Introduction to Home Security Cameras

A story that ran in the New York Times in 2010 stated that there were roughly 36 million security systems in use in the United States, accounting for revenue of more than 28 billion dollars. At the time, half of those figures came from home security. The growth of the industry is such that by 2020, some in the industry estimate that revenue for the home security segment alone will top 47 billion dollars.

That growth has been spurred by the fact that home security is now much more than alarm systems. Sensors, smart homes, and remote monitoring have contributed; so, it turns out, has the widespread adoption of home security cameras as they’ve become more compact and more capable.

Types of Home Security Cameras

Fake Security Cameras: Rather than spending $100 or more for a functioning security camera, you could go to your local big box discount store and buy a non-functioning version for as little as five bucks. Why do that? Much the same as a sign on your lawn informing passers-by that you have an alarm system installed deters up to 90% of those who might otherwise break into your home, even a fake security camera deters many would-be burglars who don’t want to take their chances.

Hidden Cameras: Cameras are now small enough to be hidden in stuffed animals, picture frames, and other everyday objects. Small and hard to detect, these so-called “nanny cams” and “granny cams” are useful for keeping tabs on housecleaners, caretakers, and babysitters when you can’t be home. That keeps your loved ones and your belongings safe while giving you added peace of mind.

Wi-Fi Cameras: Ideally, many of us want to monitor our cameras remotely. Wi-fi allows for remote monitoring via app, or video storage in the cloud, using a standard wi-fi connection. Since these are wireless systems, installation may be less complicated than a hard-wired system. Configured correctly, they’re also harder to jam than a wireless-based system.
Wireless Cameras: Instead of using a wi-fi connection, these cameras transmit using a 3G or 4G cellular connection. They provide easy installation and remote monitoring.

CCTV Cameras: Rather than transmitting to an app or remote location, a CCTV system can be monitored on-site in real time or tethered to a DVR or other recording device for playback later. Remote monitoring typically isn’t an option, but these systems use fewer resources and are useful in situations where long-term surveillance is needed to show patterns of activity.

Important Home Security Camera Specifications

Indoor or Outdoor: Some cameras are designed strictly for indoor use. Others may be weather resistant (they’ll resist moisture and moderate snow or rainfall) or weatherproof (they’ll survive high winds and heavy precipitation). Think about the conditions where the camera will be installed, and choose accordingly.

Night Vision: Some cameras incorporate infrared technology so they’re useful — and providing an extra set of eyes — ’round the clock.

Motion Detection: This is especially useful if you’re receiving remote alerts or using a recorder, since the camera will only be active if motion is detected or people are present.

Size: Some cameras are small and easy to conceal, making them useful for covert monitoring. Others are more visible, and provide a deterrent effect in addition to monitoring. Many systems use cameras of both types depending on the location and type of activity being monitored.

Monitoring: Some systems allow for remote monitoring via internet or mobile application.

Storage: On-site or cloud-based recording can be useful in some circumstances, especially if you’re not using remote monitoring.

Warranty: Any system you purchase should be covered against defects in materials and workmanship.

How Much Image Quality is Enough?

This is highly subjective. Analog equipment tends to be lower resolution, but is also less expensive; digital equipment captures higher resolution images that show much more detail; those images can be enlarged to zero in on certain parts of the picture (subject to limitations of sensor resolution and optics). In some surveillance settings — like retail — the higher resolution is practically a must, especially if the time comes to take that footage to law enforcement or to use it in court. As a homeowner, it’s up to you to decide how much resolution will be enough.

How Much Will a Home Security Camera Cost?

The cost of a home security camera system depends on the type and number of cameras chosen, installation costs, and ancillary hardware (such as motion sensors, cloud storage, or recording systems). Individual cameras often start in the $100 range, but can cost $1,000 or more for a full complement of high-spec cameras. If you opt for a system that can be monitored remotely, there will often be additional costs for applications or monthly monitoring fees. See our home security camera cost page for detailed information.

