common ways to monitor for leaks.
Home Monitoring System Options
If you've spent any time at all perusing the internet in search of the best home security systems, you're aware that it's not exactly a straightforward choice. Now that connected devices are a normal part of everyday life and people are more tech-savvy than ever, property protection is a whole new world.
As you approach the process of devising the best home security and monitoring setup for your family, here are some of the options you'll have:
- Entirely self-installed and self-monitored systems - choose from one single device with multiple functions like a video camera, motion sensor, and alarm siren, or complete coverage including control panel, window and door sensors, and connection with your smart devices. These systems alert you of events through your mobile device.
- Self-installed home monitoring equipment with professional monitoring - this option is designed to save you money on installation, while still offering the benefit of a CMS to handle emergency alerts. You will pay a monthly monitoring fee if you opt for this setup.
- Professional installation and monitoring - this is the most expensive choice and may involve equipment, installation, activation, and monthly fees.
Keep in mind that if you choose a self-monitored system, you will need to evaluate alerts and call 911 yourself if necessary. This means you (or another person on your party list) will need to have access to a mobile device when away from home so that you can receive event information.
Home Monitoring Systems: What to Consider
As you compare home monitoring equipment, factors that will come into play include:
- Cost: You may spend anywhere between $99 and hundreds of dollars on equipment, installation, and monitoring fees. There are setups available in price ranges to fit virtually any budget.
- Connection method: Professionally monitored systems are typically available via a landline phone wire connection or through a cellular network. Most DIY home security systems operate through your internet connection.
- Expandability: You may want to start with a basic setup and eventually add pieces, such as sensors on your upstairs windows or a smart door lock or thermostat. Planning ahead when you choose your initial equipment will make it much easier to enhance your protection later on.
- User-friendliness: Even professional security systems often come with smartphone app controls these days. You may want to be able to arm or disarm your system through an app or have complete control through a website. Make sure the option you choose offers a user-friendly interface.
It's better to take your time and make sure you're getting exactly what you want at a price you can afford than to find out later that you missed out on features you really need or want.
Home Monitoring Systems: Security Cameras
For many people, video monitoring is a key element of keeping their home and family safe. The good news is that home video surveillance equipment is more affordable and higher quality than ever. Still, there are some things to think about that you might not be aware of.
The fact that you need to take legal factors into account may surprise you, but if you're using your home video monitoring system to keep tabs on your nanny or babysitter, you'll have to make sure you're being compliant with the law.
If you're going with a DIY system, you want all of the components to work together seamlessly. Smart home devices are becoming easier to use and more inter-connective with time, however not all cameras work universally with each other at this point. Product information on each system will tell you which ones are compatible.
Lack of compatibility doesn't mean you can't use a security camera in addition to your main monitoring system. It just means you'll have to use separate controls, such as through a smartphone app, to access it.
The fact that you need to take legal factors into account may surprise you, but if you're using your home video monitoring system to keep tabs on your nanny or babysitter, you'll have to make sure you're being compliant with the law. In general, it's legal to record video without prior consent from the involved parties. If your surveillance system has sound, however, you may have to get permission from whoever is being recorded. Check your state's laws to ensure you're on the up and up.
Maybe you want home video monitoring so you can peek in on Fido every so often throughout the day. Or, like many people, perhaps you're more interested in making sure your cell phone alerts you of unexpected activity - like a burglary in progress. While it may seem like security and web cameras are competing head-to-head, features can differ drastically.
Upon researching the various options, I've narrowed down a few things you should make sure to evaluate:
- Resolution - most IP (internet protocol) cameras on the market offer a decent resolution, however, it's a good idea to watch demo videos and read security camera reviews so you can evaluate the quality firsthand.
- Night vision - if you want to pick up activity in the dark, make sure your security camera has night vision. Some come with this feature standard, such as Nest Cam. Others, like the all-in-one Piper, will cost you extra for the NV version.
- Recording capacity - do you want to be able to save hours of footage at a time, or only when an event is triggered? Do you want clips or snapshots delivered to your mobile when motion is detected? Are you willing to pay extra for cloud storage or do you want footage on your own computer or an SD card? Take these things into account when shopping for a home video monitoring system.
These are just some of the most important considerations. For an overview of even more features, plus the best video monitoring system options, see my guide to home security cameras.
The Best Home Monitoring Systems
As I was preparing this breakdown of home monitoring options, one thing became clear very quickly. The best home monitoring system for one family may be totally different than that of another. Regardless of varying needs, however, there are some basic components that make up the best home monitoring systems.
- Door and window sensors.
- Motion detectors (these are different from door and window sensors because they are designed to detect unexpected movement within the home rather than unauthorized entry)
- Fire and CO detection.
- An alarm or siren (this is an effective tool not only to scare off intruders but also to alert neighbors to a break-in).
- A high-quality IP camera with recording capability.
Additional helpful features include:
- Smart device compatibility.
- Temperature and/or humidity sensors.
- Pet-immune sensors.
- Two-way audio.
- Night vision camera function.
The best system for you will depend on how much you're willing or able to spend, how large your property is, and how comprehensive you want your coverage to be.
Home Monitoring Systems Recap
The most important thing you can take away from this guide is that a home monitoring system is highly individual. Monitoring can mean keeping a casual eye on the baby throughout the day, or it can mean an entire arsenal of security equipment covering every possible source of danger.
The beauty of today's technology is that you can define exactly what you want and need, and then make it a reality. It's just like comparing something like, say, the best cell phone plans - you find the combination of features and price that work for you. Except, in this case, you get peace of mind for your efforts.