Whether you’re just starting off in the world of smart home security or you just want to brush up on some key terms, this is the right place for you. From installation to monitoring, from the mobile application to storage, this article defines all of the terms that come up whenever you discuss home security. If you’re looking to buy a home security system, check out the best home security systems of 2019. Otherwise, sit back and relax as you educate yourself on the key terms of home security!
Home Security Components A-Z
This list goes in alphabetical order and includes every term there is when it comes to smart home security. This is a useful guide for either reading our home security reviews or shopping for a system on your own.
Amazon Alexa is the voice assistant from the Amazon Echo, Amazon’s smart home platform device. You can ask Alexa to read your schedule, tell you what step to take next with your cooking, or buy you stuff from, you guessed it, Amazon. Amazon Alexa is the most popular voice assistant and has more than 50,000 skills available. Many connected devices work with Amazon Alexa, allowing for voice commands.
By using artificial intelligence technology, some cameras can differentiate between people, animals, and other moving objects like cars. Cameras with animal or pet detection can tell you whenever they detect your furry friends, and will notify you when that happens. Pet detection isn’t as common as person detection, but it is definitely useful if you’re looking to monitor your pet throughout the day.
Apple HomeKit is Apple’s smart home platform where you can command its voice assistant, Siri. Unlike with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit doesn’t require a physical device but is a software that you can set up on your iOS devices, allowing for voice commands. It’s the third most popular smart home platform, after Amazon and Google, and is ingratiated with many IoT devices.
Audio refers to sound, most likely from a security camera or siren when you’re talking home security. The best home security cameras have a speaker and a microphone so the user can not only hear what the people in front of the camera are saying, but can actually speak back to them.
Audio is measured in decibels. It’s important to make sure that any siren you have is loud enough for you to hear throughout the house!
A base station is the electric component of a home security system that connects and syncs all of its components, from sensors to key fobs to panic buttons. From there, the base station connects to your mobile application so you can receive notifications, either via a Wi-Fi, ZigBee, or Z-wave connection, depending on the system. Not all security systems require base stations, which can also be referred to as hubs.
A simple way to keep your system on during a power outage is through battery backup. This means that your system depends not only on your house’s power, but on an external battery. Of course, this solution is temporary as the battery will eventually run out of power, but it’s nice to have if you don’t have cellular or landline backup. Another advantage is that you won’t have to pay a monthly or yearly fee, like with cellular backup.
You know when you’re not in a Wi-Fi zone and your phone uses data? Your security system can use the exact same cellular data to stay on in the event of a power outage. Typically, you’ll have to pay a monthly or yearly fee for cellular backup, which can vary greatly from company to company. However, sometimes it is built into the base station or is included in the system via a cellular communicator.
If you have 24/7 professional monitoring and no landline, you’ll need a cellular communicator to make sure they’re always connected. The communicator will work only with your home security system, and not any other devices like your phone, computer or television. All you’ll need is cell reception to ensure that the monitoring team can always check in to verify an emergency.
As opposed to local storage, meaning that your footage is backed up on a physical object like a hard drive or micro-SD card, cloud storage stores footage via web storage. It can come in the form of the company’s own cloud storage, or something like a personal Dropbox or Google Drive. Companies vary greatly when it comes to pricing for cloud storage, from free to $30 for 30 days of cloud storage. Even if the company doesn’t offer any cloud storage, I recommend backing up local footage to a cloud for backup.
Color Night Vision
If a camera comes with a spotlight or any bright white light, the night vision will be in color as opposed to infrared. Although color night vision may seem closer to real life, I actually prefer infrared as it’s less conspicuous.
The majority of home security systems on the market today have DIY, or Do It Yourself installation. But don’t worry— you don’t have to be a tech expert to set up your typical security system. They are designed specifically for people who aren’t experts, with adhesive backings, wireless components, and simple mounting structures. Of course, some security systems are easier to set up then others.
