Computers / Buying Guide

Home Alone: How to Secure Your Home for the Holidays


Nothing spoils a vacation more than coming home to find someone else has been there—uninvited. And if you think thieves share your holiday spirit and will just sit around and roast chestnuts before they leave, think again. According to the FBI, in 2015 there were an estimated 7,993,631 property crime offenses in the nation that resulted in losses estimated at $14.3 billion, and burglaries of residential properties accounted for 71.6 percent of all property crime offenses. How can you prevent yourself from being a statistic? How can you make sure that when your home is uninhabited, it stays that way until you return? The best defense is offense, and you can stay on the offensive by keeping your home secure with a few simple products.

The Front of the House

Most people are satisfied with the basics: front-of-house surveillance that includes a vandal- and weather-proof camera or two, networking capability, and possibly extras like night vision and motion detection. For peace of mind, most homeowners want some type of notification that someone is entering the property, as well. So, here are a couple of pointers for home surveillance systems, especially for beginners. You want to make sure that your system is expandable, meaning that you can add cameras to the network, and you want to make sure that you can hide or camouflage the cameras inconspicuously—which is why we also prefer wireless systems, because fewer cords on the outside mean lower visibility—and savvy thieves know where to look for home-surveillance cameras, so you want to place them where they can’t be seen or accessed. However, you also have to be careful concerning the range and resolution of the camera; if you place it too high up on your property, you won’t get a good view of the perpetrators, and if you place it so that it’s too accessible, you run the risk of having it vandalized. And finally, try to find weatherproof cameras—what good is the camera if it melts in the rain?

A system like the Arlo Pro Smart Security System is easily set up and hidden. The 720p camera that comes with the system is fully wireless and is IP65-rated for all-weather use. It is battery operated and only records if motion or sound is detected, providing up to 6 months of use on a single charge. Wi-Fi connectivity and the included mounting bracket allow you to place it anywhere and move it as needed. Add more cameras to the Base Station for even more security and easily view live video streams of up to 5 connected cameras right from your smartphone or tablet via the Arlo mobile app for iOS and Android. But is outside security enough for you? Let’s take a look at the other parts of the house.

arlo Pro Smart Security System with Base Station and 1 720p Outdoor Wireless Camera

The Front Door

Let’s start with your front door. This is the gateway to your castle, the first defense for most homes. When you’re away on vacation, this is the area that will be trafficked the most, and the first place burglars test to see if anyone is home. So let’s start with touchscreen deadbolts.

The benefits of touch-key deadbolts are two-fold. For one, they’re a great deterrent for would-be burglars, who might think twice about entering a home with a sophisticated entry—the reasoning being that if the homeowner is going to spend the money to install an expensive deadbolt like this, then the inside of the home must be pretty secure, as well. Yale makes a great series of electronic deadbolts, some of which are keyless and some of which are keypad/key combos. The second benefit of these, for the keypad-only versions, is that they can’t be picked like a traditional lock.

Yale Key-Free Push-Button Z-Wave Deadbolt Entry Lock

After that, we move up to door monitors. If you’re on vacation, a door monitor won’t really help you, but if you have a house-sitter for the holidays, a door monitor is an extra level of security that will deter would-be miscreants from entering your humble (or mansion-like) abode. Some basic sets like the Swann SWHOM-DP875C Doorphone Video Intercom come with a 4.3" LCD color monitor with limited night-vision capability, a doorbell with an integrated camera, and two-way audio. This starter set is a good place to start, but you can increase your options with something like the Optex iVision+ Wireless Intercom System, which allows you to carry the monitor around like a smartphone for greater flexibility. This set even takes pictures of missed visitors so you can see who came knocking while you were away.

