Not every home is the same, but everyone’s property deserves to be protected. Security cameras are a great tool to achieve a sense of security, as they give you extra eyes on your property at all times. Your property’s layout, budget and home security priorities are different than your neighbor’s so there is no one-size-fits-all rule for security camera minimums. But this guide will help you consider all the aspects of your home security setup and identify which ones are absolute musts based on the vulnerabilities in your home.
Exterior: Front Door
You might assume that intruders always sneak into side entrances, but statistics show that 34% of burglars use the front door. It’s also where package thieves are likely to strike. A camera at your main entrance keeps tabs on everybody that comes in and out of your home, from family members and babysitters to maintenance people, delivery people and more. (Pro tip: Video doorbells are great picks for the front door. You can use them as the primary camera or in conjunction with another outdoor camera aimed at the yard or garage.)
Exterior: Back & Side Doors
Doors that are out-of-sight allow visitors to enter undetected, whether they’re invited or not. Nearly one-fourth of all break-ins happen through the back door. To ensure full knowledge of everyone who enters and exits, add cameras to your secondary doors, especially if one of them is used as often or more often than your front door, or if one (like a basement door) seems particularly enticing or accessible to a potential intruder.
Exterior: Garage & Driveway
Garages are a common target of burglars because they’re one of the weakest entry points. A camera pointed at your garage and/or driveway keeps a watchful eye on bikes, tools, grills, sports equipment, cars and everyone that handles them. If your garage is detached, the camera helps you stay connected. If the garage is attached, the extra layer of security monitors another possible entryway into your home. If there’s a gate at the end of your driveway, you may want a camera there to spot anyone attempting to get in.
Monitoring the yard will help you keep tabs on anyone scoping out your house from the outside. It’s also handy for capturing the activities of kids, animals and trespassers.
Interior: Common Areas
Placing cameras in gathering points like the kitchen or living room is a great way to see if the kids are doing what they’re supposed to do, if the babysitter is attentive, what the pets are getting into, or to check on household help like cleaners and repairmen. Consider prioritizing any rooms that have large ground-floor windows — that way you can see if anyone tampers with them or uses one as a break-in point.
Interior: Main Stairway or Hallway
Place a camera in the main thoroughfares inside your home, and it will be difficult for someone to move about undetected. If someone breaks in through a bathroom, bedroom or another unmonitored area, they’ll still be captured on camera if they move about the house.
Areas you should not install a security camera
- Places that violate your neighbor’s privacy - Cameras are great for your safety, but you need to be mindful of the privacy of others in your neighborhood. Specific laws regarding cameras and privacy vary from state to state, so it’s wise to check local laws (and with the local homeowners association) to make sure you won’t have to undo your installation. In general, homeowners are allowed to have outdoor security cameras that cover a broad area, and it’s usually OK to capture your neighbor’s public-facing property in the background of your footage. Legally, problems arise if your camera captures areas where your neighbors have an expectation of privacy (for example, if your cameras can see into their bedrooms or bathrooms) or if you use the footage for non-security purposes. Keep in mind that these rules apply to video surveillance only. Audio recording without knowledge and consent is illegal in most circumstances.
- Bedrooms and bathrooms - The urge to keep a watchful eye on kids or elderly folks in your household is understandable. However, some areas have a warranted expectation of privacy. Plus, if you use a monitoring service, you run the risk of a hacker tapping into a camera that has access to your private spaces. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives. Baby monitors are smart choices for very young kids' rooms. Motion detectors and glass break sensors, as part of a connected home security system, can be added to doors and windows. Personal medical alert systems are strong choices for seniors.
Optimize camera placement for function and visibility
Once you decide which locations to monitor, you also need to strategize how you will place and install the security cameras to cover the intended areas.
Guidelines for outdoor security camera placement
- Install cameras 8-10 feet from the ground. This height is low enough to capture fine details but high enough to be out of easy reach of thieves and vandals.
- Don’t point cameras directly at the sun. Bright light causes glare and high contrast in your footage, which makes it hard to tell what’s going on. Consider the movement of the sun and angle your cameras for indirect light.
- Decide whether you want the camera to be visible or hidden. Visible security cameras are effective burglary deterrents, but they are also targets for theft and vandalism. Some homeowners choose to prominently install a fake decoy camera and back it up with a real one that’s slightly more concealed, while others add heavy-duty hardware or casing around the camera to make it more difficult to damage.
- Protect the camera from the elements. Top outdoor security cameras have ample weather- and waterproofing, but they are not all created equal. Choose a camera that’s appropriately rated for your climate, and place it under eaves or in another semi-protected area if you can.
Guidelines for indoor security placement
- Corners are your friends. Hanging an indoor camera in the corner of a room usually gives you the largest possible vantage point.
- Windows can cause reflection issues. Pointing a camera out the window might degrade its image quality. Many security cameras have infrared (IR) light technology, which aids in motion detection and enables the cameras to function in low light. IR light can reflect off of windows and other glass objects and obscure your footage, especially in the dark. If your footage looks washed out or whited out, there is likely a reflection problem going on.
- If it’s necessary to point a camera out the window, positioning the lens as close as possible to the glass and/or backlighting the outdoor area (perhaps with motion detector lights) are two glare-minimizing measures to try. It can also be helpful if your camera has wide dynamic range (WDR) technology.
- Angle for indirect light. Again, direct light will wash out your footage. With indoor cameras, be mindful of lamps, light fixtures and bright windows. Avoid facing your camera directly toward any of these light sources.
Security camera installation tips
Follow these installation rules of thumb to potentially save yourself a headache.
- Test your equipment before committing to the full install. Operate the camera and make sure it functions as expected. If possible, perform a dry run in the camera’s intended area (mount it with tape, a single nail or another temporary fix) so you can monitor and evaluate the feed. Can you see everything you want to see? Is the Wi-Fi signal strong enough? Is there glare or an obstacle blocking the field of view?
- Don’t install your camera using hardware or tools that may damage its components. It’s tempting to jerry-rig a camera setting to achieve the perfect position. Don’t take measures that could damage or strain the casing, electrical components or lens.
- Remember you will need to occasionally clean or maintain the camera. Outdoor cameras are especially prone to dirt or pollen accumulation on the lens. Don’t install it in a way that makes it impossible to maintain.
Should your security cameras be professionally installed?
Deciding whether to install your own surveillance cameras depends on the type of cameras and your personal comfort level. If the information in this article or the manufacturers’ instructions make your head spin, there’s no need to tackle it alone. However, these devices have gotten increasingly approachable and accessible over time and are often set up for simple self-installation.
Security cameras that you’ll be monitoring yourself (as opposed to professionally monitored security systems) usually have the simplest installation. Many of these cameras communicate via Wi-Fi and only need hard wiring to their power source. Smaller cameras like video doorbells and peephole cameras frequently use batteries, which is even more user-friendly. Outdoor security cameras can present more of a challenge, especially if the home’s exterior has limited power sources, if you don’t have many tools or if you are concerned about affecting your home’s appearance. In these cases, you may want to hire a professional with experience on prior camera installs.
Finally, there are some circumstances where you can’t install your own cameras. Many leading providers of monitored home security systems (such as ADT and Vivint) require professional installation to make sure everything is in working order. In these cases, a trained technician visits your house to relieve you of this responsibility altogether. If you’re dedicated to doing it yourself and you want a professionally monitored security system, you do have plenty of DIY options: SimpliSafe, Frontpoint and Protect America are all strong choices.
To learn more, check out our picks for the best outdoor security cameras or explore our comprehensive comparison guide on the leading home security systems.