Monitoring your connected home has come a long way since the days of primitive alert systems linked to a landline. While these older systems were to some degree effective, they weren’t very user-friendly and they made remote access awkward.
That’s all changed as we edge toward 2020. Today, we’ll show you how to build out a complete home monitoring system the easy way. The even better thing is, this will cost far less than you might imagine.
We’ll be sidestepping professionally-monitored set-ups here. If you’re happy to pay an ongoing monthly fee and to lock yourself into a contract, we’re not here to dissuade you. Indeed, many of these packages from industry security titans like ADT or Vivint are tailor-made for the elderly or anyone wanting total peace of mind.
Our core focus here is DIY systems. And don’t worry, we’re not talking about the need to get down and dirty with a complex installation, simply cutting out the middle man.
So, how do you get started?
Well, since you’ll be needing to mesh together multiple devices to get them singing in harmony, you’ll need to invest in a smart home hub right off the bat.
What You'll Need
- Home Hub
- Smart Speaker
- Smart Video Doorbell
- Indoor Wireless Security Cameras
- Outdoor Wireless Security Cameras
- Motion-Activated Smart Security Lights
- Motion Sensors
- Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
- Water Leak Detectors
You can think of a smart home hub as the heart of your connected home.
One of the serious drawbacks of smart devices is the lack of unified protocols, meaning it’s often impossible for these devices to easily communicate with one another. Therefore, the home hub steps in acting as a kind of translator.
This central gateway allows messages to be relayed between devices from disparate manufacturers, even if they don’t necessarily speak the same language. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to think closely about compatibility. In most cases, though, you’ll be able to get your devices playing nicely together and singing in harmony.
Before we go any further, we want to give you a word of warning on interoperability. More accurately here, we’re talking about the planning you'll have to do because of the compatibility issue.
If you’re looking to create a home monitoring system from scratch, don’t just blunder in buying devices without planning. If you do this, you'll risk clashes that will prevent you from seamless automation. If, on the other hand, you flesh out a basic plan with shortlisted devices, you can establish which of them will fit neatly with your hub.
With that laid bare, what home hub works best?
The answer here is, “It depends.”
There’s no magic bullet and you'll need to think about your requirements, tech levels and the other devices you’re planning to build out your system with. However, we have three particularly strong examples we stand behind fully.
Insteon Home Hub Central Controller
If you’re already invested into the Insteon ecosystem or you fancy building out a connected home with this domotics OG, you’ll need the affordable and flexible hub to get the most from it.
You can add in a full suite of security devices and monitor your set-up in-app on your smartphone, using a physical controller or using Alexa or Google Assistant. For voice control, you will need a smart speaker, but we’ll outline those below.
Check out a list of compatible devices right here.
Samsung SmartThings Third Generation Hub
Going from strength to strength in its third iteration, the Samsung SmartThings Hub also works with both major digital assistants. This allows you to control and monitor your smart home hands-free.
Interoperability is robust. You’ll be able to incorporate devices from all the main players into your ecosystem and get them working smoothly together.
Check out a list of compatible devices here.
The retooled Wink Hub2 is a serious upgrade on a modern classic. You’ll be able to use over 400 smart devices with this gateway. You’ll also get class-leading communication protocol support with Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth LE, Lutron Clear Connect, and Kidde all compatible with Hub2.
5GHz WiFi is fully supported and you’ll be able to use Ethernet, too.
Control in-app or using either Alexa or Google Assistant is slick and user-friendly.
Check out a list of compatible devices here.
So, regardless of which hub you choose, there’s another issue to consider before you get down to home monitoring.
Do you want to use voice control?
If you do – and to get the most seamless automation experience it makes good sense – you’ll need a smart speaker.
If you're interested in syncing your video doorbell with your security cameras and your motion-activated smart lighting, using Alexa or Google Assistant is a wise move.
In order to benefit from these digital butlers, you’ll need a smart speaker.
To avoid splitting our focus, today we’ll be lasering in purely on Alexa. If you prefer the idea of Google Assistant, you’ll need a Google Home smart speaker.
For Alexa, it’s all about Echo devices.