Optex iVision+ Wireless Intercom System

Common Rooms

The next rooms in your house that could benefit from some home security are the Living Room, Dining Room, or Kitchen. What could you possibly use in these rooms to secure them? Door and window sensors and alarms. Some are simple and include magnetic catches that are triggered when the door or window is opened. Others, like the iSmartAlarm Preferred Package Home Security System, include wireless home and remote access monitoring, and extras like RF device monitoring. Some systems like these need a central hub to operate, and interact with other devices in your home. This kit includes two door and window contact sensors and a motion-detection sensor with a 110dB siren that can also alert you via smartphone or tablet when there is movement in the house or a door or window is opened. When you download the app you can get push notifications, SMS alerts, or even a phone call. You can also customize your system by creating custom modes, rules, zones, and even adjust volumes and countdowns. The system is upgradeable, too—you can add more contact sensors, motion sensors, or even a smart switch to control appliances, as well as an iCamera for streaming video.

iSmartAlarm Preferred Package Home Security System

The Bedroom

What possible protection could you need in the bedroom to thwart would-be thieves? Believe it or not, thieves are easily discouraged when they believe someone else is on the property, and what better way to give that illusion than with a Smart Switch? A Smart Switch can control lights and appliances remotely, giving the appearance that your home is occupied. Unlike automated timers of the past, you can even control the times the lights turn on and off, and stagger them so that a smart thief who thinks the lights are on a timer can be fooled into thinking someone is manually and randomly turning lights and appliances on (having the TV turn on randomly is also a good trick to keeping burglars on their toes). All the major players in Home Automation have smart switches, including Piper, iSmart, and TP-Link. If you already have a hub in place for any of these systems, buy the corresponding Smart Switch for them, if necessary.

TP-Link HS100 Wi-Fi Smart Plug

Behind the House: The Backyard

The backyard and property facing away from your house is probably the most open and vulnerable area of your home. Even in areas where conjoined properties abut each other, entering a home from the rear is the preferred ingress of professional home burglars. You should take as much care with the rear of the house as the front and, for that, you’re going to want to add cameras to the front-facing surveillance system, or invest in another surveillance system like the Lorex by FLIR 4-Channel 720p DVR with 4 720p Outdoor Cameras. This four-channel system includes a dedicated DVR with a 1TB HDD to record continuously while you’re away, and the resolution is high: 1280 x 720 (720p) at 30 fps per channel. It also includes four cameras, so you can place them with greater flexibility, and cover more area. You can control the cameras remotely via the app, and receive instant email alerts with snapshot attachments. Lorex also has a cloud service that allows you access to your system without configuring through your home network.

Lorex by FLIR 4-Channel 720p DVR with 1TB HDD and 4 720p Outdoor Bullet Cameras

The Garage

The last access point to your house that could use some surveillance is your garage. Getting into a home through the attached garage is second only to entering from the backyard—especially for homes with attached garages. With the Asante Garage Door Opener with Camera Kit, you receive a camera and home extender (that connects to your router) so that you can access, control, and monitor your garage door remotely from your iOS/Android tablet or smartphone. Paired with the Asante Garage Door Opener sensor (available separately), you can even receive email or SMS text messages when your garage door is opened or closed.

Asante Garage Door Opener with Camera Kit

Lastly, one of the nightmares homeowners face when coming back from vacation is a leak that went undetected, and now requires that you gather two of every animal into an ark. Believe it or not, there’s a sensor for that: the INSTEON Leak Sensor. It requires an INSTEON ecosystem and needs to be connected to your INSTEON network. If you have such a system, you’ll appreciate this handy leak sensor, which detects water leaking from toilets, sinks, dishwashers, refrigerators, and more. The included Lithium-Ion battery offers up to 10 years of battery life, and it’s a simple plug-and-play device; just set it on the floor, no drilling or wiring required. When using an INSTEON computer controller like HouseLinc, you can configure the software to send an email or text message upon an alert from the sensor. You can also link the sensor manually or via software to control a whole-house shutoff valve so it can automatically turn off all water to your home, or program your INSTEON sensor to communicate with INSTEON-connected lights to be visually alerted to leaks with flashing lights. Nifty. And property-saving, as well.

INSTEON Leak Sensor

So, there you have it. No need to spend your whole vacation wondering if someone is spending their holiday in your home. With these products (and many others sold at B&H), you can keep your property safe and secure, and treat yourself to a little peace of mind.

If you’re thinking of installing a home security monitoring system in your home and have questions, please post them in the Comments section, below.


Planing to update my security system next spring, & i have remote building and was wondering what is the distance for the wi-fi cameras or can they be equipted with a tele lens...

Hi Chief -

The working distance of Wi-Fi cameras is largely dependent upon the reach and coverage of your existing Wi-Fi network's signal.  Most wireless systems employ a built-in lens that is not removeable or interchangeable.  Please send us an e-mail detailing your specific project needs ad approximate budget range to: