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Use Your Home Security Cameras the Right Way. Here's How

We've got six tips to help you get the most out of your home security cameras.

Wyze home security camera on kitchen table
Make sure you're getting the most out of your home security cameras.
Chris Monroe/CNET

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Depending on your neighborhood, you may be seeing more and more home security cameras popping up these days. That's because these cameras have become ridiculously affordable over the past few years, and they offer a great, basic entry point into connected home security. Add that these devices are easier than ever to set up, and there are dozens of options on the market specifically tailored to your needs (including video doorbells, indoor cameras and outdoor cameras), and suddenly you might wonder why everyone doesn't have a smart cam.

But if you've bought a home security camera, the question remains: How do you get the most out of it? Home security cameras can have a lot of features to get lost in, so we're here to help you find what's really most useful for you. You can also find tips on the worst places to put your home security cameras, and how to keep your security cameras from getting hacked.

Choose the right location for your security camera

People invest in home security cameras for many reasons. It could be because you've had porch pirates steal your packages, or because you want to keep an eye on your children when they are home alone. So the question is, given your particular purpose, where should you put your security camera? 

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If you have a video doorbell (you can find CNET's tested picks for the best video doorbells here), Ring recommends mounting it 48 inches (4 ft.) above the ground. This allows you capture the faces of would-be visitors, but also to see packages left near the door. If you're primarily concerned with package monitoring, it might be worth considering more expensive video doorbells that feature wider angle lenses, such as Arlo's excellent devices.

If you're using an outdoor security camera that's not a video doorbell to monitor your entrances, it should go above a window or a doorframe, facing downward to cover the area a few feet in front of the opening if you're looking to track deliveries. Check your camera's range, too: you'll want as wide an angle as you can get for outdoors, and ideally a 1:1 aspect ratio, too.

Indoor cameras may be used for different purposes. Again, if you're hoping to monitor general activity, say, of children in the house, placing a wide angle lensed camera in the corner should work. If you're hoping to monitor entryways for security purposes, a narrower lensed device, perhaps with night vision, would be the best option.

Either way, it's a good idea to keep indoor security cameras pointed away from private areas to avoid breaches of privacy.

Arlo video doorbell

Video doorbells offer helpful monitoring if you're concerned about porch pirates stealing your packages.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Make sure your camera is recording

If the reason you're setting up a home security camera is to deter package thieves, know that while a live stream could help you catch the act in the process, it won't help you submit the evidence to the police if it's not recorded.

While it may seem like a no-brainer to make sure the footage your home security captures is recorded, many cameras simply don't have cloud storage or a storage chip, or SIM card, included with them. If you're using devices from Ring or Arlo, for instance, you'll need to purchase a $3/month subscription along with the camera to access their cloud storage. Some devices, like Wyze's cameras, have slots for SIM cards.

Check your motion sensing sensitivity settings

Nothing is more annoying than constant push notifications on your phone because the tree in your front yard is blowing in the wind. On the other hand, it would be incredibly frustrating to shell out for an expensive video doorbell, only for a package to be stolen off your doorstep without any notification at all.

The home security video camera cannot work to the utmost of its abilities just by capturing and/or recording video. While those features certainly help identify a burglar, it doesn't do too much to deter them from going about their intended actions.

Motion detectors are very useful on security cameras, even if it's just to let you know someone's walking up to your door with a package. Some cameras offer people-only alerts, package alerts or a camera to watch or engage with your pet. Ring cameras -- and many others, too -- allow you to adjust motion detection sensitivity and set a schedule to turn off alerts when you know that certain people will be going in or out.

You can also adjust your notification window for many cameras -- so you get notifications if there's motion on your doorstep, but not on the sidewalk beyond it.

screen recording of video doorbell footage

Many video doorbells allow you to select certain zones to monitor for motion, and to ignore others.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Set up (the right) notifications

Motion detection is an important security feature on home security cameras, but different types of motion may mean different things. And sometimes you don't want motion to send your phone a-buzzing. Setting schedules, as mentioned above, is a good first measure. But you may also want to receive certain types of notifications at certain times: for instance, you may have your phone more in the evenings, but email notifications might be best during the day. Or different users in the same house might be home for different portions of the day.

Depending on the type of camera you have, you'll be able to adjust these notification settings in the camera's app.

Connect to other smart devices in the house

In most cases, whatever notifications you do get from your home security camera will be sent to your smartphone. But you can also connect your home security camera to other smart devices in your home, for instance calling up a live stream on your Amazon Echo or Nest Hub Max when someone rings the video doorbell.

Some cameras also work with voice assistants in other ways: Ring, for instance, uses Alexa for smart responses to visitors ringing the doorbell.

nest hub owl lamp desk

More security cameras than ever work with smart home devices, such as smart displays.

Dale Smith/CNET

Read up on your camera's special perks

Finally, to get the most out of your home security camera, do some research on your devices' unique capabilities. Though many home security cameras will share features, most have something to set them apart from the competition. Some of the common, or less common, features you'll see include:

  • Night vision
  • Two-way talk
  • Wide angle lenses or unusual aspect ratios (useful for video doorbells)
  • Spotlights
  • Integration with other smart home devices
  • Free cloud storage (though this is increasingly rare)
  • Weather protection for outdoor devices
  • Smart alerts (distinguishing between packages, people, pets and other things)
  • Professional monitoring
  • Radar

If you haven't already bought a device, it's also worth thinking through which features are most important for you. And if you have, figuring out which features are available on your existing device can help you use it more efficiently.

The bottom line

Home security cameras can be a great addition to your overall home security plan. By following the tips above, you can truly make the most out of your home security camera -- along with usual home security practices.

For more information about your options, read about CNET's recommended video doorbells, outdoor cameras and indoor cameras.