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Home security demystified: How to build a smart DIY system

By Jennifer Tuohy | May 29, 2015
Homeowners and renters can now build and maintain their own custom-designed home security system easily and inexpensively.

Here's a look at the types of sensors you should consider adding to your home security system:

* Motion sensors — These are simple, slim devices that attach to your window or door and emit a loud noise if someone tries to open them. Basic models, such as the Doberman Door and Window Defender ($12.98) or the Swann Magnetic Window/Door Alarm ($7.95), operate as standalone wireless alarms, triggered by movement or vibration. They're perfect for that window or door that should never be opened.

* Motion detectors — These differ from motion sensors by sensing when a person or animal is moving in a space, rather than knowing when an object is opened or closed. Paired with outdoor lighting, such as the Defiant Motion Security Light ($149), you can have an excellent deterrent for prowlers. Wireless motion sensors can also be easily installed by a front or back door, as long as there is a power socket nearby, and can be set to make a noise or turn on a light when someone passes through an area.

* Smart motion sensors and detectors — Smart motion sensors or detectors connect to WiFi and send alerts to your smartphone when activated. They can also communicate with other devices in your home to set off an alarm or initiate another action. For example, the Belkin WeMo Switch + Motion work together to turn a light on when someone enters a room — both a security feature and a convenience for a homeowner coming home in the dark.

You can also configure smart motion sensors to send you alerts when specific actions occur, trigger your cameras to start recording so you can log on to your surveillance system, see what's happening and, if necessary, alert the authorities, in the same way a traditional security monitoring system would.

* Environmental sensors — Every home should have a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector. These basic sensors have been proven to save lives. More advanced environmental sensors include the ability to detect moisture levels, humidity and temperature. Connected devices can often pair with other products to expand their functionality. For example if you have a Nest Protect sensor, it can communicate with a Nest Thermostat, which will shut off the furnace if it senses smoke.

Another smart solution for home safety is a water sensor. Water sensors, such as the Wally Water Leak Detection System, will detect water leaks and changes in humidity and temperature and alert you via WiFi, helping you avoid or mitigate disasters caused by burst pipes or overflowing dishwashers.

* Smart lights — A tried and true home security method is having a light set on a timer to come on and off at certain times, giving the appearance that someone is home when they are not. A home that appears occupied is far less likely to be targeted for theft. Timers, however, are timed, meaning there is a routine that a thief might spot. Install some "smart" light bulbs, such as Philips Hue or GE Link and you can set any schedule you like for your two weeks in the Bahamas, and make it random enough to confound any burglar.


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