Home Security for Vacation Home


New Member
Hi, I am an editor for the US Senior News. I would like to put together an article telling our (active-lifestyle-55+ readers) how to set up a "home security system" for their vacation homes. I did some preliminary research, and frankly, I am overwhelmed :) with the number of choices available. I imagine that they would be, too.

I realize I could assemble a features matrix of all available s/w, but they would have to become experts in too many things to follow it, and I don't have that long to write this article. Instead, I would like to give them a "recipe" that will work. If they get curious, they can always do additional research, but I want to give them something that I know will work, rather than the latest thing out, just to be on that bleeding edge.

That said, I would appreciate any answers, or resources. If you simply want to spell out what you did, that is also welcome.

Here are what will be the "must-have" features for the solution (thoughts on whether I'm missing something are welcome):

* wireless cameras
* runs off Windows XP (at the vacation home)
* records highly compressed video (triggered by motion-detecting cameras or s/w) to the computer (or to a remote server)
* s/w can be administered from a remote computer coming in over an Internet connection
* cameras can be enabled from a remote computer coming in over an Internet connection
* live streamed video (recognizable as such) can be delivered to remote computer coming in over an Internet connection
* s/w is robust since it will be on a computer that will not be "manned" most of the year.

Nice-to-have features:
* integrates with home automation system, which is also web-enabled.
* s/w licensed to the user (as opposed to an ASP solution)

Thank you in advance for your help.

It sounds like you are building more of a surveillance system, than a security system?

It also sounds like you are assuming the home will still have a full-time broadband internet connection, even when it is in "vacation" mode, correct?

My limited experience with wireless cameras hasn't been good, I think you will have much better results 802.11 IP cameras.
You definitely don't want wireless cameras, it would only help burglars to see if anyone is home. It sounds like you are looking for a system which might be too complex for Seniors, either due to time requirements, or potential maintenance issues.

However, most of this stuff is easy to implement if you have some computer experience, or know someone who does such as a friend in the family or a HA installer. I think it is safe to say that many Cocooners already do this, myself included.

Any good webcam security software will allow you to record snapshots when there is motion, and record a video for x # of seconds (I know VisionGS does this, which is what I use), however I would recommend going with a hardware solution (something like a web enabled DVR would probably be the best option), which eliminates any stability/maintenance issue, as video surveillance is rather critical.

As for home automation, Homeseer is one of the few applications which has a web interface out of the box, allowing you to control pretty much every aspect of your HA setup. They are coming out with a 1u (pizza box size) machine which will run all this, and runs an embedded version of XP, which would be much more stable than a regular XP machine.

One more thing I would try to take care of is the connectivity. I would suggest a VPN router, using a cable/dsl connection, which allows a person to connect remotely, and make them part of the network, versus trying to setup port forwarding which might become a problem when you try to configure this remotely and misconfigure a setting.

There is so much that can be done, I think the solution would really depend on the budget, personal preferences and experience of the people in question. Also keep in mind that a battery backup system is recommended, in case something happens right after the power went out, and to cover brown-outs.
I think that your list of "Must Haves" is a little more comprehensive than what most folks have a real "need" for. I would start with real basics, and then add in groups

1) Security system that monitors windows, doors, motion and most importantly fire and carbon monoxide detection. Ideally with a monitored service.

2) Ability to summon help throught the monitored service

The above can be wireless for retrofitting in an unwired existing house, or wired for a new construction or larger budget

3) Remote monitoring:
Add the ability to have the home send you a page or phone call if an alarm trigger is set. Don't recommend methods that require a call into the house for status. This can be as part of a quality alarm panel system like a Napco.

4) Add X10 or other power line switches for both automation (via programmable X10 interface) and remote control over main house lights

5) Deluxe monitoring:
Add a PC to the house with Home Automation software like Homeseer that allows you to check status of the house via the Internet.

6) Automation:
Now that a PC and Home Automation software is in the mix, add timed events for turning lights on / off when needed.

Add reminders that tell you when medication should be taken and track if you took it.

Consider voice control implementation for physically handicapped. Can get expensive and more complicated and results are not perfect but worthwhile for those not physically capable of getting around.

