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Ultimate Guide To Smart Home Security Systems

Smart Home Security Guide | Vesternet

Why Use Smart Security for your Home?

Home security and alarm systems have been available for a long time. However, traditional solutions usually focus on a simple alarm system that sounds an alarm when a motion detector or other sensor is triggered. Unfortunately these alarms are mostly ignored unless it really annoys your neighbours!

An alternative is to have the alarm system monitored by a company who then respond to any alarm by visiting the house, checking on any potential issues and alerting you accordingly. This is a good, but very expensive solution since you will usually have to pay a subscription fee for the service and typically will have to pay for a dedicated telephone line for the system to be connected to.

Smart Home Security Systems allow you to secure your home and family as well as bringing with them the benefits of a modern Smart Home. Most can be easily installed, will have little or no wiring and be at an affordable initial cost - you can start with a Smart Home Controller and a single sensor and then expand the system as and when funds become available to do so!

A Smart Home Security System will also have negligible running costs on an ongoing basis since they are usually Internet connected and don't require any external monitoring service.

This guide will discuss some of the key benefits of Smart Home Security along with various ideas to inspire you. It will also offer some guidance on how to begin your Smart Home Security journey!

What Can Smart Home Security Do For You?

You might think that it's not worth updating your existing security system to be Smart, perhaps you're happy with the current setup - after all, it's working fine and doing the job that it is supposed to do. That's completely understandable, but knowing what areas a Smart Home Security System can cover and how they work might just change your mind!

Broadly speaking, how you use Home Automation for your security can be broken down into the following areas - Security & Safetey and Comfort & Convenience.

With that in mind, let's answer few simple questions up front and, if we've peaked your interest, you can read on to find out more information.

How Difficult Is It To Install a Smart Security System?

This really depends on a number of factors, but the great thing about Smart Home SEcurity (and indeed any "Smart" technology) is that you can start simple and progress from there. For example, installing a Smart Door Sensor takes just a couple of minutes as all you have to do is insert the batteries and stick the sensor parts to the door or window - but that easy to make change can begin your journey.

Can I Control My Smart Security System From My Phone?

Nearly all Smart Home Security Systems will offer Apps for your smart phone, smart tablet or even PC. A few taps on the screen is all it takes to make changes to your security - for example enabling and disabling security "Zones" to suit which parts of your home are occupied or not.

I'm Always Forgetting To Set The Alarm, Can A Smart Security System Help?

Absolutely!

Using Home Automation for your Home Security System will allow it to monitor when your house is unoccupied and automatically set the alarm system for you.

You can also use "geo-fencing" whereby your Smart Home System will known when you have returned home so that it can turn off the alarm, open the driveway gates and turn on the outside lighting if it's dark.

Is It Possible For Alexa To Control My Security System?

Any voice assistant such as Alexa, Google, Siri or Cortana can control your Smart Home Security System. So you won't even need to reach for your smart phone, you can simply bark orders at your Smart Speaker or Smart Screen.

With natural language recognition and machine learning, you can even make inferences rather than direct commands. Tell Alexa or Siri that you're going out and they'll automatically start the exit timer ahnd set the alarm after you've left the building.

Even better, they'll be able to remind you if you've left any windows or doors unlocked, left the oven on or failed to turn off the TV. For the ultimate in safety and convenience the Smart Home System can even do all of those things for you - lock doors and windows and turn off appliances...... all from that one single voice command.

Does Making Your Home Smart Add Value?

That's a really good question, especially in the current financial climate as it's difficult to justify spending money.

Based on our experience we'd suggest that adding value to the worth of your home is a secondary benefit as opposed to a primary reason for adding Smart Home Technology.

As long as the additions have a positive impact on things like saving energy, comfort, security and convenience, it should be easy to demonstrate to any potential future purchaser that your house is a better prospect than an equivalent property that doesn't have any Home Automation installed.

Can My Security System Be Completely Automatic?

A Smart Home Security System certainly can! Once configured (usually by following simple to understand concepts such as schedules, scenes, rules, actions or flows), a Smart Home Controller will autonomously manage your security to ensure your home meets your required comfort and convenience levels.

Typically this set-and-forget type of operation will automatically monitor your rooms and even the members of your family, automatically arming and disarming based on who's at home and which rooms are occupied.

What Are The Best Smart Devices To Use For Security?

The best Smart Devices are ones that are matched to your particular circumstances! Every security system is different and every person has different requirements for how their home operates in terms of security, comfort and convenience.

Use our guides to help you choose Smart Home SEcurity devices such as Smart Sirens, Smart Motion Sensors and Smart Door Sensors to suit your specific needs and you'll end up with an efficient and reliable Smart Home Security System.

Can A Smart Home Security System Be Hacked?

As with most technology, nothing is impossible, so anybody that answers this question with a resounding "No" isn't being honest!

Securing your Smart Home is really a case of implementing best practices in order to mitigate any potential issues. Sticking to industry standard and widely recognised technologies such as Z-Wave and Zigbee, using secure passwords, making sure your WiFi and Ethernet network connections are secure, updating software on Smart devices, hubs and gateways to keep them current - all of these things will help to ensure that your Home Automation system remains healthy, stable and secure.

