Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Securing my house

My house is three floors with 7 doors and around 12 accessible windows. I recently secured it with a Monitronics alarm system as well as equipping it with several Foscam IP cameras around the house.
I have to say I am very pleased with the set-up.

The Alarm system is completely wireless; relying on Verizon cell service. This means no need for a land line. Monitronics sell under various re-sellers and I am content with the one I got. I'm sure I can get a cheaper alarm system as many of my friends can attest to. However, I didn't want to get involved with the installation and buying the equipment. I pay $40 a month with a three year contract which comes out to the same as buying the equipment outright and going through some $8-10 a month service. I don't have the added cost of a land line so the cheapest alarm system would be in the $20-25 range if you included a land line telephone. In three years when my contract is up, I can take the equipment and go elsewhere. The house was already armed with another contract but I wanted to start fresh with newer technology.

The system has a nice touch pad panel system and pretty much everything can be controlled via a smartphone, tablet or web browser. You can arm the doors/windows and motion sensors or just the doors/windows alone. There are some nice touches like multi-user pin numbers and the chimes for different doors and windows. Since I have three floors, the panel chimes if my kids are coming from the side door in the basement. It chimes in a voice, "Basement side door open" or "Kitchen window open." The only thing it doesn't have that I like is the ability to arm by floors. For example, I would simply just like to arm everything in my basement and leave the other two floors disarmed.

Overall, it works and I can't complain yet.

Next, surveillance cameras. I ended up standardizing on Foscam fi8910w and fi8918w cameras. I can't tell you what the differences are and I'm sure someone out there has a comparison chart. I picked the Foscam for their price, reliability, reputation, and most importantly  the price. I usually pick them up when they hit the $60 price mark on sale.

The great thing about the Foscams are the great third party application support. In the past, most cameras relied on Active-X and Internet Explorer support. The new ones work pretty much with anything. Sure, I use the server push web browser to configure but there are apps for phone, tablet, and computers.

Here is FoscamPro for the iPad.

I also use a few on the Android app store. Here is IP Cam Viewer Basic running on my $99 firesale HP TouchPad. I finally put that gadget to use and out of the sock drawer. I was previously using a spare Windows laptop but I figure an old, unused tablet will consume less power running 24x7. I'll end up re-purposing my old tablets for each room to use as portable multi-cam viewers.

Most of the tablet and phone apps are great for quickly viewing the grid of cameras and controlling them. The Foscam are PTZ (Pan, Tilt, and zoom) and works even under low light conditions with IR sensors. The Wi-Fi range is pretty good considering I have them across three floors.

However, the thing I really like is the ability to listen to sound and send sound. My house was wired with an ancient intercom system and I can't seem to find modern multi-room intercoms any more. The Foscams now serve that purpose. From my phone, I can hit a microphone icon and tell my kids to get upstairs for dinner. Extremely handy!

Now, the smartphone and tablet apps are great but one thing I need is the ability to record and review video. I couldn't find much for non-window platforms (OSX and Linux) so I ended up building myself a Windows XP build running inside a VM on my VMware ESXi vSphere home server. I made a 20GB VM with several 60GB data drive disk containers and installed iSpy Connect. It is free and open source. I thought about spending $50 for something popular like Blue Iris but so far iSpy does everything I need. I can record on motion or sound. As for multi-view web interface, I don't need that paid feature from iSpy or even Blue Iris since I already have them on my smartphone and tablet.

Running the DVR recording in a Virtual Machine is pretty handy as well. I can clone and provision the build easily for backups and with a low wattage ESXi server, I don't think I consume more than .020 kWH per hour. If I need to control the software, I simply RDP or VNC into it from my other computers.


So far, I think everything is working as it should. I am very pleased with the set-up. For privacy reasons, I blurred out some of the photos/views. I hope this blog posts help you on your security and home surveillance needs.


Foscam Pro

IPCam Viewer Basic

iSpy Connect:


  1. Pretty sweet set-up you got there! Heck, the place is so secure that burlglars would probably just give up when they see this. I don't have a grand house such as yours, so I keep my security system much simpler. Integrating all monitoring to your tablet and smartphone makes the task so easy to do, not to mention more compact than staring at a bunch of huge monitors.

    Todd Cavanaugh @ ProTechAlarm

  2. IP Camera Viewer for the PC is a great little product that lets me view my cams quickly and for free. The interface is intuitive and it works well with every model of IP camera and USB camera.