How-To Install Surveillance Cameras to Deter Criminals in a Vacation Home

By: Hal Jones

Second Part of Securing a Vacation or Lake Home.

How-To Install Surveillance Cameras in a Vacation or Lake Home, Where Remote Surveillance Using the Internet or Smartphone is Necessary

In the first section we covered deterrents, now we cover surveillance as a means of protecting property in a remote vacation home or lake house.   After the break-in occured, I spoke with Sheriff’s deputies about ways to prevent a further break-in. I wish I could say they had great ideas that were easily implemented. Unfortunately, I was told that locks and alarms keep out the honest people, but the hard core criminal will find a way in if he wants something bad enough.  Two weeks after installing the alarm system, the thieves came back. They broke the same door they had used two weeks earlier. The deputies’ point was made even more clear now.  However the alarm system I had picked up at Lowe’s earlier did its job and scared the intruders off.  Unfortunately they made off with my deer feeder I had placed in the yard and also took one of my trail cams that I had mounted lower to the ground on a nearby tree.

Using Trail Cameras as Part of Your Home Surveillance

I checked and saw that the other trail cams were undisturbed and immediately pulled the memory cards to see what images had been captured.  I did get video of a suspect vehicle leaving the drive.  I was more than a little miffed about one of my security cameras being stolen, but I now see the virtue of placing several cameras around the property.  Bear in mind and learn from my experience, trail cams need to be placed in areas where they cover a large area or an area that must be used to access the area you are protecting.  If that means placing the cameras high into trees or on the exterior walls of multiple story walls, do so.   The problem with trail cams is that they require test runs to ensure the cameras are set up properly.


Swann Outback Cameras make excellent remote security cameras due to their small size
We used Swann Outback cameras to capture remote video. Their smaller size makes them easier to disguise

Tips for Using Trail Cameras as Security Devices

1) Ensure the camera lens has a clear view of the area you are surveying
2) Check the area in front of the lens to ensure items that might cause false alarms on the motion sensor are removed
3)Try and camouflage the camera or place it in a location that is inaccessible to thieves
4) Fresh Batteries and replace them often, especially in cold weather
5)Check the actual setup by walking in the area you are covering and see if your movement triggers the camera and that the camera records a useable image. Showing the burglars feet is of little use to law enforcement. Change your camera’s position if it fails to perform as expected.
6) Several companies manufacture steel box enclosures for trail cams. These can deter camera theft, look for ones that are lockable preventing access to the memory card.

Dedicated Surveillance Systems with Digital Video Recorders (DVR)

Image from IPhone Using SwannView App

As dedicated video surveillance systems have come down in costs and added more features, many homeowners are now installing these systems themselves. We are testing a Swann DVR-8 2600 Day/Night Kit – 8 Chanel Digital Video Recorder with Networking, State-of-the-Art Features & 8 High Res All-Weather Day/Night Cameras. The ability to network this system is what sold me on the Swann system.  Two years ago, I was talking to the tech director for one of the largest law enforcement agencies and he was showing me some of the technology his department used.  We went to a secure website and there on live video feeds were drug deals going down all over the country. I was amazed. Now the cameras he showed me were more of the James Bond micro miniature variety and not available to the public, but the idea of being able to control so many cameras from a laptop amazed me.  The Swann system allows me access to my cameras 24-7 so I can know what’s going on while I am away.  And the system includes a hardrive and a Flash Drive port so I can give video to law enforcement agencies to use in prosecution.  The H254 compression allows for a large amount of videos to be saved before running out of hard drive space.  That is just too awesome.

One of the items you may need to order before installing your video surveillance system are the longer lengths of cable to connect your cameras to the DVR systems.I had one particularly long run that went to the end of our dock, with 175′ of dock length and another 70 feet to the cable entrance to the house, I ordered the 300 foot Swann Pro Cable pack and this was just the right length. I was concerned about image degradation by using such a long cable run, but I had no issues.  An option I could have used was to supply power to the remote camera from a nearby outlet on the dock, to avoid voltage drop and this is something you may want to consider when your cable lengths exceed 100 feet.