How Do I Set Up A Smart Home Security System?

Setting up a Smart Home Security System is usually very simple. Most people start with the controller (sometimes called a hub, bridge or gateway) and these are typically plug-and-play - you take them out of the box, connect them to power and the Internet and follow the setup wizard to get up and running in no time at all!

After that, adding your first Smart Home device will likely be just as easy. If you're lucky your controller will have step-by-step guides for setting up different device types, but even if it doesn't then the Smart Home device itself will probably have one specific to it.

Most devices will need to be powered on (either by inserting the batteries or connecting to the AC mains) and then put into "pairing" mode, after which they'll appear in your controller ready for use.

Once up and running it's time to set up your Security logic, so start with something simple like turning the device on at a specific schedule, or perhaps in reaction to another device like a door sensor changing from "closed" to "open".

I Already Have Smart Home Lighting, Can I Use It To Make My Home More Secure?

Yes, using Smart Home Lighting can help towards securing your home by doing things such as turning outdoor security lighting on automatically if movement is detected after it gets dark.

More advanced features can be added once some of the basics are covered, for example your Smart Home Controller can use machine learning to understand how the lighting is used in your home and then "replay" those interactions when you are on holiday. This gives the impression that your house is still occuppied even when you are sat on the beach on the other side of the world!

Exploring The Benefits Of Using Home Automation For Security

We already touched on the main areas where a Smart Home Security System can improve your lifestyle, so let's dig deeper into those next.

Security & Safety From A Smart Home Security System

These are clearly the primary focuses of a Smart Home Security System, but it's not all about burglaries and break-ins - the system will also cover things like property damage and trespassing. Additional benefits are safety related things like smoke, carbon monoxide and fire detection. If the system detects any issues it can raise the alarm by sounding sirens and sending text or email alerts so that everything is covered. A Smart Home Security System no longer relies on a simple siren - you can be alerted immediately no matter where you are, even on the beach on the other side of the world!

Smart Home Security means that you can have lighting operate automatically at night or when you're away from home to increase the security of your house. Light up those dark areas if motion is detected and if you're away on holiday, you can have the lights turn on and off at irregular intervals, making it look like your house is still occupied.

Of course, you can also have your lights activated if dangers are detected. Smoke, CO, fire and heat sensors can send an alert to the system which then turns all the lights on allowing you to more easily find your way out of the house.

With the latest multi-colour RGBW LED lighting available in bulbs and strips, you can have your Smart Home Security System change the colour of your lighting depending on the situation - red light spells danger! You can do the same for security alerts such as a door or window being open when it should be closed.

Smart Home Security Systems can also be extended so that you have more control over how your home is accessed, when and by who. Smart Access Control Systems and Smart Wireless Locks give you a much safer way of securing your home's doors, gates and garage access. They allow you to remotely control access and monitor who is coming and going from your home.

Smart Wireless Locks also offer much more flexibility compared to traditional locks. They can all be operated from a smartphone, and can often also incorporate a PIN code keypad or even RFID tags / cards. You can also operate them remotely allowing you to give access to parts of your home, even when you're away - you can even allow access using PIN codes that only work between certain hours on particular days of the week. This is ideal for people that only require temporary access to your home such as cleaners, gardeners or parcel delivery drivers.

Smart Wireless Locks aren't limited to your house, you can also install them on gates, sheds, workshops and anywhere you want to control and monitor access. Since they are usually battery operated they are easy to install as they don't require permanent power supplies.

Ideas for using your Smart Home Security for Security:

  • Create a security alert system to monitor your doors and windows when you're away from home, turning on the lights when a sensor is breached.
  • Trigger outdoor security lighting when motion is detected.
  • Use historic room occupancy and presence data to create a real-life lighting schedule to simulate occupancy when you're on holiday.
  • Flash or change the colour of your lighting when smoke or CO are detected.
  • Use battery powered remote controls, buttons and wall controllers for peace-of-mind personal safety / panic triggers to sound sirens and flash lighting in order to scare off unwanted callers at your front door.
  • Integrate your Smart Home Security System with CCTV cameras and systems to automatically record footage when a sensor is triggered or to send alert notifications containing images of the area of concern.

A Smart Home Security System Brings Comfort & Convenience

As with other aspects of home automation, a Smart Home Security System gives you the peace of mind that your home is secure, as well as providing a more comfortable and intuitive living space for you and your family

The main convenient thing about modern Smart Home Security Systems is that they can be controlled from a smartphone. You can activate it from the phone as you leave, have constant access to the system while you're away, and then deactivate it as you walk up the drive. You're not left wondering if you did actually set the alarm - and when you return there's no mad dash to the keypad to turn it off before the siren goes off!

Additionally, the security aspects also work together with other parts of your Smart Home. If the sensors detect a break-in they can alert you, if they detect smoke, they can also open windows and turn lights on to help people get safely out of the building. The sensors used for security aren't limited to just that aspect, they can also be used all the time for motion activated lighting control and other aspects of Smart Home living.

