Smart home security systems: a buyer’s guide
How to choose the best option for your home, from bespoke set-ups to off-the-shelf solutions
Installing a home security system used to be an expensive business involving specialist contractors, miles of cabling, ugly sensors and even less attractive CCTV cameras. But with the introduction of smart gadgets such as video doorbells and face-recognition cameras the industry has been transformed.
Nevertheless, there’s a difference between not missing a delivery due to a video doorbell and protecting your home from criminals. According to the Office for National Statistics, burglaries cost the homeowner an average of £3,030, so keeping your property safe has never been more important.
Bespoke home security
Your security needs depend on the size of your home and budget. Few installers would recommend the same system for a mid-terrace house and a rural home with land.
‘A professionally installed system can consist of a few entrance sensors and an alarm, through to something with comprehensive CCTV coverage,’ says Kevin Spencer, head of product management at Yale UK. ‘It’s even possible to have thermal imaging, biometric locks, silent alarms, flood and fire alarms, and perimeter detection.’
You’re less likely to become a victim of burglary if you have a well-fitted alarm system. The first choice to make is between a non-interactive siren-only alarm or a dialler model that contacts someone when triggered. As well as sounding an alarm, diallers can send an alert in different ways. You might message your smartphone, contact a nominated keyholder, or notify a monitoring service, which will visit your home to check for issues.
Monitoring is provided on subscription through companies such as ADT. Its range of products include 24/7 monitoring, police response, smart-style cameras and doorbells. These are set up to adapt to your everyday habits. To avoid false alarms, two indicators inside the house, such as a door sensor and a motion sensor, must both trigger for the police to visit.
Before smart gadgets were available, home security was the preserve of big companies, with brands such as Yale, Veritas and ADT offering turn-key solutions and installation.
These leading brands are still around, along with countless local and national installers, and home-automation specialists that also cover security. Ensure you get the most reliable service by choosing a firm that is National Security Inspectorate (NSI) approved (nsi.org.uk). These companies are qualified to design, install and maintain alarms to professional industry, police and insurer-recognised standards.
Following installation, they will issue you with a certificate of compliance and apply for alarm monitoring, police or keyholding response, if applicable to your choice of system. For a list of NSI-approved security contractors, see nsi.org.uk/company-finder.
Brands such as Nest, Ring, Hive and Arlo offer a range of sensors, high-definition cameras, floodlights and doorbells, as well as intruder, flood and fire alarms. All of these are designed for simple wireless installation and smartphone control.
The gadgets you choose are linked together via a hub, which is connected to your broadband router. When someone opens a window or door, or walks past a sensor, you receive an alert on your mobile. And if they stray into a camera’s field of vision, you’ll receive either a picture or short video clip. Some systems will sound an alarm or contact the emergency services, and many also enable you to talk through the camera.
Most products will connect to voice control speakers such as Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, so you can ask, ‘Hey Google, who’s at the front door?’
Brands such as Ring, Simplisafe and Boundary are on a par with professional systems because they include assisted monitoring service subscriptions.
Automated blinds and smart lighting
Set up home automation gadgets to mimic your family’s movements throughout the day and night. This enhances the protection of plug-in security products.
This is done by linking Wi-Fi-connected, app-controlled lighting from the likes of Lutron, Innr, Hue or Hey, automated blinds and curtains from brands such as Somfy and Crestron, and interactive audio speakers including Alexa and Sonos.
‘As a burglar, which would you prefer – the house with one motion-sensitive spotlight, or the one that looks lived in?’ says Jeroen Dalderop, founder of smart lighting brand Innr.
How much does home security cost?
In 2021, for around £250, you can buy a plug-in/Wi-Fi smart security system with camera, hub, alarm and maybe a door or window sensor. But if you want to secure an entire house you’ll need multiple sensors and cameras. Window/door sensors cost from £30 each, and good cameras from £100. Ensure the products are compatible to avoid the need for multiple smart home apps.
A standard house alarm installation costs from £500 for a siren-only sensor set-up. But depending on your needs you could spend thousands as part of a more extensive custom installation. A monthly monitoring subscription starts from £3-£8 per month, rising to around £25 if you need police responses.