Before permanently installing your cameras I suggest you do a test layout of your cameras.  Where I originally had planned to place the cameras were not the best choices.  The angle of coverage of each camera is very important. Do you want to cover just the entryways into your residence or would it be better to have cameras that cover more area with less detail.  This is where having the 8 camera system has a great advantage over the four and two camera systems.  Four cameras will cover the four sides of your house or four entryways, but usually not both.  When placing cameras it’s best to also test at night  using the infrared system.  If your camera has objects nearby, those objects may interfere with the infrared illumination, causing interference or white-outs in some instances.  I installed one camera at the top of the house some 30 feet above ground level and overlooking the driveways and entry road. When viewing the video feed from that camera, you can see the IR (infrared illuminators) lights at night. You should be aware that when the camera switches over to its nighttime mode the images will be black and white.  The Swann IR illuminators under ideal circumstances can illuminate up to 65 feet away, but your unique situation will affect this distance.  Also fog will cause a white out effect as the water droplets reflect the IR light back and scatter it more so than rain.  If you are a gun enthusiast you already know this and that in some circumstances a thermal imager is a better solution for viewing, but thermal imagery is out of the working man’s price range.

The nighttime viewing of the Swann system and many other surveillance systems relies on IR imaging. The IR spectrum lies outside of what we as humans can see without special viewing equipment. Just because an area appears dark, doesn’t mean that video surveillance is not in use.  The other benefit of using the one camera to capture the general area is that each IR enabled camera illuminates its area of coverage and the camera that overlooks the entire back property shows these areas even though these remote cameras are a long distance away and much further than one could effectively illuminate with an IR flood light.

Front Door Security Camera Captures the Driveway and Sidewalk Leading to the Front Door

Another factor to consider when placing your cameras is the motion detection capability of the system.  The cameras installed on the dock are tricky when it comes to using motion detection. The dock is a floating dock and it moves. Every wave either generated by a boat or even a breeze triggers the motion detection sensors.  Clever camera placement and using the software to select areas not to detect motion in are the answer here. The Swann System has a nifty feature that allows the end user to customize which areas are sensitive to movement, thus avoiding false alarms and notifications from pets, wind, etc…

Camera placement is going to determine whether the images captured are successful in identifying the perpetrator.  In some areas I used dummy cameras, or sacrificial cameras that trespassers would obviously see, while the actual cameras were placed in locations not easily visible.  Think about what it is that you are trying to get a good image of; license plates, a camera mounted on a tree next to the driveway, a face shot, camera mounted discretely at face height.  There are cameras made to look like clock radios, AC vents, stuffed animals, and even stumps for your yard.  I made the mistake of placing a camera in a plainly visible location in my first attempt at doing this, all I accomplished was getting that camera stolen.


Motion Activated Flood Lights are effective to some degree of persuading miscreants to keep going and leave your property alone. Regardless of their effectiveness of making burglars leave, they will improve the quality of nighttime images making it easier for law enforcement officials to identify the suspects.  If you have the budget, IR flood lights are an effective way of providing IR light over a large area, such as a parking area or an entire yard.   Check the technical specifications of the cameras you are comparing to get a better idea at how effective they will perform at night.  I was able to mix and match cameras from different manufacturers on another system I installed and the difference between cameras is significant.  Lowe’s Home Improvement provided us with its General Electric Cameras. The GE cameras had built in audio which made them idea for installation at the front door and at the garage door area.  An added benefit of the remote viewing capability of the Swann DVR systems is their compatibility with Iphones etc. When a package arrives I know it and can drop by and pick up the package before any thieves get a chance to.

In Summary, by combining a DVR System with matched cameras and trail cameras, a homeowner can create a surveillance system that will watch over his property when he is not present, alert him when the cameras detect motion, and provide identification of trespassers and burglars or even more serious criminals wishing to do us harm.  If I can see a threat before he knows I see him, I have the advantage and this provides my family with a degree of safety that you can also have.  Swann tech support will help you set up the networking and remote software. You will do yourself a favor by calling them and letting them walk you through the set up process. For the network and remote viewing, you will need a high speed DSL or even Satellite Internet connection.

Thanks to:

Swann Security
Swann Outback Cameras
Swann DVR-8 2600 with 4 Cameras

Lowes Home Improvement
General Electric Wired A/V Security Cameras

Additional Supplies

B&H Photo
Bulk BNC Security Cable for long runs, 300 feet rolls and 100 feet

100 feet rolls of Night Owl Security Cables

Radio Shack
BNC to RCA Adapters
BNC to BNC Male Connectors



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