Not long ago, options for securing your home while on vacation went no further than locking the door and asking your neighbor to 'keep an eye out.' Perhaps you had a couple of grainy CCTV cameras, and while the alarm was set, who actually responds to their wails, other than to complain about the noise?
Thankfully times have changed, technology has improved and the smart home can keep itself safe while you're on the beach.
This article will mostly be focused on scheduling devices to work in a way they would if you were home; lights come on in the evening, blinds open in the morning, and maybe even music can play on the weekend. We will also look briefly as motion sensors and alarm systems, but for a deeper dive on this, click here:
Here are some of the best smart home devices to use to keep your property safe and deter burglars while on vacation:
Automated window blinds
Is there a bigger giveaway of you not being home than your blinds remaining in the same position for an entire week? Anyone looking for properties to target will see this as a clear sign that no one is home, especially if the lights remain equally unused (but more on that in a minute).
As we recently wrote about on GearBrain, there are a number of options available when it comes to installing automated window blinds. Some are expensive (we're talking hundreds of dollars per window), while other solutions cost just $150 per blind.
For the complete system, it is hard to beat Lutron — especially if remote control and automation are important to you. The company's Serena system offers a wide range of designs and fabrics, then the Caseta Smart Bridge gives support for Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, SmartThings, IFTTT and more.
An Alexa routine can be created to open your blinds at a certain time each morning, then close them again in the evening. This not only prevents burglars from peering in, but also gives the impression that someone is home. To make their operation look even more natural, you could create an IFTTT applet to open and close them at sunrise and sunset each day.
For those on a smaller budget, try the Soma, a motor which pulls on the existing cord or chain to raise and lower the blinds whenever you ask. Being solar powered, they won't run out of juice while you're away, and Alexa control means routines can easily be created.
For more on smart blinds and shades, click here:
Smart lights on a schedule
Following the same theory we applied to the blinds, smart lights can be set to switch on and off each day to simulate you being at home. Smart lighting systems by Philips Hue, Lifx and Sylvania all work with Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can easily set up daily schedules and routines.
At its simplest, you'll want the lights to come on in the morning then go off at night. But you can go much further by separating each room into its own 'group' in the Alexa app, or 'room' in Google Home. Then, for example, the bedroom lights can switch on briefly in the morning and again at night, while the living room and kitchen can be set to function on a different schedule. Outdoor lighting could also be programmed this way, really making it look like you're home.
Wiz smart lighting makes all this simpler by already having a vacation mode, where the lights switch on and off in patterns which resemble someone being home.
Finally, Lifx lights can play a second key role. The company's Life Plus range emit invisible infrared light at night, which boosts the quality of footage recorded by security cameras with an infrared night vision function.
For more on smart lights, click here:
Cameras and signs
Automated blinds and lights will go some way to help deter burglars, but if they still think your home is a worthy target you should be prepared. There are a wide range of wired and wireless security cameras available to suit most budgets.
These cameras use motion detection to make sure they only record when they see movement, and some even use artificial intelligence to identify an unknown person before filming — saving the battery from being drained every time next door's cat walks past.
The mere sight of a security camera on the side of your property could be enough to put off most potential burglars, but you could increase the deterrent by putting up a sign, either on a wall, in a window, or on a stake in the garden, stating that trespassers will be caught on video.
For more on smart home security cameras, click here:
On a similar note, the video doorbell is a useful security device to keep an eye on your front door and deter anyone who might be looking for a way in. Devices like the August Doorbell Cam Pro, Ring Video Doorbell and Skybell HD will start recording when they see movement and notify you. Recorded video is stored online and can be viewed afterwards.
A microphone and speaker gives these devices two-way audio, so you can speak to whoever is at the door through your smartphone — useful if you want to tell the delivery driver to leave a package by the door, or to ward off anyone who shouldn't be there.
For more on video doorbells, click here:
Window and door sensors
If the worst should happen and a window or door is opened while you are away, a simple sensor could alert you immediately. Sensors sold by Wink, Hive and others hook up to your Z-Wave compatible smart home hub, notifying you when the window or door they are attached to has been opened.
Taking this a step further, smart alarm systems like the Nest Secure use combined motion and opening sensors which alert you when they detect movement and when the door or window they are attached to is opened while you are away. Another off-the-shelf option is the Simplisafe, which connects to door, window and motion sensors, but can also alert you if it hears broken glass - and it apparently even knows the difference between a smashed window and a dropped plate.
For more on sensors and home alarm systems, click here:
A smart plug and a lamp
You don't need to spend a fortune to keep the burglars at bay during your next vacation. The simplest and cheapest deterrent involves a smart plug (which can cost less than $20) and any lamp you already own.
Smart plugs connect to the internet via your Wi-Fi network and can be controlled remotely from your smartphone, or set to function on a timer. Simply plug one into a wall outlet, then plug your lamp into it. Now head to the smartphone app and set the plug to switch on for a few hours each evening.
Place the lamp in a window which can be seen from the roadside, and it will look like someone is home, switching the light on and off each evening. This set of four smart plugs by Etekcity costs just over $60, and gives you plenty of options for having multiple lights switch on and off at different times each day.
For more on smart plugs and switches, click here: