Knowing when people arrive at your home can be convenient and add an additional layer of security to your home. For example, at night you can automatically turn on exterior lights to make it easier for guests to safely approach your home, allow people inside the home to see who is arriving, and simulate occupancy when nobody is home.
When looking at solutions for detecting the arrival of guests (both those that are expected and those that are unexpected/unwanted), it is best to look at solutions in order of their ability to detect people:
- As they approach the home
- As they get closer to the home
- When they are at the door
Driveway sensors are one effective detection technology for homeowners. Driveway sensing alarms are based on two very different technologies: motion sensing and vehicle sensing.
Motion-sensing driveway alarms, such as the Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm, consist of an outdoor motion sensor and a receiver unit that is placed inside your home. The outdoor motion sensor can be placed up to 400 feet away from the receiver.
Guardline’s outdoor motion sensor is battery powered, while the receiver’s primary source of power is a plug-in power supply. Batteries can also be installed in the receiver to provide backup power in the event of a power outage.
The Guardline system allows for multiple sensors so, for example, both entrances to a circular driveway can be covered. In addition, multiple receivers can be placed around a home so the alert chime can be heard anywhere in the home.
The Guardline sensor includes adjustments for:
- Sensitivity of the sensor between 13 feet and 40 feet
- Field of view of the sensor
- Whether objects have to be moving at a certain speed to be detected
- Whether objects will only be detected at night
Operation of the system can also be paused for 30 minutes so you can leave your home and not have the system chime that a guest has arrived. This is useful, for example, if one person leaves for work early in the morning while other family members are sleeping.
Finally, the system can easily be integrated with a smart home processor/hub. The receiver includes connections for both a 12-volt trigger output and normally open/normally closed relay outputs. The relay outputs can be connected directly to digital inputs on a smart home processor or to the switch input on a relay from a brand like Shelly. The Shelly relay, for example, provides an inexpensive solution for integrating the Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm with a wide variety of smart home ecosystems. I’ve written a free Crestron-Shelly integration driver that can be downloaded from my GitHub here.
A limitation of a motion sensing driveway alarm is simply that it detects any kind of motion and can’t differentiate between a vehicle entering a driveway and a deer or other animal being detected. Setting the option that requires objects to move at 2 mph before they will trigger an alert can minimize, but not fully eliminate, this problem.
The alternative is a vehicle sensor that can detect the metal in a car as it passes by. These sensors are immune to false alarms from animals. On the other hand, it also won’t detect if someone walks up your driveway to your home.
The Dakota Alert Dual 4K Plus driveway alarm kit consists of two driveway probes that are buried in the ground next to your driveway, a battery operated transmitter that is connected by a wire to the probes and mounted on a nearby tree or post, and a receiver unit that is installed in the home. The sensors can detect cars up to 10 feet away, so additional sensor/transmitter units may be required for wide driveways.
A unique feature of the Dakota system is that it can determine the direction of travel of a vehicle, so different alerts can be configured for a vehicle entering the driveway versus leaving.
Other features of the Dakota system are:
- The receiver and transmitter can be located up to 1 mile apart making the system ideal for large properties.
- Up to 16 transmitters can be connected to a single receiver
- One of 12 different notification “tunes” can be programmed to play for different events
- The receiver can be configured to flash a built in LED light in response to events
- The receiver can be configured to close one of two built-in relays in response to events for integration with a smart home processor/hub
- The receiver can be configured to trigger a 12-volt output in response to events for integration with a smart home processor/hub
Motion-sensing floodlights are another option for exterior home detection technology. Floodlights with a built-in motion sensor can be purchased at any big-box home improvement store. They can be mounted on a garage, or post, so they turn on when a car approaches. There are countless manufacturers of these devices and they typically include a light sensor, so the floodlights are only turned on at night, and the ability to adjust the amount of time the lights will stay on after motion is sensed.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to directly integrate these motion sensors with a smart home processor/hub. However, HomeSeer manufactures a Z-Wave-enabled motion sensor that is a direct replacement for the one included with most floodlights. Installation of the HomeSeer motion sensor is a straightforward “DIY” project. Once installed and acquired by a Z-Wave compatible, smart home, hub, a user can receive Z-Wave notifications when motion is sensed and turn the floodlight on/off with Z-Wave commands.
Sensing People at a Door
There are three ways that you can sense when people arrive at your front door:
- Outdoor Rated Smart Motion Sensor
- Video Camera with Motion Detection
- Smart Doorbell
A simple way to detect a person at your front door is with a battery-operated, outdoor motion sensor. Since the device is battery operated, it can be mounted almost anywhere it can “view” the front door of your home. Integrating it with a smart home processor/hub allows you to send notifications to your smart phone of the event and turn on a porch light so you can identify who is at the door and simulate occupancy of the home.
Zooz manufactures a Z-Wave outdoor-rated motion sensor that is compatible with HomeSeer, Hubitat, Fibaro, Vera, and SmartThings (SmartThings integration requires a custom driver that can be downloaded from the Zooz web site). I was not able to locate any Zigbee outdoor motions sensors, though there are a variety of Zigbee motion sensors that are designed for indoor use.
Today’s outdoor video cameras include a wide range of smart features, including motion detection. Motion detection is the ability for the camera to detect when there is motion within a predefined portion of the video image captured by the camera and then to send a notification based on that event. Because the window where the camera looks for motion can be defined by the user, they can eliminate parts of the image that might include branches moving or cars driving by in the street.
The Wyze Cam Outdoor v2 is an inexpensive, and highly rated, battery-operated, wireless, outdoor, video camera that includes motion detection. The camera does require a Wyze Hub to connect the camera to a home’s Wi-Fi network. With the hub in place, motion notifications can be integrated into a smart home processor/hub using IFTTT. And, the camera’s video can be viewed using the free, Wyze smart phone app, and a conversation can be held with the guest using the built-in 2-way audio.
Smart doorbells allow a homeowner to see and have a conversation with the person at their door using the manufacturer’s smart phone app. This conversation can take place whether the person is at home or not, and effectively hides whether the home is occupied.
A homeowner needs to carefully understand the options offered by different smart doorbells that they are considering for their home. First, some smart doorbells are powered through the original doorbell wiring while other models are battery powered.
In addition, some doorbell manufacturers include the ability to integrate the operation of a smart lock into the doorbell’s smart phone app. This allows the homeowner to easily remotely unlock the door for a guest, a contractor that needs access to the home, or even a family member that has accidentally locked themselves out of the home.
Integrating one, or more, ways of detecting expected, or unwanted, guests arriving at your home can add convenience and added security to your home. There are a wide range of products available that can make this an easy addition to your smart home.