These days everybody and their mother wants a video doorbell. As a professional alarm and surveillance system integrator, I have had my finger on the pulse of home and business security for over 30 years. Lately, I notice a great increase in both non-clients and exiting clients making contact to inquire about these doorbells. There are a few contributors to this wave of requests that I can pinpoint.
1. Online shopping has grown exponentially, and since these sites drop cookies from most web searchers, they serve up advertising suggestions such as doorbells on your favorite social media platforms continuously. This is proven with a simple inquisitive online search! Go ahead and Google or Amazon search any random thing and see how often it shows up on all your feeds throughout the coming days.
2. Readily available products from online stores have caused a DIY (Do it Yourself) revolution. People equate buying direct as a potential savings of money, and since there is not a professional integrator with experience connected to these products, the seller can tell you only what they think you may want to see or hear. (Sales Magic). Video doorbells of all brands do this, and I will share with you the things you need to know in this post.
3. With an increase in online shopping and shipping comes an increase in doorstep package thief’s, we are seeing this often on the local news, with video captures of the activity shared from a homeowner’s doorbell camera. Of course, everyone wants this for themselves, so they may have a shot of identifying the creeps that violated them. If you know a package was dropped through notification, you can also ask a friend or neighbor to retrieve it for you so it does not get picked up by a porch pirate.
4. Big box stores are dedicating large floor space to retail grade security and home automation products. From lightbulbs to doorbells, the DIY bandwagon continues to attract homeowners to these possibilities.
The Roses and the Thorns
Let’s look at some of the things you must know before spending your money on a video doorbell.
As mentioned above, these products are fantastic at capturing video of what happened. Knowing who came by your home, what they did, and at what time is very satisfying. When we were growing up, we always said “my parents must have eyes behind their heads”, now we can too!
You can talk and listen to these visitors, directly through your smartphone app when they approach your front door or ring the bell. This allows them to think you are at home but can’t come to the door (maybe because you are sick in bed?) or that you see them and they need to leave because the police have been called and you will share their picture with the authorities. Maybe it’s a good friend and you can rush to welcome them without a look of surprise on your face. You can easily see the advantages of having one of these doorbell cameras.
These doorbells are relatively inexpensive compared to professional surveillance camera systems. Perhaps your regular doorbell is not working anymore, and you need a new doorbell anyway.
You can automatically receive text and email notifications if anyone approaches your front door, allowing you to react and possibly prevent a burglary before they realize you are not home.
THE THORNS: These are the things you are never told by the advertising companies wanting to sell you a video bell.
You must have a working doorbell already to allow the new video bell to work. The video bell uses the already existing wires at the door, to power the system. If the wire is missing or broken, it is next to impossible to hide a new wire inside of the exterior and well-insulated wall.
These video bells transfer video through your Wi-Fi. You must have internet access in place for the camera to work. These bells must have an extremely strong Wi-Fi connection at the bell also. Many manufacturers are requiring an 85-90% or stronger signal at the bell, for the product to work properly. Turn off your cell service on your phone and see how many bars of Wi-Fi signal you have when standing at the door. If its less than full strength, you may have to purchase Wi-Fi extenders to get a strong enough signal there.
Many buyers purchase video bells online expecting that they can install them with ease. I receive so many calls weekly, asking me if I have someone available to install the video bell that they just purchased online. Once they read the instructions and see the digital to analog converters that may have to be installed in the old doorbell so that the chime feature will still work, they realize they were in over their heads and not a good candidate for this supposed do it yourself project.
In Washington State, all licensed alarm companies must employ licensed low voltage electricians and journeymen to perform professional installations. Many other states, especially coastal states, have similar stringent licensing requirements for alarm and surveillance companies. When you hire a company to do your installation, you are not just hiring a handyman, you are hiring a licensed, trained, insured and bonded technician. This cost may exceed the cost of the video bell you purchased online, leaving you feeling defeated on your quest to save money.
When you buy a video bell from a professional like myself, the price includes all the information needed to make a proper decision of if this product will work for you and your situation, professional installation, warranty and service if needed. You would save much time, aggravation and even money if you were not lulled into an advertisement that made you feel you were purchasing something magical that works seamlessly for everyone.
Video doorbells come in various sizes and shapes depending on the brand. If your existing doorbell is run to a house trim that is only 1.5 inches thick, the 2 inches or larger video bell you purchased may not fit on it when mounted. Know the dimensions of the product you are considering and the area you will be mounting it on.
Video doorbells have varying quality cameras on them. Purchase the highest definition camera that will work with your mounting space. Don’t forget to ensure it has infrared for night vision also, or your camera will work only in daylight or when in properly lighted areas.
Many of these video bells use not encrypted and common frequencies to make them work. If you do proper research, you will find stories of these systems being hacked by bad intentioned and technically advanced intruders. For example, if someone knew your patterns of family coming and going, you would be a less secure household and a candidate for a timely burglary. I would also not want them having pictures of myself and my family members. Remember, you often get what you pay for! Cheap is not smart when it comes to security.
These systems are dependent on Wi-Fi. If your internet provider supplies you with a cable (which is outside of your home) and If someone cuts your cable, you no longer have a working camera to notify you of a potential intrusion or package theft.
There are also similarly priced high definition Wi-Fi cameras available from the usual online markets. They are easy to hang, easy to self-install and link, don’t need existing wires because they are completely wireless, have rechargeable battery packs that last months before needing a recharge, have night vision, allow you to talk and listen from anywhere, and will notify you via text and email when they see motion. This may be a good alternative to be added when researching the video bell, you are looking for.
Latency issues. Many of the video bells and wireless cameras we have bench and field-tested have latency issues that are dependent on the quality of Wi-Fi broadband you have available. On the commercials, someone rings the bell and the homeowner is instantly holding a conversation with them. My research shows that this is not often the case. Although you will get a video clip and notification of who approached your door or rang the bell, they are often gone for several minutes before you received it. It’s great to have notifications and cloud-stored video clips however false expectations are being set on the timeliness of notifications and conversation.
These videos are only 30-60 second clips of activity. Unlike a surveillance system that is logging activity 24/7 which gives you retrievable information of what led up to an event, the event itself and after the event, you will only be viewing a short clip of the event. This does not always give you enough information to put the complete story together. Therefore, I like to properly name video bells and Wi-Fi cameras as “Notifier Verifiers.” They should not be marketed as surveillance cameras because they don’t store full-time videos and only tell a piece of the complete situation.
Lastly, reviews are extremely important when buying products or considering a business to spend your hard-earned money with. Most people realize this but only do the research by searching review sites. I advise you to Google any brand you are researching by typing the brand or company name and the word complaints. The results will often change your mind about the product you were considering.