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Surveillance System Practical Tips

Make your house less attractive and more risky to burglars so they are less inclined to choose your house to break into. If they do choose your house, with the latest technology, you can actively do something about it!

CCTV = Closed-Circuit TeleVision, also known as video surveillance.

Why Install a System?

  1. Deterrence: Some burglars will be deterred for fear of being recorded. Don’t use fake cameras because burglars know the difference.
  2. Awareness: You can see outside around your house to know what is happening, even when it is pitch dark.
  3. Remote Visibility: You can also see from anywhere in the world via the internet and your smartphone.
  4. Solve Crime: You will have 24/7 footage if something does happen to help the police.
  5. Safety: You can safely see who is at the door without needing to open it
  6. Interrupt the Burglary Cycle: You can answer the door even when you are not at home to give the illusion of occupancy.
  7. Affordable: Technology prices have come down to make capable gear accessible.

Wired CCTV over Wireless Gadgets

The three most important and basic aspects of an effective surveillance system are high quality video, high reliably and coverage of all the areas that you need protected. You don’t know when trouble will strike so you don’t want your system to let you down when something does occur. This is why commercial systems are typically wired rather than wireless and why we recommend a wired system as the foundation for your surveillance system too. There are many new and clever wireless security gadgets coming to market for consumers. We recommend installing a high quality reliable core Wired CCTV Surveillance System covering your entire house and add wireless gadgets, if desired, to enhance functionality.

Issues with wireless video gadgets:

  1. Produce much lower video quality due to low bit rates regardless of resolution. 1080p (Full High Definition) video on wireless is not the same as 1080p on wired and wireless do not have 3MP, 4MP and 8MP (4K) options.
  2. Have signal strength and connection reliability issues 
  3. Are susceptible to interference, deliberate jamming and hacking. Here's a Google Nest Dropcam example.
  4. Can quickly saturate your frequency spectrum if multiple cameras are used
  5. Requires ongoing servicing if cameras are battery operated
  6. May not be able to consistently operate 24/7 without trouble
  7. Uncertain service & support with new companies

Wired System Tips

A Wired CCTV Surveillance System becomes a part of your house, quality and functionality can vary considerably so it's worth taking a moment to get an understanding of what to look for when looking at options. Here are some tips:

  1. Positioning: Have enough exterior cameras to cover entryways and all around your house, plus interior cameras to cover entryways and the stairway to the master bedroom. Police find that a camera at the top of the stairway leading up to the master bedroom is effective at capturing the faces of intruders. If you're out of the house, internal cameras also let you see what's going on if your alarm is triggered. And if you have kids, it's a bonus! :) 
  2. Frontage: The cameras at the very front of your house should be the highest resolution and aimed out towards the street to capture people coming towards your house and vehicles so that license plates are legible. This is valuable for Police investigations, help make sure burglars know you have video surveillance and with enough homes setup like this, can help burglars decide to go elsewhere.
  3. Cabling: Install ethernet wiring instead of coax because this type of wiring is lower cost and readily supports future camera upgrades if needed. POE (Power Over Ethernet) systems naturally use ethernet cabling and balun adapters could be used for Coax based systems. Installation technique and attention to detail really matters for a clean installation to keep your house looking good and avoiding damage.  
  4. Cameras: Choose as high of a resolution camera and system as your budget allows. We suggest a minimum of 1080P (2MP) but you can get 3MP, 4MP or even 8MP (4K). The higher the better for footage that can be zoomed into see important details such as faces, distinguishing marks/features and license plates for you or the police if needed. Very much like photographic cameras, the quality of the sensor, lens, digital processing, housing, IR lighting and field of view matters. For do it yourself kits, your choices are limited but if you hire a reputable professional, you can get a camera that best suits each position optimally. Try to see actual camera footage before deciding.
  5. Recorders: Choose an IP NVR (Internet Protocol Network Video Recorder) with at least 2TB hard drive for enough recorded history. Hide the NVR and screw it down to prevent it from being stolen. Also take note than NVRs can be noisy due to cooling fans. Also, IP NVRs should be powered by an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) so the entire system keeps running for while even if the power is cut. 
  6. Height: Install cameras high enough to avoid tampering but low enough to capture faces - around 12 ft high.
  7. Night Vision: Most cameras have infrared (IR) LED lamps to allow it to see in complete darkness albeit in monochrome. Check image quality, distance performance, lens glare and camera blinding IR reflection from walls & ceilings.
  8. User Interface: Consider how you will use your system. Where do you want to view it? Who will use it? Is everyone in your family comfortable with the interface? Do you want access on multiple devices and/or a dedicate terminal? How easy is it to use? Try it if you can and to see for yourself.
  9. Remote Access: Most systems allow you to remotely view things over the internet and your smart phone. Some have cloud capabilities to make viewing on smart phone more convenient and some event notifications to your phone. Visual quality & performance varies.

