Home surveillance systems are becoming a popular do it yourself project for many people. The prices of the systems and their ease of installation and use have made it possible for the average person to put in a complete system in just a weekend with minimal help. This article what to look out for when choosing a system, some of the benefits of different types and methods for installation.
The first thing to remember is that a surveillance system is not going to stop someone from breaking in. If they really want to break in, they will. However, a properly installed system will provide evidence and possibly help catch the criminal. With that in mind, you want to plan your system out so that it provides the best chance of doing it’s job. Wherever possible, put the cameras where they cannot be easily reached. A system will do no good if the bad guy can simply come up from behind and smash one of your cameras. For this reason it is also best to avoid blind spots. A camera at every entryway at minimum. From there, you can put one on the corners angled alongside of your house or building so that you can get a good visual from all different directions. There are several options when it comes to deciding what type of system to install. One of the easiest and most popular is the “all-in-one” types which includes cameras, a DVR box and all necessary wiring. These are a good, inexpensive starter system but there are a few drawbacks.
Generally the camera quality is on the low end. The resolution is only fair and the night vision is very limited; ten to fifteen feet is about all that can be expected. Additionally the software on the DVR box can be difficult to setup. They often claim that the cameras can be remote monitored from a tablet, computer or smart phone. Setup of this is difficult at best, if it works at all. You also have to be sure to check what is included in the box. Some of these systems do not include the hard drive needed to record the video. Avoid the wireless camera setups. While this may seem like a great time saver and make installation easier the cameras are highly susceptible to interference and have a very limited range. Anything from a wireless home network to a microwave oven can cause the picture to become completely garbled. It is even possible for one camera to interfere with another.
Another option is to use a computer as the main DVR and run the cameras to it. There are DVR cards available which install inside the computer and include monitoring software. The prices for these cards range from around $100 for a simple four camera setup to over $1000 for up to sixteen cameras. The lower end cards will work, and you may be able to install additional cards if you want to add more cameras. The software on the inexpensive ones can be more difficult to operate and configure however. A quick Google search for DVR card will yield many results. If you go this route, it is recommended that the computer be dedicated for this purpose and nothing else. Depending on the DVR card you choose you may also need to install a separate video card inside the computer, check the DVR card documentation. It is also highly advisable to install a second hard drive. Keep one for just the operating system and use the second one to record the video to. This way you won’t have to worry about the video filling up the hard drive and not having enough room to keep the computer running. This option is a bit more advanced but allows for a much greater amount of flexibility. Maintenance of the system is minimal as long as everything is working. It is also easier to setup remote monitoring (usually, again it depends on the software). Software such as VNC or Log Me In makes remote control of the computer very easy with almost effortless installation. An uninterruptable power supply, or UPS, for the computer is a good idea. This way the system keeps running if there is a short term power outage.
There are a wide range of cameras available for both inside and outside monitoring. Prices vary widely along with the quality. As with most things, you get what you pay for, but you may not need to buy the most expensive system available. It all depends on your needs and the level of security you want.
Installation and wiring is going to be the most time consuming part. Be careful when drilling holes in walls and floors. You don’t want to hit a power or other utility which may be hidden. If you have any doubt about this part, hire a professional. Cameras need both a power and signal wire. Some setups allow you to run both as one cable. This greatly simplifies the process. Your system may need a separate power supply for each camera. This can become cumbersome very quickly. A better option is to buy a power distribution panel. These have one power supply that allows you to plug all of the cameras into in one spot. Then you only have one power plug to run to an outlet. This option also allows you to plug the camera power supply into a battery backup so that the system continues running during a power outage. Then you run the signal wires to the camera card or DVR.
Once your system is up and running it is time to adjust the cameras and make sure everything is working. This process will be a lot of trial and error as you move camera angles and check for blind spots. Also monitor them at various times of the day. As the sun angles change it may shine directly into a camera causing it to show nothing.
Be sure to maintain your system by keeping cameras clean and checking to see if they need adjustment. Spiders love to leave webs around and over the lenses. Outdoor cameras are susceptible to the weather. Wind can cause them to move or the mount to become loose. If you buy high quality cameras you should expect them to last even through the most inclement weather.
With properly chosen equipment and a solid installation you should expect many years of great service from a home surveillance system. Installing it yourself will certainly save you hundreds of dollars. It will also give you a sense of security. You may even qualify for an insurance discount, check with your homeowners insurance.