Home-Security Update: Next-Generation Systems

Monitored & Nonmonitored • Video Surveillance • Outdoor Motion-Detecting Lighting

Home-security systems are smarter than ever before and now make it more convincing to potential burglars that you’re always around. Of course, smarter technology comes with growing pains, and experts tell us that you might want to wait for manufacturers to work out the kinks before you buy.

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At its core, a home-security system serves a relatively simple purpose—protect your home and everything under its roof. A home-security system should provide you with peace of mind, regardless of whether it prevents break-ins or alerts you to danger or damage to your home. Unfortunately, the latest home-security systems don’t always deliver peace of mind.

The good news is that the evolution and proliferation of wireless technology means that nearly all new home-security systems are wireless. The exceptions are video-surveillance systems, because wireless-video technology is susceptible to electronic interference and poor signal strength and can be hindered in brick or concrete homes, experts say.

Today’s home-security systems also include Wi-Fi connectivity and smart-home integration, but those technologies are in their nascent stages or are being revamped to work in a home instead of a large commercial building. Market-research companies and experts whom we interviewed say many of these new systems still are riddled with bugs and vulnerable to hacking and potential disarming by someone who wants to get into your home.

“The bottom line is, at this point in time, if you can hack into the State Department or Sony, you can hack into any residential home,” says Jeff Kessler of market-research company Imperial Capital, who has covered the market for home-security systems for 32 years. 

PREVENT DEFENSE. Traditionally, home-security systems have been reactive—sounding alarms, sending alerts and springing to action only after your home is breached—but manufacturers tell us they now are working on technologies that they hope will prevent a break-in in the first place. Of course, deterring a break-in isn’t a new idea in home security. Light timers that make it appear as though someone is home and motion-detecting lights have been available for years. Tom Kerber of market-research company Parks Associates tells us that a yard sign or window sticker that proclaims that a household is monitored by a security company could be as sufficient a “preventative” measure as a security camera.

Nevertheless, today’s systems take preventative security a step further. The BeON Home system, which came to market in June 2015, uses smart bulbs to advance the concept of a light timer. The bulbs use sensors to learn your habits and mimic your normal activities at home, such as when you turn lights on and off—even for, say, a quick late-night trip to the bathroom. Then, the system automatically adapts to your patterns and replicates these activities when you aren’t home.

This functionality comes at a hefty price. BeON Home systems start at $239 for three bulbs, which the company says is sufficient for an apartment or small home. A six- or nine-module system, which the company claims is better suited for homes that range from 2,500 to 3,500 square feet, can cost up to $674.

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Beyond turning on and off lights, you also can keep an eye on your home while you’re away. Multiple products have been introduced since 2014 that use motion detectors, your home’s Internet connection and your smartphone’s built-in camera to send text alerts, stream video, signal break-ins that are “in progress” and let you chat with people who are at your door, even if you aren’t home. These systems typically start at $200.

Of course, if a home-security system signals a break-in “in progress,” we question whether it truly should be called “preventative” rather than “reactive.” Kessler concedes that calling a home-security system “preventative” often depends on how you look at it.

“There’s no way you’re going to be able to get a 6-minute pre-emptive warning,” he says. However, receiving a text or video alert “at least gives you the chance of getting the police there within 10 minutes.”   

PROBLEMS ABOUND. Further drawbacks exist with so-called preventative home-security systems. Experts tell us that Internet-connected home-security products aren’t always plug-and-play, despite what might be advertised. Instead of plugging directly into your home’s Wi-Fi network, for example, you might have to adjust your network’s firewall settings to install a Wi-Fi-enabled home-security device. Kerber points out that many of the same frustrations that consumers have with the introduction of smart meters in their homes—remembering and keeping track of long identification numbers, connecting not only with your home’s Internet system but also with a utility—now exist in the home-security market.

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