Hire A Professional or
Do It Yourself?

For a core Wired CCTV Surveillance System, your first decision is to either hire a professional to supply and install it or Do It Yourself. Unless you are very technically inclined, very handy around the house, and have a lot of time for a big home improvement project, then you'll be like most people and hire someone. 

Key Differences

DimensionHiring ProfessionalsDo It Yourself
QualityHighLow to Med
FunctionalityMed to HighLow to Med
Ongoing Service & WarrantyHighLow
Skills Required of YouNoneVery High
Time Required of YouLowVery High
Installation SpeedFastVery Slow
Cost (basic 1080p system)
$2000-$5000$1000 to $3000

Hire A Professional

What You Can Expect & Look For

Quality: You can have access to a wider range of equipment, including commercial grade, that can translate into higher quality visual results and system reliablity. A quality professional will assess your home's unique surveillance challenges and optimize the visual result by mixing and matching different specification cameras per position to give you a better end result.  Each camera position should be considered for full field of view, distance, lighting condition and desired image quality. Professional installation of a wired system will ensure a well functioning, pleasant result without damaging your house and creating eye sores. This is a difficult job that requires skill and experience due to the drilling, fishing of wires and optimal positioning of equipment . 

Functionality: You can have much higher and wider functionality than Do It Yourself kits because quality professionals can offer you many more options beyond just video recording such as integration with fire, flood, motion, alarm, switches, internal & external audio, control panels, A/V equipment, specialty cameras, door bells, medical, panic, temperature etc...

Ongoing Service & Warranty: It is highly recommended to hire one well established and reputable company to design a system, supply the equipment, install, and provide ongoing service and warranty. This provides you with clear accountability that this company will ensure that the system works as intended and you will have timely help when you need it. Avoid splitting the job up between equipment & labour because service & warranty can get messy when finger pointing begins.

Skills Required of You: Hiring a professional means that you don't have to become an expert on equipment functionality, manufacturer reliability, application suitability, system configuration, integration with other gear, camera performance, installation techniques, options, anti-burglary considerations, and troubleshooting. 

Time Required of You: Just choose the vendor and options then let the professionals do the rest versus 50-100 hours to do it yourself from start to finish plus ongoing self-help tech support. 

Installation Speed: Professionals can have a system installed a matter of days depending on availability vs. weeks and months if you choose to do it yourself. 

Risks: Hiring someone reputable protects you from most risks like; Using unsuitable equipment for the situation. Damaging your house - what is behind those walls? An ugly installation. Low quality video. Unreliable video. Remote access via the internet not working. Not knowing how to operate the system. Troubleshooting the system - it is a dedicated computer, network, set of cameras all connected to the internet, the cloud, your compute or TV and your smart phone.  Wiring and installation issues. Equipment issues. Camera connectivity.

Cost: The cost is higher when hiring a reputable professional but it ensures that you quickly and simply have a well functioning system that you won't have to struggle with.

