The ability to monitor your home wherever and whenever you are is invaluable, whether you rent or own your home. Until recently, installing a video surveillance system was a very big expense, usually requiring an appointment with a professional.
Thankfully, advances in technology have made camera-based home security systems affordable and easy for even the most technologically challenged to install and set up.
Whether you want your home to resemble Fort Knox or just need to keep an eye on the dog when you’re away, you can find a home surveillance system that fits your needs, budget and even your interior design.
Here are the top questions to ask yourself when choosing a video surveillance system for your home:
1. 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 need to install.
Common uses for video surveillance include:
- Caution burglars – Visible cameras are a major deterrent to burglars and may prevent many theft attempts before they start.
- Theft recovery – Many thieves successfully burglarize homes without leaving a trace. Video surveillance provides tangible evidence when it’s time to recover your valuables.
- Third-party monitoring – Many home security systems include third-party monitoring options that will act as your eyes and ears when you’re away.
- Assistance with childcare – Video surveillance isn’t just for theft prevention. Nanny cams have become a popular method of child monitoring during short absences (and they work for pets as well).
- Stay in the know – Many homeowners simply like to stay aware of what’s going on around their home whether they’re across town or across the country. Track deliveries, unexpected visits and even your pet’s with exterior and interior cameras.
2. Do you need cameras indoors or outdoors?
Once you decide on what you’d like to monitor, you’ll be able to decide whether you need interior or exterior cameras. Indoor systems help you keep an eye on everyone and everything inside your home, while outdoor systems are designed for perimeter security.
Both types of systems allow users to monitor one area (for instance, a child’s playroom) or the entire property if they choose. Outdoor cameras are generally more expensive, but are weatherproof and weather-resistant for long-term use. However, dual-purpose systems are becoming increasingly popular as the demand for single-use equipment has gone up.
3. Should you go wired or wireless?
Remember that no system is actually totally wire-free. All cameras need either a power cord or a power cord with an ethernet connection. Cut down on the number of wires for wired systems with a POE model (Power Over Ethernet).
Wired cameras are best known for consistent service and a high-quality picture as they’re less susceptible to interference and internet disruptions. This type of system will require professional installation so if you’re looking to spare expense, the more cost-effective wireless connection may be for you.
Wireless cameras (also known as IP cameras) are generally smaller, more discreet and easily installed. However, these systems are especially vulnerable to internet and power outages. You can prevent unexpected outages by purchasing battery back-ups for each camera and your Wi-Fi router.
Wireless cameras that depend on home Wi-Fi may also have connection issues if the distance between the equipment is too far. Purchasing a Wi-Fi extender or even a second router to cover far-reaching areas may be your best (if not cheapest) solution for full coverage.
4. How will you 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 on your computer or smartphone/tablet via a dedicated app. However, for a home security system you’ll definitely want to record the footage.
Most complete surveillance camera systems come with a DVR function and storage capabilities. Typically, the higher the storage space, the higher the cost of your system. You need to make sure your storage matches the amount of 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 will store a certain time frame of footage on their servers for a monthly fee. You’ll be able to access this footage remotely and download when necessary.
5. What type of camera do you need?
Once you’ve successfully determined how you’ll place your cameras and what functions you’ll need, you’re ready to select the type of cameras you need. Here are some styles to consider and the features to look for to ensure the best quality for your budget.
- Box cameras – The more traditional style of surveillance cameras most commonly used outdoors. Usually larger and heavy duty
- Bullet cameras – Sleeker, smaller version of the box camera and typically mounted outdoors to the side of a wall
- Dome cameras – Features a protective dome and can be positioned on a flat surface or hung from a ceiling for discrete indoor use
- Pan/Tilt/Zoom cameras (PTZs) – Capable of remote directional and zoom control, allowing the user to see more area with fewer cameras. PTZs are available in most styles but the dome shape is the most common
- Night vision – Most crimes happen at night so this is a high priority feature. Look for an infrared illuminator and a low LUX rating which indicates the capability to capture images at night
- Motion detection – Help limit the amount of unnecessary footage recorded with motion detection sensors. Some systems will send you alerts to your smartphone or tablet every time motion is detected
- Facial recognition – Useful to monitor and alert the user of unidentified guests on the premises
- Automatic iris – Controls how much light your camera lens takes in and adjusts itself to improve 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
- Frame rates – Higher frame rates record better video and also take up more storage space. 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
The range of your camera’s view can greatly affect whether or not you’re happy with your purchase. After all, an amazing surveillance system is nothing if it can’t focus on all of the intended areas. Look for cameras with wide-angle lenses, pan/tilt/zoom capability or 360 views to enhance the range of your system.
Be sure to also check the distance a device claims to reach, especially for outdoor use. 65 – 100 ft is standard for exterior use. Anything less may require additional equipment, especially if you’re hoping to cover a larger outdoor area.
From cameras to alarm systems, setting up your home security measures may seem like an intimidating task when you consider what’s at stake. However, our experts are here to make sure you have the resources you need to make the right decisions. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and bookmark our resource center for insider tips on how to choose a surveillance system and more.
Originally published 04/30/15. Last updated 09/13/19.