Doorbell Cameras: Not Just for DIY

Aug. 23, 2021
A professionally installed doorbell camera, paired with quality locks, can be a profitable home-security upgrade.

Safety and security in the home and at the office hinges on something commonly known as “situation awareness.” According to, the definition of this all-important term is: “The conscious knowledge we have of the immediate environment and all of the events happening in it.”

In an effort to be and remain aware of one’s surroundings, it’s almost necessary to have eyes in the back of your head, which is something that an outdoor video surveillance system can provide. Although a battery of day and night cameras capable of spotting motion and notifying someone of a potential threat would be ideal, the overall cost can be prohibitive in residential settings. 

Nowhere is the issue of video and communication as important as it is at the public entrance of a residential property. The truth is, no one should open an outside door when they don’t know who rang the doorbell or at least what the caller's intentions are.

In this article, we’ll take a brief look at two specific ways of interacting with someone at the door. One incorporates the homeowner’s mobile device(s), while the second relies on a stationary panel. Both are effective, but only one has a price that a majority of homeowners can live with.

The Available Choices

When a full-scale video surveillance system is beyond the financial reach of a client, there are two other possibilities, a door video intercom system and a doorbell camera.

A door video intercom system consists of an inside audio/video control unit and an outside door speaker equipped with a button and a small camera. This is a popular system for multifamily entrances. The second solution — a doorbell camera — is primarily an outdoor unit consisting of an audio speaker, button and camera, paired with a smartphone app that enables the resident to see and talk to a visitor without opening the door.

Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

The door video intercom system provides better quality audio and has a larger video display than the doorbell camera. However, the intercom system is stationary, which often means the homeowner must be at the location to use it.

A doorbell camera, however, incorporates a mobile app that allows the homeowner to be out and about while still able to communicate with callers at the door back home or confirming the arrival of packages.

Because of cost and mobility considerations, we'll confine the remainder of this article to the currently popular doorbell camera.

The Doorbell Cameras Debate

We could say that the professional vs. consumer question is comparable with the difference between a consumer-grade deadbolt available to anyone at any hardware store and a dealer-only brand (think: Kwikset vs. Medeco).

“DIY doorbell cameras are similar to the professional version, as some of them are pretty much the same. But honestly there's a lot of junk out there on the DIY side,” says Nick Markowitz, owner of Markowitz Electric & Integration of Verona, Pennsylvania.

Pricing is one consideration when considering whether to offer consumer- or professional-grade video doorbells. Obviously, the professional version comes with a higher price.

The top-line pro model does more than a typical DIY or professional doorbell camera. These units also provide access control capabilities and more.

The second consideration is quality of construction. Professional-grade units typically are constructed by using stronger, better quality materials, from the outside frame to the electronics within it. The functionality and convenience of the app that drives the professional-grade unit also typically is better, and these units have more bells and whistles. We typically get what we pay for, and this adage pretty much applies to doorbell cameras, too.

“Professional units are much better all the way around design-wise and everything else,” Markowitz says. “It’s made more for professionals. I think they’re easier to install, and they set up more quickly, and they’re not as complicated as DIY units, which are sometimes kind of crazy in how you set them up. Some set up real nice, and some of them aren't easy to work with. It varies from model to model, make to make.”

Mike Reed is the owner of SAFE Solutions of Hurst, Texas. SAFE has been in the business for about 10 years. Reed says most DIY units are as advertised. “They’re designed to be easier on your wallet and to allow installation for those who are less tech savvy,” he says. “They serve and meet the purpose well, but there are many concerns regarding open-source programming, network security and who exactly has access to the video.”

Because we’re the security pros, our job is to determine the best doorbell camera to use in a situation. The first step in acquiring this knowledge is to decide which manufacturer's product to use. The best way to do that is to contact your security products distributor and have a chat. The product line you select must be capable of handling the demands of the majority of your customer base and tech support should be readily available.

Installment Plan

Sizing up an installation isn’t all that difficult. Here’s a list of considerations that you’ll have to contend with when you visit a potential client who wants a doorbell camera.

  • Is an existing doorbell on site?
  • What’s the condition of the wires?
  • Does the client have Wi-Fi?
  • If not, does the client have internet?
  • Is a router present?

If a doorbell already is in place, you might be able to use the two conductors that connect it to the doorbell button to power your professional-grade unit. Bring a flashlight so you can look at the doorbell unit and the wiring in the basement, assuming there is one. Otherwise, examining the two wires inside the chime might be sufficient.

The next big question is, is Wi-Fi available in the home or office? If not, the last question will be the deciding factor as to whether you can assist the prospect. Some doorbell cameras use an Ethernet connection with a modem or router (most likely the latter). But UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair) cable will have to be installed from the doorbell camera to the modem or router location, which is where the router comes into play.

The most simple doorbell cameras to install and program use Wi-Fi and the existing doorbell button wires to power them. Reed provides the following instructions:

  1. Remove the transformer power.
  2. Remove the doorbell power wiring at the chime box.
  3. Remove the existing doorbell button.
  4. Wire and mount the new doorbell camera unit.
  5. Install the chime box add-on by connecting to the chime and transformer wiring.
  6. Restore the transformer power.
  7. Connect to the doorbell camera Wi-Fi broadcast and set up access to the local network.
  8. Connect your cloud services and set up recording schedules or analytics.
  9. Set up client devices and train on use.

The majority of units on the market accept a range of AC power inputs, which allows the use of existing transformers.

“Always be sure to check the voltage prior to installation,” Reed says. “Many manufactures provide a part that installs in the chime box to take in the AC transformer power and send it to the doorbell to prevent unclean power or feedback, which could result in unit failure or ‘buzzing.’”

Reed adds that customers who don’t have a doorbell in place should do one of the following:

  • Add a transformer and wireless chime (where available).
  • Add a transformer only without an indoor chime and use mobile notifications.
  • Install a transformer and chime system to provide access.

Other Considerations

A PIR (passive infrared) sensor is contained in many doorbell camera units. Its purpose is to detect motion, which is used as a trigger to invoke other features. For those who aren’t familiar with a PIR sensor, it’s a motion-detection device that makes it possible for the doorbell camera to alert the homeowner that someone is approaching the home’s entrance.

The activation of the PIR sensor also can trigger specific actions in the area of home control, depending on the make and model. In more-expensive units, when someone approaches and it’s relatively dark outside, the PIR can turn on a porch light through a floodlight LED module.

Some units can be integrated with an alarm system and other home-control devices, depending on the make and model, which provides other security-related actions upon activation. For example, with the help of AI, some doorbell camera units can initiate a siren tone or a specific audible message when someone approaches the porch and removes a package that's been sitting there.

Last but not least, your company can earn recurring monthly revenue by selling video storage space to each of your doorbell camera customers. Generally, these units don’t contain a means of storing images. Instead, they’re connected to a cloud-based video storage center where the client can view images at will. For example, images that are generated when someone rings the doorbell or when certain behaviors are detected would be sent to the cloud for storage, review and retrieval.

In today's world, one can’t be too careful. Knowing what’s happening around us at all times is almost a necessity to maintain a safe and secure environment. Doorbell cameras are one way to help to assure that your customers stay safe and sound in their homes. When doorbell cameras are combined with quality Grade 1 or Grade 2 door locks, your clients can work, play and sleep with the assurance that time is on their side if a bad actor decides to try to take advantage.

Allan B. Colombo is a longtime trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. Contact him at [email protected], 330-956-9003 or