Recommended Vendor: SafeTech

SafeTech awards graphic
SafeTech security camera views graphic
SafeTech security camera graphic
BBB accredited business logo

After looking at the vendor landscape for the Greater Toronto Area, one stood out - SafeTech Security. Since 1995, they have been committed to providing full service loss prevention for homes, businesses and institutions Nationwide. Here is why they stood out:

  1. Owner-Operated: Canadian owned and operated since 1995. We have met with the owner and he is extremely obsessed with customer service and has commited his career to home security. His values align to this site's vision to help homeowners secure their lives. This is a mid sized company that gives you two benefits that usually don't come together; family-like care and attention plus infrastructure features of a large scale operation.
  2. Awards & Ratings: Multiple award winner for security services in the Greater Toronto Area with Consumer Choice Awards. They are also a 12 time winner on Homestars. They are A+ rated and accredited by the Better Business Bureau
  3. Long-Term Commitment: They provide a full range of security solutions, own & operate their own ULC listed alarm and video monitoring station in Toronto, Canada and have about 44 employees. You will be around to support and service you.
  4. Integrated & Expertly Designed Solutions: SafeTech provides cutting edge solutions that have been researched, tested and vetted by experienced specialists and will consider the full field of view, distance, lighting condition and desired image quality so the right camera for each position will be selected for maximum performance. They do more by taking a holistic approach and can provide integration with and provide solutions for fire, flood, motion, alarm, switches, internal & external audio, control panels, A/V equipment, specialty cameras, door bells, medical, panic, temperature etc... You can simply deal with many of your security needs with just one call. 
  5. Support: You get direct support from seasoned loss prevention experts that educate and consult on reliable camera surveillance strategies, alarm systems, and access control to ensure your peace of mind. Free phone support is provided and cost effective friendly technicians can complete turnkey setups for any situation.
  6. Video Monitoring: Their ULC listed alarm monitoring station can monitor your video surveillance too, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  7. Liability Coverage: SafeTech is a member of Canasa (Canadian Alarm and Security Association) and adheres to its stated code of ethics, industry standards and best practices. You are also covered by their $5,000,000 of general liability insurance.

Do It Yourself

What You Can Expect

This can be a good option if you are very technically inclined, very handy around the house, have a lot of time for a big home improvement project and don't mind being your own technical support. You would essentially be researching, shopping, testing, configuring, installing and supporting a dedicated video-based computer system and network with special cameras that are hard wired inside and outside your house. If that sounds like fun, read on. 

Quality: Unless you wish to do an extreme amount of research, testing and learning like an ongoing hobby, then you're likely limited to purchasing Do It Yourself kits that are sold online or at retailers like Costco. These kits can be well priced but limit your ability to install different specification & higher quality cameras for each location which is the key to a high quality system that provides the appropriate level of coverage and clarity which is the main point of a surveillance system. Quality installation is part craft and part science that is achieved through training and experience. Being able to do a clean and quality installation through brick and drywall is very challenging and risky with hidden gas lines, electrical, insulation, water, ventilation, drain as hidden landmines you need to avoid.  

Functionality: You will probably be limited to deploying video recording & playback without integration to other security related functions. Figuring out how to integrate with your alarm, fire, flood, motion, switches, internal & external audio, control panels, A/V systems, specialty cameras, door bells, medical, panic, temperature is extremely challenging.

Ongoing Service & Warranty: If you buy a system package, you will have a parts warranty if a component fails. You need to be comfortable with troubleshooting and fixing technical issues that arise related to the equipment, network, wiring, installation, internet, client applications and your smart phone. If you find someone to help you install a system package that you buy (hybrid do it yourself), it is difficult to find a reputable installer who will also provide you with ongoing support and be accountable for any issues that arise. 

Skills Required of You: For a quality job done, you should become proficient at equipment functionality, manufacturer reliability, application suitability, system configuration, integration with other gear, camera performance, installation techniques, options, anti-burglary considerations, and troubleshooting. If not, then there will be compromises and difficulties. 

