Q: I’ve been seeing lots of posts from neighbors on our local social media that include footage from their security cameras of criminals stealing packages, casing the yard, and checking car doors overnight. I’d like to put together some kind of security camera system that makes me feel safer, but I don’t want to go overboard, either. How many security cameras do I need to protect my home?
A: Seeing someone else’s footage of a stranger wandering through the backyard in the dead of night or picking through a car (especially one that appeared to be locked) can be very unsettling, so the desire to make sure you’re aware of anyone prowling around your own yard is understandable. Luckily, there are many options on the market that enable homeowners to assemble the right combination of cameras for their needs, from a light-socket security camera screwed into the porch light to a comprehensive, full-house system.
Does everyone need security cameras? “Need” is a tricky word, because obviously many people manage without a security camera system. However, you may feel that a home security system is worth it if it makes you more comfortable in your home. In addition, there’s significant evidence suggesting that criminals are deterred by security cameras: Given a choice between a home with visible cameras and a home without, the savvy burglar or package thief will choose the unprotected home because they’re less likely to be caught. The presence of cameras can help decrease the risk of package theft, as well as break-ins.
As more and more homeowners install cameras, it makes sense to avoid being the last home on the block without cameras, so even a simple setup will benefit most homes. Security cameras for houses that are not always occupied, such as a vacation or second home, are strongly recommended for safety purposes. While you might not want to feel as if you’re under surveillance in your house, there are plenty of security measures you can take to maximize both your privacy and security, many of which use just a small fraction of Wi-Fi or recorded video storage space. It’s advisable to research the best home security systems (such as Vivint or ADT) or the best apartment security systems (such as SimpliSafe or Frontpoint) to determine which will best meet your security needs.
The number of security cameras you’ll need in your home will depend on the size of your house, your home security goals, and your budget.
Returning to the original question, how does one decide how many cameras are needed to build a good security system? There are three primary factors that will help customers determine the answer, the first being the size of the home. Obviously, a 700-square-foot apartment won’t require the same number of cameras as a 3,000-square-foot home to achieve the same coverage. Small homes and apartments may require only a few cameras, while larger homes with sizable yards and complex floor plans can require many. Deciding where to place security cameras to cover the necessary areas will determine the total number and types of security cameras needed.
In addition to taking into account the size of the home, there is an emotional component to choosing the number of cameras. Security isn’t just an objective measure. Some people feel that they need every angle covered in order to feel safe. Those who travel frequently may also prefer fuller coverage so that they can check on their home’s security when they’re not there. And those supporting older or unwell family members may desire a full-coverage setup so they can easily ensure that their loved ones are safe. Others may prefer just a few well-placed cameras trained on the most vulnerable areas of the home. Still others may only grudgingly acquiesce to having cameras at all, or they may feel that they’re intrusive and would prefer just one or two cameras. It’s a personal decision that will be different for everyone.
Finally, the budget will, to an extent, determine how many cameras are best. While cameras have decreased significantly in cost over the last few years as more and more competitors have entered the market, security cameras can still be an investment. Some shoppers choose to manage this by selecting a platform with many options, setting up a hub and a couple of cameras and then adding to the system over time. Others prefer to buy a package deal that they can afford and have a full system from the start.
The budget may also help decide whether DIY monitoring or professional monitoring is the best option. Although self-monitoring can cost less (or even be free in some cases), customers may find that they can get a home insurance discount for security system installation if they opt for professional monitoring. That discount could be as much as 20 percent, which may help offset the monthly monitoring cost. Monitored systems also come with the added benefit of a professional paying attention to alerts from the home so they can call first responders if there’s a problem. Short of hiring a home guard, camera systems monitored by a professional security company provide about as much security as one can get.
In general, one or two indoor cameras and two to four outdoor cameras should provide enough coverage for the average home.
In most cases, the security cameras don’t need to cover every single corner of the yard and home. Placing an interior camera in the entryway and one near an area where valuables are stored should provide peace of mind inside, and placing exterior cameras on entry doors, the driveway, and windows or areas of the yard that are otherwise obscured from view is a good place to start. These will provide basic security and reassurance without blowing the budget or making the customer feel as though they are under constant surveillance, and they can be a great way to see where the family’s comfort level is. Should the residents decide a few more cameras would be beneficial—or should crime rates rise in the area—more cameras can be added as needed.
Installing a camera by each entry door can help deter intruders while allowing you to keep an eye on the exterior of the home.
Front door security is important for just about every homeowner or renter. Entry doors are one of the most common locations for security cameras, and with good reason. The meteoric rise of doorbell cameras that allow residents to monitor their front step—and often to speak with visitors without opening the door or even being home—have made doorbell cameras a common purchase even for those who don’t have other cameras. They’re kind of a gateway camera—once residents realize how convenient it is to check the front step, they realize that they’d like to check other areas as well. Obviously the greatest benefit of entryway cameras is that they allow residents to observe unwanted visitors on their property and take action, but there’s another benefit. Visible cameras tell potential criminals that the home is secured and that someone is watching, so their actions won’t go unnoticed and they’ll be recorded while taking whatever actions they were planning. Criminals do not like attention—they don’t like the motion-sensor lights that are often attached to exterior cameras, they don’t like being recorded, and they don’t like uncertainty. Exterior cameras may mean that there are also cameras in the house, which criminals also prefer to avoid.
It’s worth noting, however, that it’s a good idea for exterior entryway cameras to be installed at each entry door. Why? If a criminal does a quick case of the home and notes that one door is under surveillance and another is not, the unsecured door immediately becomes a bigger target. Some users choose to add fake security cameras to offset this risk, but an additional real camera often doesn’t cost much more than a fake camera, and keeping the style of the cameras uniform increases the deterrent factor.
