How to secure your home on a budget

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With the coronavirus still very much a part of our daily lives, Americans are spending an excessive amount of time at home. As stay-at-home recommendations keep even the most active people at home, more and more people are suddenly looking to their home security in a whole new light.

Of course, home security doesn’t look quite like it used to, now that artificial intelligence and smart technology have changed the market. Before you can determine the best home security for your family, you first need to understand what options are available, and that can seem like quite an undertaking.

At Bankrate, we keep our finger on the pulse of the security market, not only identifying what’s available, but also what is worth the investment. Despite all of the fancy models available on today’s market, there are some easy and affordable ways to effectively use home technology to keep your family safe, during a pandemic or not.

How COVID-19 has changed home security

In the first six months of 2020, the FBI reported an overall decrease in property crimes compared to 2019 data. While this is likely due to more people at home to discourage break-ins, an increase of nearly 15% in murder and homicide crimes did occur during the same time frame.

Nationwide, crime is down throughout the U.S. with the exception of the South, which experienced an increase of 2.5%. With tourism still alive and thriving in states like Florida, it’s no surprise that both COVID infections and crimes remain on the rise from the continued travel and activity.

Property crime is down in all four major regions of the U.S. — undoubtedly an attribution to the rise in home security since the coronavirus outbreak. However, with more people at home, there has also been an increase in home arson, with cities of one million residents or more experiencing an rise of 52%. Car thefts and vehicle break-ins are also on the rise.

When you begin to shop for the right security protection for your home, it’s important to keep in mind what specific threats you face so you know how best to protect yourself, your family and your property.

Easy and affordable home security

Many families are put off by home security because of all the fancy and elaborate options available. It seems extraordinarily expensive to outfit a home with the right safety devices necessary, but the truth is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to make your home safer. There are plenty of cost-effective ways to keep the family safe with just a little creativity and a few minor investments.

Cheap yet effective security

There are many ways to leverage home security in your home without spending a fortune.

Wyze Cam Pan

  • Best for digital zoom
  • Average cost: $29.99

The Wyze Cam Pan offers a clear picture with an advanced 1920x1080p resolution, 110°/sec rotation, and its signature Pan ScanTM for a full panoramic view. You won’t miss anything with a 360° horizontal range, 93° vertical range, and 8x digital zoom, plus six infrared LEDs to offer grayscale and evening picture. The camera automatically detects motions, tagging and tracking for easy reference later or in real-time. Even better, the whole thing is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant for easy command throughout your home.

SV3C Outdoor Wi-Fi Camera

  • Best for seniors and new users
  • Average cost: $49.99

The SV3C Outdoor Wi-Fi Camera will keep an eye on the perimeter of your property with a 1080p IP camera that offers full night vision. There is built-in motion detection with automatic alerts, plus the added benefit of a 64GB SD card for your MPEG-4 or AVI footage. The aluminum design receives an IP66 waterproof rating, so it’s safe for the elements. Plus, there’s an easy Wi-Fi and wireless setup, so you don’t have to be tech-savvy to get the camera up and running. It makes it a great fit for those who are newer to home security and appreciate a simpler setup.

Yi Dome Camera

  • Best for cloud security and storage
  • Average cost: $33.99

The Yi Dome Camera from Yi Technology comes in 1080p HD with full 360° coverage through both 345° horizontal and 115° vertical rotation. Night vision delivers a crystal-clear picture, thanks to eight different infrared LED beads. That means the camera offers viewing of 3 meters in complete darkness and without any light pollution that can impact your family’s sleep. Yi Technology highly prioritizes your security, with highly-encrypted cloud-based security to keep all of your data private and secure, plus an optional privacy cover for extra security when you are not using it. There are tons of easy features for added convenience, such as a built-in 2-way microphone with intercom and the optional hands-free mode, with real-time alerts and automatic 10-second motion tracking when it detects movement.

Wansview Q5

  • Best for widespread monitoring
  • Average price: $29.99

The Wansview Q5 is a Wi-Fi-enabled live IP camera with 1080P HD picture that is advertised to suit a whole host of purposes, such as a baby, pet or nanny cam. There is a motion detector with a built-in microphone, 2-way audio, and night vision, plus the system works with Alexa to offer voice command and storage is through the Cloud. There are 4 different IR LEDs that offer images even in complete darkness for up to 5 meters without light pollution. However, the Wansview Q5 is only compatible with 2.4G Wi-Fi, so 5G users may be disappointed.