Ideas for using your Smart Home Security for Comfort & Convenience:

  • Control room lighting automatically based on whether the alarm system is set to Away mode or Home mode.
  • Control your security system based on presence, for example turning it on as you leave home and deactivating it as you arrive home.
  • Turn lights on and off automatically when doors are opened and closed, based on the state of the alarm system - no point in turning lights on to "help" an intruder if they do manage to breach your home's defenses.
  • Use gesture control for the ultimate convenience, swiping to set the system to away mode as you leave and to disarm it when you get back.
  • Make a "Bed Time" Scene that checks every light and ensures those that won't be needed overnight are turned off and then activates the security system into "armed home" mode.
  • Use battery powered remote controls or wall controllers to offer hidden "panic" buttons to trigger the system in the event of a home invasion.

Implementing Smart Home Security

Using a new or existing Smart Home System as the base of your security alarm system has a number of benefits. The main one is that you will have one system can look after your home's security, lighting and heating - you can control everything automatically and from a smartphone, tablet or PC.

This means that if an alarm is triggered the system can also turn lights on, flash outside lights, close blinds etc. You can also share devices more multiple purposes, so for instance the same motion sensor in the lounge will protect your home when you are out (detecting movement), and can also turn lights on automatically when you enter the room. Again, this creates a single integrated system.

That said, one down-side with using a Smart Home System for security is that it is a little more complex to install and set-up as you will likely have to create control Scenes for it to run. Compared to a standalone security system where it's often a simplere fit-and-forget job.

If you're new to Smart Home and just starting out, then follow the steps below to begin your journey. Of course, if you're already a seasoned Smart Home user looking to expand your system to cover Smart Home Security then you may wish to jump ahead to step 3 and dive right in!

1) Getting Started With Smart Home Security

The basic building blocks and components of any Smart Home will be similar. You will have a central "Controller", "Input" devices that tell you what is happening (motion, doors opening, temperature, humidity, light, etc) and "Output" devices that make things happen (turning on a light, switching off a socket, opening a door, etc).

As the name implies, the Controller, sometimes called the hub, gateway or bridge, "controls" your Smart Home. It enables you to add and configure devices and to create and run "logic", sometimes referred to as flows, scenes or moods. These enable the system to do things automatically, such as turn on lights based on motion or raise the heating temperature just before your family arrives home so that your house is nice and warm when they open the front door.

The Controller is connected to your Internet router or modem using WiFi or by an Ethernet cable. This allows you to control the system from a smartphone, tablet or computer and allows remote access even when you're away from home, via the Internet. In order to control the system from your smartphone or tablet you usually install an "App" for that Controller and this gives you control whether you're in the lounge or sitting on a beach on the other side of the world!

Your Controller may focus on one particular technology (for example Z-Wave), or it may have several different technologies built in (for example Z-Wave, Zigbee and WiFi). Choosing a Controller that supports these standards as a starting point is the best course of action for most Smart Homes, but remember to also check for integration possibilities with any proprietary products or systems that you might also plan to use (such as Hive, Tado or Visonic), for example using IFTTT or a Cloud service.

It's also worth noting our advice on "Voice Assistants". These are becoming increasingly popular, with many manufacturers now offering various different models of "Smart Speaker" or "Smart Screen" with their Voice Assistant built in. Many people get taken in by all the hype surrounding these and think that for a Smart Home they only need a Voice Assistant.

While this may be true in a limited set of circumstances (for example to control one or two WiFi Smart Home devices such as sockets or bulbs), you really need a Smart Home Controller for a true Smart Home experience!

For further information on getting started with a Smart Home, the following guides are well worth reading:

2) Technologies Used In Security Home Automation

There are a wide range of Smart Home technologies to choose from and this can be confusing to people new to Home Automation. Fortunately, this is less of a minefield than it used to be as many devices can now work with each other, even if the underlying technologies are different. This means that you don't need to know all the inner workings of particular products - you're able to choose the ones that suit you best.

Z-Wave

Z-Wave is a wireless communication technology that uses reliable, low-power radio waves that easily travel through walls, floors and furniture, meaning you don't have to rip-up carpets and floors to add new wiring.

Features such as two-way communication, status updates and mesh networking combine together to ensure reliability and resiliency in your Smart Home system - no more wondering whether the light in your garage really turned off when you closed the door!

The Z-Wave technology is being improved all the time and recent releases have offered increased range, greateer speed, improved battery life, stronger security and self-healing capabilities to keep the mesh network in optimal condition.

The majority of Z-Wave devices should work within the well-established Smart Home Controllers out-of-the-box - the protocol is designed to be backwards compatibile accross versions and uses standard "Command Classes" to define features and functionality. Sometimes, especially with newly released devices, there may be limited functionality until specific support for a device is added to the Smart Home Controller. This usually occurs quite quickly in the form of regular software updates from the Smart Home Controller manufacturer.

ZigBee

Zigbee is an open standard for a low-cost, low-power, wireless mesh network targeted at the wide development of devices for wireless control and monitoring applications. It's backed by some of the worlds biggest companies, including Philips, Nest, Samsung, Texas, Siemens & Whirlpool.