Time Required of You: You'll need about 50-100 hours from start to finish plus ongoing self-support and may take weeks to months depending on how much time you can commit. 

Risks: It's on you if you do it all yourself. If you find an installer willing to install gear that you purchase, then the installation related risks are reduced. Beware though of 'lone-wolf' installers who may not accept liability for damaging your home and be available after the job is done.

Cost: This is the lowest cost option.

If you choose to do it yourself, Costco has a wide selection of HD IP NVR kits from a number of manufacturers at good prices and offers a satisfaction guarantee so can bench test a system before installing. 

Additional Interactive Coverage

Augment your core Wired CCTV Surveillance System.

Internet Video Doorbells

Break-ins typically begin with a burglar approaching your door to check if you are there. They may pose as a salesperson or pretend to look for someone and ring your doorbell or knock. Internet video doorbells let you answer your door with 2-way audio from anywhere in the world using your smartphone and detects motion near your doors to disrupt this burglary cycle, create an illusion of occupancy and helps you decide if the police should be called in real-time before they break-in! To enhance your illusion further, internet smart switches and smart home hubs can be integrated so lights and sounds can come on automatically when someone approaches. If the doorbell video is wi-fi based, the video quality and reliability will be lower than wired systems due to low data rates, high compression and wireless conditions. It is especially noticeable when there is motion and when it is dark out. It is difficult to see facial and other identifying details well which is why we recommend this as a complement to a wired CCTV surveillance system covering the door areas. The biggest security value-add here is the interaction & awareness.

Ring Video Doorbell Pro

Tested & installed

Ring Video Doorbell Pro image

Ring is the  market leader in this evolving space and this model supports 1080p resolution. It is available from Canadian retailers and can be returned if it doesn’t perform as expected (depending on retailer). We did experience setup issues related to smartphone compatibility and WiFi but Ring has superb technical & customer service support 24/7. For our situation, a WiFi range extender was needed and Ring support sent one for free. A useful feature is the ability to temporarily share your doorbell access with a trusted neighbour so they can respond while you are away say on vacation! 

Ring uses a cloud service that saves video footage from the doorbell motion, live-view and doorbell press events to view after an event. Note that after the initial 30 day trial period, Ring requires a subscription for US$30 per year or US$100 per year for an unlimited number of Ring devices at your house. This doorbell plus their Ring Floodlight Cam is an excellent combination.

INSTALLATION: The Ring Doorbell Pro is moderately straightforward to install for anyone who is handy. If you would like someone to professionally supply/install and service this and live in the Greater Toronto Area, SafeTech can help. 

Internet Video Lights

Similar to an Internet Video Doorbell, Internet Video Lights integrate a wireless internet camera, motion detection, siren and two-way communication into an outdoor motion sensor light fixture. This is a good interactive enhancement to your wired system and Internet Video Doorbell to expand your interactive coverage especially for your backyard patio door - a favourite area for burglars. Any unexpected activity here is highly suspect so interactive coverage for this area is particularly valuable.

Ring Floodlight Cam

Tested and installed

Ring Floodlight Cam image

This floodlight cam shares the same features as the Ring Video Doorbell Pro with the following key differences. No doorbell button (obviously). Addition of 2 LED flood lights that are motion sensor activated and a loud 110db siren that you can activate remotely. The build quality of this floodlight is top-drawer. If motion is detected, the lights come on (if it is dark out), get notified on your device(s), see who is there, speak and/or listen and optionally trigger the siren or just call the police if it is an intruder, wherever you are. This is a highly recommended companion to the Ring Video Doorbell Pro for all-around interactive protection that is easy to use by all family members.

Watch how a Ring Floodlight Cam helped catch a burglar!

INSTALLATION: This is designed to replace an existing outdoor light fixture or connect to a new 120V junction box. If you have an existing fixture, remove it and connect this in its place then add it to the Ring app. Installation is straightforward for anyone who is handy. If you would like someone to professionally supply/install and service this and live in the Greater Toronto Area, SafeTech can help.