What many new customers may not realize is that an alarm system not only protects their homes from potential break-ins, but it can do so much more. Smart sensors can alert homeowners from frozen water pipes or flood in the basement, helping prevent expensive property damages. Having a security system can even help you lower your home insurance by preventing these types of catastrophes. The benefits are limitless!
You must first learn about the smart devices that make up a system and how they work. But choosing the right equipment may feel like an overwhelming task; that is if you are not prepared. Understanding the different features and technology offered by the security industry can help you make an informed decision.
In this article, you will learn how a security system can keep you connected to your home, no matter where you are. Of course, depending on each company, the equipment provided will vary. But in general, most security systems come with a basic kit packed with smart sensors and devices designed to guard your home. And from there, you will have the freedom to add other smart features as you see fit. Let’s begin!
What is a home security system?
At the most basic level, a home security system is an ecosystem of high-tech components interworking as a whole to guard your home. Smart sensors and devices activate the alarm when an entry point has been breached.
The sensors will instantly send notifications to the central brain and to your smartphone, warning you of a possibly dangerous situation arising at your property. Smart sensors are a crucial part of any security system because they are the ones who will trigger the alarm. Without sensors, the security system becomes ineffective.
A typical home alarm system will consist of a hub or control panel, motion sensors, entry sensors (door/window), and window decals/yard signs. Some security companies offer environmental sensors (flood, smoke, temperature) and indoor/outdoor cameras as part of their starter kit. Others have them as add-on devices you can buy separately.
Many systems use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology to link up to the control panel/hub and your mobile phone. Others use a regular landline to connect all the equipment. Some companies even offer cellular and battery backup to provide unbroken connectivity during a power outage. Consequently, your security system can always stay on.
Today, security companies provide an extensive collection of smart home devices and sensors for you to pick. You have the flexibility to add more as you see fit, like more entry sensors for your cabinets or smart lights for your back porch. You can even choose to self-monitor your system or sign up for a 24/7 professional monitoring service (depending on the company).
Security system components
Choosing a home security system that is right for you can seem like a vast undertaking, more so for first-time buyers. But with a better understanding of how its components work, the better off you will be.
Home-security.com is here to simplify the selection process and help you realize that choosing an alarm system is not so difficult, after all. It can assist you in finding the best equipment for your lifestyle and prevent you from buying a lot of devices that, in the long run, could be inadequate for your needs.
The bright side: you will never run out of options to choose from. Security companies now offer state-of-the-art equipment and fantastic home automation features tailored to your safety needs and expectations.
Home-security.com created this comprehensive guide on the most used sensors and how they work to help you get a clear picture. Take as long as you need to figure out how much equipment you should buy, and which devices will best fit your security system.
Hub / Base station / Control panel
The base station is the security system’s command center. You will connect all sensors through this reception base, allowing you to control your smart home remotely using a mobile application or a keypad.
The sensors will send their signals when triggered here, pushing the hub to alert the homeowner that something is going on. You can check the activated devices through the applications installed on your smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer.
Some security systems are entirely app dependent, while others use keypads and fobs to activate the alarm. It’s a matter of taste; some customers despise being glued to their mobile phones to manage their alarms, while others relish the experience. Like Abode Home Security, many companies provide customers with the option to add on key fobs or keypads at an extra cost.
Keypads provide a hands-on alternative for managing your security system, besides the smartphone apps. You can arm/disarm the alarm, review all the devices’ condition, and receive notifications when the system status changes. It also links all the components of the security system to the base station.
Many keypads need to be mounted on a wall, with an AC power cable to plug into any regular outlet. A few companies, such as Xfinity Home security, provide wireless devices that are handheld, making it a much more user-friendly experience.
Keypads come with either a number pad to enter an access code or a touchscreen display for easy access. Newer models have two-way voice functions and panic buttons that allow you to communicate with the monitoring center.
You can place the wireless keypads on a tabletop or use adhesives to attach them in critical locations, such as entry doors, a hallway, or your bedroom. It is recommended to have the keypads at hand, so you can access your security system fast during an emergency. Or simply turn off the sirens in case of a false alarm.