Leading Home Security Camera Manufacturers

What used to be a niche industry is now big business. From the homeowner’s perspective that’s good news, since it gives you a wide range of choices at an equally wide range of price points to choose from. Major manufacturers include Icontrol, Nest, Netgear, Ezviz, Flir FX, Kuna and Withings Home.

Will My Home Security Camera Require Expert Installation?

In some cases — especially if you’re buying simulated home security cameras — doing your own installation makes the most sense. This can also be the case for many covert cameras, since these tend to be small and self-contained. However, many systems require the installation of multiple cameras, and may require specialized knowledge of wiring, wi-fi technology, and security systems more broadly (especially if the cameras are being installed alongside a suite of other security products). What’s more, your installer can advise how best to place the cameras, and will install them in ways that make them harder to detect or disable.

Pros and Cons of Home Security Cameras

Advantages of Home Security Cameras

Extra “Eyes”: Keep an eye on your home, belongings, pets and loved ones even when you can’t be home.

Deterrence: Burglars think twice about breaking and entering a home that has visible evidence of a security system.

Mitigation: In the event of a break-in, the presence of cameras not only increases your chances of making a positive ID, but also ensures that intruders spend less time inside.

Disadvantages of Home Security Cameras

Soft Target: While cameras are a great deterrent, they won’t deter everyone. A determined burglar may attempt to disable your cameras, and if they aren’t installed and configured properly, you’re making his job easier. Expert installation can harden the system and make it less vulnerable.

Security: Paradoxically, both wireless and IP (internet protocol) security cameras can make you less secure if they’re not configured correctly. The signals they send can be intercepted, giving those with the resources and determination the ability to see the inside of your home in great detail. Make sure the encryption on your cameras and wi-fi is up to snuff.

Speed: If devices in your home are using the same 2.4GHz frequency as your cameras, you’ll find that your connection, upload and download speeds on other devices and services will be slower, especially for resource-hungry applications like Netflix. Talk to your installer, or look into 5GHz devices that won’t compete with your security system for bandwidth.

Complacency: This isn’t a fault of the camera, or of your home security system. It’s human nature. When we install security systems, we can be lulled into a false sense of security and start neglecting fundamentals. Make sure you take the common-sense steps needed to secure your home, like putting your lights on timers and locking doors and windows.

Legal Implications of Home Security Cameras

First, a disclaimer: the issues laid out in the next two sections should not be construed as legal advice; laws vary from one jurisdiction to the next, and your best bet is to acquaint yourself with the laws in your city and state before installation, monitoring, and recording.

There can be legal issues with installing a home security camera. On one hand, it’s generally legal to install a camera to monitor your home. On the other, expectations of privacy help determine legality, so there are scenarios that may be illegal under privacy and wiretapping statutes, such as installing cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms, having a camera pointed toward a neighbor’s house, or recording audio through the camera system. Intent also matters — malicious intent is illegal — but even your best intentions may fall outside the law. Your installer may be able to advise as to best practices, but we’ll reiterate: it’s best to acquaint yourself with the laws in your area.

Tips On Security Camera Disclosure

Cameras installed inside the home have many uses, including keeping tabs on housecleaners, or so-called “nanny cams” and “granny cams” that help us monitor caregivers when we can’t be there ourselves. Absent malicious intent, video recording in the home is permissible without the consent of those being recorded, except (as mentioned earlier) in areas with a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Laws for audio recording — including the use of home security cameras with audio recording features — are stricter, and often require either the notification or consent of the person(s) being recorded. Consult a lawyer to be on the safe side, and if you’d prefer not to inform someone they’re being recorded (as might be the case if you suspect they’re up to no good), forego audio recording.

Fran Whittaker-Wood
Home Improvements Expert

Fran loves all things home. She is passionate about finding the best architecture, design and home interior projects from around the world, and has a keen interest in discovering the newest and most exciting design trends.