With Zigbee based devices you get a robust, resilient and self-managing system. Zigbee devices are often much simpler than their Z-Wave counterparts, prefering to focus on specific tasks such as motion sensing or dimming a light, rather than trying to combine lots of different functionality into one device.

Simplicitly therefore makes compatibility much easier with Zigbee. Broadly speaking there are two Zigbee profiles in use - Zigbee Light Link (ZLL) and Zigbee Home Automation (ZHA). Devices within each profile should work together out-of-the-box and, as long as your Zigbee Controller supports a specific profile, devices from that profile should work within it.

There's also an emerging standard called Zigbee 3.0 which merges both the ZLL and ZHA profiles, combining the strengths of each into one new standard. In most cases Zigbee 3.0 devices are backwards compatible with Zigbee Controllers that only support ZLL or ZHA.

WiFi / Ethernet Network

WiFi and Ethernet (wired) Networks have spread widely in the past decade, you can "get connected" almost anywhere nowadays - at home, at work, in libraries, schools, airports, restaurants, hotels and even on-the-move in certain types of public transport.

The ubiquitous nature of WiFi and Ethernet make them an ideal technology for Smart Home devices and many devices are now featuring WiFi and Ethernet connectivity as vendors recognise that they can take advantage of your existing home Network. The chances are that you already have good Network coverage throughout your home using a mixture of WiFi and Ethernet, so it makes sense to use this Network, rather than you having to implement something else.

Broadly speaking, WiFi and Ethernet devices will use vendor specific communication protocols which means that compatibility is determined based on the manufacturer, so products from one manufacturer won't work with products from a different manufacturer.

That said, some WiFi and Ethernet devices also implement "open" communication protocols such as MQTT, so this allows them to work together with devices from a different manufacturer if they also support the MQTT protocol.

Cloud Connected

The Internet has become so tightly woven into our everyday lives that we probably interact with it every few minutes, possibly without even realising!

While it's obvious when you are using services such as FaceBook, Twitter and WhatsApp, many Smart Home devices now use Internet connectivity too - so the next time you adjust your Smart Home Heating Thermostat or check your Doorbell camera, you'll likely be interacting with a "Cloud Service" half way round the world.

Cloud Services allow manufacturers to centralise their infrastructure and tightly control security, features and functionality all in one location. It means that products can be made more affordable for the customer as the device has less to do locally, because the Cloud can carry out some or all of the functionality.

Cloud Connected devices will communicate securely with the manufacturer Cloud Service and when you wish to interact with them via your smartphone, tablet or web browser, you will also communicte securely with the manufacturer Cloud Service. This means that these types of device rely on the Internet for some, or sometimes even all, of their functionality.

Some Cloud Services also allow interaction with each other in a simple fashion using other, third party Cloud Services, such as IFTT, Microsoft Flow or Workflow. These can often help to bring together systems that would otherwise not be able to work with each other at all!

For further information on Smart Home Technologies, we suggest reading the following guides:

3) Considerations In Designing Your Smart Home Security System

Using a Smart Home system as your main security and alarm system makes a lot of sense. You will have a single system that controls your home's lighting, heating blinds etc, as well as protecting it and your family. This makes it easy for everyone to use as you have one interface, but also the two sides of the system can interact - the non-security aspects such as heating can be controlled by the security aspects ("turn off the heating when the alarm is set to Away mode" and the security aspects can be controlled by the non-security aspects ("arm the alarm to Away mode when the geo-fence detects nobody is home").

The Smart Home ecosystem has a huge range of devices available that enable it to be used for all aspects of Home Automation including securing your home as a security and alarm system. This enables you to go beyond what you would expect from a traditional alarm system - you no longer have to rely on a siren, you can receive text or push notifications and you can always check exactly what is happening no matter where you are. And, as it is part of the Home Automation system it can interact with lights to turn them on and off when you are away to give the impression you are at home - the possibilities are endless.

That said, there are still some things to consider or double check before ordering a box of products!

Battery Powered Or Mains Powered Sensors

Battery powered makes for an easier installation, but mains powered means never having to worry about replacing batteries or batteries failing at an inconvenient moment. Also consider that mains powered usually means the device will participate in any repeating / extending of the Z-Wave / Zigbee network.

Can you hear me?

A security system that can't be heard isn't going to be much use in the event of a security alert! While the connected nature of a Smart Home System is great for sending SMS messages, push notifications, TTS and other such alerts, you still can't beat a good, loud siren / sounder!

One Trick Pony

Smart Home Sirens come in all shapes and sizes and aren't limited to the single sound that a traditional alarm system typically uses. Make use of the different sound types to notify of different events. For example a simple "ding dong" when somebody pushes the doorbell button, a "blip" when somebody opens an external door and a full-on klaxon cacophany in response to an intrusion when the Smart Home alarm system is set to away mode.

Ding Dong

As with any other Smart Home project, implementing Smart Home Security can be challenging, especially if you are new to Home Automation. It's therefore worth considering starting out with a simple aspect such as installing a Smart doorbell. You can then expand the system once you've got that setup and working well sending notifications when somebody is at the front door, turning on your outside security light when the doorbell senses motion, etc.