Entry sensors, also known as door, window, or contact sensors, let you know whenever a door or window has been opened or closed. You can also use it for drawers, safes, or anything else that opens and closes. One part of the sensor is a motion sensor, while the other is a magnet. The pieces go on the door or window’s frame and the door or window itself, respectively. You’ll be notified whenever movement is detected. Entry sensors are a key component of any home security system and should be used for main doorways and windows on the first floor in particular.
Powered by artificial intelligence, facial recognition means that a camera can, over time, learn familiar faces. From there, you can name the faces that the camera has recognized to make your notifications more specific than ever, like that your friend Abby walked into your home rather than just a generic person. On the flip side, if the camera hasn’t seen the person before, you can be alerted of an unfamiliar face, equally useful information. Not all security cameras have facial recognition, but it’s a feature of many of the more advanced models.
Garage Door Sensor
Garage door sensors are entry sensors specifically designed to fit on your garage door, alerting you whenever it’s opened or closed. You’ll put a motion sensor either on the garage door’s frame or on the door itself, and vice versa with the magnet. When the two components move away from each other, you’ll be alerted via your mobile application.
Geofencing means that you link up your phone’s GPS to a smart device, be it a light bulb, thermostat, or security system, so that it responds to your location. For example, you can have geofencing on a security camera so that it arms whenever you leave your house and disarms when you come back. In other words, geofencing automates triggers for connected devices, making your smart home work for you and not the other way around.
Glass Break Sensor
Glass break sensors can sense when glass is broken, as the name implies. This covers the event that, instead of opening a door or window, an intruder breaks the glass instead so that the entry sensors don’t go off.
Google Assistant is the virtual voice assistant from the Google Home Hub, Google’s smart home platform device. Using the wake word “Ok Google,” you can ask Google Assistant to play music, Youtube videos, TV shows, movies, video chat with your friends, and tops of other actions. Google Assistant is one of the most popular voice assistants, second to Amazon Alexa. It has over 4,200 actions in areas that range from cooking to shopping to music.
A hard drive is a device that stores footage from your security camera, a form of local storage. Typically, systems from wholesale security companies like Swann, Night Owl and Lorex come with hard drives, part of a more minimalist system. From the hard drive, you should also upload the footage onto cloud storage so that if someone happens to the hard drive, you still have access.
Home automation occurs when connected devices, otherwise known as WiFi-enabled or Internet of Things devices, trigger actions in each other. For example, you can have your front porch lights turn on whenever your outdoor camera detects a person automatically so that you don’t have to manually turn on the lights for them. Home automation can occur within brands, like having Nest products trigger one another, or, if the components work with IFTTT, across different brands.
HZO is a film that providers electronic components with total protection against solids and liquids, making them completely waterproof. It’s a Parylene barrier coating that can be used with any IoT product like outdoor security cameras, plugs, etc. Unfortunately, few brands feature HZO technology on their products, although it’s by far the most durable method of weather protection.
IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, is a free platform that allows connected devices from different brands to communicate with and trigger one another. So if a device is IFTTT-compatible, it can be paired up with any other IFTTT-compatible device.
Infrared Night Vision
As opposed to color night vision from a bright white light, infrared night vision stems from LED sensors that detect thermal radiation as opposed to movement. As it doesn’t require light, which is what allows us to see color, the image from infrared light is black and white, only detecting heat.
IP ratings, otherwise known as Ingress Protection ratings, are an international standard that defines how susceptible an object is to solids and liquids. The rating itself is composed of two digits. The first one refers to solids, which the second one refers to liquids. The above chart explains what each digit means. For example, an item with an IP rating of 68 is the most durable and protected from foreign bodies, completely dust tight and able to be immersed in water over one meter.
Much like car keys that let you unlock your door from afar, security system key fobs are wireless, electronic devices that let you arm and disarm your system without using the keypad, base station or app. Many often include a panic button which allows you to contact your local hospital, fire department, or police office with maximum convenience. Not all security systems come with key fobs, but they’re an easy way to control your security system with minimal effort.
