Home security explained: Everything you need to know

white security cameras on black metal wall slats

Tianna Nadalin

Posted December 04, 2019

They say your home is your castle. Here’s how to keep yours safe, secure and protected.

Moats, drawbridges and curtain walls may have held down the fort in the middle ages but these days you don’t need a siege tower or guarded turret to defend your castle. Enter home security. With three homes broken into every hour in Victoria, keeping your home safe, secure and protected from intruders is more important than ever. Whether you want to be able to monitor your house while you’re on holiday or you just want peace of mind, there is a range of security systems and solutions to suit every need and budget.

We caught up with RACV’s Dean Rossi, trade manager of home security and smart home, to find out everything you need to know about choosing the right home security system for you.

Home security explained: Everything you need to know

What is home security?

Home security encompasses many different practices and products, all with the goal of keeping your home secure and unwanted intruders out. It includes everything from small and often-overlooked things like the locks on your doors and windows, to sensor lights around the home or professionally installed solutions like alarm and CCTV systems.

What is the difference between alarm systems and CCTV?

Professionally installed security systems commonly fall into two categories, an intruder alarm system or a CCTV system.

Intruder alarms consist of a main control panel that is connected to detection devices such as motion detectors and reed switches. Motion detectors detect any moving objects in the home when the system is armed (turned on) and the home is meant to be vacant. Reed switches are magnetic contacts that are installed on doors and windows to activate when the contact is broken i.e. when the door/window is opened.

When an alarm system is armed, if any of these devices are triggered the alarm will sound, alerting the intruder that they have been detected, alerting the surrounding neighbourhood and, if the system is back-to-base monitored, alerting the monitoring centre that there has been an alarm activation.

An intruder alarm system is your first line of defence in protecting your home, as it mitigates the amount of time an intruder will spend in your home. It is highly recommended that your intruder alarm system is monitored, as an unmonitored alarm will simply make noise and won’t alert you or anyone else remotely when you’re not home.

A CCTV system, on the other hand, has video cameras installed on the exterior of the premises and can be used to record activity, rather than alerting the owners or monitoring service. As your second line of defence, CCTV systems complement an alarm system depending on your desired level of security.

What is back-to-base alarm-system monitoring?

Back-to-base monitored alarms are intruder alarm systems that communicate with a 24-hour monitoring centre.

Monitoring centres are staffed by licensed operators 24 hours a day, 365 days per year to monitor signals received from alarm systems. When an alarm signal is received the operator will either contact the home owner, dispatch a security patrol vehicle or contact police to investigate the alarm activation. 


keys in hand in front of door

With three homes broken into every hour in Victoria, keeping your home safe, secure and protected from intruders is more important than ever.

What is CCTV surveillance?

Professional CCTV systems commonly consist of a digital recorder and a number of cameras installed externally and occasionally, internally around a home.

The main purpose of CCTV systems is to be able to live-view what is happening around your home via a computer or smartphone and to review footage after an event has occurred, which may help determine what happened and possibly lead to a criminal conviction.

While the appearance of cameras around your home may visually deter would-be burglars, CCTV systems are best used in conjunction with an intruder alarm system.

How do I install a home security system?

There are a number of do-it-yourself security solutions, such as Arlo, on the market that you can buy and install yourself with varying effectiveness and performance. 

For people serious about home security it is highly recommended that you have a system installed by a professional and appropriately licensed security installer

What are the benefits of home-security systems?

The main functions of a home-security system are to:

  1. Deter intruders from attempting to enter your home
  2. Ward off an intruder if they do breach your home
  3. Mitigate the time an intruder spends in your home
  4. Protect your valuables and family
  5. Provide peace of mind when you’re away from your home.

What is the most basic home security I can install?

Systems can be tailored to suit your needs and home layout. The simplest DIY solution could be a single wifi-connected camera that you can view from your smartphone, such as Arlo. Among professional options, a simple alarm with one or two motion detectors may be suitable.

How many cameras will I need?

Every home and every home owner’s requirements are different. In simple terms, you want to have a camera covering your areas of concern (entry points to a home, driveway, path, front door) and the assets you want to protect (cars, boats, sheds). It’s recommended you discuss your requirements with a licensed security adviser for best results.

Do I have to be home to operate my security system?

Most modern alarm and CCTV systems can now be operated remotely via smartphone apps.

How long does installation take?

Depending on your needs, most residential security installations can be completed in half a day or a day.


person with smartphone and security app in front of electronic lock

Electronic and mobile security systems are a digital alternative to home security for the tech-savvy.

I live in an apartment/unit – what is best for me?

Depending on your requirements, a basic two-detector system may be enough coverage for a smaller dwelling. Some apartments may not be suitable for the cabling required in a professional CCTV installation, so a DIY solution such as Arlo may be more appropriate.  

Do I need cameras, monitoring and alarms?

Every home and every home owner’s requirements are different. Speaking to a licensed security adviser about your requirements will help you decide what system(s) are best suited to you.

Who can install security systems?

Professionally installed security systems must be installed by a licensed and qualified security installer. These requirements vary between states. In Victoria, a security installer must hold a Private Security Individual Registration - Security Installer, issued by Victoria Police.

How often will the system need to be upgraded?

Most security systems on the market will give you many years of hassle-free operation and should only need an upgrade if the equipment has a major failure or the technology changes. It’s recommended you have your security system serviced every 12 to 24 months to ensure ongoing reliability.