An outdoor camera (or several) that covers the yard and driveway can alert you to unwelcome visitors or allow you to keep an eye out for children or pets while they’re outside.
Most parents have experienced a moment when their kids are playing in the yard and it’s suddenly too quiet. The jolt of panic when a quick glance out the window doesn’t reveal the children is one that isn’t easy to forget, even when it turns out the kids were just playing behind the shed or in the bushes. Many a gardener has gone outside to retrieve a beloved pet only to find that the garden has been enthusiastically dug up, or that the pet has made sport of the family of bunnies living in the hedge. Having access to visuals of children or pets in the yard can offer peace of mind. Exterior cameras can also alert residents to uninvited guests in the yard or hanging around the cars in the driveway. These cameras provide security, but also an easy way to keep watch on what’s happening outside.
Some users wish to disguise their cameras, and while there’s a benefit to visible cameras, sometimes there’s a good reason to keep cameras somewhat concealed in the yard. DIY security camera covers, such as birdhouses and lawn ornaments that disguise the camera without narrowing the field of view, are unobtrusive. And covers can be purchased with a platform for the camera already in place.
Interior cameras placed around common areas allow you to check on family members and keep an eye on the inside of the house when you’re away from home.
Most people would prefer not to have every aspect of life in their home recorded to a cloud or device, but some security inside the home is a great idea for both safety and peace of mind. First, unless the camera setup is CCTV (which runs constantly and records everything the cameras pick up, then stores the footage on a device), the cameras won’t actually record everything. They can be set to turn on only when they detect motion, and they can be set to detect motion only during certain times.
For example, those with young but mobile children may want to set indoor cameras to detect motion and activate on the stairs and entry doors only at night, in case their children get out of bed and decide to wander. Others may choose to have the cameras detect and turn on only when the home’s residents are not home, or on command from an app. Being able to check common areas and entryways can help residents feel secure about the home when they’re away, or to check on kids at home alone, pets at home during the workday, and areas of the home at night if a suspicious noise is heard. Many interior cameras provide a 360-degree view of the area in which they are placed, so there’s no need to park cameras in every corner to get a good view. The cameras can be unobtrusively placed to provide quality security without disrupting the home’s decor and ambiance. Placing a security camera in bedroom areas makes many people uncomfortable, so unless there’s a safe full of valuables inside the bedroom, it’s best to avoid placing cameras there.
It’s a good idea to install a security camera in areas where you keep your valuables, such as next to a display cabinet or a safe.
Precious collectibles, valuable artwork, jewelry, prescription medication, and safes containing cash and firearms are attractive targets for thieves. When security cameras are in place, ideally the thieves won’t actually get to the point where they’re standing in front of these items—hopefully they’ll have been deterred by other cameras or chased away by an alert—but having those cameras in place can help law enforcement identify the culprit. Cameras in these locations can also help residents keep an eye on attractive items when curious children or visitors might be inclined to check them out.
To build a comprehensive system, it’s a good idea to have enough cameras to cover your entire home—both inside and outside.
Security means different things to different people. For some, a single doorbell camera feels like enough, but if that seems woefully inadequate, then a more comprehensive system that covers the whole home may be what’s needed. In that case, placing outdoor cameras on each entry door, the driveway and/or garage, backyard, and any vulnerable or hidden areas of the yard will provide complete coverage of the exterior. Indoor cameras covering entryways, common areas, hallways, stairs, areas where safes or valuables are located, and anywhere else the residents would like to be able to check will combine with the outdoor cameras to provide whole-house coverage. This type of system will require a larger budget, both because more equipment will be necessary and because more data storage will be required to manage the images flooding in from the multiple cameras.
When shopping for security cameras, consider whether you’d prefer a DIY or professionally installed system, and whether you prefer wired or wireless cameras.
Knowing what to look for in a home security camera system can help make the process easier. Once it’s been determined how many cameras are necessary to provide the desired coverage, there are still a few decisions to make.
First, customers will want to consider the difference between wired and wireless security cameras. Those who want a security camera that doesn't use Wi-Fi will want to look into wired cameras, which are a great option for those concerned about hackers breaking into the security feed. Wired cameras do, however, require physical wiring. Depending on the system, choosing wired cameras may mean that users won’t have access to stored video from a smartphone app and will need to use a connected computer.
Wireless cameras communicate with either a physical digital video recorder or a cloud server to transfer their images, so there’s no wiring required—but they do still need a power source, so they’ll either require plugs or batteries. Battery-powered wireless cameras can be placed almost anywhere, but remember that access will be needed to change or charge the batteries. Some outdoor wireless security cameras feature solar panels that automatically recharge batteries, which can be a great option for cameras mounted on roofs. Also, while wired cameras are powered by the cables that connect them to the recorder and can therefore be connected to a battery backup that provides continuous function in case of a power outage, wireless cameras are dependent on Wi-Fi and a router to function unless they have cellular service backup.
Professional installation or DIY? It depends on the layout of the home and the confidence of the user. A small system with just a few cameras can be an easy DIY for those who are familiar with how to install security cameras—unless the cameras need to be mounted on a second-story roof and climbing tall ladders isn’t in the cards. There are also great comprehensive systems available for DIY security camera installation on the open market and from traditional security companies. These are best for those who are comfortable managing the installation of the units and setting up wiring and communication. However, other customers may feel that the cost to install security cameras is worth it since they can rest assured the system is fully functional.
While once all security camera systems were handled by traditional security companies at great cost, the competition from DIY manufacturers has forced down the cost of traditional security, even when a DIY security system is the plan. Those who are uncertain about what kind of cameras and how many they need, as well as how and where to place the cameras, can consider seeking professional guidance.