The Best Smart Security Devices to Make Your New Home Feel Safe
Jun 21, 2023
We’ve added information about the need for new homeowners to reset or disable legacy smart home devices installed by the previous owner.
For new homeowners, picking furniture, choosing paint schemes, and finding bath towels with the right fluff factor tend to be top priority. Home security, however, ought to be the first item on the list.
If that sounds like paranoia to you, relax—today’s DIY smart security systems and devices not only help foil burglars and other miscreants but also make life far more flexible and convenient.
Smart home security is more than just alarms and cameras. It encompasses anything that can provide a little peace of mind, whether that’s making sure the kids get home on time, checking that everything is locked up when you’re leaving the house, or even just ensuring that you don’t stub a toe when you’re scrounging for a midnight snack in your new surroundings. Although there’s no end of gadgets that you could install, we have a short list of must-have devices (and a few extras) that will do the trick for most everyone.
Before you begin adding any new gadgets, confirm whether your new home already has any smart devices installed. If so, and the previous owner hasn’t relinquished control of them, then that’s a major privacy and security no-no (and a potentially big hassle). Contact your real estate agent or the home’s seller before inking your mortgage to find out what devices are installed (and where), as well as what accounts are linked and whether any may be subject to long-term contracts—an issue with some home security systems. If there are legacy devices, you’ll need to establish a handover of accounts, which you can secure with new passwords. If you find devices after the purchase is complete, reach out to your real estate agent or the device manufacturer for help on how to disable or transfer ownership.
The worry: Even if your home has smoke detectors installed, you may have no idea how old they are or whether they even work. Plus, you can’t hear them when you’re not home. Some smoke alarms have a lifespan as short as five years, and most traditional models are heart-stoppingly loud when they go off—and since some have a hair trigger and tend to overreact, many people get fed up and disconnect them. Also, almost all smoke alarms chirp annoyingly when their battery is low, usually in the middle of the night.
The solution: A smart smoke alarm is the most important smart safety device you can install in your home. In addition to issuing loud local alarms, it alerts you by sending a notification to your smartphone, so you can take action whether you’re at home, out walking the dog, or at the office. And because a smart smoke alarm self-tests to confirm that it’s functioning properly, it will alert you before its batteries run low—no more 3 a.m. chirps.
The Nest Protect’s sensitivity to both slow- and fast-burning fires, ability to self-test, sleek design, smart notifications, and straightforward app make it the best smart safety device.
The Google Nest Protect is available either as a 10-year battery-powered model or a hardwired model, and both versions offer a host of other welcome features. In the event of smoke or carbon monoxide, a voice alert tells you which room is affected and indicates that the alarm will blast its siren soon—which gives you time to check things out and then use the app to pause any false alarms. (No need to pull out a broom whenever you burn dinner.) In case of a real emergency, you can set up the system to send smartphone alerts to friends, neighbors, caregivers, and other designated contacts. The one downside is that the Nest Protect doesn’t work with other smart-home devices and can’t contact police and fire directly—if you want someone else to be responsible for contacting emergency services, consider a professionally monitored home security system.
The worry: In addition to family and friends arriving on your doorstep, you can count on less-welcome visitors ranging from timeshare salespeople to porch pirates to raccoons pilfering your contact-free pizza delivery.
The solution: A smart doorbell camera alerts you whenever someone approaches your front door—even if they don’t ring the bell. These devices, which look like oversized doorbells, have a built-in video camera as well as a microphone, a speaker, and a motion sensor. When someone walks by, the motion sensor triggers the device to send a notification to your smartphone. From there, you can open the app to view and, if you like, speak to the person at the door, or you can simply ignore it. You can also look through recordings of everyone and everything that has come to your doorstep in your absence. And the system can keep tabs on what deliveries are waiting (or should be waiting) when you get home.
This slick doorbell can alert you to packages on your porch, as well as to people, animals, and cars going by. Its wide, 180-degree field of view and its square image reduce blind spots so that you can see people and packages.