What do I do if my security system is triggered?

If your alarm system is triggered while you’re away from the house, the monitoring centre will contact you to advise you that they’ve received an alarm and discuss your response type. If you’re home and trigger the alarm accidentally, simply re-enter your code to disarm the alarm and call the monitoring centre to advise that it was a false activation.

I have pets. Will they set off the alarms?

Pet-friendly motion detectors are available, which will ignore small animals like a cat or a dog. While they’re generally accurate, they can occasionally be triggered by your pet as the main function of the detector is to sense movement. Speak to a licensed security advisor to help you decide what system is best suited to your requirements.

Do security systems need to be wired in?

While hard-wired systems are preferred, there are many wireless options available. A standard suburban home may be best suited to a hard-wired solution, while an inner-city apartment may be better suited to a wireless solution.

What about smart security systems?

Most popular branded security systems are moving into the ‘smart’ space, offering smartphone app functionality and basic home automation too.


hand inputting code on home alarm system

Your recommended security setup depends heavily on what kind of property you live in.

Are there any other benefits of home-security systems?

While the main purpose of a security system is to protect your home from intruders and give you peace of mind, there are many other benefits, including:

  • Depending on your insurer, having a monitored alarm system may reduce your insurance premiums. 
  • An alarm system doesn’t have to be only for when you’re away from your home. You can arm certain areas of your house, like the front and back doors, or a ground level while you are in bed, to ensure no one enters your house while you’re sleeping.
  • Don’t just use your cameras to catch bad guys. While you’re at work you can check on your pets, elderly parents, or see if your kids are home from school.

I don’t have a phone line. Can I still install a system?

Absolutely. Traditionally, alarm systems reported over the copper phone line network. Now with the rollout of the NBN, alarm systems can report back-to-base over the mobile phone network.

What about windows and doors? How do I keep them secure?

Your first line of defence for windows and doors are good latches and locks. Secondly, you can install reed switches on any doors and windows of concern so an alarm is triggered when they’re opened. 

What is Arlo?

Arlo is a DIY wireless camera system that can easily connect to your home network. Connect the wireless cameras and stick them where you want, then you can live-stream the cameras from your smartphone when you’re away from the house. Arlo can also send you notifications when the cameras sense motion so you can check on any suspicious behaviour.

I’m going on holiday. How do I keep my home safe?

When leaving your home for extended periods, there are many security basics to keep in mind.

  • Ensure windows and doors are well secured
  • Consider external perimeter lighting (sensor lights)
  • Don’t let the home look abandoned
  • Secure and hide valuables – don’t invite an intruder.

In addition to these, having a professionally installed security system will give you peace of mind and deter any would-be burglars.


black and white image of a broken window

Safety comes first with DIY camera security system Arlo.

What is the best form of home security?

Every property is different, so no one form of home security is better than another. In most cases, an intruder alarm is best at deterring and warding off intruders, but this may not be the right solution for everyone.

How much do home-security systems cost?

There are many different systems ranging across many price points. DIY solutions can start from as little as $500. For a professionally installed system, you should expect to pay anywhere from $900 to $5000.

What are the DIY home-security systems?

DIY systems range from wireless cameras to basic motion-sensor systems. These offer a very basic level of deterrence and need to be maintained by you. DIY systems do not report back to base and will either trigger a loud alarm in the house or send you a smartphone notification.

What is the best home security camera?

Cameras vary in size, quality and price, from a $100 off-the-shelf DIY camera to a $3000-plus professionally installed CCTV system. Depending on your application, a camera with high-resolution and infra-red night vision is the minimum for best performance.

Can you run home security off your home wifi?

Some CCTV and alarm systems can connect to your home wifi network so you can operate them remotely and, in some cases, connect back-to-base to a monitoring centre. Wifi and home internet connections are not ideal for back-to-base monitoring as they are prone to outages and can be easily circumvented. 

How often will camera / alarm batteries need to be replaced?

DIY camera batteries will need charging every few weeks to every few months, while professionally installed CCTV cameras are constantly powered by mains power. The back-up battery in your alarm system should give you hassle-free service for many years, though it is recommended it be tested and replaced (if needed) every few years.

Can we run home security on solar power?

Some DIY cameras can be powered by small solar panels. Professionally installed CCTV and alarm systems are powered by your home’s mains power.

Can I control the system from my phone?

Most modern CCTV and alarm systems can be controlled via smartphone apps. Depending on the system, this can range from basic operation to extensive control.

What about fake security cameras?

Fake security cameras are a cheap and easy way to give the appearance of security around your home. But don’t underestimate a criminal’s intelligence. Most fake or dummy cameras are easy to spot and this will undermine your home’s overall security.

Do all cameras have motion sensor?

Not all cameras sense motion. Their main function is to capture vision but, as a supplementary feature, some cameras and systems will detect motion. However, as most cameras are used outside, they are prone to unwanted activations by passing cars, pedestrians, animals, wind etc. It’s recommended to rely on your intruder alarm to detect motion and your cameras to capture vision. 

Will switching to the NBN affect my system?

Yes. If you have an existing intruder alarm system reporting back-to-base over the copper phoneline network, switching to NBN will interrupt this communication. This can be easily fixed by installing a mobile communicator that reports back-to-base over the mobile network.