Ask These 5 Questions Before Buying a Home Surveillance System

AllConnect_SecureHomeGuest post by Jennifer Tuohy.

The ability to see your home from wherever you are and whenever you want is useful to anyone, whether you rent or own. However, until relatively recently, installing a video surveillance system was a very big expense.

Thankfully, advances in technology have brought the price of camera-based surveillance systems down and improved the look, helping blend better with your home. Additionally, the advent of wireless technology means homeowners and renters can easily install just one or two cameras for specific use cases, without the need to wire the entire home.

What all of this means is that whether you want your home to resemble Fort Knox or just need to keep an eye on the dog, you can find a home surveillance system that fits your needs, your budget and your aesthetic.

Here are the top questions to ask yourself when choosing a video surveillance system for your home:

Why Do You Want Video Surveillance?

This should be your first question, because your answer will dictate which features your system will need, how much storage for recorded footage will be necessary, and how many cameras you’ll be installing.

Common uses for video surveillance are:

  •  Security
    Having visible cameras installed is a proven deterrent to burglars and an essential tool for recovering stolen goods.
  •  Home Safety
    A camera in the kitchen or the basement can help you avert disasters caused by a pot left on the stove or a washing machine malfunction.
  •  An Extra Pair of Eyes
    So called “Nanny Cams” were some of the first consumer level in-home video surveillance systems. Today’s options for keeping an eye on the babysitter, cleaner, contractor or errant teenager are simple and effective. Many even allow you to have a two-way conversation through them.

Do You Need Cameras Indoors or Outdoors?

 Deciding what you want surveillance for will help determine if you need indoor or outdoor cameras. As discussed, indoor systems help you keep an eye on everyone in your home, but motion sensing capabilities can also alert you to intruders, and facial recognition software capabilities have helped cut down on the number of false alerts you receive.

Outdoor systems are designed more for perimeter security; even just the sight of one could deter a would-be thief. Outdoor home surveillance systems should be weatherproof—not just weather-resistant. Some even have wipers for the lenses.

With both types of systems you can opt to monitor one area—a child’s room or the front door—or your entire property. Outdoor cameras are generally more expensive, but increasingly, cameras are being designed for indoor and outdoor use, meaning you can adapt them based on changing needs.

Should You Go Wired or Wireless?

 The next decision is wired versus wireless. Remember that no system is actually wire-free. All cameras need either a power cord, or a power cord and an Ethernet connection (to cut down on the number of wires for wired systems look for POE models: Power Over Ethernet).

Wired cameras provide the most consistent service and best picture, and are less susceptible to interference and to the vagaries of the Internet—Wi-Fi going down, or the system potentially being hacked. However, unless you can install the wiring as part of new construction, a wired system is likely to require some professional installation and a higher expense. These systems are often more cumbersome looking, with larger cameras and wires visible throughout the home.

Wireless cameras (also known as IP cameras) are generally smaller, more discreet and easily installed. However, if the Internet goes down or power goes out, your system will fail. You can mitigate this by purchasing battery back-ups for each camera and for your Wi-Fi router. Another common issue is in-home Wi-Fi not extending far enough to support cameras in all the locations you will need for whole home surveillance. Buying a Wi Fi extender or a second router can fix this problem.

How Do You Need to View Your Footage?

 Whichever surveillance system you choose, you need a way to view the footage they capture. Most systems allow you to log-in and view live footage from your cameras over the Internet, either on your computer or smartphone/tablet. However, for a security system you’ll definitely want to record footage, so if the worst happens and you have a break-in you can go to the police with photographic evidence. Or, on the brighter side, if you have a camera set up in your living room and your baby takes their first steps, you can hop on to the system and save the previous moment to share with friends and family.

Most complete surveillance camera systems come with a DVR (digital video recorder), and the higher the storage capability of that system, the higher the cost. You need to make sure your storage system matches the capacity of the cameras on your system. For example, a 1 TB DVR should allow for continuous monitoring of eight cameras and store about four years of footage onsite. For a less expensive upfront cost (and a better overall option for a smaller system), consider cloud storage from reputable companies who, for a monthly fee, will store a certain time frame of footage on their servers, allowing you to access remotely and download it when necessary.

Now, What Type of Camera Do You Need ?

 How many cameras you need and what features they have depends on how you will be using them. A full-home exterior surveillance system may require 4, 8 or even 16 box or bullet cameras with infra-red night vision. Being able to check on your living room from your office may only need a small pan/tilt/zoom capable dome camera with motion sensing software.

The quality of your camera’s footage is also worth serious consideration. There’s little point in having 20 cameras and a 4 TB DVR if you can’t actually make out Fido from a thief because the video footage is such poor quality. Here are some of the different styles of cameras to consider and the features to look for in your camera to ensure the best quality for your budget. Remember, the more features, the higher the price tag, so decide which ones are most important for your use case.

 Camera Shape

  • Box cameras are the more traditional style of surveillance cameras. Used outdoors, box cameras are larger and extremely heavy duty.

    Box home security camera
    Box home security camera
  •  Bullet cameras are usually mounted outdoors to the side of a wall and are a sleeker, smaller version of a traditional box camera.

    Bullet home security camera
    Bullet home security camera
  • Dome cameras are for indoor use and can be positioned on a flat surface or hung from the ceiling. They are more discreet than box or bullet style cameras and the dome covering protects them from vandalism/damage.