Key fobs are tag sensors that can be attached to your key sets or carry freely on your pockets. They provide an automated remote feature to arm and disarm your system without having to use the keypad. Wave the tags over the base station or push a button, and you are ready to go.
They are perfect when you come home from the store, and your arms are full of grocery bags. Instead of running to punch in the access code to avoid setting off the alarm, simply remove your keychain fobs and deactivate it.
The best key fobs have long battery life and are a perfect option if your system doesn’t offer any mobile access. They are small enough to not be inconvenient to carry it on you.
Another option is a unique feature from Scout Home Security: the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) sticker. You can attach it to random objects at home to work as a secret key fob. Paste in on a book or a picture frame by the front door, and you can arm/disarm your system without using the app.
Entry sensors are the cornerstone of any security system. These smart sensors use magnetic field technology and a broader transmitter to send instant alerts when a door or window is opened or closed.
If the magnet shifts more than a couple of inches apart from the sensor, the transmitter will notice its movement. It will send a signal to the base station alerting that someone is entering your property. If the security system is armed, the base station will either sound a door chime or activate the siren, depending on your configuration.
You can install entry sensors on doors and window frames that you want to keep an eye on. They are usually wireless devices with double-sided adhesives (also known as peel-and-stick) for a straightforward installation. Some companies provide screws for a more grounded mounting option.
The contact sensors are battery-powered with a battery lifespan that, on average, lasts up to three years. Like Frontpoint’s door & window sensors, many devices have automatic detection of malfunction and a low battery. The system will let you know when things are not working correctly.
The number of sensors you need will rest upon how many doors and windows you want to monitor. You should set them up primarily on your ground floor, as it is the most accessible entry point into your home.
The devices are preprogrammed for a smooth connection, so you can move them around pretty quickly from one spot to the next. Aside from monitoring your doors and windows, entry sensors can be amazingly effective in different settings. You can place them on drawers, safes, jewelry boxes, or the medicine cabinet.
If you want the sensors to be hidden, companies like Link Interactive offer recessed sensors that sit inside the window or door. They perform the same as any door/window sensor; you just need to drill a hole and installed them inside the frame to keep them out of sight.
Entry sensors come with unique features like the ability to set temporary bypasses on a designated area. Suppose you want to let your dog out in the middle of the night without waking up the entire household. In that case, you can bypass a sensor in a specific zone. And once you close the door again, the sensor will re-arm, and the security system will take no notice.
Some entry sensors have motion-activated LED lights (called path light) that you can enable or disable to illuminate a dark hallway. They can also act as motion detectors, lowering the number of devices needed in certain areas.
Entry sensors come in many different shapes and sizes, varying from one security company to the next. Some are small and incredibly slim, while others are bulkier and more noticeable to the naked eye. But their applications and functionality are basically the same: to protect every door and window in your home.
Garage door sensors
Garage door sensors work exactly like entry sensors, triggering the alarm when the door is opened or closed. Monitoring your garage is extremely important. It is one of the most vulnerable areas inside the perimeter of your home. It is the most commonplace for property theft to happen.
Forgetting to close a garage door could be an open invitation for burglars to walk in and steal all your stuff, or worst. Garages usually have easy access to your home, allowing criminals to step inside and cause property damage or take more valuable objects like computers and appliances.
If the sensor is activated, the system will let you know immediately by sending notifications to your smartphone. You can also check the app to see if the garage door is closed or not. It could be particularly handy if you live in a household where lots of people have access to the garage. One of them might be forgetful about closing doors behind him.
A great alternative for guarding your garage and other outer structures is to install outdoor cameras. Deep Sentinel offers customers a unique and innovative security system made up of outdoor cameras, Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, and 24/7 professional monitoring. The system does not require arming or disarming when you enter or leave your home. It will take some pressure off from constantly checking the app to see if the gate to the backyard or the garage door was adequately closed.
Motion sensors (or motion detectors) are electronic devices engineered to detect and measure movement. It is one of the primary sensors that will spot when someone is in your home or office when they shouldn’t be.
