I don't know anything about home security. Please help break me in!
May 23, 2020 2:56 PM   Subscribe

The "home security basics" websites I've seen mostly seem to be sponsored by or aligned with some preferred solution, so I'm not sure where to begin.

The house we're in now -- in a fairly crimey part of Oakland -- came with two unrelated security features: a Lorex NVR with POE cameras, and also a set of sensors throughout the house monitored by an alarm company. When we moved in, we established a contract with the sensor alarm company the previous owner chose. Every so often the NVR warns me that it's full and I spent a little time re-figuring out how to free up some space. There, I've literally told you everything I know.

Now it looks like we'll be moving to a house that's been relatively untouched for 80 years. There's no security system at all. The new place is in a much more peaceful and placid neighborhood, but still, we'll need something.

I'll take convenience when it's offered but frankly I don't ascribe a lot of value to, say, talking to the cameras or managing everything from a phone.

Can anyone tell me where to start thinking about this?
posted by tangerine to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
I live in a peaceful neighbourhood (the kind where we wouldn't lock our door for a quick walk around the block)
and recently our neighbour scared off some people who entered her house while she was in bed. (Theory is that we've got some bored teens who have gotten into drugs over the time that school has been off-site.) The house diagonally across from us had stuff stolen last month.
So we now have a security camera. But the thing is, the business model of these cameras (not always) is that they upload your footage to a server who knows where, and charge you to download it. We aren't comfortable with that, so my husband spent a few days figuring out how to run it on a not-connected-to-the-internet wireless network and save the footage to a hard drive on site. (He works in IT and I recognise that this solution won't work for everyone.)

The reality is, we probably won't ever need to use the camera for it's intended purpose!

So in saying all that, do you really need a security system beyond a good lock on the door? What do your neighbours have?
posted by freethefeet at 4:43 PM on May 23

Got an alarm sign, door stickers and a Beware of the Dog sign?
posted by scruss at 6:39 PM on May 23

Can you narrow down Home Security for us? Wish list?
Are you looking for safety for yourself when you're in the house?
Or more safety for the house when you're not in it?
Do you want any trespasses monitored and recorded, or are you wanting to ward them off in the first place?

Skipping all that, if you just want a package deal in a box, I've heard some good things about SimpliSafe, especially as it relates to 'we gotta have something' and 'we got service from the alarm company the last tenants used'.
posted by bartleby at 7:03 PM on May 23

I've lived in Oakland for about a decade. Cameras are good for identifying people trying to break in, but physical prevention is far more effective. Wrought iron security bars on all ground floor or accessible windows, and steel security gates on every door with bump shielded deadbolts and knob locks are your best friends here.

Getting a dog helps a lot too, though that is obviously a lot of additional work. I have a german shepherd, and even though he's a sweet little cinnamon bun, he has an assertive bark when strangers are at the door.

Making friends with your neighbors is also helpful, especially if you live near folks who tend to be home a lot (outside of pandemic restrictions). My neighborhood is full of people who spend a lot of their time on their porches who would not hesitate to holler if they saw a stranger trying something shady.
posted by ananci at 7:03 PM on May 23

As is usual when corporations saturate the search results, Consumer Reports will give you guidance that doesn't depend on somebody (besides them) making money. They gave their top rating to the Nest Secure Alarm Starter Pack H1500ES, but the other recommended systems aren't far behind. To see all the details, you need a subscription. It's worth it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:52 AM on May 24

The Wirecutter is a great (and free) consumer site, now owned by the NYTimes, that I turn to first when I need to sort through a major purchase like this. Even if I end up not going with their main recommendation I always find their discussions of the various options and features extremely helpful. Here's their recently updated page on home security systems; their 2nd choice is SimpliSafe.
posted by mediareport at 8:05 AM on May 24

Is there a local security company that also has monitoring that would be willing to come out and give an estimate and/or do you know any local police officers/dispatchers that would be willing to recommend a local security company? I work in the security industry and while DIY options are plentiful and popular my experience is that they don't provide the type of security people think they will. A good local company should have an alarm designer who would look at the layout of your house and property and combine that with your needs/desires to come up with a couple of different options that they could install. Older properties you might want to consider wireless systems so that you don't have to have wires run throughout. An onsite video server is definitely easily doable. I strongly encourage a 24 hour UL certified monitoring station, they are priceless, especially if you've ever missed a text or phone call...because that could be the one that is telling you that your house has been entered or is on fire. Also don't forget you can tie in CO monitors, temperature sensors, water/moisture sensors, fire/smoke detectors...all useful in and of themselves. I'm short on time right now but if you have more questions, please let me know.
posted by AnneShirley at 9:10 AM on May 24

I was taught home security measures by a police crime prevention officer in my suburban-ish city. There's a long, terrifying burglary story behind why I would have a crime prevention officer and lots of other police officers, k9, and fire department at my modest house in a "nice neighborhood" for hours, but here are the useful highlights:

1) check with your local PD before purchasing a security system. My PD will not respond to alarms unless they have visual confirmation that a burglary is in progress, like a picture or video image if the homeowner is away, so systems that are sensor-only will not do much good. Spend the extra money for the camera(s).

2) physical barriers are good. Dowels in the window tracks and slider track if you have a patio door. Deadbolts on exterior doors. Replace the screws on the knob/deadbolt strike plates attached to the door frame with very long screws (3") to essentially anchor it within the wall to the stud. This will make it harder to pry or kick the door open.

3) exterior lighting is your friend, so keep it on at all times, or become religious about turning it on at dusk. Motion activated lights are less desirable. You want to see whoever it is coming before they trip the sensor.

4) cut back shrubs, branches, brush, etc. so it is away from your house and cannot provide cover for people breaking in. You can also mount a trail camera outside on tree trunks or sturdy shrubbery to provide additional video coverage.

5) talk to your neighbors and encourage them to report suspicious activity** and property theft. Even if no action is taken by the PD, the report generates a data point that can be used to track crime in your neighborhood. Some theft and burglary is random, some is not. In my cases, the second one was not and the best guess of the PD is the crew that went Mission:Impossible-style in the home invasion got the wrong house. Oh, those wacky criminals!

6) invest in a safe if you have actual valuables. And please, dear lord, have your firearms stored in a proper gun safe so they cannot be easily stolen.

7) call your city PD to ask if they have a crime prevention or community outreach officer who can meet you at your home to review options with you. This would be a free service and the officer would also be able to answer questions or give info about the types of calls for service they get in your neighborhood.

8) NEVER enter your home alone if you arrive back at it and see signs of a break-in. Call for assistance and wait for it to arrive. No one likes burglary-homicides.

**"Suspicious activity" is different for every neighborhood and shouldn't mean "a person of color is living their life in public" or "a person with mental illness is visibly delusional in public". My city has a lot of folks with drug and mental health issues and I have sometimes called the local crisis team instead of the PD as they are better equipped to de-escalate and provide assistance to someone in crisis. Good luck.
posted by Lady Sugar Maple at 11:19 AM on May 24

Thanks, everyone. I'd forgotten to check Wirecutter and duh, it hadn't even occurred to me to ask the local PD for local advice.
posted by tangerine at 7:23 PM on May 29

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