By taking on the simple things to begin with you actually work out many of the kinks in basic terms - if the above works reliably and consistently then you've got a good solid system to add to over time.

Zoned Out

One aspect to think about is that traditional security systems usually think in terms of "Zones" as opposed to the room-centric approach that your Smart Home system might currently use.

A room is pretty obvious and works well for Smart Home control, but might not suit the logic of a security system. For example a Zone could include several rooms and if any sensor (motion, door, pressure, etc) triggers in those rooms then the Zone becomes "active". Or perhaps a Zone includes all door sensors on perimiter / external doors. Maybe you have Zones for upstairs, downstairs, outbuildings, etc.

The point is that thinking in terms of Zones can be useful as it creates logical "containers" for physical things. Base your logic around Zones and the logic never needs to change in the future - added a sensor to your garden gate? Just update the "Gardens" Zone in your Smart Home Controller and no other changes are required.

Access Denied

Smart Locks offer greate convenience for all sorts of reasons covered previouusly, but what happens in the event of a problem with them?

Perhaps the battery dies at an inopportune moment, or the Z-Wave / Zigbee network is having issues making it impossible to unlock your front door! Not great when you're standing in the rain with your hands full of bags of shopping.

Consider Smart Locks that have an external battery hookup, or perhaps ones that can still use a physical key and have the "Smart" features on top.

Watching Me, Watching You

A Smart CCTV System or IP Camera System brings the ultimate in security to your home. Security cameras installed around your home give you a complete view on what's going on. Main entry points and any potentially vulnerable points such as gates, fences and french doors can have their own surveillance cameras to protect them.

You can watch the video and images in real-time on a computer, smartphone or even your TV. Importantly, they can be recorded to a DVR (hard-drive) or even the Cloud - this means you can always look back to see events as they happened. This can be a huge bonus in the unfortunate event of a break-in.

Security cameras and CCTV Systems are vast area within their own rights and aren't something that Vesternet specialise in, but we do have some suggestions on things to look out for when investigating adding them to your Smart Home Security System.

Camera Types

Although there are numerous types of CCTV or IP camera available they can be broadly categorised as Indoor, Outdoor and Doorbell / Intercom. The first two types probably need no explanation - Indoor Cameras are designed to be discrete and used inside the house, Outdoor Cameras are more robust, weather-proof and can be used outside. The Doorbell or Intercom type of camera aren't a CCTV camera in a traditional sense, but they do allow you to view who is at the door. You can see the person on your smartphone or tablet, you can talk to them and some even allow you to operate access to your home by opening locked doors and gates. All of this can be done even if you're not actually at home.

Connection Types

This is an important area to consider as it affects how you will install the cameras around your home and how you can view them. There are three main types of camera connection:

  • Wired IP Cameras - these cameras work directly with your home network (IP network). They are wired back to your Internet Router or other hub using Ethernet cable. This means that you need to plan how you will get cables to the cameras and around your house. As these are IP cameras their images are directly available on your home network and can be easily viewed on PC's, smartphones, tablets and Smart TVs.
  • Wireless IP Cameras - these are very similar to the wired IP cameras, their images can be easily viewed on smartphones as they directly interface with your home (IP) network. But as they're wireless you don't have to lay data cables to them as they simply connect to your WiFi network. However, even though they are wireless you still need to have power available for them. Although battery powered WiFi cameras have become available over the last few years these typically don't record in real-time, they only react to motion events in order to save battery life.
  • BNC Wired CCTV - these are the traditional CCTV systems. They use BNC or Coax cable to connect each cable back to a hub or recording station. These aren't as common in the home automation or smart security world because IP-based systems are much easier to use with smartphones and TVs.
Storage and Recording

Storing images or video is an important part of any CCTV system. It means that you can take a look at what has been happening while you've been away - and can even help in catching people if there has been suspicious activity. The two basic ways to store video are locally in your home using a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) or in the Cloud.

  • Digital Video Recorder (DVR) - this has been the traditional way to record images and video. Most vendor's offer a DVR style hub as part of their range - they are quick and easy to use. The DVR is a good system as once installed you can basically forget about it as it runs itself.
  • Cloud Storage - this typically uses the CCTV vendor's Cloud Servers to store all the information on. This is convenient as you don't need any hardware such as a DVR in your home. However, you need to check how much storage you get for free and what the costs are for additional storage. Some vendors offer 7-days free and then charge for larger amounts of storage time (30-days etc). The other thing to remember is that you need a fast, reliable good Internet connection as the cameras will be streaming video up to the Cloud all the time - if you have many cameras that can be a lot of data!!! This also raises a question of data security - the vendor servers are secure, but do you want all your activities filmed and streamed to the cloud 24/7? So if the system you are considering is Cloud based only, then consider cost, Internet speed and data security.
Home Automation Integration

The last thing to consider is perhaps the most important in terms of your Smart Home Security System - how the CCTV or IP Camera system can interface with a Home Automation system.

