Little sister is watching you: roll-your-own/smart home security
April 14, 2015 12:18 PM   Subscribe

So, last night we apparently interrupted some burglars. The police were pretty negative about traditional home security systems (which we didn't have anyway), and I'm interested in either a DIY system or a modern digital system. Googling turns up a lot of things that appear to be not ready for prime time (e.g. Canary). But surely there are Mefites with good suggestions. Help?

They came in by prying open a kitchen window. We rent, so we can't make major structural changes and we don't want a contract or anything permanently tied to our physical house.

We've put in some temporary measures, but I would like to get a system going with
- motion-activated auditory alarms
- motion-activated (?) video + night vision (or maybe turning on the lights?)
- saves video to our Apple Time Capsule or some other device that we control
- alerts my phone and sends video that I can view on my phone or Macbook
- can be turned on and off from my phone
- can cover more than one area of our house--these wide-angle devices that are supposed to cover everything seem like they won't work with my floorplan (it might be fine to have cameras in the living room and kitchen/den but with alarmed/networked sensors in other places)
- should be easy to control so I don't have to flip out every time we open a window for some air
- preferably does not involve a monthly fee, but that's negotiable if it's an awesome setup

We are not hardware geeks, but Fanghorn Dungeon LLC (the winterspouse) can do programming stuff if necessary. More straightforward/IFTTT/etc. is better, I think.

A little over a year ago, a lot of people recommended a system that's been discontinued. Current components/how-tos/systems are appreciated. I'll check back in later to see if there are any relevant questions I need to answer.

I'm sorry if this is kind of incoherent. I had trouble sleeping last night (for some reason...). Thanks!
posted by wintersweet to Technology (18 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
There has been an uptick in house prowls in my former neighborhood. Someone On Facebook who has had two burglaries in a few weeks got a recommendation from local law enforcement to get a Dropcam.
posted by Sublimity at 12:56 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

You have plans for what to do when and after the break-in happens, but there may be physical changes you can make to prevent it, ones that don't involve structural changes. A lot of times, a broomstick cut to the right length and wedged in the right way will prevent windows opening. It's simple, cheap, and effective enough to make it take longer to get the window open than a thief would want to spend.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:00 PM on April 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

After someone attempted a knock-knock robbery on our house a couple of years ago, we put up signs on our front and back doors that state that the property is under surveillance (like "Smile, You're On Camera" type signs). Immediately we got way way way less door knocks from "solicitors". This was in addition to our convoluted camera system which I won't bother explaining. The contemporary advice with regard to cameras on all of my FB groups seems to be Dropcam.
posted by vignettist at 1:09 PM on April 14, 2015

+1 on simple things like the piece of broomstick or board - super cheap, effective, and non permanent.
Also, Renter's Insurance! Cheap and worth it!

Belkin's WeMo home automation stuff includes cameras with motion sensing and infrared. Here's a starter kit with camera and one controlled outlet plug. you install a smartphone or tablet app, get the camera and plug connected to your home wifi, and set a 'rule': when Camera senses motion, turn on Outlet (a lamp? radio turned up all the way?) and email me a picture of what moved.

You can add more outlets and motion sensors and cameras and lightbulbs, and program all kinds of rules that apply during certain hours or only on weekends, 'vacation mode', etc. No hardwiring or non-rental-friendly stuff necessary. (And you can put all your lights on timers and motion control while you're at it.)

The Belkin cameras have a separate app that lets you look through them over the internet (is the dog OK alone? did the place burn down while we were out?); there's also some kind of add-on subscription service that lets you store triggered video recordings in the cloud, if you wanted more than an emailed snapshot of whatever moved.
posted by bartleby at 1:25 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

This post still hold relevance two years later. Hope it's helpful even though it is not system related.
posted by lstanley at 1:31 PM on April 14, 2015

If you want to block your windows, you can put a nail or screw into the window track to prevent the window from opening too far when it's in. Low tech? Sure. Workaroundable? Sure. But the whole point is to make it more difficult for easy entry.
posted by mollweide at 2:19 PM on April 14, 2015

When we were broken into, the police asked why we didn't have "Beware of the dog" and "This house is alarmed" plaques. When we said that we had neither, the police replied "Well, the burglars don't know that ..."

Something visible from the outside will prevent people from trying. It's kind of a selfish/herd-immunity thing.
posted by scruss at 2:26 PM on April 14, 2015

A police officer once told me the most effective deterrent was a dog. Criminals hear the barking and they bail on your house. Your house just needs to be a less inviting target then the neighbors.
posted by COD at 2:46 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi, guys! Please focus on my question, which is about security systems. I am aware of other measures, some of which are possible and some of which aren't. Thanks!
posted by wintersweet at 2:52 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I use various inexpensive netcams, and a driveway sensor. Netcams point outside and if there is motion I have it email a gmail account. That way if criminal burns down the house I still have video of it on gmail. I get my gmail instantly on my smartphone, so I know instantly when someone is coming down my long driveway. Netcams are internet-accessible video cams that have a webpage you can connect to see what is going on at home. You can also get netcams that swivel, pan so you can look around from remote location. Many netcams typically sell for less than $ 150.00 IMHO Dropcam is way overpriced and cost $ 120/year minimum plus need lots of bandwidth.
posted by nogero at 3:36 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go outside. Look at your house. How would *you* break in? Are there overgrown bushes providing cover to a burglar? Is the ladder conveniently next to the house? I'm not a fan of big lights on all the time. Bright LED spotlights with a motion sensor are disorienting. Most newer windows can be locked with a dowel placed in the track. You should have sturdy doors in sturdy frames. I have neighbors who pay attention. They aren't judge-y or interfering, but if anybody breaks in I'll be able to get a report.
posted by theora55 at 3:46 PM on April 14, 2015

