DIY Home Security: Moving Inside
Our series on DIY home security systems we’ve tested in our own home.
Depending on your comfort level in your home and with technology, protecting the perimeter with a video doorbell, a smart lock, and perhaps outdoor cameras might be enough to make you feel secure. But what about someone actually coming inside your home, uninvited? What can you do to try to prevent that from happening, and if it does, scare the intruder off and/or capture them on film for evidence?
As we discussed in part 2 of this series, while we have technology and cameras, we have accepted that we are probably not going to be able to stop someone who is really determined to get in our house, especially if we aren’t home. But we like the idea of being able to see what’s going on inside and getting notified if something happens, and if something does, we feel comfortable knowing that we will most likely have one or more recordings.
It took us years of using smart home gadgets before we decided we were comfortable installing cameras inside our house. It’s a little silly, since we have multiple Alexas and our phones passively listening all of the time, but the thought of someone being able to watch us while we are home really freaks us out.
We initially solved this by plugging in our first smart camera into a smart outlet, and using a routine that turned that outlet (and the camera) on only when we left the house. We figured that it was unlikely that a hacker could both get into our camera feed and remotely turn on the outlet, so adding this safeguard made us feel better.
Once we put in that first camera, we were hooked. Now we have them all over the house and we’ve tried almost every major smart camera brand, plus plenty of cheaper alternatives.
If you’re comfortable with installing indoor cameras, you’ll be able to easily monitor what is going on at home when you’re away. There are now dozens of different brands of smart cameras available in different price points and different resolutions. Most have a motion sensor built-in and some of the newer models now also include AI to be able to detect humans and pets.
Adding one or more smart cameras inside your house will give you some level of security if someone does decide to enter your home uninvited. You don’t need one in every room but we suggest you put cameras where they can see a good view and perhaps also see a door or window you may be concerned about. They also make a good backup for other devices – for instance, you can put one in your garage so you can tell if the garage door is really open or closed.
When choosing indoor cameras, we suggest you standardize on the same brand to make it easier to view and manage all of them in one place. It might be the same as your video doorbell, your outside cameras or even your smart bulbs and switches.
You should also go for at least 1080p or HD resolution and you may want to consider 2K resolution if you want an even clearer picture. If privacy is important to you and your family, there are some cameras today that have a physical privacy shield to cover the camera. Just remember to open it up again before you leave the house.
Multiple storage options for recordings
Speaking of privacy, you have a couple of choices where to store the videos – in the cloud, usually for a fee, or inside the camera with an SD Card. We like using an SD card since only we can access the images. Some companies let you do both. And some products’ artificial intelligence requires access to the cloud to work, though newer models have more intelligence built into the camera.
When recording you may have a choice of capturing just motion or continuous recording. If you go with continuous, and choose cloud recording, keep in mind you’ll be constantly uploading data, which can eat into your home Internet data cap quickly.
After all these years of cloud and on-camera SD card storage, we’re testing our first Network Video Recorder (NVR) for Reolink cameras, which will be able to store recordings from our cameras inside our house without going to the Internet. It will be interesting to see how that works.
Sensors provide even more data
You can get more information about what’s going on inside your house by adding sensors. Entry sensors on your doors and windows can let you know when and if a door or window is open or closed. Stand alone motion sensors can tell when there is motion in a room. Presence sensors can detect if a room is occupied, and some more sophisticated ones like RoomMe can tell who is there (with the help of a smartphone or smart watch). Beyond security, you can add climate sensors to tell you the temperature and water sensors to detect leaks.
If you already have an alarm system installed in your house, whether you are using it or not, you may be able to connect it to your phone with the Nexx Smart Alarm. Read our story.
Some smart home devices, like smart thermostats and smart smoke detectors, also include multiple sensors to help them work better. For instance, Google Nest Protect smoke detectors have presence sensors (that trigger a built-in nightlight), and microphones that can hear sounds. Amazon Echo smart speakers have a microphone that can also recognize sounds like smoke alarms and glass breaking using the optional Alexa Guard. Unfortunately, most of the time you can’t get access to this data outside of the device app itself.
As we mentioned before, most cameras are going to include a motion sensor, and some of the newer models will even be smart enough to figure out if that motion is from a human or pet. You’ll want to experiment with your inside camera motion sensors to understand how they work. Are they sensitive to light? How close do you have to be to trigger it? Can you adjust the sensitivity? Can you create a schedule so they only detect motion when you’re asleep or away? A good camera with a solid app should allow you to tailor what’s recorded to fit your lifestyle.