A motion sensor can use one or multiple technologies to detect motion in a pre-determined area. Some devices produce an invisible laser that, when disturbed, triggers the alarm. Other use passive infrared (PIR) sensors that detect body heat. PIR sensors are the most widely used among security companies today.
The more advanced motion sensors can distinguish between people and pets up to a certain weight. These pet immune devices limit the false alarms since you can set them up to ignore a large dog or many small kittens running around your living room.
Some security companies combine motion sensors with sophisticated signal-processing video cameras. They start recording the moment they sense motion. It can save you memory storage since the device will only capture important footage rather than record thousands of hours of useless snapshots.
Motion sensors can hold some cool features like Honeywell’s enhanced deterrent option that recreates different sounds to trick the intruder into believing that someone is home. It can play sounds such as a dog barking, a vacuum cleaner, or party sounds when the motion viewer detects movement.
You can mount the motion sensor on strategic corners for greater room coverage. Some can be placed freestanding on a shelf or adhered to any flat surface with their double-sided tapes. Many detectors are battery-operated, lasting up to three or five years, depending on the model and company.
It is highly recommended to add at least one of these smart sensors to your alarm system. For instance, you can get a PIR motion sensor for the main areas you want to monitor. Then, install an image motion sensor in essential places to capture pictures during alarm events (like above the cash register or the bedroom’s safety deposit box).
Glass break sensors
Glass break sensors are, as the name indicates, devices that detect glass breaking. The sensors have built-in microphones that have adjustable sensitivity. When the device detects the distinctive high-frequency sound of glass breaking, it immediately triggers the alarm.
Sometimes intruders will break through glass windows instead of opening them, thinking that they will avoid triggering entry sensors. Install the glass sensors near a window or in a room with more than three windows.
These sensors are often sold separately but are highly effective. They can scare intruders by sounding the alarm the moment the burglar breaks a window. Many security companies, like Brinks, offer an assortment of smart products like these that you can add to your equipment package for a more robust safety solution.
Installing the best home security system will provide your home and family the protection you seek. But security does not only mean protecting your loved ones from burglaries or vandalism. It also involves guarding them in the best way possible from destructive acts of nature.
Environmental sensors are often added to alarm systems to provide extra protection against fires, toxic gases, floods, and extreme temperature changes. Their job is to alert as soon as possible of the presence of hazardous environmental conditions to minimize risk, danger, and damage.
When the environmental sensors detect one of these situations, they sound the alarm. If you are subscribed to a professional monitoring plan, the system will alert the monitoring center that actions need to be taken immediately.
These sensors are not usually included in many security systems’ starter packages, but you can add them to any monitored or unmonitored ones. You could say that these are one of the sensors insurance companies appreciate the most. Environmental sensors help avoid damage that could turn into a much higher expense, were it not for their fast response.
Listed below are the most used environmental sensors in the market today.
Smoke and fire detectors
Smoke and fire detectors alert the system when your home has reached dangerous temperatures or smoke is detected. You will receive instant notification when the sensors are triggered. The device will also trigger the siren to give you and your family extra time to get up and out of your property.
Some devices are programmed to directly call the fire department, saving you time to get out of danger. Smoke detectors are less likely to trigger false alarms. There are two types of smoke alarms: ionization and photoelectric. Ionization sensors are more responsive to flaming fires, while the photoelectric reacts more to smoldering fires.
For best protection, it is recommended to install a sensor that combines both ionization and photoelectric technology. These sensors are known as dual sensors smoke alarms. Also, pick a smoke alarm that has a recognized testing laboratory label, such as UL. For more information, check out the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) Program that acknowledges private sector organizations that meet construction and general industry electrical standards.
It is essential to have sufficient devices installed throughout your property to maximize protection. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has minimum requirements for each property, depending on its size and age. The norm is that smoke detectors should be installed in every sleeping room, outside sleeping areas, and every level of the house (basement included).
Here are some guidelines on where to place your smoke detector:
- Install a smoke detector inside every bedroom and level of the house, as indicated by the NFPA standards.
- On levels without any bedrooms, set a smoke detector in the common areas like the family room, living room, and near the stairway to the upper levels.
- Given that smoke rises, install your sensors on the ceiling or high on walls.
- Smoke detectors should be installed at least 10 feet away from cooking appliances to reduce false alarms.
- Don’t put your smoke alarms near windows or ducts where drafts might interfere with their functionality.
- Never paint or put stickers on smoke detectors, even if they clash with your home’s décor. It could affect the operation.
- It is best to interconnect all smoke sensors, so when one is activated, they all trigger the sound. Make sure that all devices are compatible, or they may not work.
- It is recommended to replace the batteries once a year. Some devices send notifications to your smartphone when the battery is running low.
DIY smoke detectors have a straightforward installation, with simple screw mounts or peel-and-stick adhesives for smooth placement. Still, if you are not comfortable taking on the task, you can hire a local provider. Some security companies will take care of the job for you, and even offer to monitor your home for a small fee.
Carbon Monoxide (CO)detectors
Even though they may look and sound the same, Carbon Monoxide (CO) and smoke detectors are engineered to sense two distinct hazards. CO is one of the most dangerous gases since it is odorless, tasteless, and unseen by the naked eye. It can be lethal in large doses, which is why it is recommended that every home should have one.
CO detectors will send notifications to the monitoring center and your smartphone app when dangerous levels of CO are in the atmosphere. They usually have built-in sirens that will blare to alert of a possibly harmful situation.
Just like the smoke detectors, CO sensors should be installed outside sleeping areas in your home. You should have at least one on every floor and outside the boiler or furnace room. This way, you will never walk into a property with a CO leak.
The sensors should be placed on a wall about 5 feet above the floor or on the ceiling. Do not install the sensor next to a fireplace or flame-producing appliances. It may interfere with the device’s functionality. They are usually battery-operated and have a low battery notification feature. Still, like smoke detectors, you should check the life battery every year.
It is best to install both devices to protect your family from both smoke and CO risks. Companies like Protect America can provide these sensors and fast response service to possibly hazardous situations.
Other companies have combined smoke/CO detectors. Ring’s First Alert Z-wave Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector integrate both sensors in one smooth device.
Flood and water leak sensors
Flood / Water leak sensors will sound an alarm the moment they come into contact with water. The sensor will send a notification to your smartphone, alerting you of any problem inside your home.
These sensors contain a watertight housing that sends notifications when drip, flood, and temperature change. Some models can distinguish between clean or dirty water, tap water, freshwater, and saltwater. This way, you can assess the situation better by knowing what the source of the leak is.
With early detection, you can act immediately and avoid devastating damage by closing the water supply to your home. Some water leak detectors can even connect with smart water valves to shut off your water at the source, removing its potential damage. It will allow you to quickly call a plumber to come to your aid if you are away.
Place flood/water sensors where flooding could occur, such as:
- Near major plumbing, basements, or the attic to detect roof leaks.
- Alongside washing machines, dryers, water heaters, dishwashers, U-shaped pipes, or any appliance and fixtures that may drip.
- Next to sinks, bathtubs, toilets, or bathroom fixtures that are prone to water leaks.
- In the cabinet under the kitchen sink or old refrigerators (especially if it has an ice-making feature).
Flood and Water sensors are a fantastic option to keep an eye on your home, primarily in areas where natural disasters occur. And don’t forget about your vacation home that you don’t often visit. Explore your security company’s add-on features to cover all your expectations. For example, SimpliSafe offers monitoring plans with additional notifications via SMS, email, and phone calls to alert homeowners in the event of water detection.
A freeze sensor is essentially a climate sensor that can tell when your home’s interior temperature drops below a certain point. Cold temperatures can wreak havoc on a property, altering water pipes to freeze and burst.
A notification will go off when the temperature is nearing the problem, allowing the homeowner to swiftly take action. Suppose you have a professional monitoring plan with a company like Vivint Home Security. In that case, the monitoring center will promptly get in touch with you.
You can access the readings on your home’s temperature using an app and jump into action. If you have a smart thermostat installed, you can increase the temperature in that section of your property, preventing a major disaster.
