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If smart lights, thermostats and security cameras are the staples of the smart home, think of sensors as the invisible network meshing everything together. Or, if you prefer, the eyes of the smart home.

But the word sensor is itself pretty vague. There are many sensors out there designed to fulfill different purposes: movement sensors, light sensors, temperature sensors, and plenty more.

The best part about using sensors is that they’re (mostly) super easy to install, often with no wiring required, which will be music to the ears of renters. But before we dive into the specifics of each type of sensor and the best out there, let’s go over some need-to-know pointers.

Smart sensors: Things to know first

I think it was the Insane Clown Posse who said, “Goddamn smart home motion sensors, how do they work?” Many of the sensors you pick up today are wireless, allowing you to place them wherever you like, but the position of these sensors is key; if you have professional installing your smart home they should be able to provide some pointers – or just do it for you.

If you’re going DIY, think about the locations that are going to be most effective but least likely to cause false alarms. Say you’re using a motion sensor, you’ll want to put it in a place an intruder is most likely to pass by, but not somewhere it might be triggered by daily visits from the next-door cat.

Naturally, you also need to think about compatibility. Are the sensors Z-Wave or Zigbee? Do you want to buy the sensors as part of a bundle, which companies like Ring and Samsung offer, or are you better off buying the sensors individually?

Some smart home appliances also double as sensors of sorts. Some smart doorbells see who’s at the door and send you an alert to tell you if it’s someone they recognize. Below, we’ve broken things down into the major categories of smart home sensors, and included some of our top picks.

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