This affordable smart doorbell offers a lot of complex features, including a 2K image, person detection, local storage, customizable responses, and a separate wireless chime.
We like the Arlo Essential Wired Video Doorbell because it provides a wide, 180-degree, head-to-toe view in front of your door. And when it sends smartphone alerts about movement in front of the door, it tells you whether the movement is due to a person, an animal, a package delivery, or a vehicle. This Arlo doorbell requires hardwiring and comes with a subscription to Arlo’s video cloud service (starting at $5 per month). If either of those requirements is an issue for you, the Eufy Security Video Doorbell 2K (Battery-Powered) works similarly but doesn’t need to be wired to your home, and because it provides the option to store all your recordings on a memory card, it doesn’t require a subscription.
The worry: You’ve finally moved in, and now your nights of peaceful sleep are replaced by recurring nightmares about break-ins, leaking pipes, house fires, and whether you left the back door or kitchen window open.
The solution: A home security system can’t prevent bad things from happening, but installing one means that you will be alerted quickly should something go awry, so you can take action to keep matters from getting worse. DIY smart security systems have all the same features as traditional professionally installed systems but none of the outrageously priced contracts (though their installation requires a modest amount of elbow grease). These systems include an array of sensors that alert you if they detect movement in your home, if a window or door is left open, or even if there’s an unexpected drop in temperature that could be a concern. Many systems also work with security cameras, so you can use your smartphone to see what’s happening in real time before emergency services are dispatched. We highly recommend pairing one of these systems with a professional-monitoring plan so that in the event of an alarm, a live person from a call center will contact you directly, and if that fails, they’ll call a trusted emergency contact. (Otherwise, you need to be on call 24/7 to watch for smartphone alerts.)
The latest Ring security system has a built-in Wi-Fi 6 router, works with almost every type of add-on you can imagine, and provides internet backup (for a fee) and the option to add up to 24 additional hours of backup power in case of an outage.
The Ring Alarm Pro system is easy to install and use, and because it’s scalable, you can add sensors, cameras, and other accessories as your needs change or grow. It also offers the biggest bang for your buck for professional monitoring at just $20 per month or $200 per year. The big hook is that the system includes a built-in Eero Wi-Fi 6 router, which can improve your Wi-Fi speed for security cameras and other smart-home devices, as well as create a backup web connection in case you lose power or internet (with the Ring Protect Pro plan). If you don’t need the router or don’t want professional monitoring, you can still use this system, though a better option in that case is the Ring Alarm (2nd Generation).
The worry: You dread the prospect of being woken at midnight and having to arm yourself with a flashlight to go investigate whatever (or whoever) it is that’s causing a ruckus by the back door, behind the garage, or anywhere else that gives you the heebie-jeebies.
The solution: An outdoor Wi-Fi camera can cover all the areas around your home that a smart doorbell camera can’t capture—a hidden corner of the front porch, the garbage cans, the back deck, or even parts of the yard. Like a doorbell camera, an outdoor Wi-Fi camera includes a microphone, a speaker, and a motion sensor, and it not only allows you to look around the house in real time but also sends you a notification when it detects motion; in addition, it stores recordings so that you can access them whenever you need. Plus, one of the best ways to convince a burglar not to burgle is to let them know that they’re being watched with your conspicuously placed security camera.
This battery-operated outdoor Wi-Fi camera provides clear 2K images. With the paid subscription, it can also distinguish between people, animals, vehicles, packages, and general motion.
The Ring Stick Up Cam can run on an included weather-resistant cord or an add-on battery. It delivers 1080p video and can distinguish between people and other moving objects.
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If you want a completely cord-free option, we recommend the Arlo Pro 4 Spotlight Camera, which provides clear 2K images and color night vision and has an Auto Zoom and Tracking feature that automatically zooms in to follow any notable moving object in the camera’s field of view. Arlo cameras require a subscription (starting at $5 per month) for cloud storage of your video recordings, but that subscription also enables more sophisticated features, such as the ability to distinguish between people, animals, vehicles, package deliveries, and general motion (that way, you aren’t inundated with false alarms). The Ring Stick Up Cam Plug-In doesn’t have as many features as the Arlo model, but it is a good permanent option if you have a nearby plug. It captures crisp 1080p video and also requires subscribing to a cloud storage plan ($4 per month or $40 per year), and it saves your videos for up to 60 days.
