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Quick generic guide to building a home surveillance system

Amcrest POEThis is an overview tutorial on what to purchase and how to set it up to have a local DVR for home or neighborhood surveillance based on how I did mine. This is very general in scope and with thousands of routers, cameras, and products available I’m not going to delve into detail on every aspect.

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This is also most likely the cheapest and most breakable of ways to do things. It’s ideal for seeing who’s getting drunk and eating Taco Bell at 4am on your lawn or who broke into your car, probably not so great if someone breaks into your house and steals all your computer equipment.

I’ll note most brands of camera sell a cloud DVR with a free month or so intro then you’re paying monthly. This is for one-time expense although you’ll be in charge of maintaining it and get the blame when you didn’t verify that it was working four days ago and someone broke into your car.

What you’ll need

Total price tag for two good cameras, wiring, poe injector, probably under $300.



Trendnet POE switchThe POE injector or switch provides power to the camera and does not need to be situated near the cam. I prefer switches as they’re a one-outlet option, but your needs are going to vary depending on where your main switch or modem is, whether you have enough ports for cameras plus your computer, etc.

Basically if you can use a POE switch and don’t have a switch it’s probably your best option.

That said, if you’re only going to power one or two cameras and you’ve got the spare ethernet ports and electrical outlets for it, go the injector route. You’ll save some cash.

I’ll note that if you want to tie up a wall power outlet many cameras ship with a wall plug you can use.


I’ve reviewed a lot of cameras. They all look pretty good these days. For the purposes of what I’m suggestion you’re going to use the camera to offload your security footage to a storage location over FTP. All the cameras I’ve run across do FTP.

Just figure out how you’re going to need to mount it, then get a camera with mounting that works and specs you want.

The specs on resolution you’ll need to decide if you’re wanting to see the nosehair on a trespasser in your yard at 80 feet, or whether you just want to know what’s been going on. While more megapixels are better, they also cost more to be able to see that nose hair.

Network cable

Get cat6 or cat5e, beyond that your considerations are if you want to put your camera beside a window you might want to get flat ethernet cable as you can usually close a modern window on it and not have to drill a hole to get the cable out of your house. I’ve got a few cameras at my house now and a total of one hole I had to drill.


For FTP I use a computer I have on non-stop (for work,) and an external disk drive to store video. The advantage of this is my computer never has to spin up the internal drives and the disk can do its own thing. You can use your computer as a dump for data, it’ll just keep the drive active more.

Seagate Backup Plus HUB

I’m planning on moving my USB drive to attach to my router that also supports using a USB drive as network attached storage and FTP, but I haven’t done this yet. At that point I’ll only have to have power to the router and the drive and can down the computer when I’m not using it for work.

I also use a dedicated external drive because keeping a drive running internally builds heat, theoretically shortens the computer’s power supply life, and contributes to being one more piece to fail.

I’m using the software Filezilla Server to host my FTP until I move it to the main router.

You can also use a USB stick if you want no moving parts. These will theoretically wear out a little faster than hard drives, but they’re cheap, low power, and completely silent.

You do not need a huge amount of storage for a month’s worth of video when you’re only capturing events and not non-stop footage. I go through about 10gb a day on a very active high resolution camera, and you can delete old footage you don’t need fairly easily.


This is where you’re going to mount the cameras and run the network cable. There will be instructions with whatever camera you buy. If you’ve got a POE switch hook it up to your network or cable modem, then hook the camera ethernet into it.


Install FileZilla, make it a server, use a password for everything you can easily remember because if you forget it you’re going to have to set up accounts again. Alternately see your router’s documentation for being an FTP server.

Every camera is different, but most will allow you to define a storage location which you’ll set to the FileZilla or router above. Set the camera to sensitive, record location FTP, make sure every zone is selected for monitoring on the camera, all hours, and see if it works.

What about WiFi?

No. I can tell you stories of camera after camera dying at work on me, but trust me, it’s been the most fallible system I’ve ever run across. From cameras suddenly not able to authenticate, to WIFi modules crashing, to having to reboot everything to get the cameras working again. Bad.

But what if a criminal steals the drive?

This setup was for local DVR only. You can RSync the video off to a work computer, put it in a Google Drive folder to sync out, or use a cloud based DVR product that will probably limit you to using one single manufacturer’s products.

Note that I’ve mentioned I’m using different brand products. Commonality is the FTP works on all of them.

Current setups I’m maintaining

I currently am maintaining two of these sorts of networks. My home based one has two internal foscams used as baby monitors. There are also a couple of off-brand devices about the house and an Amcrest camera to grab porch video and another foscam bullet camera to watch the front.

Additionally I run another piece of software to listen into the baby room which is completely cut off from the internet by design.

At work we’ve got three stories and the parking lot covered by a mix of 11 mostly Amcrest cameras with a couple of Foscam WiFi cameras in the areas that absolutely don’t matter.


Ask away.

This isn’t the best and most full featured implementation, but it’ll work with nearly any camera out there.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.