Down with Big Security: consumer home security products?
May 25, 2013 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I am moving into a medium-sized house soon and I need a decent security system. I'd love to avoid paying the big security corporations that force you to sign contracts and all that. Aside from a normal alarm system (I'm thinking Simplisafe), I also want to explore the option of security cameras (on the outside). Does anyone have experience with good consumer products in this space?
posted by malhouse to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I just helped to produce a morning TV segment on this very topic. I won't link to it, just on the off chance that it counts as a self-link, but I will tell you I happen to know that the Today Show just did a segment about this earlier in the week. Which is probably on their website.

Dribs and drabs from the research I did for that:

Lowe's sells a modular DIY security system called Iris which can also be used for "smart home" automation stuff. I think the packages start a little under $200.

There's also a product called Mi Casa Verde which does a similar thing but structures the pricing differently -- it's not a "modular" product where you have a choice of various kits, you buy a starter thing and then there are various individual pieces of equipment you can add as needed.

Belkin sells some individually priced bits of home security tech called the WeMo. There's a plug that can turn items on and off remotely, a motion sensor, a camera, and maybe some other things. These are all in the under $100 range, I believe.

If you want something more like a traditional alarm system, both AT&T and Time Warner have home security/home automation plans that can be bundled with your phone or cable service. These are structured kind of like a regular alarm system from one of the big companies, but might be more affordable.
posted by Sara C. at 12:33 PM on May 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

A dog is as effective as most electronic security systems, and is definitely not part of "big security."
posted by Jacqueline at 12:40 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are a lot previous askme on this topic, here are few, linked to my answers but the threads are full of good ideas.
posted by bartonlong at 1:17 PM on May 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. We have a dog, and I've read up on how to make the house more secure and less of a target. I am specifically asking about consumer products that are direct replacements for ADT/Brinks/etc. products - and even more specifically, I am asking about security cameras.
posted by malhouse at 1:25 PM on May 25, 2013

Depends on the dog too. My brother has a huge lab which was no help when his house got robbed.
posted by freakazoid at 1:42 PM on May 25, 2013

I don't recall any specific brands, as I didn't end up actually buying what I think you're looking for when I was looking into them a few months ago, but one thing to consider is if you want to continuously record video or have it triggered by a motion sensor -- the camera I was playing around with had a motion sensor that seemed to trigger slowly enough that a person running past (rather than toward) the camera would have a good chance of the recording not catching them. The motion sensor also caught a lot of wind blowing things, etc. So where the camera is positioned is going to have an impact on how useful motion detection is.

There were also cameras meant to be easy to view over the web or on a smartphone, which has it's own advantages and drawbacks. Another feature you might want is night vision, or you might not care about that depending on your lighting.

Another thing you'll want to consider is how you are going to use the camera. If it's something to set and forget unless there's been a break in or other incident, having the last week on video is probably fine. If you want to know who is going onto your property and NOT breaking in, it's going to take a lot more work to do that even with time compression.

Talking with the police, they felt that having pictures would be useful to them in a trespass situation, even if those specific pictures didn't lead to prosecution. Your situation, police department, property layout, local laws, and mileage may vary.

Talking with your local police can be helpful for burglary prevention, since they know what methods have been used in other break-ins. They may have some recommendations based on being alerted to burglaries and seeing footage as well.

Tangential to your question, don't neglect to at a minimum replace the screws in your door strike plates and hinges, the stock ones are very short and don't hold up well. Reinforcing the area around the lock on wooden doors is also a good idea.
posted by yohko at 1:54 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

FrontPoint Security is a direct competitor to the large companies like ADT, with really good reviews .. may be worth checking out.
posted by alligatorman at 2:42 PM on May 25, 2013

Disclaimer: I've done a fair amount of research in this area but have yet to implement my conclusions.

That being said the DIY install market tries to balance ease of installation against security. There are 'all-in-one' systems (I believe that the SimpliSafe unit falls into this category, along with Alexor from DSC and the Simon from GE). The problem with these 'all-in-one' systems (i.e. alarm with siren and keypad in one box) is that the thief finds the unit and simply disables it. There may be time for it to send a signal, or maybe not.

So for the system, I've settled on the DSC Powerlink 1832, available online. I can install a wireless touch keypad and wired external siren, and has plenty of easy-to-install wireless switches etc. without too much drilling and hassle. (Of course wired switches in other areas where it's easy to do and makes sense.) On the external siren part, if you get an Alexor (for example) you would need to learn about electronic relays and what particular version you would need for an external siren; for the Powerlink it is supported as-is.

Importantly, I can enable a third-party IP security interface module called Envisalink. It plugs into the DSC 1832, supports an IP camera, and thus you have a lot of control and monitoring remotely from a computer or smartphone wherever you may happen to be. Also the interface can email or text you on any alarm 'event'.

Regarding the webcam piece, the Foscam IP wireless video camera appears to be a decent option, but the need to have a power source near your camera (as well as the actual value of streaming video of my driveway) is something that I'm thinking through. Nice option to have though.

And all this allows either active monitoring (with the company of your choice) or self-monitoring (without any monthly fee, just depend on your own ability to contact neighbors directly to take a look around). On that topic I'm of the self-monitoring camp, as I'm convinced that with >95% (could be more like 98%) of central monitoring alarms being false alarms, by the time an officer arrives (if one bothers to come by at all) the thieves will already have been long gone. Much easier to receive a text message and make a few phone calls to have someone nearby stop by and take a look.

You really get the best of both worlds - a reliable DIY system with wireless and wired modules, the ability to get text messages and remote monitoring without any subscription (I'm sure the major alarm companies are making a lot of money off of these features), the ability to add a relatively inexpensive IP camera, and the security of separating out the main control unit from the siren. Good luck!
posted by scooterdog at 5:17 AM on May 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

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