ZOSI C190

  • Best for advanced AI tech
  • Average cost: $29.99

The ZOSI C190 Wireless Outdoor Security Camera is one smart camera offering two-way audio, motion alerts, smart 12-piece light and 85 dB alarms, and color night vision for up to 80 feet. It features an IP67 Waterproof design with either a wired or wireless option with additional SD Card Storage. Most impressively, Zosi features smart technology that utilizes AI for human detection. That means your camera can recognize body shapes and face patterns, triggering automatic motion alerts when necessary, so you don’t get bogged down by animals, leaves, or birds.

Blink Mini

  • Best for a compact model
  • Average cost: $34.99 each or $64.99 for two

The Blink Mini camera is a 1080P HD camera meant for the interior of your home with a simple plug-in design. You can customize motion detection zones with smartphone alerts, and there’s a non-continuous live feed with motion detection and two-way audio. It’s compatible with Alexa and pairs with other Alexa-enabled devices, too. You have the choice of one camera or two in a compact, space-efficient design, and it comes with a free trial of Blink cloud storage so you can take the service for a test drive before you decide to buy.

Maximus Video Camera and Outdoor Light

  • Best for smart lighting
  • Average cost: $179

The Maximus Video Camera and Outdoor Light offers 720p wide-angle picture with HD live and recorded video, a smart motion detector, and a two-way intercom with a built-in 100 dB alarm. When movement is detected, Maximus will send automatic alerts to your phone with a Bluetooth-enabled AC adapter-powered design. However, what’s most striking about it is that it pairs with Kuna smart lights, so you not only take control of your home security but your lighting, as well. Maximus gives you the option to add a subscription plan, too, with a free trial to enjoy first.

Ring

  • Best for comprehensive security
  • Average cost: $59.99 – $996.99

Ring offers an entire suite of home security options, with both a la carte and full package options. Choose from indoor or outdoor cameras with optional spotlight or floodlight for extra security, with the added options of video doorbells, smart lighting or a full-fledged, comprehensive security system. All devices coordinate together to offer a full live view with two-way talk and built-in motion detectors for both inside and out. Ring is compatible with Alexa with a free trial of Ring Protect service, which allows recording, people-only detection mode and device protection with an extended warranty.

SimpliSafe

  • Best for full-service monitoring
  • Average cost: $99 – $342

SimpliSafe offers tons of home security options, too. You have the option to choose from pre-selected packages or customize your perfect home system, or you can buy refurbished to save even more money. SimpliSafe offers advanced cameras that utilize a unique heat signature to detect humans and not pets or animals. There are also open door and window alerts with whole-home protection, a 95dB siren, and 24/7 monitoring through six different monitoring centers. In addition to SimpliCam, there are smart door locks and video doorbells available. Wi-Fi and cellular are built-in, plus a trusty backup battery to ensure video never fails, no matter what happens.

Other ways to secure your home

There are other ways that you can deter would-be vandals with some simple tips like these.

  • Keep a large dog bowl on your porch.
    Criminals would rather vandalize a home that doesn’t have any pets, so if they see evidence that you have a dog, they may think again before stepping onto your property.
  • Buy a home security sign.
    Amazon and several other retailers offer home security signs that you can place in your yard to show the public that your home is under security surveillance.
  • Keep a pair of large work boots on your porch.
    This can be especially helpful to those who live alone and want to give the impression that another resident lives in the home.
  • Use timed lights.
    On those nights when you work late or have an unexpected delay, timed lights will still come on at the predetermined time and make even an empty home seem occupied.
  • Use your dog cam and/or nanny cam.
    Some people may not have a full security system in place, but dog or nanny cams can be a wonderful addition to the home to help ensure our pets and children are protected.
  • Add a door security bar.
    Door locks can sometimes be tampered with, so ensure doors cannot be pried open with the help of a door security bar.
  • Put up fake security cameras.
    Even if they are not recording, realistic-looking fake cameras can give the illusion that your property is under surveillance and can still help deter criminals.
  • Add the Chamberlain MYQ-G0201.
    This handy device gives you control of your garage door on the go with automatic notifications every time it is opened.
  • Install a noisy door stopper.
    No one likes creaky doors, especially criminals, so the louder you make your entryways, the less likely it is that robbers will continue into your property.
  • Use the Wemo F7C030fc Light Switch.
    For around $35, you can buy this smart light switch that integrates with Alexa and Google Assistant for full control and programmable options of your home lighting.
  • Switch to a portable door lock.
    Even cheaper is a portable door lock. Made for hinged doors, this door lock can be added to traditional doors as an extra layer of security to ensure that no one can enter unless you allow it.
  • Use a portable door alarm.
    Like the portable door lock, an alarm will deliver a shrieking siren that can immediately alert emergency help.
  • Invest in solar outdoor lights.
    Skip the extra utility bill and add some solar lights to the exterior of your property, adding a brightly-lit backdrop to your residence.
  • Get to know your neighbors.
    Your next-door neighbors can be your best home security system because they will most likely notice if something is amiss. Neighbors can provide immediate assistance if necessary and can also check in on your home when you are away.
  • Trick intruders with noise.
    Use Google Home or Alexa to fill your home with the sounds of television, conversation or music to make thieves think that there are people home even when there are not.

