DIY Home Security: Protect the Perimeter
Our series on DIY home security systems we’ve tested in our own home
Start with the Front Door
We think the best way to get started securing your home is with outdoor cameras, starting with a good video doorbell. According to research from ASecureLife.com, 34 percent of burglars use the front door to enter the home. A good video doorbell will not only monitor your door for intruders, it’s also really convenient to help you understand who is coming in or out and whether or not there is a package waiting for you on your porch.
There are video doorbells available at many different price points and for almost every type of installation – from a wired doorbell that installs over your original doorbell, to battery-powered wireless doorbells that can be installed anywhere you want, to peephole doorbells you can use in an apartment or condo.
Our first video doorbell was the Skybell we pre-ordered back in 2014. That very first doorbell had a standard definition camera (480p) that seems ancient now, and while it worked, it sometimes took a really long time for the phone app to notify us that someone was at the door. Still, it paid for itself in hassle when a delivery driver came to bring us some Italian wine that required a signature and we talked to him on our way to the mountains for the weekend. Without that video doorbell our wine would have been returned to sender, a real tragedy.
Your video doorbell will include a motion sensor that will trigger camera recordings whether or not your visitor actually rings the doorbell. Depending on the model and the service plan you use, you should be able to review and store recordings over an extended period of time. These are just the basics for monitoring your front door – beyond that you can pay more for the additional features you need.
If a thief comes to your door and sees a video doorbell, they will hopefully be less likely to try to break down the door, and in the event they still do it anyway, you’ll have recorded evidence for the police and your insurance company.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when shopping for a video doorbell:
- Video resolution – most (but not all!) video doorbells are at least HD (1080p) quality today. Some are 2K or even 4K. Just like televisions, they are priced accordingly. Higher resolution is great to help you see the UPS driver better, but keep in mind that the higher resolution cameras will also be harder on your Wi-Fi network and if they are continuously streaming, eat into your Internet data cap. Try to get at least 1080p.
- Artificial Intelligence – most video doorbells have motion detection, even without someone ringing the bell. Look for one that includes some kind of advanced AI like person (or package, pet, or vehicle) detection, otherwise you will get too many notifications and will start to ignore them over time.
- Pre-roll – video doorbells with this feature start recording a few seconds before the actual doorbell press, ensuring you can actually see the person walking to your door.
- Expanded field of view (or more than one camera) – it’s nice to be able to see around your door and on the ground so you can see if you have a package.
- Local storage – some video doorbells have built-in storage cards, or base stations with storage so you don’t need to send recordings up to the cloud.
- Additional services – many doorbell manufacturers require a service plan to store and manage your doorbell recordings in the cloud. Make sure you study the plans before you buy so you won’t be surprised. Some, like the Ring, don’t have a local storage option so you have to get their cloud service for the doorbell to be useful.
- Alexa (or Google Home) Support – most (but not all) doorbells will work with Alexa to tell you if someone is at the door. And if you have an Echo Show you can see and maybe interact with the person from your Alexa device. Keep in mind, even if you can see who is at the door, it will take a bit before the video shows, and in many cases you only get video but no sound or talking.
- Additional camera/product support – if you plan to add more outside cameras to help you monitor your house, you are probably going to want to use just one app, so check out what else the company offers before you pick a doorbell. Keep in mind if you use a platform like Apple HomeKit or Samsung SmartThings, and the camera supports them, you can likely monitor different cameras together under one dashboard.
Smart Door Locks
Smart door locks aren’t necessarily more secure than regular locks, but they give you an additional level of control and convenience. Depending on your preferences, you can get locks that work with a touchpad, with your phone, with your fingerprint, or some combination of all of them. There are also locks that let you keep your existing key as a backup.
If you have different people coming in and out of your house, like a housekeeper, dog walker, or your kids, we recommend you get a lock that you can easily assign and schedule unique codes for different people. You can put these codes on a schedule and/or make them temporary so the door will only unlock when you want it.