  • Total Integration - here your Smart Home Controller is capable of "hosting" the cameras directly, processing and storing the video data locally. This usually requires a Smart Home Controller with significant resources, perhaps a PC based system running software such as HomeSeer.
  • Partial Integration - here your Smart Home Controller can typically take "snapshots" from the security camera for use in Smart Home Security logic, for example to send a notification to your smartphone that includes a picture of the area when a security Zone has been triggered. Sometimes the camera can also offer its own "events" such as motion and AI person / vehicle detection back to the Smart Home Controller too!
  • Display Only - here your Smart Home Controller can usually access the "stream" from your security camera and display it within any web UI or App. This is useful where your CCTV System is pretty much standalone and you just want to be able to view the images alongside your other Smart Home devices.

Safety First

A Smart Home Security System can be extended to also protect your home and family from dangers other than break-in or burglary. Fire, smoke, freezing pipes and leaks are real dangers that can threaten your home or put your family in danger. The system will give you early warning of any issues, it will immediately alert you and raise the alarm. It's well worth adding these extra parts to completely protect your home.

Be sure to check out our Smart Home Emergency guide for further information.

Complexity = Simplicity

The ultimate Smart Home systems practically run themselves, learning as they go, self-repairing when they need to, adjusting features and functionality to suit ongoing environmental changes. Set-and-forget SIMPLE.

BUT, to get to that point, there will have been a whole bunch of often complicated setup and configuration. For example, for a full multi-zoned security system, creating Scenes, logic and control "algorithms" can become complicated very quickly, so you need to plan your system before you start implementing it. You should plan how the Scene logic will actually control the system so that it functions just like a traditional alarm system would do - arming when you're away, part-arming when you're at home, etc.

Most Smart Home Controllers will be able to run this type of control logic, but few of them will be able to do it using their standard Scene editors. Most people use scripting to control more complex multi-zoned security systems. Before going too far, it's worth researching examples of how this is done - so you can decide if it is something you're capable of developing for your own system.

Set It Off

One thing that a traditional Security System has going for it is that it will usually be using tried-and-tested (and often certified) products that operate within known and pre-defined specifications. It might even have been professionally installed and be connected to a monitoring service. You can therefore be reasonably confident that it will do the job that it's been designed to do - protect your home with a minimum of ongoing maintenance required.

Your Smart Home Security System on the other hand will have been designed and implemented by YOU! So we would definitely advise that it's tested thoroughly to ensure that it has the functionality that you require.

It's also worth bearing in mind that any other changes to the system would need to be checked to make sure they don't interfere with the security aspects. That Circadian Lighting algorith you just implemented might be fantastic for your mood lighting requirements but if it's had a knock on negative impact on your system's ability to detect motion in certain areas then that's possibly a bad thing!

Secure Security

Your security is only as secure as the least secure component!

Sounds like a tongue-twister but it's something to think seriously about. While RF protocols such as Z-Wave and Zigbee are secure by design, all that will be rendered useless if somebody can simply shout through the letterbox "Alexa, unlock the door"!

It's worthwhile carrying out a risk assessment, coming up with both obvious and not-so-obvious ways of how you would "attack" your home. Those CCTV IP cameras on the outer walls might be a great addition to your security system, but can somebody simply unplug the Ethernet cable and plug in to their laptop giving them unfettered access to your whole network?

Or perhaps your security system relies on the Internet to send notifications and alerts, with no visual or audible reaction - great unless somebody cuts the phone line providing your Internet access!

What about a power failure? Is your electrical supply on the outside of your home, "proteted" by one of those plastic cupboards with a "lock" that can be opened with a pair of pliers?

Of course, some might say these are extremely unlikely events, since most criminals are opportunistic and more likely to break a window or kick a door in rather than be sat outside with a laptop trying to gain access.

We'd suggest taking a balanced and pragmatic approach by trying to mitigate against these threats as best as possible without feeling that you're living in Fort Knox!

A Wheel is A Wheel

Don't reinvent the wheel! If you already have an existing alarm system in place that works in a standalone fashion then it's worth investigating whether this can be integrated with a Smart Home System. You'll likely not get the same level of functionality as a purely Smart Home based Security System, but you can usually get some basic features working such as being able to react to the status (armed, disarmed, activated, etc) and perhaps be able to trigger the siren.

Reliability & Stability

A traditional security system will have been designed from the ground up to do that job perfectly, reliably, 24/7/365. Will your home-brew Smart Home based security system do the same?

Planning your Z-Wave & Zigbee mesh networks is a good start - make sure that you have enough mains-powered devices to form a good mesh network giving good range and coverage throughout your property. You can have the best Z-Wave sensor in the world monitoring for motion in your garage but it will be pretty useless if it's on the fringe of the Z-Wave network and only intermittently reports its status!

Similarly, think about what happens in a power cut - will your Smart Home Controller be offline? Will your Internet go down? Even if those parts of your system are protected by a battery backup device and will remain up and ready for action, what about those mains-powered Z-Wave & Zigbee devices? If they go down your mesh network goes with it.