Upping your smart home game
Once you decide to start adding sensors to your home security system, this is where you will want to choose a more sophisticated smart home system that uses more than just your Wi-Fi network.
Good sensors need long battery life to be really effective. You probably aren’t going to remember to change the batteries in your door/window sensor or motion sensors every couple of months. Wi-Fi devices tend to drain their batteries faster, and if you add lots of Wi-Fi devices in your house, they will start to overburden your network and slow everything down.
If you just want to trigger lights on and off and record to indoor cameras, the Cync system from GE Lighting is a great place to start with their lights, switches, motion sensor and camera.
If you’re an Apple user, you can also do a lot with devices compatible with Apple HomeKit. We’ve just started experimenting using cameras with Apple HomeKit with our eufy 2K Solo inside camera.
Both the Amazon Echo and Google Nest Home hubs have gotten more sophisticated with routines including come some simple sensors, but if you want to really take advantage of sensors in your home to make them do multiple things, like send an alert to your whole family if the door is opened when you’re out of town or or trigger an alarm if a motion sensor goes off in the living room at night, you’ll need to get a Z-Wave compatible smart home hub.
Z-Wave and Zigbee Sensors
The most commonly-used sensors in the smart home market today use one of the two connectivity protocols: Zigbee and Z-Wave. Both of these standards use low-power mesh networks to communicate with each other inside your house and to a compatible hub that allows them to work together and connect to the Internet, so you can control these devices remotely.
Which one should you choose for sensors in your home? Each protocol has its pros and cons and the comparison is worth a whole other article. It depends what you want to use to control them. You can connect Zigbee sensors directly to a compatible Amazon Echo like the Echo Show 10.
There are plenty of Z-Wave compatible hubs available in the market. Samsung’s SmartThings (now sold by a third-party, Aeotec) is arguably the last consumer-grade Z-Wave hub, but there are plenty of others available with increasing power and complexity, such as Hubitat, HomeSeer, and Ezlo, as well as the open source platform Home Assistant.
Most of these hubs also support some, but not necessarily all, Zigbee devices, so once you move to this platform you can mix and match a lot of different brands of devices.
If you follow tech news, you may have also heard of a new smart home standard in development, called Matter. Matter promises to be an industry-unifying standard that will ensure smart home devices will work together, and with companies like Amazon, Apple and Google behind it, we are hopeful it will be successful. But don’t let that news stop you from buying devices today. This is a huge undertaking and it will be some time before Matter devices are widely available.
SmartThings is a good place to start
For smart home beginners, we like SmartThings. It’s well supported with hundreds of compatible devices, and it has accessible and easy-to-use apps for iOS, Android, and even Samsung TVs. And, for home security, it has a security panel feature that allows you to “arm” your system, by identifying sensors you want to use to monitor your home. SmartThings also has presence detection through your smartphone, so the system knows if people are home or not, based on whether or not their phone is there.
Most of the sensors are wireless and battery powered. But if you’re like us and have pre-wired window and door sensors from a security company, there are companies like Konnected that make systems to convert them so you can use them with hubs like SmartThings, Hubitat and Home Assistant.
DIY home security with sensors and a smart home hub
Once you have sensors on your doors and windows and motion sensors in rooms where you’re worried about intruders, now you can truly customize your home security. Maybe you want to automatically turn on all the lights in the house if there’s motion detected in your kid’s room between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Maybe you want to get an alert on your phone if a window is opened when you’re out. Maybe you want to know if a window has been opened or if you left the outdoor gate open.
With a hub, you will be able to make all the connected devices work together exactly how you want them to. It will take a longer time investment upfront to learn how to use the app and make routines. But if you have the interest, it can be the best way to really understand what’s going on in your home and get exactly the kind of convenience and security you want out of your smart home.
If you’re comfortable with cameras inside, you can keep an eye on what’s going on inside your home easily while you’re away. Most indoor cameras also have decent motion detection, with some offering artificial intelligence to detect humans and pets, that will record the motion event and notify you on your phone.
You can make cameras work together with sensors through some specialized apps and with some limitations through Amazon Alexa, Google Home and/or Apple HomeKit. For the ultimate flexibility and control of sensors in your home, you may want to consider a separate smart home hub that allows you to use Z-Wave and/or Zigbee motion, contact and other types of sensors together with lights, switches and cameras.
Next, we’ll review a smart home camera app turned traditional DIY-home security platform, the Wyze Home Monitoring Kit.
What do you think? Do you use indoor cameras and/or a smart home hub? We’d love to hear from you. You can reach us at feedback (at) appmyhome.com or on Facebook or Twitter