Which one you choose depends entirely on your personal preferences but here’s a snapshot of the range as it stands today:
- Echo: Now in its second generation, Echo got an aesthetic tweak along with overhauled audio. The original smart speaker remains a solid vehicle for Alexa and comes keenly priced
- Echo Plus: The second iteration of Echo Plus comes with a Zigbee home hub onboard, giving you the chance to try automating your home without needing a third-party gateway. Audio is impressive and you’ll benefit from all of Alexa’s smarts
- Echo Dot: A minute and affordable entry point to Alexa, the disc-shaped Dot also comes in a vibrantly colored kids edition
- Echo Spot: The smallest smart display on the market, Echo Spot packs a 2 ½-inch screen throwing in a visual element to streaming.
- Echo Show: The 10-inch HD screen on the second-generation Echo Show makes this smart display a perfect addition to your kitchen
- Echo Show 5: Now featuring a screen half the size of the original Echo Show, the all-new Echo Show 5 allows you to monitor your home on screen from the comfort of your bedroom
Regardless of which model you roll with, you can do far more than stream audio or video and organize your day with a smart speaker or smart display. When used as part of your home monitoring system, you’ll be able to issue simple voice commands to check in and keep tabs on things.
With your hub and Alexa device in place, it’s time to get on with ramping up security so you can monitor your home remotely. Where better place to begin than with a video doorbell?
Smart Video Doorbell
If your home is your castle, the entry system is your first line of defense. Installing a video doorbell is a quick, painless and cost-effective method of ramping up security. You’ll also be able to remain connected to your home even when you’re on the other side of the world.
We make no apology for repeatedly recommending the Amazon-owned Ring. While Ring’s range has broadened substantially beyond the original version of Video Doorbell, this company still revolves around all things security. If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful video doorbell, the original model is still available at a great price.
Perhaps you’d like to edge forward a little while still staying within a reasonable budget?
If so, we’d strongly suggest road testing the second-generation smart doorbell.
Ring Video Doorbell 2
With a 1080p wide-angle video and two-way audio, you’ll receive an alert on your smartphone any time someone rings the Ring Video Doorbell 2. Also, you'll be able to communicate with clarity while also recording footage.
Whether you opt for the battery-powered or hardwired version, both offer on-demand video and audio. This allows you to monitor your entryway from a distance using nothing but your phone.
If you want 5GHz WiFi support, you’ll need to consider either the Video Doorbell Pro or the upscale Video Doorbell Elite. These are only available hardwired and the Elite also offers power over Ethernet.
For most reasonable purposes, Doorbell 2 is a rock-solid choice. While it’s undeniably convenient to answer your door from the couch, this is not the main selling point. The most value comes from the way in which you can use this doorbell as the eyes and ears of your home monitoring system. No self-respecting monitoring set-up should be without one.
You could, of course, choose from a range of competing doorbells. Our aim today, though, is to streamline your set-up, not bewilder you with excessive options.
With the smart video doorbell in place, you should focus your attention on adding in some wireless cameras, both indoors and out in the yard.
Indoor Wireless Security Cameras
Indoor security cameras wear many hats. Obviously, in the event of anyone entering your home without your consent, you’ll benefit from recorded footage to help you and the police both.
With indoor cameras, you’ll also be able to keep a close eye on babies and toddlers if you don’t want to invest in a single-purpose baby intercom. After all, with a wireless camera, you’ll get the advantages of an intercom with plenty of extra functionality baked in.
An indoor camera also works well if you have service staff and you’d like to monitor proceedings from a distance without being intrusive.
Which ones are the best, though? Well, ambitious start-up Wyze is taking the market by storm offering class-leading wireless security cameras at scarcely believable prices…
Wyze Cam Pan
Packing Alexa functionality, you can monitor your Wyze Cams from anywhere in your house, making it easy to keep an eye on your kids or pets from a distance.
You’ll also be able to enjoy HD live streaming to your smartphone, reassuring you when you’re not at home. Any security breach triggering the panning camera will result in an instant notification pinged right to your phone.
Both motion and sound detection are recorded and you’ll benefit from rolling 14-day cloud storage with no subscription required.
You can monitor multiple Wyze Cams simultaneously in-app, making this the ideal addition to any home monitoring system.
What about outdoors, though?
Outdoor Wireless Security Cameras
Outdoor security cameras serve a different purpose and help you to perform two core jobs:
- Make your home, with a clearly visible camera and sign, much less attractive to any would-be burglars
- Capture and record footage so if someone does attempt breaking in, you’ll have all the evidence you need to take further action
This is an extremely crowded vertical with all major brands clamoring for a slice of the security camera pie. Again, rather than muddying the waters with a list of 10 great outdoor cameras, we’ll point you in the direction of the best of the best.