While installing a whole-home battery backup or generator system is probably overkill, adding some Z-Wave & Zigbee mains-powered devices that have internal battery backup capability is a simple route to take.

Communication Breakdown

Monitored alarm systems usually have a dedicated telephone line installed so that they can be constantly checked by the alarm monitoring service. Even the telephone line itself is monitored at the remote end, so that if the line is cut the monitoring service can investigate and take action as required.

A Smart Home based Security System will typically use your Internet connection for notification and alerting purposes - sending emails, SMS and push messages when needed via various Cloud Services. It's therefore worth noting that if your Internet connection isn't stable, or is offline or the Cloud Service is experiencing an issue you might not get those alerts!

Knock, Knock

A traditional security alarm system usually uses more sophisticated sensors for detecting intrusions since they often have to pass stringent testing to be certified by insurance companies. This means they are less susceptible to false alerts, for example having "double knock" settings where the device has to trigger multiple times before the system considers there to be an intrusion. With wireless sensors they also typically have protection against "jamming" and sometimes use multiple technologies in one device (for example micro-wave and infra-red).

Smart Home devices aren't usually in the same league - you only have to look at the pricing to realise this, a typical Smart Home "Motion Sensor" is a fraction of the cost of a security alarm system "PIR".

This doesn't mean they are any less effective though, it just means you might have to do a little more work on your logic to match functionality. For example, you could create your logic so that one or more sensors needs to be triggered before the "Zone" is considered compromised. Or perhaps have multiple types of sensor in different positions, for example a ceiling motion sensor and a wall mounted motion sensor - the Zone is only occupied if the second sensor is triggered after the first one.

4) What Parts Make Up A Smart Home Security System?

As mentioned previously, all Smart Home systems will use similar components (also called devices). These enable it to perform different actions, to sense environmental conditions and to react to motion, doors opening, windows closing and all manner of different events in your home.

Each device type has a specific purpose within the system, together they will give you the flexibility to control your home, and keep you informed about what's going on.

For your Smart Home Security project you'll be choosing "Actuators" as the OUTPUTS and "Sensors" / "Remote Controls & Wall Controllers" as the INPUTS to your Smart Home system.

The term "Actuators" sounds fancy, but really it just means something that the system can control! For Security this can be obvious things like locks, sirens, sounders and floodlights, but can also be things like sockets, bulbs, modules or full replacement wall switches & dimmers - perfect for widening the notification capabilities of your Smart Home system.

Smart Home Security Actuators

Actuators are devices that physically make things happen by controlling lights, heating and appliances. There are various types of actuator suitable for Smart Home Security:

Sirens & Doorbells

Sirens & Doorbells are a crucial element to any safety and security monitoring that you wish your Smart Home system to do. While TTS (Text-To-Speech) announcments and notifications to your phone, tablet or watch all play their part, nothing beats the loud blaring of a siren or the flashing of a strobe light to convey the sense of urgency in emergency situations.

Manufacturers of Sirens & Doorbells typically produce them in two formats, those that are simply standalone Siren devices in their own right and those where the siren functionality is available as an independently controllable secondary feature of another device. Choosing the right Siren & Doorbell between manufacturers can be a little difficult as some will offer more advanced capabilities and others will offer simpler functionality, often at a cheaper price.

To help choose Smart Home Sirens & Doorbells be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home Sirens & Doorbells guide.

Lock & Access Controls

Lock & Access Controls can take your Smart Home system to the next level, giving you a much more convenient way of securing your home's doors, gates and garage access. They allow you to remotely control access and monitor who is coming and going from your home.

Manufacturers of Lock & Access Controls produce them in several formats, replacement locks (where the entire lock is swapped for a Smart version), devices to control existing electronic locks, devices to control motorised gates, doors and shutters and finally devices to facilite access such as intercoms and keypads.

Choosing the right Lock & Access Control between manufacturers can be a little difficult as some will offer more advanced capabilities and others will offer simpler functionality, often at a cheaper price.

To help choose Smart Home Lock & Access Controls be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home Lock & Access Controls guide.

Socket Plugs

Sockets are one of the easiest to install "plug-and-play" devices available for your Smart Home. In most cases you literally just have to plug them in! And they can be used to control and monitor pretty much anything you can think of - lamps, appliances (such as dishwashers and washing machines), TVs and other AV equipment ... the list is endless. Combine them with other Smart Home devices like sensors and you can have full control of your home.

Manufacturers of Sockets typically produce them in two formats, those that simply plug in (as mentioned above these really are "plug-and-play") and those that need to be wired into an electrical circuit directly.

Within those formats broadly speaking there are then three types of device - On / Off Sockets, Dimmer Sockets and Range Extenders - all pretty self explanatory in terms of which device to choose for a particular task. Choosing the right Socket between manufacturers can be a little more difficult though as some will offer more advanced capabilities and others will offer simpler functionality, often at a cheaper price.

For your Smart Home Security System, socket plugs can be used to automatically turn off devices when your house is set to "Away" mode after everybody has left for work in the morning.

To help choose Smart Home Sockets be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home Sockets guide.

