Phone home: Top-shelf home security systems have gone from sci-fi to Wi-fi

File photo. File photo.

You’re away from home on a business trip. Your cell phone buzzes in your pocket. It’s an alert from your home security app. There’s been a breach in one of your living room windows.

Your phone rings. It’s your home security monitoring company. They’ve detected the breach and will send a police officer unless you say it was a false alarm.

You flip over to your home security app and view the feed from your exterior camera. There’s someone trying to break in. But as the sound of Albemarle County Police Department sirens approach, the would-be burglar takes off running.

This type of home security suite would have been considered pie in the sky only about a decade ago. But according to local security professionals, as networking and cameras become more efficient, home security systems have entered the space age. Here’s a look at the latest advancements in technology designed to keep you and yours safe and sound.

Reliable detection

The logistics of motion sensors and door and window trip alarms haven’t changed much in the past decade, according to Travis Toms of Charlottesville’s Mechums River Security. They’re still mounted much the same as they’ve always been and monitored by an off-site team ready to call the homeowner at the hint of wrongdoing. But they have become more reliable.

“In terms of motion sensors, the equipment manufacturers have spent a lot of time making sure there are fewer accidental trips,” says Jim Ragsdale, president of local home electronics firm Arcane Technologies. “The false alarms have been a big negative for a long time.”

Ragsdale says if there is a false alarm, monitoring companies these days have multiple checks and balances in place beyond the analog password to make sure they get it right before calling the cops.

Cord cutting

Motion sensors have—like so many modern electronics—gone wireless. That means security system installation is now simpler and more efficient.

“I think that’s the biggest change,” Ragsdale says. “It gives you the opportunity to retrofit homes now where before you had to fish for wires. And that capability has come a long way. It’s more stable. It makes it accessible for a lot more homeowners.”

That doesn’t mean you have to go wireless. Toms says Mechums has customers who still prefer the peace of mind of a wired system.

Better cameras

Modern digital video recorders are smaller and offer higher resolutions at lower price points, which means video monitoring isn’t just for commercial customers anymore.

“Networking cameras increases the number that can be installed so you have better coverage and it allows for easier remote monitoring,” Ragsdale says. “It’s completely software based, so it can be programmed to provide analytics.”

That means masses of video data can be analyzed more quickly to determine if anything is amiss on a homeowner’s property, and the higher resolution allows the cameras to pick up more of what’s going on.

“We are doing a lot more cameras,” Toms says. “Where it was mostly more commercial, we’re seeing a lot of residential clients putting in cameras so they can view video any time on their laptops and tablets.”

It’s a technology that requires more participation on the part of the user, Ragsdale says, but it’s worth it for a lot of customers. Not only can it show the type of breach that occurred during a break-in attempt, it can be used to monitor delivery people who come to the door or make sure the kids get in the house safely after dark.

Full networking

Where home security systems long relied on landlines to link with homeowners, cell phones are now king of the castle. “Landlines are going by the wayside,” Ragsdale says.

But that’s just the beginning. Modern security systems are part of a larger home data collection mechanism, according to Ragsdale. “There are more and more components and appliances that are able to give us data,” he says. “They can be automated and incorporated into an overall residential system. The security system becomes one more element that is giving back metadata.”

The systems have long been capable of linking up with smoke and fire detectors, Toms says, but now they can also network with interior and exterior lighting and other systems.

All of the systems, from security to your washer and dryer, can be controlled in the palm of your hand. “The technology is just a lot faster and better now,” Toms says.