Installing a freeze sensor in potential danger areas will help homeowners prevent expensive property damage. Place the sensors in areas where low temperatures could cause damage, like near water pipes and basements. Don’t put them near doors or windows where a draft can cause the alarm to trigger.
Many security companies now offer water detectors combined with a freeze sensor, lessening the number of devices you need for your home. You can place them on the floor or near water sources, like sinks and the basement’s water pipes. It can save you lots of money from damage caused by a frozen water pipe bursting and flooding the entire house.
Freeze sensors can make wintertime much more bearable, especially for vacation homes and low maintenance properties. They are also convenient to monitor valuable objects inside climate-controlled rooms, to ensure optimal temperatures around the clock.
Smart thermostats have recently become a popular device among security systems users that want control over the heating and cooling systems in their smart homes. The new sophisticated look and unique features they now hold make many customers switch from the traditional thermostats to the advanced smart ones. And the best part: they help save money on your utility bills!
A smart thermostat is a device that uses temperature to determine if the AC or heating system needs to be on and off. You can input a general temperature setting or schedule desired settings for designated areas, so you stay warm while saving money. You can manage all of it through an app on your smartphone or tablet.
Depending on the model, smart thermostats deliver many different features, like built-in Alexa or geofencing, that can recognize when you arrive home and when you are away. Some thermostats like Nest Learning Thermostat can learn your temperature preferences and schedules to adjust the temperature automatically. You can add Nest temperature sensors to help the thermostat learn which rooms should be the most comfortable in your home.
Many smart thermostats can detect when there is an issue with your ducting or HVAC system. The device can also set a reminder to let you know when it is time to change your filter or perform overall maintenance service.
Smart thermostats can save you money by cooling/heating your home as much or as little as needed. It can provide detailed information about your monthly consumption, running more efficiently while using less energy. You can also synchronize your smart thermostat with smart lighting, lowering the lights when the system is off.
Panic buttons are an easy and fast way to alert emergency services that there is a possibly dangerous situation at home. Also, pressing the panic button will instantly trigger the alarm, prompting the monitoring center to jump into action.
Many base stations have built-in panic buttons that you can program to connect with either the police or medical help. The system may also have two-way communication so you can talk directly with first responders or a monitoring agent.
Some panic buttons can be mounted to the wall for easy access. Other panic buttons are entirely portable that you can keep close at all times. You should keep one at your bedside table to retrieve it quickly, whether the system is armed or disarmed.
One cool feature designed more with business applications in mind is the silent panic button. You can hide the panic button under the cash register or under a desk to activate the security system without sounding the alarm. The responder may be able to listen through the speakers on the base station and decide on a course of action, without letting the intruder know that help is on the way.
Whether you are working inside your store, in a school building, or at home, you can utilize the panic button to your advantage. The ability to provide a fast notification to the property authorities will save valuable minutes during any emergency.
Medical alert pendants
A medical alert pendant can give you peace of mind, knowing that help is only a button-press away. It is an excellent way for elderly family members to keep up with an independent life while staying safe in their own homes.
Medical alert pendants offer a fast way to get help during an emergency by touching the dial button to immediately connect to the response center. They can be useful not only to senior citizens but to family members with medical issues and those who live alone.
Most portable devices have cellular connectivity giving coverage inside and outside the home. Some companies include the connectivity fee along with GPS tracking assistance within the cost of the medical service.
Medical pendants come with numerous practical features like automatic fall detection, removing the user’s need to push the help button. ADT’s Medical Alert & Pendant System comes with long battery life, so the user doesn’t have to charge it every day. It is also water-resistant, can trigger the alarm with a touch of a button, and has a 24/7 professional monitoring service keeping watch over your family member.
You can program medical alert pendants to connect with either the police or medical help. They typically come with a necklace cord, a multi-functional clip, and a wristband for easy carrying.
Sirens are generally included in security systems either on their own or built into other devices, like the base station or keypad. When one of the sensors is triggered, the base station will sound the alarm. It will alert an intruder, and probably the entire neighborhood, that the police are on their way.
Some sirens are weather-resistant, allowing you to install them indoors as well as outdoors. Others are only weatherized, so make sure you set the siren under an eave or mounted on the wall.
