Security Camera Installation and Wiring Tips
Are you watching Big Brother, or is Big Brother watching you? Image shared by pixel addict via Flickr

With many reasons to install wireless surveillance cameras in the home or office, basic security camera installation is something that the average person should be able to do without calling in the professionals. Of course, we’re not talking about complex, multi-leveled security systems designed to keep dangerous supervillains or extinct species resurrected with a hunger for humans at bay (and if we are, then please do call in the professionals!); we’re talking about one or two cameras around the house or office, monitored via your computer or smart phone, designed to help you see and hear what’s going on when you’re not able to be around.

It’s like you’re George Orwell’s Big Brother, but on a Little Brother budget and level of fuss. We’ll say you’re… on a fussbudget. Super simple, see?

So here are some security camera installation and wiring tips for you, Little Brother — or Little Sister. Little Sibling? (Somehow, Little Sibling is Watching You doesn’t really have the same impact of the original, but so be it.)

Security Camera Installation: Wired or Wireless?

When you’re making the decision to do your own security camera installation, the first question you’ll have to answer is whether you want a wired security camera system or a wireless security camera system.

A closed circuit, wired security camera system is quite a bit more involved and will not only require you to run wires from the camera to its power source, but also to any monitoring and recording equipment that you have in place to receive the information gathered by the security camera. Some feel that this option is more secure than wireless, though, as its signal won’t catch interference from other wireless goings-on in the neighborhood and is less easily hacked by those with the know-how to do so.

A wireless security camera, on the other hand, usually only requires a cable to its power source, with the information it receives being transfered to your monitoring and recording equipment by your home’s Wi-Fi network. Some wireless security cameras even come with their own built-in DVR-type system where the recording is contained, with an option to increase the device’s recording time with the addition of a MicroSD card. (Much simpler than shuffling around VHS tapes like we had to do in the old days.)

Security Camera Installation: What Cable Should You Use?

This is a bit of a personal preference, but you have two choices when dealing with security camera installation: DVR or Cat 5 ethernet (RJ45). Many prefer Cat 5 simply because it’s smaller and easier to hide (and any holes you may have to create to run the cable will also be easier to conceal). A Cat 5 cable will require a hole of less than 5 mm in diameter, whereas the DVR will need a hole spanning anywhere between two to three inches.

If you want to see some spirited discussion between people who have strong opinions about one format over the other, there’s a forum for that.

Security Camera Installation: When Wiring, Leave Yourself Some Slack

It is never a good idea to cut cables too long or too short. If you cut the cable short, then it will be under tension and could chafe or even snap under the pressure. (Don’t we all know the feeling?) Cutting the cable long can also be a problem because you may be left with more cable than you know what to do with, and if it can’t be concealed properly, it can be unsightly (at best) or become a tripping hazard (at worst).

By way of compromise, I prefer to err on the side of cutting cable a little long so that there’s slack for camera adjustment, but not so much that it becomes an inconvenience. As they say, “measure twice, cut once.” I tend to estimate an extra five inches over what my measurements tell me.

(This is the part where all the women in the room can finally throw out a “That’s what he said.” Go ahead. Let it out. It’s therapeutic.)

Another reason for having that extra room to maneuver your cables without having to splice together pieces you’ve cut too short leads us to the next bit of advice…

Security Camera Installation: Do Not Permanently Fix

When estimating the proper place for every component during your security camera installation, you won’t know exactly where everything should be until you’ve gotten it all together and tested it for the first time. Leave yourself some wiggle room in case you’ve got to move your camera a few inches to compensate for sub-optimal viewing conditions — and keep in mind that even the time of day can factor into this. Maybe your camera has a great view down your driveway in the daytime, but at night you may get terrible glare from your IR sensor. The IR glare could be caused by many things, but usually it happens because the camera is exceptionally close to a parallel wall that is reflecting the IR.

So that’s just one example, but other issues may come up that you should consider before permanently fixing your security camera in place. Changing seasons with their variable lighting and inclement weather conditions (reflection from snow, for instance) may give you cause to make adjustments over the course of a year. Adjustable mounts can be a real sanity saver — who wants to be bringing out the toolbox in -20 degree weather to move a danged security camera? Not this guy!

Again, this illustrates the need to have a little — but not too much — slack with your cables as pointed out above.

Security Camera Installation: All This Talk About Wiring Sounds Complicated; Should I Just Stick to Wireless?

Awww, don’t let a few coils of cable intimidate you! The security camera that you decide upon should weigh factors aside from simple security camera installation concerns. Wireless security cameras have their own pros and cons, but you should compare them with the pros and cons of wired security cameras — this comprehensive comparison may help.

If you’re protecting a lot and you’re uncomfortable with poking holes in your house and running wires through your walls, it might not hurt to call in the professionals, after all.

If you’re a novice who’s not afraid to get your hands a little dirty, though, you shouldn’t be scared off by those who say that wireless is your best (and, according to them, your only) option. Only you can balance your needs with the ease (or difficulty) of security camera installation and maintenance — wired or wireless — over time.

Which security camera system is right for you, Little Sibling?