The cheap way to keep an eye on your home – at all times

If you’ve got wi-fi, a home-monitoring camera is an easy way to keep an eye on your house and its contents through your phone or PC. We explain how they work.

When you leave your home for prolonged periods of time - perhaps to go on holiday, visit relatives or for business - do you ever worry about it being broken into?

According to the Office for National Statistics incidents of domestic burglary have dropped from an estimated 882,000 in 2013 to 779,000 in 2014, but many people feel uneasy about leaving their homes - the thought of someone there is unsettling.

In the past the solution was investing in a burglar alarm, but these can be expensive and often require special installation. However there are alternatives.

Over the last 12 months you’ve probably heard more about the so-called ‘internet of things’ where ‘smart’ devices connect to the internet so you can check their status and control them using a mobile device. 

A fairly new product in this field – often called smart devices - are home-monitoring devices: video cameras that let you view your home remotely using a smartphone. 


How does a home monitoring camera work?

Home monitoring devices typically comprise of a camera on a stand that plugs into the mains.  The stand is adjustable so you can dictate which direction it points in.

In order to use a home monitoring device on your smartphone you need to download a companion app. We’ve been using the BT Smart Home Cam 100, which works in conjunction with the BT Home Cam app. 

The camera generates its own wi-fi hotspot, which you select from your phone’s Settings menu to initially pair the camera with the app and your router.

BT Smart Home Cam 100

Once set up, every time you want to access what the camera is seeing, fire up the app, tap the camera and you’ll see a live stream from your house.  When the camera detects motion it sends a notification to your phone.

The actually functionality will differ between devices, but BT’s app lets you take a snapshot or record a video clip which is stored on the camera. 

With BT’s device you can set the device to record automatically when it detects motion, and store the footage in the cloud. This costs £6.99 a month, but the device works without it. If your phone is with you all the time, you can simply open the app and manually check the camera for activity if a motion trigger alert appears.

If you’ve got a large house you can set up multiple devices and even share access to the camera with others so that they can check your house for you.  As well as through the smartphone app, BT’s camera can also be accessed via a web browser at


What’s the quality of the footage like?

Most cameras shoot in high-definition, and while the BT Smart Home Cam 100 shoots in Standard and 720p High Definition, we were happy using SD which uses less data. Footage is crisp and clear, and while in dim light it’s slightly harder to distinguish between objects, its night vision mode is extremely effective.

BT Smart Cam app


Can I control the notifications?

Video monitoring devices send notifications to your phone when they detect motion, so if there’s lots of motion you’ll get lots of notifications.

Most devices let you set up a notification schedule, so if you know the house is always occupied between 7am and 9am Monday to Friday, you can turn off notifications during this period.

BT Smart Cam app

If you are a pet owner the last thing you want is to be alerted every time your dog or cat moves around the house, so you can set the size of the object that triggers the alert, choosing between X Small (a mouse) and X Large (a car), should you want to put the camera in the garage. The smaller the size of the trigger object the more sensitive the camera will be and the more alerts you’ll get, so you may want to try several alert sizes to find the one that suits you.

Home monitoring devices can be a little bit sensitive to quick changes between sunlight and dark, which can also generate triggers. This sensitivity depends on the time of year and camera location.


What’s the advantage of using a home monitoring camera?

The thing we like best about home-monitoring devices is that you can check what is going on at your house at any time – day or night, as long as you have an internet connection, so you can quickly check if your teenager really is at home alone, or what your dog is up to. And as well as seeing them, you can also hear them.

Home monitoring cameras don’t need special installation. The BT Smart Home Cam took about 15 minutes to get up and running, following instructions on the app. 

BT Smart Cam notifications

Because home monitoring cameras are wi-fi-enabled, it means cables aren’t trailing all over the house – the camera just needs to be near a power point.

Home monitoring devices typically cost under £100. BT’s device costs £80 which isn’t a huge outlay for peace of mind.


Should I buy a home monitoring device?

In order to view a live video stream of your house on your phone you need to be connected to the internet, so make sure you are connected to wi-fi and have a generous data allowance on your phone or access to a web browser.

If you don’t have either one of these, a home-monitoring device might not be the right product for you.

Home-monitoring devices are fantastic for keeping an eye on your house, but they are not burglar deterrents, if you want something with a piercing alarm to scare burglars senseless and alert your neighbours, again, a home-monitoring device isn’t for you and you should consider a dedicated home alarm system.

That said, we’ve been using a camera to keep an eye on our house for a while and the peace of mind it’s given us has been fantastic. So if you are looking for a cheap, accessible way to keep an eye on your home when you are away, they are well worth considering.

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