Some security systems have keypads with passcodes that allow you to arm and disarm your system. Typically, these keypads also have a timer that gives you around 30 seconds to exit your house after the system is armed. The keypad communicates with the base station and the sensors to let them know when the system is armed and disarmed. Not all security systems have keypads, and they are more common in older security systems, usually placed on a wall near the front or side door.
On the off change that you still have a landline, landline backup uses the power stemming from your communication wire or cable that your phone uses, which is either installed underground or on poles. The main advantage of landline backup over cellular is that if you call the police, they’ll automatically know your location.
While the Federal Communications Commission requires that cell phones have location information for emergency calls, this is often not the case with fuzzy GPS, which is particularly common in urban environments. Even seemingly small delays in getting location information can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping you safe, which is why landline backup is a surefire way not only to keep your security system on in the event of a power outage, but also to alert the police of your location immediately.
LED, or Light Emitting Diode sensors, are electrical sensors that detect light, often used in smart home security for infrared night vision. Known for being cost-effective, they are incredibly energy-efficient, much better than conventional photodiode sensors.
Livestream means that you can view your camera’s footage in real time from a mobile or desktop application. The entire purpose of smart security cameras is that so you can livestream footage remotely, so you can always stay on top of your home’s security. One thing to keep in mind regarding livestreaming is that the delay (or lack thereof) will depend on your Internet speed and bandwidth, which is why it’s essential to have high-speed Internet if you want to livestream footage.
Stemming from either a USB port, hard drive or micro-SD card slot, some cameras let you download footage directly from the camera onto an outside device, as opposed to storing it virtually in a cloud. I prefer cameras with both cloud and local storage in case one method fails. Local storage is typically free, but not always.
A Micro SD (Secure Digital) card is a memory card that you can use for portable devices like smart security cameras to store footage locally. It’s storage is in GB, usually 16 or 32. Not every security camera has local storage through a micro-SD card, but when they do have the appropriate slot, the card is often included. Once footage is download onto the card, you can remote it from the camera and back it up onto another device, cloud storage, or whatever you prefer.
Microsoft Cortana is Microsoft’s voice assistant initially released in 2014. It can answer questions, play music, tell the weather, and more. As Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant dominate this space, Microsoft Cortana has shifted from being a smart home platform to a Microsoft 365 subscriber skill. Rather than Cortana directly for schedules, emails, and other data, users can access the entire Office Suite on other smart home platforms or through the Cortana app.
A mobile application is the software interface where you’ll monitor and control your smart security system remotely. All of the systems and cameras that I’ve reviewed have own mobile applications for iOS, Android, and occasionally even desktops. On the apps, you’ll perform a number of actions, including:
- Livestreaming footage
- Accessing cloud storage
- Speaking through two-way audio
- Receiving notifications
- Adding multiple users
- Setting up home automation
- Setting up smart platform integrations
- Naming people if the camera has facial recognition
- Adjusting camera settings
- Connect to home Wi-Fi
As mobile applications are constantly being updated, it’s important to check out it’s ratings in either the Apple or Google Play store before buying any connected device.
A motion sensor is a typically wireless electric component than can detect motion in a room within a certain range. They communicate with either a base station or directly to the mobile app via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave or ZigBee. Motion sensors can be effected by walls and furniture, so there ranges may not be exact. However, they’re an essential part of any home security system, especially for areas your camera does not cover.
Night vision is a camera’s ability to show a clear picture even in darkness. It comes in two forms: infrared and color. Infrared night vision is made possible by LED sensors, which detect body heat and show a black and white image. Color night vision, on the other hand, stems from a bright white light, much more conspicuous than LED sensors. In general, I prefer infrared night vision over color, and it’s more common. However, a few cameras give you options for both.
This is a pretty rare feature for a smart security camera, but I’ve seen some with the artificial intelligence to differentiate packages between other objects like people, animals, cars, and more. This is especially useful if you’re worried about your package being stolen, as you’ll be alerted when it gets delivered.
A panic button is a wireless electrical component of a home security system that can connect you to your local police or fire department, and/ or your local hospital. Not all security systems come with panic buttons, but they’re useful to keep in your bedside table. A panic button can either be a component of its own, or a button on a key fob mainly used to arm and disarm the system. There can also be panic buttons on the keypad, base station, and other security system components.