The worry: You may have left the door unlocked. You think you left the door unlocked. Could you have left the door unlocked? Wait—are the kids locked out? Also, you don’t want the hassle of giving your kids, a babysitter, a neighbor, your in-laws, and your plumber their own sets of spare keys and keeping track of them all.
The solution: A smart lock eases all those worries instantly. Because you can variously use a customizable PIN code, a fingerprint, or an app to unlock your door, you no longer need to copy or hand out keys. You can use the app to check on the status of the door lock and get notifications whenever it opens or closes—and even who is coming and going. And because you can connect to a smart lock remotely, it allows you to unlock it through the app when you aren’t home, a nice bonus if you need to grant temporary access to a family member, friend, or mail carrier. You can find models without keypads, too, but we find keypad models to be more convenient, especially for households with family members who don’t have smartphones.
This compact, versatile, and quiet smart lock’s top feature is a fast (though sometimes faulty) fingerprint reader. Its rubber number keys will please most anyone, too.
For anyone who wants to keep an existing keyway, the Wyze Lock is fast and quiet. It also has a built-in sensor to detect when your door is ajar and includes a tiny plug-in Wi-Fi adapter.
If you’re not entirely sure which access method you’ll use the most, invest in the Ultraloq U-Bolt Pro WiFi. It offers several ways for you to get into your home, including a keypad, a fingerprint scanner, app access—and a traditional key, as a backup. If you’re partial to your front door’s current deadbolt lock, and you don’t want to (or can’t) replace it, the Wyze Lock connects to your existing deadbolt’s keyway and replaces the thumb-turn mechanism. The Wyze model doesn’t have a keypad or fingerprint scanner (though an add-on keypad is available), but it does enable remote access and smartphone notifications for any existing deadbolt.
The worry: Along with learning how to move comfortably around the layout of your new home, you’ll quickly discover all the unexpected noises and forbidding dark corners that emerge inside and all around your home.
The solution: Smart lighting is a reliable antidote to the creep factor that comes with suddenly occupying a new place. You can easily program smart lights to turn on and off at preferred times of day, but you can also set them to turn on with a trigger from other smart devices, such as security cameras and motion sensors—or even when you arrive home. That way, you never have to roam around in a dark house searching for a light switch. You can find a wide range of smart-lighting options for both indoors and outdoors, from hardwired fixtures to solar-powered footlights and accent bollards, but the easiest and most cost-effective approach is to use one or more smart light bulbs. These bulbs screw into lamps and fixtures just like traditional bulbs do, making it dead simple for you to add smart lighting to any area inside or outside your home without having to fuss with wiring.
This affordable smart bulb is one of the brightest we’ve tested. It doesn’t offer special effects, but it does provide excellent colors and reliable basic features, including remote control, scheduling, and timers.
The Wyze Bulb Color is one of the brightest smart bulbs we’ve tested, with an output of 1,100 lumens—the equivalent light output of a 75-watt bulb. You can schedule it to go on at specific times or days or even based on local sunrise/sunset times, and you can tweak the color of the light to whatever warmth or hue or dimming level you like. The Wyze Bulb also has a clever Vacation Mode, which turns it (and, if you like, other Wyze Bulbs in your home) on and off randomly to mimic the effect of someone being at home when you’re actually not. Although indoor smart bulbs aren’t technically rated for outdoor use, they should be fine when shielded from the elements in a weathertight fixture; if you’re concerned about your sconces, or if your area gets brutal weather, opt for smart lights that are rated for outdoor use.
This article was edited by Jon Chase.
Rachel Cericola is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter who has been covering smart-home technology since the days of X10. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, Men’s Health, USA Today, and others. She hopes her neighbors read this bio because it would explain why she always has four video doorbells running simultaneously outside her home.
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