How to buy the best smart home security system
By Hollie Hennessy
Are smart home security systems the future of burglar alarms? We reveal our verdict and explain how to choose the right system for you
Smart home security systems combine many of the features of a traditional burglar alarm with the ability to monitor, control and interact with your home from an app on your smartphone or tablet.
So is this technology worth investing in? Read on to find out more about the technology and to work out if a smart home security system is for you, or head straight to our smart home security first look reviews.
A smart home security system is a set of internet-connected security gadgets, which typically include a combination of wireless security cameras, sirens, motion detectors, door locks, and sensors that detect when a door or window has been opened.
The specific gadgets bundled together to make a security system vary between the different kits and brands, but most manufacturers offer a range of different kits, plus the option to buy additional compatible gadgets separately.
All smart home security systems are driven by a central internet-connected ‘hub’, which wirelessly connects to and communicates with a smartphone app and the other components of the system.
Using the app on your smartphone or tablet, you can monitor your home by receiving alerts, viewing photos or video footage taken by a security camera and, in some cases, control bits of your home such as lighting, heating or appliances.
More than just security: what else can smart home security systems do?
Many systems offer more than security. Panasonic's KX-HN6012EW Home Monitoring & Control Kit, for example, has a camera that can also function as a baby monitor thanks to its night vision, two-way speaker and preloaded lullabies. Samsung's SmartThings kit, meanwhile, is compatible with a moisture sensor that can alert you to floods or leaks – useful if you're prone to forgetting a running bath.
Depending on the kit you buy, you can also program your devices to respond in certain ways, such as setting a camera to record video or a smart plug to turn on a light when a door is opened.
Monitoring the comings and goings of loved ones and pets is also possible, with small personal tags that attach to a key ring, wallet or collar. Using these, you can be alerted when a person or pet arrives home, or if a vulnerable relative leaves the house unexpectedly or hasn’t moved for a while.
If you're looking for a monitoring system that's geared more towards looking after people rather than home security, it's also worth considering telecare and GPS tracking devices.
We asked a security expert to assess a selection of the latest smart home security systems and recommend what to look for when choosing one.
- Outdoor siren or dummy siren – these help to deter burglars from outside. Reformed criminals have told us that burglars will actively avoid properties they know have alarm systems – either an outdoor siren or a dummy siren, so look for kits that include one, as not all do.
- Long wi-fi range – as smart home hubs use wi-fi to communicate, if you have a large home it’s worth considering a system with a range of 50 metres.
- Battery back-up – smart systems with battery back-up can help give you peace of mind if there’s a power cut or a component gets unplugged.
- Smartphone compatibility – check your smartphone is compatible. Most work with Apple and Android, but fewer support Windows phones.
- Third-party compatibility – some devices only work with gadgets made by the same brand, such as Yale and Honeywell, but others, such as Samsung, work with companies such as Phillips and Amazon, as they all use the Z-Wave system. Check this before you buy.
Think about which components you need when you're picking which system is best for you. Find out more about what's available on our smart home security system components page.
Basic smart home security system kits can be bought for as little as £190, but it's worth bearing in mind that a basic kit is unlikely to be enough to cover your entire home (unless you live in a small flat). The true cost will vary depending on the size of your home, so before you invest it's worth thinking about which extra components you'll need in your property and how much they cost.
A smart home system that relies on motion detectors would cost £500-600 for a two-bedroom house, but the cost will be much greater if you wish to install multiple wireless security cameras or sensors on all of your doors and windows.
Smart home security systems can certainly play a part in home security, but when our security expert looked at five different models in action, he felt that the basic packages offered (by Honeywell, Panasonic, Response, Samsung and Yale) can be too simple to provide decent security for most properties.
If you do invest in a smart home security kit, you’ll need to consider the following.
- Buying extra door, window and motion sensors – this will cover your entire home, but this will push up the price for any property larger than a small flat, so check the price of extras before you buy.
- Prevention is key – only systems that can provide a visible deterrent from the outside of your property are likely to genuinely help you avoid being a victim of crime.
If you want to take other practical steps to improve the security of your home, follow the tips in our guide on home security.
Self-installation is a big selling-point of smart home security systems, but unless you're a security expert it's easy to make a mistake and install an element such as a camera or motion sensor in the wrong place.
When our security expert checked systems installed in a research home, most components were installed where they wouldn’t be most useful.
We think manufacturers should supply better guidance with products to ensure the systems are installed effectively and don’t end up being a waste of space. Ensure you read instructions thoroughly, and also bear the following in mind.
- Wireless security cameras facing windows could mean that intruders end up silhouetted, making identification almost impossible.
- Sirens should be kept out of arm's reach, so they can't be broken and silenced by an intruder.
- Sensors that aren’t carefully placed can be easily evaded. Motion detectors should cover access points and no device should be placed low enough to be stepped on or jumped over.
Both can help keep your home protected. Smart home security systems can be self-installed, which can be a blessing and a curse: the good thing is that you don't have to worry about calling in a tradesperson to install it; the downside is that it's possible to install components where they aren't most useful.
Traditional burglar alarms are manufactured to exacting security standards, and professional installation also eliminates the risk that your high-tech gear will miss an intruder altogether.
Traditional systems aren't without their own downsides though. Systems that are monitored by a third party require subscription payments, or in a bells-only system you may have to rely on your neighbour to alert you if you're not at home when the alarm is sounding. A smart system would send an alert to your phone and let you check what's happening.
If you feel a traditional burglar alarm is best for you, find out which are the best burglar alarm brands.