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How smart home security systems work

Smart home security systems combine traditional burglar alarms with apps used on smartphones, tablets and computers.
Combining alarms with apps allows users to monitor, control and interact with their security systems remotely.
These home security systems have become increasingly 'smart', using the internet to connect hardware devices like cameras, motion detectors and door locks without wires.
Various devices can be bundled together to create off-the-shelf kits, or a professional home security installer can set them up to provide bespoke configurations tailored to the client's exact needs.
Bundled kits will vary between brands, but manufacturers usually offer a basic core system with options to add extra gadgets and increase facilities as and when required.
Whether bundled or bespoke, all smart home security systems are controlled through a central hub that connects the various components wirelessly through the internet.
Once set up and configured, an app downloaded to a smartphone or computer will let you monitor and control your own network. The app will allow you to access security cameras, store and view video footage, receive alerts, etc.
More sophisticated systems have options to control home heating and lighting or to interact with home appliances like fridges or ovens.
The latest modern intelligent systems do even more. Home monitoring kits can include such things as night vision cameras for baby monitoring, moisture sensors in bathrooms, controls for TV, radio and sound systems, or even pet tracking with GPS.
You can control door locks, security gates, internal and external lights, room thermostats, vacuums, lawnmowers, and even pet feeders with the right smart system and an installed app.

Prices for smart alarms

Prices vary a great deal, depending on the number of gadgets included in the system and the control systems you require. Basic off-the-shelf smart home security systems can cost around £200. Higher-priced systems have more built-in features, allowing you to add more devices later, such as smoke alarms or panic buttons. Many now boast compatibility with other systems such as smart speakers and smart lightbulbs.
Costs increase along with the added gadgets and features. An intelligent home security system to cover a typical house with motion detectors will probably cost more than £500. All systems have a central hub connected to a broadband router, but they signal to components differently. Proprietary signalling offers greater security but usually means you are tied to a single brand's gadgets. Take care in choosing though, as some systems are incompatible with add-ons from different brands.
Add-on devices can include security cameras, motion sensors, smart plugs, opening alarms, tag trackers, sirens, and more. Each system will have its own app, so you will need a smartphone or tablet to connect and control the whole system.

Choosing a smart alarm system

There are many factors to consider in choosing an intelligent home security system. Basic smart systems are relatively cheap and easy to install, but experts agree that basic bundled packages are unlikely to offer the level of protection needed in most homes. If you opt for a DIY approach, be open to adding extra sensors to the basic bundle and make sure the whole home is covered. Buying additional door and window sensors will push up the price but may, in the end, be well worth the extra.
Manufacturers offer a wide variety of systems and, with so many add-ons and extras, working out the best strategy for your property can be very confusing. Some makers emphasise video surveillance, with HD cameras to detect motion and automatic recording, while others make a feature of fast response times from a 24-7 monitoring centre. Expert advice is to favour intelligent systems that include an outdoor siren, even if it's a dummy one, as visual alarms remain a solid deterrent to burglars. Other things to look out for include a decent wi-fi range, a battery backup system and compatibility with phone operating systems and third-party components.

Professional installation or DIY?

Most bundled home security kits boast how easy they are to install and configure. However, checks by independent security experts find that the great majority of do-it-yourself installations leave a lot to be desired. Components such as security cameras and motion detectors are often installed in the wrong place and turn out to be less effective than promised. Manufacturers provide relatively little guidance on where to place devices to maximise their effectiveness. Security cameras, for example, should not be placed facing windows as figures are thrown into shadow by bright background lighting. Motion detectors are ineffectual if they are easily spotted and avoided or if they can be moved out of position.
A professional smart home security installer will ensure all components of an intelligent home security system work in harmony and are best placed and configured to maximise their functionality. Make sure your installer has NSI accreditation, as this ensures that products and companies meet or exceed security industry standards. A gold-level certification from NSI delivers the best value across the industry and is supported by police, fire, rescue services and insurers.

Smart alarm pros & cons

There are pros and cons to choosing to adopt a smart home security system or stick with traditional alarms. Both methods are perfectly good at protecting against break-ins. The advantages of installing a DIY smart system yourself are offset by the lack of expertise in placing components where they are most effective and ensuring they all work well with each other.
Traditional burglar alarms have the advantage of very high-security standards and professional installation, but they can come with costly overheads in monitoring contracts and regular maintenance checks.
It depends on which is the best system for you. If you are tech-savvy and prepared to accept some basic protection in the home, a bundled DIY kit may be just the thing. If you are more security conscious, you may prefer the professional installation of an intelligent home security system or a traditional purpose-designed burglar alarm system.

More help with alarm systems

Types of alarm systems
Alarms and home automation
Make regular checks on alarms


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Burglar alarms & security systems for the Midlands, the North West & North Wales