I’ve gone through several iterations of my smart home security setup at this point, and wanted to take a moment to brain dump where I came from, where I’ve gone to, and why I made those decisions along the way.
Let me start by saying that I live in your typical safe, secure, Canadian, family friendly neighborhood. I don’t have strong needs for a security system, or really any need at all, but seeing as I love technology and playing with new toys, I’ve built a bit of a dual-purpose system where my “security” devices also serve other roles in my larger home automation ecosystem.
This post is high level – I’ll give you a variety of examples of what I do with the hopes of sparking an idea or making you think of something from a different perspective. Maybe this will help you incorporate new features into an existing setup, or maybe it helps sway some buying decisions to save a little money in your journey. I won’t be going into examples of how I build this automation, how I setup my Home Assistant server, or anything that complex here. Feel free to comment, reach out via email, or watch for future posts if you want in-depth Home Assistant talk.
My first iteration of home security automation had some door sensors on all our main doors. These were Zigbee based, and seemed to chew through a battery every 5 months or so. They weren’t really doing much – I never leveraged them in any automation routines, and if someone did ever break into my house, the odds of them literally opening and walking through my front or back door are slim to none! They’re going to break in, probably by breaking a window in a shadowy part of my yard, and not just walk right in where everyone on the street can see them.
I ended up ditching the door sensors. Maybe someday when I have kids and want to get an idea of when they’re coming and going while at work, such as knowing they arrived home safe from school, then door sensors may serve more of a purpose. In the meantime, they were just unnecessary battery costs for me.
I went through a few iterations of motion sensors, and have landed on the Dome Motion sensor as being the one I love most. It’s about the size of a golf ball, magnetically mounts to it’s base for unlimited positioning options, and the base can even magnetically mount to a surface if you don’t want to screw or stick it on. It’s light enough that some 3M double sided adhesive is all you really need to hold it up – don’t bother going for the drill and screw driver!
For day-to-day use, motion sensors are fantastic for turning on lights as people enter living areas. Mine are set to turn various lights on after dark when entering rooms such as the kitchen. We haven’t touched the kitchen z-wave dimmer in months – the motion sensor turns it on, and off again after no motion for so long, and we also control turning it off via various routines and Google Home voice control (including dimming).
On the security side, when our house is set to “away” or “bedtime” mode, the motion sensors flip into more of a security role. If they detect motion, they’ll turn on all the lights and push a notification to my phone. Eventually, I’d like to have the Google Home say a warning phrase after motion too. The purpose of turning on the lights is not only to hopefully scare a would-be thief into running off and thinking someone is home, but also to ensure the individual is well illuminated for security cameras to capture their face.
I break my cameras into two groups:
My indoor cameras are on Belkin Wemo WiFi outlet switches. Rather than programming a motion detection and recording schedule into the cameras based on work schedules, which can vary, I set the cameras to record and detect motion 24/7 and then simply turn them on and off based on the house being into away mode (which happens automatically when all our phones are outside the geo fence), or based on the house being in sleep mode (which happens when we give our Google Home a goodnight command each night).
The added benefit here is that we know 100% the cameras are powered off and no one is watching when we’re home – it’s just good piece of mind. My home network is secure and firewalled, and the cameras are secured too, but as we see in the news all too often, I don’t want to take the chance that a random bug or backdoor exists in my cameras that could be exploited for someone to watch when we’re home.
These indoor cameras are entirely for security (almost). There’s one in my garage, one watching over the main living area upstairs, one watching over the main living area downstairs, and another in the utility room.
The utility room is the only one that doesn’t serve a security purpose, per say. It’s there entirely in case a smoke alarm or water detection alarm goes off while we’re away. This way I can verify my water heater hasn’t sprung a leak, furnace hasn’t caught fire, or a washing machine hose hasn’t decided to rupture.
These run 24/7 and have recording schedules set based on our common work and sleep hours. One covers the front yard, one covers the backyard (we back onto a public space and bus stop, and also have one of the lower fences of the street right now). The backyard one is mostly to keep an eye on the hot tub after having the cover blow open a couple times in really bad wind storms, but it doubles for security too of course.
The front one is nice to see who’s at the door so I can avoid the endless stream of door-to-door marketers and salesmen on days I work from home… It doesn’t have a super clear view of the cars though, and this is something I’d like to supplement with an additional camera some day as our city in general is bad for people trying to break into cars overnight and if I could ever capture some faces to share with police, it may help everyone in the long run (assuming they even come to our street, it seems very random).
There you have it!
Without breaking the budget, or giving into security services with unnecessary (for me) monthly subscription costs, I can use a variety of affordable and readily available (no DIY required!) security oriented products to keep an eye on my house when we’re away or asleep, and to stay out of our way when we’re home.