Home Security Goes Wireless
Use your laptop or cell phone to monitor what's happening when you're not there.
A home-surveillance system isn't just for rich recluses and gadget mavens anymore. New security and remote-control products make it possible for the rest of us to spy on our own homes at the office, in the car or even from across the globe. Not all of the systems are plug-and-play. A do-it-yourselfer should be comfortable with home networks and at home on the Internet before installing one. If you're not, get a professional to do the job.
Your eyes and ears. Using inexpensive wireless sensors and cameras, these new systems can be set up and monitored using a Web browser (or, in some cases, a cell phone). And unlike traditional home-security systems, which sound the alarm by land-line phone in an emergency, these systems contact your home-security provider via broadband Internet or cell-phone network.
Most of the monitoring services will accommodate video cameras. But many people say that webcams make them nervous. (Nobody wants to be seen on YouTube walking around in his underwear.) Then there's another factor to consider: Web-enabled cameras are often tricky to install. We had trouble setting up the video hardware from several manufacturers. In each case, the camera couldn't break through our home router's firewall to reach the Internet, and we had to contact the vendors for additional help. Of the systems we tested, the following are our top picks because they were the easiest to install and the easiest to use.
Security System Module
This system is available through resellers, who also provide monitoring services and set the price. Alarm.com supplies a module that plugs into the control panel of a system from GE Security. According to Mary Knebel, vice-president of marketing for Alarm.com, equipment and installation start at about $600, and monthly monitoring fees range from $30 to $50.
The system's excellent Web-based controls allow you to adjust home settings from anywhere. For example, you can log on to your account from the office and activate the alarm you forgot to set in the morning. It's easy to program the system to send a notification if, say, the front door or medicine cabinet is opened. You can add X10 modules to turn lights on and off automatically. Plus, the system allows inter-actions between sensors. For example, you can set the motion detector on the basement stairs to tell the sensor in the kitchen to turn on the light.
For the Do-It-Yourselfer
This off-the-shelf packageÑa relatively cheap $300 when you sign up for a one-year monitoring contract at $30 a monthÑis made-to-order for the do-it-yourselfer. It includes a console; eight wireless sensors for doors, windows and cabinets; a handset that doubles as a cordless home phone; a grid extender for boosting the radio signal throughout the house; and a keychain remote. The installation guide is well written, easy to follow and jargon-free. InGrid even supplies ad-hesive strips to attach the sensors, so you don't have to fuss with screws and drills.
You can use InGrid's well-organized interface to set up the system and log in from any Web browser. For instance, we configured the system to send an e-mail and a text message when the bathroom window was opened. The text message arrived within seconds to a cell phone; a spam filter blocked the e-mail until it was reconfigured to let the message through.
The kit has its limitations, however. To set up more-sophisticated remote-control and monitoring tasks, you'll need to add a la carte hardware, such as additional door and window sensors ($30 each), wireless glass-break detectors ($80), motion sensors ($115) and smoke-and-heat detectors ($100).