If it is not integrated with any other security device, you can install the siren anywhere inside your home. Bear in mind that alarms typically come with a whopping 105 dB of sound-power. So, keep a pair of earplugs close by when testing them (or be ready for when you accidentally trigger the alarm).
Smart lights, switches and plugs
From light bulbs to switches and plugs, smart lighting is the simplest and most affordable way to get into the smart home craze. And with a plethora of new smart lighting products flooding today’s market, you will never run out of options.
With smart lighting, you can control and automate every light bulb and switch in your home or office. Whether its LED bulbs, light strips, plugs, or accessories, you have the freedom to create your own smart lighting system according to your needs.
You can manage your smart lighting system from your smartphone, tablet, or voice-activated commands like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. Smart lights use wireless transmissions like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology to get the job done. Other bulbs may need a hub to relay the signals to a mobile app to control bulbs from further away.
Depending on the brand and type of gadget, you will also schedule automated changes using If This, Then That (IFTTT) recipes. For example, it allows you to set automated vacation-mode settings that can trick trespassers into thinking that someone is home or turn on/off the lights after business hours.
You can install floodlights next to your outdoor camera; when suspicious movement is detected, it will be well lit. Some devices will even let you sync with the smoke detectors, so when the alarm is triggered, customizable zones will be lit for fast evacuation.
Most smart lights are motion sensor activated. You can program them to light up a designated space when you enter the area. For example, some LED lights can be installed directly on to the staircase at home. The lights will illuminate the stairway when the motion sensor is triggered. It will light each step evenly, something that can't be created with overhead lighting.
You can connect smart plugs on almost any electrical appliance, so you never have to wonder if you left the coffee maker on or off again. What’s more, you can set them up on any lamp, so your kids can turn it on and off using voice commands.
Trustworthy brands like Philips Hue, GE, and Wyze offer customers a vast selection of smart bulbs, switches, wall-mounted remotes, and fan controls, among many. Just make sure that each product is compatible with whatever platform you are planning to use. These fantastic gadgets are easy to install, can save you money, not to mention making your friends green with envy of your chic, smart home system.
No security system is complete without a camera to keep watch over your property while you are away. You will access live feeds, record triggered events, and store snapshots for later review.
Combining security cameras with other devices like motion detectors, you can record when an intruder is lurking around the outskirts of your property. The motion detector will trigger the camera, allowing you to see if the person trespassing is a friend or a foe. You can even scare away wildlife terrorizing your livestock through the camera’s speakers.
Installing a smart lock will provide full control over your front door. With cool features like geofencing and unique passcodes, you can unlock your front door without fishing inside your bag for the house keys.
You can read our full article on the benefits of installing a security camera system. It is a detailed guide into how security cameras work and all the benefits of adding these devices to your home security system.
Installing a smart home security system is one of the best ways to protect your home. It will enhance the safety around the ones you love and guard your property at all times.
But choosing the right equipment for you, your home, and your family may seem like a burdensome task. The security industry has drowned the market in numerous high-tech devices and features to pick from. And without the right knowledge on how alarm systems work, you could find yourself buying expensive smart sensors you don’t actually need.
Today, security companies provide an all-encompassing collection of smart home products and features tailored to your security needs. From innovative entry sensors you can install on almost any frame or door to motion detectors with built-in cameras, you can cherry-pick the best match for your lifestyle.
Without a doubt, home automation makes our lives more comfortable, practical, and why not say it, a lot hipper! Having cool gadgets like smart lights that go off on command or disarming your alarm system with the wave of a hand lets you take full advantage of this revolutionary technology.
Security systems add a higher level of protection to any property, delivering a more robust safety solution to your home or business. They use cutting edge technology to bring the most advanced devices and sensors engineered to meet all your expectations. With this article, we hope you grasped a more precise notion of how these fantastic sensors work.
And don’t forget, before buying any smart home products, ask if you can test a device using a demonstration model on an app. Check whether a device works with your current smartphone or tablet. Make sure they are compatible with the rest of the components you already own. Without sensors, security systems are rendered useless. They are the core items that bring alarm systems to life.