Person detection is a form of artificial intelligence that allows cameras to tell people apart from animals, cars, and any other moving object. With person detection, the user will be notified only when the camera detects a person, making fewer but more important notifications. Person detection is necessary for facial recognition, a more advanced A.I feature.
Professional installation means that a skilled technician, usually hired by the company itself or a third-party in some cases, will come to your home and set up your system for you. In the modern smart security market, most of the systems have DIY installation. Professional installation tends to be expensive and, with the simplicity of these systems, typically isn’t necessary. However, it may be better for a senior or anyone that wants the convenience of professional installation.
A range extender extends the reach of your base station so that you can put other components further away. You plug it into a wall in order to expand your base station’s range. These may or may not be necessary, depending on the size of your house and your security needs.
A security camera is an electrical device with video and audio capabilities that captures footage of the inside or outside of one’s home for surveillance and safety purposes. Smart security cameras connect to Wi-Fi, enabling users to monitor and control their cameras remotely. They may have night vision, most likely infrared, cloud and/ or local storage, smart platform integrations, two-way audio, and artificial intelligence. Cameras can either be wireless or plug in to a wall. There are options for indoor use and weather-resistant options for outdoor use.
Self-monitoring means that you’ll monitor your security system yourself through a mobile application as opposed to also having a team of professional monitors at your disposal 24/7. The benefit of self-monitoring is that you won’t have to pay monthly or yearly fees for professional monitoring, but you will be 100% responsible for your home’s security. So if you’re in a meeting, on vacation, or otherwise occupied, you’ll be on your own as far as responding to notifications, livestreaming footage and contacting emergency services.
A siren is an electrical device that emits a loud noise in order to scare away intruders and alert the homeowner that an alarm has been set off. Sirens are measured in decibels, and it’s important to make sure that you can hear the siren from all rooms of your house. There are indoor and outdoor sirens available, although indoor are more common. Sometimes, sirens are built into cameras, base stations, and other components of a smart home security system.
Siri is Apple’s virtual assistant on Apple HomeKit on iOS devices. You can ask Siri to map directions, play a Youtube video, or look up a restaurant’s rating. Siri is the third most popular voice assistant after Amazon Alexa at number one and Google Assistant at number two.
A smart lock is a Wi-Fi connected lock that you can control and monitor from a mobile application. Smart locks may or may not require an existing deadbolt. While some replace the lock with a keypad, some sit on the interior of the deadbolt. They communicate with your phone either over Wi-Fi, Z-wave or Zigbee. Some are battery-operated and some are hardwired. There are also a number of features that smart locks can have like geofencing, the ability to add temporary passcodes for guests, event logs, and auto lock. Many are also integrated with voice assistants and connected devices from other brands, allowing for voice commands and automation. Some even let you use your existing key, if you prefer.
Smart Platform Integration
If a device has smart platform integrations, that means that it works with smart platforms like Amazon Echo, Google Home Hub, Apple HomeKit or Microsoft Cortana, enabling voice commands. It can also mean that the device can hook up to other connected devices so that you can create triggers.
Smoke/ CO sensor
Smoke and CO detectors detect dangerous levels of smoke and carbon monoxide, beeping loudly if they sense something is off. Smart detectors even notify your mobile application and can be controlled remotely. Often smart smoke and CO detectors have detection for:
- Slow-burning fires: Otherwise known as ionization, this sensing capability might give you some false alerts.
- Fast-burning fires: More common in house fires, photoelectric sensing is essential for any smoke alarm.
- Temperature: A sudden rise in temperature might be a sign of a fire, so this makes the sensor more sophisticated.
- Humidity: Humidity-sensing lets the sensor differentiate between steam and smoke, reducing the likelihood of a false alarm.
- Occupancy: Measured through heat-sensing PIR sensors, some smoke and CO alarms can tell if someone walks by, turning on a light for them as they pass.
- Ambient light: To save energy, some sensors can tell how much light is in a room naturally, adjusting their lights accordingly.
