Top Diy Home Security Systems – A few years ago, my wife and I decided to get a CCTV security system. We didn’t know much about home security or security cameras at that point. But we wanted to check in on our home while we were gone.
If we weren’t DIY-crazy, we’d probably go the Easy-DIY route and buy an all-in-one home security kit from Ring or Simplisafe.
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But we felt very uneasy about those brands storing our videos on the cloud, especially indoor videos. Cloud-based security cameras have been getting hacked left, right and center. Some even offer them to the police without a warrant! Moreover, many useful features of these cameras such as advanced motion detection are locked behind paid monthly subscription plans. Even basic things like being able to review recorded clips, which you would expect is a given.
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So while the costs seemed low, ongoing costs would quickly balloon. This is the downside of the subscription-based business model that most security camera companies are turning to these days. Don’t get me wrong, cloud backup is fine and serves as offsite backup. But having it shoved down our throats and having to pay for it is simply unacceptable.
But being the DIYers and tech freaks that we are, we decided to do it ourselves – the ProDIY way, learning by doing, using excellent standalone IP cameras (like the Reolink E1 Pro), and quality prosumer networking but affordable. Gear (like Ubiquiti’s Unifi range).
Today, we have a DIY CCTV home security camera system that we have chosen and set up ourselves based on months of research. It’s very reliable and has very useful features like fully interfacing with HomeSeer and our HomeSeer HS4 home automation system, but it’s very affordable.
We often get questions about our DIY CCTV setup, such as how we can view our home security cameras securely from anywhere in the world. So we thought we’d share our journey with you, our readers.
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We will list our complete security camera setup and how to connect to your home safely and securely from anywhere. We will also go into not only a list of the different devices that make up the system, but also how they all come together to help us achieve our specific security goals.
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Here is a screenshot of how we live-view our IP cameras on our laptops and on the TV:
We can also access the cameras from our smartphones using either the tinyCAM Monitor Pro app or the QNAP VMobile app to access NVR NAS (Network Attached Storage) clip archives.
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Whenever any of the IP cameras detect motion, the QNAP NAS informs our Home Assistant home automation system which can turn on lights, play a siren alarm, send me video clips, anything I can think of really.
In the past I only used HomeSeer HS3 and so I connected QNAP Surveillance Station directly to my Homeseer HS3 system. QNAP QVR Pro has not yet been released.
But since then largely changed from Homeseer to Home Assistant. I only use Homeseer for some legacy Z-Wave door sensors that don’t work with Home Assistant. Moreover, both QNAP QVR Pro and Home Assistant support advanced motion detection methods of native IP cameras. Eventually, I plan to write a how-to guide to replicate my entire smart home system setup.
Now let’s see what the security camera system part of our smart home network looks like (see also how we built our DIY Smart Home Automation system)
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A topology is a representation of how a system is connected together. Network topologies can be either physical or logical. A physical network topology shows the actual physical layout and connections between different components. A logical network topology shows how they are functionally linked to each other.
Here is a physical map of our entire smart home network. For a reliable and scalable surveillance system, you had to have the right network set up to support it. So let’s start there.
The first thing you will notice is that there are a lot of different network elements, and that the devices are well closed in their own compartments (LAN, VLAN1, VLAN2 … etc.).
Most people just plug a Wi-Fi router into the ISP’s modem and call it a day. If you’re just using a couple of wireless cameras, this will probably do.
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But for our Pro-DIY system that focuses on security and privacy, we need to go further. We need to be able to defend our network against hackers and bots. For this we need a strong and powerful hardware firewall.
We need to be able to isolate security cameras so they can’t ‘call home’ or leak data outside of our network. Any device on our network that we do not trust (such as most Chinese security cameras) should not be able to access sensitive personal devices such as laptops and mobile phones of its own volition. For this we need the ability to create Virtual LAN (VLAN) networks.
Every consumer Wi-Fi router has a built-in firewall that offers basic protection. But they are often not very customizable. For example, in most cases you cannot create your own firewall rules. And most of them can not create VLAN. So after dabbling with the overpriced ‘prosumer’ ASUS router for some time and not finding what I need, I switched to standard enterprise network gear. I went with Ubiquiti’s Unifi series.
We have a large house and getting reliable Wi-Fi throughout has been a problem. I realized we need multiple Wi-Fi access points. But the house is already wired for Gigabit Ethernet. So this was another reason to skip the consumer mesh network and just go with a reliable established corporate brand.
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Also when your network becomes large and you have multiple devices (routers, switches, access points), it becomes difficult and time-consuming to configure and manage multiple devices.
The easiest way to understand the Unifi product line is this: a typical Wi-Fi router such as Asus or Netgear is an all-in-one device.
Having a router, firewall, and Wi-Fi access point all rolled into one device for convenience. However this means that if you want advanced functionality, you have to shell out a lot of money.
Also if a function (such as the wireless radio or part of the router) fails, the entire network fails and you have junk the entire device. Not good for redundancy or your wallet.
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Starting at the top left of the network map, we have a symmetrical 1 Gbps up/down fiber broadband connection. So the first device is the ISP modem which we cannot avoid. However, everything after this point is in our design.
After the ISP modem, comes the Unifi Security Gateway (or USG). This is our hardware firewall, serves as the DHCP router for the entire network and manages all VLANs. The USG has a Dual-Core 500 MHz processor and 512MB RAM. It can handle up to 1,000,000 packets per second. It can handle our 1 Gbps fiber broadband connection at full speed, but only without activated extra security features such as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), Intrusion Detection System (IDS) or Intrusion Prevention System (IPS). If you turn these on throughput drops to a meager 85 Mbps. The hardware is getting outdated, WAN failover is broken forever, and it didn’t get new features like WIreguard VPN or WAN load balancing that the UDM has now.
This is why I no longer recommend the Unifi USG (they are also becoming increasingly difficult to purchase!). Unifi has released the UDM product series with three models:
The UDM range combines USG, a managed network switch and Unifi OS network management software in a single device. The UDM is the baby of the trio and is a direct replacement of an existing Wi-Fi router as it also includes a Wi-Fi access point.
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The UDM-Pro and SE models are more powerful, rack mountable and thus may be a better fit if you plan to use a server rack or cabinet. But remember these do not have built-in Wi-Fi.
But hey, what about the Unifi Dream Router (UDR)? I’d say give it a miss, because it’s a cut-down version of the UDM – less powerful CPU that makes it more like the USG than the UDM.
The UDM SE/Pro can perform Intrusion Detection and Prevention at up to 3.5 Gbps line speed, which is far superior to the 85 Mbps USG or even the 850 Mbps UDM. But for most home users, the UDM will be enough.
A key difference between the UDM SE and UDM Pro models is that the SE has PoE support. This removes the need to get a separate PoE switch.
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Back to the layout: the ISP modem is connected to the WAN1 port of the USG (the WAN port of the UDM SE/Pro). The USG has only two physical LAN ports – LAN1 and LAN2 (the UDM SE/Pro has 8). Every port
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