You need your house to feel safe over the holidays, whether you're heading out of town or staying home to host family. That's where technology can help. Here's a look at the essential items to consider when you're defending your castle this Christmas.
1. Affordable security camera.
Security camera and receiver kits have been available for years, but now they can cost under $US100. The receiver lets you see (and in some cases hear) everything the camera captures, so you know who's outside your house.
2. Advanced smoke alarms.
Wireless smoke alarms can be installed throughout the house using radio frequency for interconnectivity. If one alarm goes off, they all go off. The $US50 alarms let you place one in every room without hassling with wiring.
3. Kitchen-specific fire extinguisher.
Cooking is the leading cause of house fires, and according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, 75 per cent of range and stove fires start with food catching on fire. The $US20 Kitchen Fire Extinguisher is designed for use with home cooking equipment. It has a unique nozzle that sprays sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in an arc pattern at low pressure (instead of a hard, direct spray), so the oil won't splatter and spread the fire or cause burns.
4. Unpredictable light timer.
Unlike timers that turn lights on and off at specific times, the House Sitter Random Light Timer flips the switches with no set pattern. The timer also works for radios and TVs. It costs $US19.
5. Fake television burglar deterrent.
The FakeTV is an electronic device that's smaller than a coffee cup, but it produces the same sort of light as a real 27-inch LCD television. From outside the house after dusk, the $US40 decoy TV light discourages burglars by creating the impression that someone is home.
6. Christmas tree fire detector.
A Christmas tree can catch on fire and be engulfed in flames within seconds. The LifeKeeper Christmas Tree Safety System has an angel ornament that's doubles as a heat detector, and sends a signal to a portable, wireless base alarm if the tree temperature gets too high. The $US37 angel's wings also blink every 24 hours to remind you to water your tree.
7. Home security apps.
Want to monitor your home while you're gone? Want to view cameras or turn lights on and off? There are apps to do that on iOS and Android. Prices range from free to $US100, depending on what you want to see, control and the security system in your house.
8. Solar-powered motion-detection lighting.
Almost everyone is familiar with outdoor motion sensor lighting fixtures — they turn on when they sense movement, lighting your way and scaring off prowlers. If you don't want to deal with wiring, this $70 solar-powered version can be placed anywhere. It stores a charge in the day and works through the night.
9. Live address delivery.
If you're ordering presents online but travelling during the holidays, make sure the gifts are delivered to a place where they'll be picked up. Leaving packages sitting on your front step for several days is never a good idea. If you're ordering through Amazon.com, use its locker delivery service that lets you pick up your packages at a secure location. It works!
10. Cheap, effective window alarms.
With these common alarms, one part self-adheres to the window pane, then the other part is placed next to it on the window sill. If the window is opened, the two pieces are separated, setting off a piercing alarm. The alarm costs $US10, and a switch deactivates it if you want to open the window. Works on doors, too.
11. CO and explosive gas detector.
Carbon monoxide alarms are essential in homes. You can go a step further and get an alarm that also detects explosive gas such as methane or propane. Get one with a digital display — then, you can know if any gas is present, not just when it reaches a level to trigger an alarm.
12. Driveway monitor.
If you want to know when a vehicle enters or leaves your driveway, get the $US121 Safety Technology International STI-34100 Solar Powered Wireless Driveway Monitor. Besides alerting you to an unexpected visitor, it also lets you know when company has arrived. Animals and people won't set it off.
13. Automatic garage door closer.
Sometimes you get in a hurry and forget to close the garage door. Or you wake up in the middle in the night wondering if you remembered to do it. The $US40 Garage Butler can ease your mind by automatically closing it for you. It works with your existing opening system and has an override if you want it to stay open.
14. Efficient, cool light strings.
Besides using about 90 per cent less energy than incandescent light strings and lasting about 10 times longer, LED light strings are also cooler, reducing the chance of fires. The upfront costs are a few bucks more, but you make that up by using less electricity over a longer lifespan.
What good home security technology did we miss?