How do home security systems work?

Outdoor cam overlooking garden
(Image credit: Alamy)

Gone are the days where a home security professional would come to your home to wire an elaborate home security system throughout your house. Much like cable cutters who ditched the cable company, and now only pay for the streaming apps they want, home security has gone down a much similar path. Thanks to DIY (do it yourself) home security, you can mix and match the equipment you want to protect your home, and keep a watchful eye on your home while you’re away using your phone. 

A home security system can be as simple as installing one of the best video doorbells, or can be as advanced as a complete home security system with door and window sensors and indoor and outdoor cameras - all of which are connected to a central security hub. You can even have systems professionally monitored by a third-party professional monitoring company, but more on that later. 

When piecing together your first home security camera system you don’t necessarily have to buy products from the same company. There are many companies to choose from including popular brands Ring and Blink (you can read our comparison of Ring vs Blink), as well as Google, Eufy, Wyze and Arlo - to name a few. That being said, if you choose different companies to build your system, like a Ring video doorbell and an Arlo outdoor security camera, you’ll also have to use separate phone apps to manage your system, and that’s a bit of a pain. For simplification, we do recommend going with a single system home security brand to build out your entire system. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through what comprises a home security system, how home security systems work, and the best way to protect your home.

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How do home security systems work?

DIY home security systems connect your security devices, such as your video doorbell camera, indoor camera and outdoor camera, to your mobile devices, such as your phone or tablet. You can access live video feeds from the devices on your mobile device through the security devices app. For example, if you have a Ring device, you can watch live video from the Ring security device through the Ring app on your phone. This gives you control and peace of mind while you’re away from home that you can view what’s happening around your house.

Virtually all security camera devices have motion control. When motion is detected by your home security camera device, a notification will be sent to your phone alerting you that motion was detected. You can click on the notification and be taken directly to the live video feed. If you have a security device that records locally, like the eufy S330 camera, you will be able to view recorded clips of what triggered the motion. Many security companies use cloud video storage, but that often requires a subscription. 

For example, Ring uses a subscription service, Ring Protect Pro, that enables a handful of different features such as cloud video storage and advanced AI on certain home security devices. Ring also provides 24/7 professional home monitoring services through subscription. This means that when you aren’t near your phone, a home monitoring service provider can monitor activity, and even dispatch police to your home in the event of a break in. 


What does a typical home security system include?

Your home security system doesn’t have to be complicated. A comprehensive home security system can consist of three components.  A great place to start when building your first home security system is purchasing a video doorbell camera, an indoor security camera, and an outdoor security camera. But you can also buy a complete home security bundle from the likes of Ring or eufy with multiple components. Here’s a quick breakdown of a few components that can make up a security system bundle: 

  • Video doorbell camera - Displays video of your front door
  • Indoor camera - Displays video of an entire single room or area
  • Outdoor camera - A weatherproof camera that is mounted to your house and watches a specific area like your driveway or back porch 
  • Floodlight camera - Usually placed above your garage door or back patio, this security camera will automatically illuminate bright flood lights and record video when motion is detected
  • Window & door sensors - These alert you whenever a door or window is opened or closed 
  • Alarm panel - This can serve as a central hub to arm/disarm the entire home security system 

Buying a complete home security bundle can be costly, and more labor intensive when it comes to installation than purchasing a couple of individual home security system components. And frankly, buying window sensors for second or third story windows may be overkill. Like cord cutters, it's best to only pay for what you know you’ll use, and leave behind what you won’t. 

If you already have other Amazon Alexa enabled devices in your home, like an Amazon Echo for instance, consider going with Ring home security devices, or devices that are Alexa compatible. The same goes for those of you who are team Google – if you already have multiple Google or Google Assistant enabled devices in your home, consider Google enabled security devices. This will only help simplify managing your home security system by keeping everything in the same tech ecosystem, and allow you to do cool things like check your video cam footage, or arming your alarm system with your voice. 

Do home security systems need to be wired?

No. That’s the beauty of a DIY home security system. Many of the components are either battery operated or can be plugged into the wall. And when you purchase home security devices from the same brand, like Ring or Google, the app allows you access to all of the devices in one place. 

Do burglars avoid homes with security systems?

Yes. According to a study from the University of North Carolina Depart of Criminal Justice & Criminology, 60% of burglars will avoid a house with home security cameras. Considering there are roughly two burglaries in the United States every minute, a single home security camera outside of your home goes a long way in protecting your property.  

Jonathan Knoder
TTR Contributing Editor

With a Bachelors Degree in Communications and Media from Weber State University, Jonathan Knoder is all about Smart Home and AV tech. He currently works as a Content Manager for AvantGuard Monitoring Centers in Utah. Jonathan has written extensively, and at great length, about TV antennas and aerials for Top Ten Reviews, and this is his subject area.