Written by: Aaron Hall | Best Company Editorial Team
Last Updated: February 24th, 2020
Home security systems have been around for decades, but home automation has begun to be more commonplace with the introduction of smartphones. With the exception of a few companies, home automation features don't come standard with most home security systems. So with the extra money you'll be paying out of pocket every month, are the extra features really worth it? Allow us to explain what home automation is, what to expect, and if it's really worth it.
What is home automation?
Before we talk about home automation, we need to lay the foundation for understanding home security systems. If you've already signed a contract for a professionally-monitored home security system, you're paying a monthly fee for features like door and window sensors. Once mounted, these door and window sensors communicate to a central station in your home. From this base station, you can arm or disarm your system. When your system is armed and a door or window opens, the corresponding sensor will send a signal to the base station, triggering an alarm and notifying authorities. Systems can cost as little as $19.99/month and will have basic features like door and window sensors, and may include extras like window stickers and a yard sign. Sometimes, these are enough to deter crooks.
While it's nice to have a home that's professionally monitored against burglars, carbon monoxide, and fires, what if you want something that's on the cutting edge of technology? The home of the future probably sounds pretty appealing. This is essentially what home automation is, and luckily, home automation features are more approachable than you think. More and more companies are adopting home automation through tools like smartphones and voice-controlled devices such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home. When you pair your system with one of these tools, it's almost like your home has a built-in super computer.
Typically, your home automation system will function off an app that can be installed to your Android, iOS, or Windows device. This way, you can manage all sorts of home features from your phone or tablet even if you're halfway across the world. All you need is internet access. Here are some of the more common features for home automation:
- Locks — Doors with specially-equipped locks can communicate wirelessly with your smartphone. Lock your doors after you pull in to work if you forgot before you left the house.
- Thermostat — Adjust your home's temperature from your phone. Sometimes, you can set it to a particular schedule.
- Lights — Turn lights on and off through your phone. Like the thermostat, this can sometimes be automated. This is particularly useful if you're on vacation and you want your house to look lived in.
- Cameras — This is extremely common among DIY home security systems, but has become one of the most common home automation features. It's a great tool to keep an eye on your pets. You can even get alerts if a camera senses movement.
- Garage Doors — Open and close your garage door without a special garage door remote.
- Appliances — This is rarer, but not unheard of. Imagine preheating the oven before you come home to cook your family's prized chicken recipe before your guests show up.
Essentially, your smartphone app, Amazon Echo, or Google Home becomes an automation hub for all of these tools. You can adjust your thermostat, turn lights on and off, monitor security cameras, and more. Depending on the package, you can even set timers and schedules for your thermostat, lights, and other features. Make sure to consult with a professional home security representative from top companies so you know exactly what features you're paying for.
How much will it cost?
This depends on the provider. With some top companies, it can be as little as $12-22/month extra. With other companies, it can be difficult to say because they won't post the pricing information outright on their website. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, though. When you go directly to a company and ask for a quote based on the needs of your home, they can give you personalized feedback on what package will best suit your needs.
But let's grab a number for the sake of comparison. Home automation can cost as much as $144-$288 per year. This is as much as two dozen movie tickets or a month's worth of groceries. For some, that might be just a bit out of their range because they can barely afford the payments on their standalone security system. For others, that's chump change.
To be clear, almost every home security company these days will over some basic home automation feature standard. Usually, this is in the form of a smartphone app that can arm and disarm your home security system remotely. But when it comes to features such as remote lights, locks, and garage doors, that's going to vary depending on the provider.
Is it worth it for you?
By this point, you've probably already answered this question. Is it important to you to have these tools remotely available to you no matter where you are? Is this added peace of mind worth it? If you're still on the fence, here are a few questions you might want to consider:
- Are you a generally forgetful person when it comes to lights and door locks?
- Are you trying to save energy?
- Do you want to impress your friends, family, or neighbors?
- Do you have enough expendable income to justify the upgrade?
If you answered yes to the majority of those, home automation is probably a good option for you. But before you reach for the phone to call your home security company, make sure they have the features you're looking for. Top companies have different home automation packages, so you might find the features you're looking for in a different company. It pays to do your due diligence before you sign on the dotted line.