LED Bulbs

Like Sockets, these are also one of the easiest to install devices and are a quick route to making your lighting Smart! In most cases it's just a case of changing out the existing light bulb and then pairing the new Smart version to your Smart Home Controller.

Manufacturers of Smart Bulbs typically produce them in one of three formats, those that are a single dimmable white colour, those that can have the temperature of the white colour changed between cool and warm (CT) and those that have full colour (RGB / RGBW). Sometimes a Smart Bulb even combines the CT and RGBW functionality into one device!

Coloured LED Smart Bulbs make a great way to alert your family to security threats - red spells danger Will Robinson!

To help choose Smart Home LED Bulbs be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home LED Lighting guide.

LED Strips

These typically come in the same options as LED bulbs, allowing you to colour your world in all sorts of interesting ways! They're not quite as plug-and-play as LED Bulbs thought because they usually need some sort of installation, for example sticking or screwing underneath kitchen cupboard units or around the ceiling in your room.

While most are standalone devices (e.g. a power supply, controller box and LED Strip), some come in Module form, so you can install them at the light fitting to allow local control from a normal light switch.

Coloured LED Strips are great for lighting up emergency exit paths in response to both Security and Emergency threats to your home.

To help choose Smart Home LED Strips be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home LED Lighting guide.

Modules

Modules can be fitted behind a light switch, in the ceiling space, or anywhere that you have access to the lighting circuit wiring. They are incredibly flexible, allowing you to control every aspect of your lighting. And, some Dimmer Modules work in a 2-wire system, making them ideal to fit behind an existing light switch.

Manufacturers of Modules have different types available designed to do specific roles, this gives you the best product for the job, but can make choosing the right Module a little more difficult. You also have the choice between manufacturers to contend with, where some will offer more advanced capabilities and others will offer simpler functionality, often at a cheaper price.

To help choose Smart Home Lighting Modules be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home Lighting Modules guide.

Wall Switches & Dimmers

These aren't quite as flexible as Modules, but can make for a simpler installation as it's pretty much just replacing the existing light switch. They are usually available in one of three main types - Relays, Dimmers and those designed to control Blinds / Shutters (or other motorised appliances). This typically means that choice of device is simpler and you only have to choose between manufacturer.

To help choose Smart Home Lighting Wall Switches & Dimmers be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home Lighting Wall Switches & Dimmers guide.

Smart Home Security Sensors

Your Smart Home security system can make use of Sensors all over the house. Sensors monitor your home and report if they detect motion or doors opening, or specific values of environmental conditions such as light, temperature, humidity, etc.

By being the "eyes and ears" of your Smart Home they can be used to trigger all manner of things in your Smart Home Controller - from turning lights on, to sounding an alarm, to opening / closing blinds... the list is endless. Sensors enable things to happen automatically - which is one of the main goals of "automating" your home, turning it from dumb to Smart!

For Smart Home Security, the following Sensor types are the obvious choices:

Multipurpose, Motion & Light Level / Lux Sensors

Multipurpose Sensors, as the name implies, combine several different Sensors into a single device - saving space and cost. These are the most popular product and usually cover Motion, Temperature and Light Level / Lux as a minimum.

It rarely makes sense to use a single-purpose Motion, Light Level / Lux or Temperatureas it's more cost effective to buy a single device that does them all - it makes sense to use Multipurpose Sensors whereever you can as they can be installed in all areas of your Smart Home allowing flexibility of use in the future.

That said, sometimes a single-purpose device is the best option, for example if aoffers a specific function or feature like being outdoor rated.

Door & Window Sensors

Technically known as "Contact" Sensors, these send an alert to your Smart Home Controller when a door or window is opened. They work by having a magnet close to the main Sensor body and when the magnet is moved too far away (for example by the window opening), the Sensor is triggered.

As with multipurpose Sensors, it can sometimes be best to choose a Door & Window Sensor that incorporates several different features into one device for flexibility (for example a Window Sensor with a temperature function can be used to detect when the sun is shining directly through that window).

To help choose Smart Home Sensors be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home Sensors guide.

Remote Controls & Wall Controllers For Smart Home Security

Remote Controls & Wall Controllers give the convenience of controlling the system from a physical control unit as well as from your smartphone or tablet. They are usually battery powered which means that they can be installed anywhere you choose - on a wall in a convenient location, replacing an existing light switch (where you wish to keep the wiring permanently connected behind it) or just left lying arround as a "mobile" device.

Within the context of Smart Home Security, these types of device can be useful as "panic buttons" in order to initiate an immediate activation of the Security System, perhaps in response to an attempted forced entry when opening the front door.

It's also possible for them to be used as keypad type devices in order to arm or disarm the system - perfect for your bedside table and allowing a quick combination of key presses to set the alarm before you go to sleep.

To help choose Remote Controls & Wall Controllers be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home Remote Controls & Wall Controllers guide.

Getting Help and Advice

Hopefully this guide has helped prepare you with various areas that will allow you to narrow down your choices when it comes to Smart Home Security. If you need any further help or advice, contact Vesternet and we will answer all your questions.