A smoke alarm is useful only if someone is there to hear it. For our rental unit I installed a Roost battery: If the alarm goes off, I get a notification on my phone, and I can set it to ping a neighbor or family friend, too. (You can find more info in Wirecutter’s guide to smart smoke alarms.)
Budget-friendly upgrades: Security cameras and smart lights
Conspicuously mounted outdoor cameras, such as the Nest Cam Outdoor, do a great job of dissuading potential burglars (you can read about them in our guide to outdoor security cameras). I have one set under our front stoop that sends a notification and a video clip if someone approaches the basement door. Mounted on your house, a camera also lets you check on your property after inclement weather, a huge help if you have large trees or suffer from flooding. And Ms. Corey strongly advises against mounting fake cameras: “If you’re going to mount a camera get a real one — dummy cameras give you a false sense of security.”
You can install a low-cost motion-sensing camera — you can see our favorite models in our full guide to indoor security cameras — inside your home as well, and it’ll send word whenever anyone — a house sitter, dogwalker, repairperson, or potential burglar — crosses its path. It also lets you see live video and even communicate walkie-talkie style if need be.
Along with wind and hail, water is one of the most common sources of damage for homeowners. Tiny battery-powered moisture detectors such as the iHome Control Dual Leak Sensor, placed near a water heater or sewer drain, connect to your home’s Wi-Fi and send an alert to your phone if they sense a leak or flood. For more, we have a whole guide to smart leak detectors, and how to buy a good one.
Ms. Corey recommends using lighting timers, as long as you “make sure the lights and televisions and other items come on at different times, not always on the same schedule.” I’ve found that smart bulbs, such as Philips Hue or LIFX bulbs, are far easier to program and have “scenes” to trigger randomly. They can also trigger in connection with a motion sensor or another smart device like a lock, an additional burglar-busting feature.
“I strongly suggest having motion-sensor-activated lighting around the outside of the house — it’s one of the cheapest forms of security you can have,” Ms. Corey said.
The works: Smart locks, thermostats, and security systems
I installed a smart lock, the Yale Assure SL Connected by August, our pick for the best smart lock, because it eliminates the need to copy physical keys and keep track of them. I use an app to create a code anytime someone needs to come by — the house sitter, an Airbnb guest, the flooring person — and get a notification when they come and go. And I can disable access when I get home without needing to collect keys. I also set it to auto-lock if someone forgets. It’s low-profile and attractive, unlike many keypad locks.