Sensors often have voice alerts in addition to light, siren, and text alerts. They can either be battery-operated or hard wired into one’s home, connecting to the user’s mobile app via Wi0Fi, Bluetooth or Z-Wave. Many have smart platform integrations, professional monitoring options, as well as cellular backup to ensure it stays on during a power outage.
Storage is a space where you put something for safekeeping. When it comes to home security, storage typically refers to video footage and clips, either stored locally on an external device or digitally through a cloud server. Storage should ideally be encrypted so that only the person with the key can access it. I recommend backing up your footage through both cloud and local storage, in case one method fails. Cloud storage can either be free or might require monthly or yearly fees, although local storage is typically free. Not all cameras have both forms of storage, although you can always download your local storage onto your own personal Cloud storage for backup.
Two-way audio means that a camera has a microphone as well as a speaker, enabling the user to speak to whoever the camera is in front of remotely through their mobile application. While most cameras have microphones, picking up the sound of who is being recorded, not all have speakers for two-way talk, but this is a Security Baron Necessary Feature. It’s useful if you ever have an intrusion, or just to speak to someone from far away without straining your voice or having to pick up the phone!
Video means the recording or reproducing of moving visual images, which you probably already know from being a person in society. But when it comes to home security, video is tantamount, part of a home security camera that may also include infrared night vision, two-way audio, and other features. You can use video to make sure there’s no one at your home, or, if there is an intruder, to help the police catch the perp. Ideally, a security camera’s video display is 1080p HD or clearer, as we’ve seen with some 4k cameras.
A video doorbell, which may or may not require an existing doorbell, is a video camera that works with your doorbell so that you are notified either when the doorbell is pushed or when the camera detects motion. Video doorbells may be battery-operated or hard-wired into homes, and they connect to mobile applications allowing for notifications. They also include two-way audio, allowing the user to speak to whoever’s at the door through the app, plus night vision, storage, smart platform integrations and possibly even person detection or facial recognition. With video doorbells, you’ll know exactly who’s at your door, no matter where you are.
Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology that allows for high-speed Internet and connections to networks. Basically, it’s the reason why laptops and mobile devices exist, allowing you to access the Internet wirelessly using radio frequency technology. Any connected device could use Wi-Fi as a means of communicating with a mobile device, if not Bluetooth, Zigbee or Z-Wave.
When I write that a product is “wired”, I mean that it plugs into something in order to retrieve power, as opposed to a wireless, battery-operated electrical component. Some products can be either wired or wireless, while some are one or the other. The big advantage of wired electrical components are that you never have to worry about changing the battery. However, they are definitely worse in terms of installation and aesthetics, creating a less minimal setup.
Wireless means that an electrical component does not need to be plugged into anything for it to be on. Many Internet of Things devices are wireless like smart sensors, cameras, and others. Most wireless devices use a battery for their power, while some are powered by solar energy. While wireless components typically make for easy installation, they make run out of power at some point if the batteries go out. However, they will stay on in a power outage, given the batteries have power left, a little talked-about advantage.
Zigbee is a specification for a communication protocol that creates personal area networks with digital radios for home automation. It’s a more simple and less expensive alternative to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, only requiring a short-range low-rate wireless data transfer. In English? A Zigbee connection uses less power to connect your IoT devices to mobile applications. It’s perfect for smart home products, especially if they have long battery lives. Plus, Zigbee networks are symmetrically encrypted, so all of your network will be secure.
Z-Wave is a wireless communications protocol that utilizes low-energy radio waves to help appliances communicate with each other as well as mobile applications. It’s mainly used for home automation on Internet of Things devices like smart security systems, light bulbs, thermostats, and more. You can either control a Z-Wave system through a phone, hub or smart speaker. As of 2019, there were over 2,6000 Z-Wave products, according to a report from NBC.
Recap of Home Security Components A-Z
And that’s it for my home security glossary! If you have any other questions, please leave them below and I’m sure to get back to you soon. If you’re ready to delve into buying your home security system, start off with the best security cameras of 2019.