7) Remote thermostat control:
Add a serial or X10 controlled thermostat for long distance monitoring and control. When you are coming back to your house from your RV trip, warm up the house before you get there.

8) Video security:
Add wired prefereable or wireless cameras for security. Add monitors in house to monitor visitors before opening the door. Add ability to view captured video remotely.

9) Add automation of media:
With good programming, can take some of the mystery out of using complicated media gear and media selection. Click "Watch DVD" and pick a cover art and watch your movie as example. All settings done by setup behind the scenes.

that's a start.
Hey, All!

Thank you for your quick answers (and questions).

I really did want a system with cameras, not just alarms. If you are going to spend the money on this, you probably have a cleaning service, yard service, pool service coming into your home year round. If the house is in Florida, being able to see what/how much hurricane-damage you have (assuming the cameras don't get ripped off the building, of course) is an ancillary benefit.

I like the idea of a self-contained box. I was planning to recommend a UPS, since one power outage is all you need to disable your remote security system otherwise.

We have adequate data about our readers to know that a very large proportion of them are Web savvy and manage their investments online. Please don't assume they're doddering fools. Fifty-five is not old.

I agree that wired cameras would be better, but having to run wires is going to be a non-starter for many, so this article will focus on wireless. I would hope the software will have its own security feature, so that we can sign in remotely without needing a VPN. I guess I should have put that on the "nice-to-have" list.

Any additional feedback is welcome.

Thank you.

P.S. It is my job to make this easy for them to follow; I wrote _The HTML 4 Bible_ in a former life.
The homeseer web interface supports user authentication, and I believe the upcoming 2.0 version will support SSL, so I guess you could do away with the VPN router. I don't have any experience with any other HA software which has a web interface, so that's all I can recommend for now.

As for wireless cameras, you are going to run in other problems when you want to use motion detection software, since any interference (such as a cordless phone, microwave, or anything else using the same frequencies) will create noise in the pictures, triggering the motion detection algorithm, I learnt this the hard way. The only way to deal with this, is to buy an IP cam which does motion detection 'on board'. D-link is one of those wireless cameras which will do this, but keep in mind that most cameras won't record video which was one of your requirements.
If we are talking about larger estates, as I believe you would be covering in many cases if these 55+ year-olds are managing investments and having second and third houses that are covered by groundskeepers and other maintenance services, then wireless will become a problem because of range problems. And in South Florida, at least, most houses are built using steel framing internally and CBS construction, (like my home) which is VERY hostile to RF signals. That means your homeowners will have to do some testing and possibly buy more than one receiver to be placed strategically in the home in order to receive good signalling from the cameras, and cameras and systems will have to be the type which can be limited to certain RF channels to prevent hopping form receiver to receiver. Are the the type to do their own RF engineering? Even some people on this board won't do that.

Then there's the security issue. Wireless cameras are not secure. They can also be easily jammed by an easily-generated RF signal. As someone above said, wired would be much better, from a security standpoint. Unless you would consider the cameras icing on the cake to be able to see the house and not rely on them to be security devices (surveillance vs. security), it makes sense NOT to use wireless cameras with video motion detection, etc.

So, this leads me to believe that most of these 55+ year-olds would be better off hiring a local service company to come in and set things up, rather than trying to DIY, suggesting your article should be on service providers and installers rather than products and devices. That's just where the market is today. And I don't buy your argument that because they can trade investments online that they have the Internet and networking security savvy to set up a secure security and surveillance system using similar technologies.

BTW, I am a network and security specialist with 20+ years in IT, and I've been doing home automation for over 7 years now.
PowerHome (www.myx10.com) has a web interface out of the box, and also supports dial-up, if broadband is not available. I'll look over the requirements some more later and add some additional comments.

s/w is robust since it will be on a computer that will not be "manned" most of the year.
Based on this, you should also add some sort of watchdog timer that the HA system could retrigger every so many minutes, and, if something gets hung up, the system could be automatically restarted. Here is one source.

Also, put a big check next to PowerHome for providing secure access to all functions via the web. You can also use a WAP-enabled wireless phone. :)