And that comes from Arlo.
Arlo Pro Wireless HD Security Camera with Base Station
Completely wire-free, the Arlo Pro is perfect for renters and homeowners alike. After all, if you’re renting your property, you won’t want to get involved in extensive rewiring and you won’t want prohibitive contracts from home monitoring companies either. With the DIY Arlo Pro, you don’t have to worry about either of those things.
You can watch both live and recorded footage directly from your phone. This camera works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT for seamless hands-free scheduling. The free app is responsive, user-friendly and allows to monitor your home using your phone, tablet, laptop or TV. Monitoring can happen how you like and when you like.
You’ll enjoy crisp, clear two-way audio while the HD camera also places clarity uppermost.
Anything triggering the sensors will ensure you’re immediately alerted while a piercing 100-decibel siren should see any wrongdoers scurrying for cover.
A hard-hitting home monitoring system leaves no dark corners exposed. You should seriously consider throwing some motion-activated lighting into your defense strategy.
Motion-Activated Smart Security Lights
If your yard has darkened areas, not only is this inconvenient for you when you come home after dark, it also provides any potential burglars with ample cover to gain entry undetected.
With such a selection of motion-activated smart lighting up for grabs, there’s no excuse to leave the flanks of your connected home unprotected.
We’ll return to security legend Ring here who have their outdoor smart lighting game on-point. Their purchase of LED specialist Mr. Beams has strengthened and deepened their range.
If you’re looking to build out several ring products, the smart lighting bridge allows you to build in your video doorbell and cameras creating that fabled Ring of Security around your home. In addition, you’ll also be able to include up to 50 smart lighting devices, more than adequate for even a sprawling smart home.
The Floodlight Cam packs a pair of sensors capable of facial recognition and object recognition. Therefore, any time someone or something unexpected triggers these sensors, a raucous alarm will send and the garden will be bathed in 3000 Kelvins of light.
With a wide-angle view spanning 270 degrees, you’ll leave no area of your outdoor space vulnerable and you’ll be able to stay connected remotely around the clock.
Check out the entire Ring Smart Lighting range for more inspiration.
Now that you have all the basics of a home monitoring system in place, it’s time for a final flourish with some valuable extras to take you the extra mile.
However much attention you lavish on securing your smart home, what’s the one obvious weak point with any residential property?
That’s right, the windows. In other words, expanses of glass make it all too easy for anyone with ill intent to gain access with nothing but a hammer or a nearby stone required.
You can fight back, though.
The Nest Detect makes sure that you're alerted if any doors or windows are breached. You can also use it to protect rooms you don’t want people wandering into undetected.
To start, you can attach these sensors wherever you want to monitor motion or opening, and you can monitor proceedings in-app on your smartphone.
However, sensors don’t end at windows and doors. Think about the damage that smoke can create, especially if you’re sleeping upstairs or away from home when a fire starts. Again, there’s no excuse not to take action on this front.
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Smoke and carbon monoxide are silent killers responsible for many deaths each year.
Avoid becoming a statistic and purchase the Insteon Smoke Bridge bundled with a First Alert detector. This detector is capable of picking up on any traces of smoke and carbon monoxide. You can receive remote alerts on your smartphone if you have the Insteon Hub we outline above. You’ll also be able to link this device to other Insteon tech in your home. This means that lights will be triggered if any smoke trips the sensors.
Entirely wireless and coming with a choice of voice alerts, there's no need to face a ruined smart home.
Water Leak Detectors
To round out your home monitoring system, you should give due consideration to a water leak detector.
We strongly suggest this 6-pack of Insteon Water Leak Sensors, which is ideal for protecting all vulnerable appliances in a larger connected home.
Again, when used in connection with the hub we describe above, you’ll stay fully aware of any unwanted moisture, whether from a washing machine, toilet or any other water appliance in your home. By taking prompt and decisive action, you could save yourself from a flooded home and a ruinous insurance claim.
Making Your Home Monitoring Devices Work Together
In conclusion, if you build out a home monitoring system with all the above devices, you’ll have done everything you can to protect yourself and your beloved tech from harm.
By ensuring you have a home hub and smart speaker in place, you’ll be able to take charge remotely or using voice commands.
As long as you check closely for compatibility before purchase, you’ll also be able to automate devices so they work in complete harmony. Just like we said at the beginning, creating a rock-solid home monitoring system couldn’t be much easier, demands no tech skills, and can be done on a reasonable budget.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to go shopping!