iSmartAlarm meets many of your requirements.
posted by wonton endangerment at 4:15 PM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Upon re-reading your requirements:
iSmartAlarm doesn't save video to local drive, but to a cloud with limited space, at least for now. Other than that, it seems pretty suited; no running cost, and no programming is needed.

We're still working out camera placement and lighting. There's also the question of response procedure for interacting with the system (and calling police) if we're both there when "visitors" arrive.
posted by wonton endangerment at 6:13 PM on April 14, 2015

Alex at Old Town Home blogged about their DIY security system last year. There are several posts detailing all the different components.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 8:26 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ugh, I'm so so sorry. This happened to us a couple years ago and it was horrible and devastating. Take care of yourselves.

Check out Frontpoint. I'm not sure they can do 100% of what you want but I think they get pretty close. One plus if you're having trouble sleeping in your recently-burglarized house is that you can get their stuff shipped to you overnight or 2-day and install it yourself. I think we went from zero security to working alarm system before the police actually came to dust for prints. I would be very impressed if you found a full-service alarm company that could do so well.
posted by town of cats at 9:04 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

We've been happy with iSmart Alarm. We also had an interrupted break in late last year. We use their motion sensors and door/window contact sensors. We ordered a camera, but by the time it arrived (they were just coming out then) it was long enough from the break in that we felt comfortable without it and returned it.

It's easy to control with our iPhones or the key fobs, and all events (which are always just us forgetting to disarm) are reported to us pretty much instantly. The siren/chimes on the main box are plenty loud.
posted by that's how you get ants at 6:33 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have been using a couple of Samsung SmartCams for about a year, and it fits most of your requirements...

- Motion- and audio-activated 1080p video with night vision. The camera on this device is better than any other security camera I've seen.
- Saves video to micro-SD card in the camera, but also uploads still-images to your Google account.
- Alerts your phone via a free iOS/Android App where you can see live video or the images uploaded to Google. Alternatively, you can also monitor the video feed from any web browser through their website.
- The App allows you to turn on/off and change settings remotely. You can also set up a schedule for the camera to be active and provide alerts.
- Has a wide angle lens. You'll probably need at least two to provide suitable coverage.
- No monthly fee!

However, its one failing is that it does not have an auditory alarm. For that, I have been considering setting up a SmartThings system with door/window sensors and an auditory alarm.
posted by upplepop at 7:33 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ok, so I run an art gallery and have burglary insurance which stipulates that we have to have a central station alarm to be covered. I did some research and I'll just brain dump:

Central Station = a 3rd party, you can't buy a cheap autodialer from Amazon that only calls you. I bought a 'PiSector' and it's cheap and no real alarm company will work with it so I returned it.

Alarm systems for the most part need to be UL certified. You can buy used ones fairly easily, I got a used Honeywell Lynxplus that had 3 door sensors, 2 key fobs, and a motion sensor for $99 used off amazon. Even if you just want a siren to go off when sensors are tripped the Honeywell I got can do that without dialing to a central station. It's very basic, but the new stuff is all touch screen, can work on Wifi, and can be controlled by your phone. The old stuff is very very tough to setup. Tough as in convoluted/blind menu diving "by pressing #89 wait for it to beep, then enter in 0 for On/1 for Off, the *99 to exit..." kinda convoluted.

For a central station cheapest by far is Alarm Relay which you pay for a year and it's $9/month. You need a landline or pay extra for a VoIP thing or pay extra for a GSM Cell Modem thingy inside the alarm. The Cell Modem is the best because the alarm has a battery inside so if someone cuts your phone line & power it still calls out. They did try to sell me a $300 new Honeywell Touchscreen System that is self-install and preprogrammed. It seems like it's the defacto alarm system now because now I notice it at a lot of businesses.

ADT does all that kinda stuff but charges upwards of $30 a month if not more plus equipment.

The whole alarm industry is obscured by middlemen and installers. It's tough to buy UL certified equipment new without going to an alarm company.

Local alarm companies usually are cheaper anyway, and depending on your city, the bigger ones may have their call center located in the city.

SimplySafe is all proprietary. If you buy their hardware it'll only work with their service. That being said, it's meant to be as simple as possible for DIY.

Your city probably also requires an alarm permit if it phones to a central station. Where I live it's $30 a year and they do fine you for false alarms that the police respond to.

The cheap cameras (Foscam) on Amazon are all crap at varying levels. They all suck, just some suck less.

The video surveillance systems at Costco are all crap at varying levels as well.

Alarm company stickers & yard signs and conspicuous alarm-y things (motion sensors, door sensors) do deter if someone was to peep in.
posted by wcfields at 5:01 PM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

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