One of the first decisions you’ll make before building out your own smart home is weighing security features against convenience features. Most of the packages you’ll encounter will emphasize one or the other, even if they offer elements of both.

If you’re mostly interested in being alerted to a break-in, or a disaster such as a fire or a burst water pipe, you’ll be happier with a home security system—perhaps one with a service that can dispatch first responders on your behalf.

But if you’re more interested in the fun and convenience of a modern home technology—having lights turn on and off with voice commands, for example, or having a sprinkler system that operates in concert with the local weather—you’ll want a smart home system.

We’ve produced two stories that will help you understand the fundamentals of each type of system, so you can decide which is right for you. This one focuses on smart home systems. If you’re more interested in a home security system, we encourage you to read this other story.

The basics of a home security system

The home security business has been upended in recent years, driven by the availability of always-on broadband services, low-cost wireless technology, and—most recently—smart home technology. In years past, a service provider would send a technician to your home to install a big metal box in your closet, connect it to your land line, and run wired sensors to all your doors and windows. You’d need to sign up for an expensive long-term contract for professional monitoring, without which the system would be useless.

You can still buy professionally installed systems—from vendors such as ADT, Vivint, or even Comcast—with monitoring included in the price of the package. But a do-it-yourselfer can acquire equipment that’s every bit as good, if not always as flashy, and have it up and running in an hour or two. Opt-in professional monitoring is available with many of these systems, but if you’re looking to save even more money, some vendors let you monitor your own security using a smartphone app for free.

Some localities require you to obtain a permit before installing an alarm system, and they might charge you a fee if their first responders are dispatched based on a false alarm. The vendor you’re considering doing business with should be able to tell you if such a permit is required where you live.

Adobe Essentials Abode

Abode is our second-favorite security-focused smart home system, but it does offer one feature Ring Alarm doesn’t: Support for smart locks. 

Home security system kits

Most security systems are sold as kits, which ensures that all the components are known to work together. What comes in a security system starter kit? That will vary from one manufacturer to another, but the typical kit will include:





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