Apps for home safety

We may not be traveling much right now, but one day, our activity will pick up and we’ll once again spend a lot of time outside of the home. Home security apps are immensely helpful when we are not home, but many also come with added features that can make them useful within the home, too.

  • Vivint Smart Home
    Vivint offers a full suite of comprehensive home security solutions, including smart outdoor, indoor and doorbell cameras with smart door locks, thermostats and home control. The Vivint app keeps you in control at all times, no matter where you are, with features like Smart Deter technology, which not only detects danger but actively prevents it through light and sound. There is also access to 24/7 monitoring and member support.
  • AtHome Camera
    Ichano’s AtHome Camera is a remote camera with live video surveillance. It’s Wi-Fi-enabled to power features like two-way talk, motion detection and night vision, which are controlled via the app. You can also log in using your computer to manage your home camera.
  • tinyCam Monitor
    The tinyCam Monitor is a free download that uses remote surveillance to control up to 16 cameras with four cameras managed simultaneously. The system can work through private or public networks, IP cameras, video encoders and DVRs. You can control what you record through digital video recordings that integrate with Fire TV and Google Chromecast.
  • Nest
    Nest is now Google Nest, sold via the Google Store thanks to a recent merger with Google. There are a host of security solutions, including cameras, smart thermostats, smart doorbells, smart locks, smart alarms and smart smoke and CO detectors, that all integrate with the Google Nest app. You can receive exclusive notifications and benefits like person alerts, Supersight that includes a 4K sensor and HDR picture with close-up tracking, talk and listen in available HD, and familiar face alerts so you don’t get bothered with alerts for a family member
  • Presence
    A free app, Presence uses the camera on any smart device, such as an old phone, for real-time video security monitoring. It can also connect to door sensors and window sensors so you can receive detailed reporting on all traffic in and out of your home. Presence installs in minutes, is compatible with most platforms and does not require a subscription.
  • Cove
    Simple to use and easy to install, Cove offers DIY home security without any contracts. The system uses a tamper-proof Cove Touch Alarm Panel that features two-way audio and an 84dB siren. It’s also connected to six 24/7 monitoring centers with RapidSOS emergency dispatch that the company claims can cut emergency services response time by as much as four minutes.
  • ADT Mobile App
    ADT is known for home security, and its mobile app further simplifies things, regardless of whether you are Team iPhone or Android. In addition to offering remote control over home security, the ADT mobile app allows users to track alarm history, manage payments and update contacts.
  • FrontPoint
    FrontPoint offers comprehensive home security that’s integrated into one mobile app and protected by the power of bank-grade encryption. Users can customize their systems, which start at $99 and use cellular technology for greater reliability. There’s also battery backup that lasts a full day.
  • Protect America SMART Connect
    Protect America is the home security app by Brinks Home Security. It is free to download and allows those with Brinks to better control and manage their security systems through remote control and automation. In addition to alerts, the app allows you to view cameras and disarm the security system.
  • Ring Mobile App
    The Ring Always Home app integrates with your Wi-Fi-enabled security cameras and doorbells. It also taps into the local community, sending instant alerts for motion detectors and real-time alerts for crime with two-way audio. You can download Ring Video Recording for a free 30-day trial that you can use to save and share all your videos for future playback.
  • Arlo
    Great for home or business, Arlo also offers flexibility in its video cameras with either a wired or wireless option. Also available are smart doorbells and the Pro 3 Floodlight Camera for super-bright exterior lighting that’s all controlled by the easy-to-use mobile app.

The bottom line

These are unprecedented times we found ourselves in as we trudge forward despite COVID’s greedy grip. America is spending more time at home than it has in decades, and it’s already bred all-new fears about the safety of home.

No matter where you live, you don’t have to spend a million bucks on securing your home with upgraded security tools. Smart home technology has created some serious innovation — it’s just a matter of finding out which one is best for you, and chances are, there’s an app for that, too.

There are also other more affordable DIY projects that can be taken on, such as grabbing a dog bowl for the front porch from Goodwill or a home security sign from Amazon. Many of these ideas do not cost much and are simple and safe enough to implement yourself at home.

No matter what you decide, it is possible to help keep the homefront secure without spending a fortune, and it’s easy to get started today.