    Dome home security camera
    Dome home security camera
  • A Pan/Tilt/Zoom camera is capable of remote directional and zoom control, allowing you to see more area with fewer cameras. PTZs are available in most form factors but the dome shape is the most common.

    Pan/Tilt/Zoom home security camera
    Pan/Tilt/Zoom home security camera

 Camera Capability

  • Night Vision – as most crimes happen at night, this is a high priority feature for a security system. Look for night vision with an infrared illuminator. Night vision capable cameras should also have a super low LUX rating, which indicates the capability to capture an image in the dark.
  • Motion detection – a good feature to help limit the amount of footage recorded unnecessarily. Some systems will send you alerts every time motion is detected.
  • Facial recognition – this feature is particularly useful if you are using your system to monitor your home as it will only alert you to unfamiliar faces, not every time your spouse comes home.

Image Quality

  • Automatic Iris – most security cameras feature an iris built into the lens to control how much light they take in. A fixed iris works well in consistent environments, where light won’t change much, but an auto iris adjusts itself depending on the light improving the quality of the picture.
  • Resolution – measured in the number of pixels contained in the image, the higher the number of pixels, the more detail in the image. Higher resolution images give you the ability to zoom in to see fine detail.
  • Frame Rates – while it’s true that the higher frame rate will record better video, it will also take up more space, so if you are recording a lot of video from a large number of cameras, consider a lower frame rate. 1 – 3 FPS (frames per second) is perfectly acceptable for home use. If you just have one or two cameras and want higher quality footage, look for up to 30 FPS.

 Camera Range

  • Wide-angle lenses, pan/tilt/zoom capability (PTZ) and 360 views all enhance the range your camera will cover.
  • Check the distance the camera claims to reach, especially for outdoor use; 65 to 100 feet is standard.

Conclusion

Choosing a home surveillance system is actually a lot easier than it appears at first glance. Yes, there are a lot of options out there, but by narrowing down your particular requirements, you can turn what might seem like a tough decision into a straightforward choice.

Writing about smart home technology for The Home Depot, Jennifer Tuohy offers her insights on home security issues and home surveillance systems. You can view Home Depot’s wide array of home security products online at homedepot.com.

12 thoughts on “Ask These 5 Questions Before Buying a Home Surveillance System

  1. This is great information! I am looking into getting one for my home, just to be safe. I really like the detailed information for each question. I will just have to use this for a guide to make my decision! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’ve always wanted my parents to get a surveillance system, because their barn has been burglarized twice over the past few years. I think even the mere presence of cameras would keep people away. I think it would be nice to have a system on the inside so I could peak in every once in a while to make sure everything is good there. Especially when I’m on vacation.

  3. This is just great and useful information for me, i am looking to buy best Home surveillance systems, this article proves helpful for me as well. I am going to bookmark this page! Thanks for great stuff and keep sharing stuff like this!

  4. We have been thinking about getting a home security system for a while now, and we wanted to make sure that we were choosing the right one. It’s interesting that you should look for something that has night vision, because of how many crimes happen at night. I know that I would want to be able to monitor our house at night.

  5. I can definitely see how outdoor systems would be better for perimeter security and deterrence. I would imagine that an interior camera system would be better suited to a business where they have a large interior space to monitor. It could still be helpful to have an interior system if you feel safer with it though.

  6. When I lived in my childhood home, my sister was always super jumpy and paranoid about robbers coming into our house. I feel like a home surveillance system could have really put her mind at ease. This article is spot on when it talks about how cameras scare burglars off because I would totally be scared off if I was a burglar.

  7. These are awesome questions to ask about a security system. My wife and I have been a little nervous after a string of break-ins in our area. We want to make sure our family and home are safe and protected. I didn’t realize there were some camera systems that let you view live footage from your smartphone. That could be really helpful! I will have to look into it.

  8. All of the questions that you pose are very important to ask yourself to make sure that you are getting the service that you need. I personally think that a home security system would be lacking if it did not include cameras. Because cameras not only record what is happening outside your house but also act as a warning for possible robbers I think that it is one of the most important parts of home security.

  9. My wife and I have been thinking about getting some security cameras for our house, but we didn’t know how to choose the right place. One thing that really stood out to me is that you say to find out how you can actually view the footage you find. It would be nice to know that it will be easily accessible in the end.

  10. I want to install two outdoor cameras on my detached garage, which backs up to an alley. I have power in the garage. I do not have a smart phone and I would like to be able to view the captured video on my desktop pc. I do have WiFi.

    What kind of system should I get that uses WiFi? I know I will have to put a WiFi extender between the garage cameras and my house, which would be a distance of about 100′.

    My goal is the least amount of wiring required but I do realize that the cameras have to have power to them.

    As for storage, I’m not sure what would be best; cloud, my pc (which has a lot of unused space on the hard drive), or? I would be monitoring the video on a daily basis and deleting whatever recorded nothing of interest.

    Good night vision & resolution are important. Motion detection is very important.

    I’m so confused! Any suggestions?

  11. Wow, it got me when you said that there are security cameras that have a feature where you can talk to the person and vice versa. I think I will be looking for that type of security system so that I will have peace of mind that the babysitter will be doing their job properly while I am away. My job actually requires me to be out of the house for about 10 hours a day, so it is important for me that my child is secured well.

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