Another great feature of some smart door locks is automatic locking. We set ours up to auto-lock after a short period of time, so we never forget to lock it. Sometimes this is annoying, like when we step out to get the mail, but in the long run it’s better for us to make sure our doors are always locked.
It’s also great to have a smart lock with remote access, so you can lock and unlock the door when you’re away from home. Not every smart lock comes with this out of the box, so make sure you check before you buy. If you’re not home, you can see who’s at the door with your video doorbell and let them in if you want. Many video doorbells and locks today can work together this way from a single app.
Smart door locks aren’t just for front doors. You should be able to add them to any door with a deadbolt, and some newer solutions are available for different types of door handles and even sliding glass doors.
Once you have your front door covered, the next natural step is to add outdoor cameras to areas you want to monitor. Maybe you have a gate you want to keep an eye on, or want to see who is walking up into your driveway. Outdoor cameras aren’t necessarily new and there are lots of options for how to install and wire them around your house.
If you’re just starting out, we recommend first adding a smart floodlight camera. Maybe you already have a regular motion-detecting flood light today without a camera, that turns on whenever it senses motion in your yard. You can easily replace that with a smart version just by removing it and wiring it in – or if you are installing something new you could wire it yourself, or better yet, hire an electrician to do it for you.
Depending on the size of your house and yard, one or more of these floodlight cameras are a great addition. A lot of the same guidelines for video doorbells apply here, and we absolutely recommend some kind of person detection – otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy with notifications from rustling trees and/or wayward animals.
Floodlight cameras are great for not just recording but discouraging intruders, but you probably don’t want too many. If there are other areas you want to watch, there are plenty of outdoor-specific cameras you can install to supplement your system, in all shapes, sizes and resolutions.
If possible, the best way to add these cameras is wired into power (and if you are very sophisticated, you could wire them via Ethernet or Power over Ethernet to your network). Be mindful though that if you wire the camera and that location is controlled by a switch, the switch will need to be left on for the camera to work.
But you may want more flexibility and/or want to put them somewhere without power. In this case, battery-powered outdoor cameras work just fine, but remember, you will have to take them down occasionally and charge them. If possible, we recommend buying an outdoor camera that includes a solar panel, it will save you lots of hassle.
Outdoor lighting, whether it is smart or not, also helps discourage intruders. You can use smart switches to control your outdoor lights so they come on and off on a schedule, whether you’re home or not.
You can also put your landscape lighting on a dusk to dawn timer to keep it lit all night and/or add motion-sensor based lighting in your yard, especially near gates and fences.
We really like the Ring outdoor smart lighting that works in conjunction with the Ring Doorbell and their other outdoor cameras. You can customize the motion triggers on the lights to turn them on and to start a recording on one or more nearby Ring cameras.
Your garage door is another common entry point for burglaries. Though not as popular as the front door, your garage door is often easy to open and usually has nice expensive stuff to steal, like power tools, bicycles and skis. Most of the time burglaries occur in the garage when the homeowner forgets to close it.
You can keep an eye on your garage door no matter where you are with a smart garage door opener. The app will send you a notification when your garage door is open or closed, and you can set it up to notify you if it remains open, say 15 or 30 minutes. These are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up.
We also suggest you add a camera inside your garage for additional peace of mind. You’ll be able to see if anything has moved, or if your garage door is really open or closed when you are away.
These smart devices: video doorbells, smart locks, outdoor cameras, outdoor lighting and garage door openers are simple ways to protect the perimeter of your house. You can choose to start with just one and add more over time, or you could choose to implement multiple products at once and have them work together from the beginning.
None of these items on its own requires any kind of professional monitoring, though some devices may require an additional monthly subscription to be most effective.
And when you do install your outdoor cameras, don’t forget to use the sticker! Multiple studies have shown that door decals and yard signs warning about security systems make them even more effective.
Next time, we’ll move inside the house and discuss what you can do to keep you and your loved ones safe.
What do you think? Do you use some of these technologies already or do you have a full alarmed system? We’d love to hear from you. You can reach us at feedback (at) appmyhome.com or on Facebook or Twitter.