A little story as to why this system was sought out before I begin the actual instructable. Feel free to skip to the TLDR version below if you are uninterested.
About a year and a half ago my wife and I were living in an apartment. The day we moved in, we were greeted by one of our neighbors who claimed the apartment complex was great. Management was great. The only negative that he was aware of was the lady who lived below us hated noise. We didn't think anything of it as we are generally very quiet and respectful people. That was until she started banging on our floor every time we walked into the kitchen. She went as far as to complain to management on us. This didn't get her very far because they knew her well enough not to pay any heed. (Apparently she caused the past 6 tenants in our apartments to leave.) When she noticed her complaint had not been well received, she resorted to calling the police on us... about 6 times.. for building furniture in our kitchen? Huh? The police always took our side, but this didn't slow her down.
After a while, we spoke to management again about the issue. They decided that when her lease came up to be renewed in a month, they would not allow her to renew it. That's when things got scary for us. One night I was putting my child to bed and I heard someone jiggling the door handle. I yelled to ask my wife if she was messing with the door. She wasn't, so I ran to the door. I peered through the peep hole to see a man in a hoody with the hood pulled over his face. I assume he heard me, because he immediately started running down the stairs and out the door. We called the police of course, and they couldn't find him.
A couple of weeks later, I heard someone in the hallway. Being paranoid as I was since the first incident, I looked through the peep hole. To my surprise, I saw a woman crawling up the steps and stoop below the door. I again assume she heard me, because she ran down the stairs. She seemed to match the description of one of our neighbor's relatives, however, we had no proof of anything, and the police once again could not find the culprit.
Shortly after this, my wife and I had planned on going out of state on vacation. I did not feel safe since the previous occurrences, so I researched if there was a cheap or free solution to monitor the apartment while we were away.
TLDR: Mean lady lived below us. Accused us of building furniture in our kitchen. Called cops several times. Was not allowed to renew her lease because she was being very un-neighborly. Soon after there was an attempted break in while we were home. And strange people creeping up our stairs. Decided enough was enough and looked into a DIY home security solution.
Feel free to vote for me for the "Home Automation" contest if you found this instructable useful. I hope it helps others out there who do not have it in the budget for a costly monthly home security system.
Step 1: Goals and Required Parts
The goal as stated in the introduction was to find a easy to implement home monitoring system for free or cheap.
After researching my options, I discovered some free software that could be used called "Yawcam." This software uses a webcam to take pictures whenever motion is detected. You can be configure the software to send an email of the image. As a bonus, I was able to set up my email so that it pinged me a text, notifying me of any occurrences as well.
Using this system, only four components are required for it to be fully functional, all of which I had readily available.
1. A PC: The one I used was an extra I had sitting around unused. It is from 2008 and runs Windows Vista. It was great to see this old machine in service again. It was my trusty laptop through college, and now it watches over my house :) This was of course free for me because I had it lying around my house. If on the off chance you do not have an extra PC, you can always try to buy a cheap one, (anything that runs Windows 2000+ should work fine), or you could always try the tactics in this instructable (good luck). Or ask a buddy if they have an old dinosaur they don't mind handing over for a favor or free.
2.A Webcam: I was able to use the built in webcam on my old laptop. You can also use an external webcam just as easily. (Cost:Free)
3. Internet Connection: Of course you need an internet connection to send an email. (Not exactly free, but I was already paying for it, so no biggie).
4. Software: Yawcam software download can be found here for free. (Cost:Free)
Step 2: Setup
The software download can be found here. The install process is fairly simple, and the download is only 4.5 Mb. Once the software has been installed, it is simple to set it up to watch over your house.
Step 3: Setup
Open the software after it has been downloaded. You will see two screens. One screen to control the settings, and one with a preview of what the camera sees. First you need to setup which camera you will use.
Click >Settings>Device>Cange To> Your Webcam Name.
In order to set up the motion detection settings, click Window>MotionDetection. A new screen will open as seen in the image above. Click the actions tab and you can see various settings. These are various actions which will occur when the webcam detects motion. It can save the image onto the local storage, upload the image to FTP site, send an email, run and executable, and send and play a sound.
Of those settings, I chose to send an email to myself, make a camera shutter sound to let the whoever know that they have been caught, thinking that may be enough of a deterent, and save the file to the computer's local storage.
Step 4: Adjust Camera Settings
In the same window, click the settings tab. from here you can adjust the camera sensitivity. The most important items to adjust are the sensitivity and tolerance sliders. You can see the sensitivity I used. Try to walk past the camera and see if it captures your picture as you walk by. Just play around with it a little bit. Its actually kind of fun.
Step 5: Email Settings
This part seems a little technical, but it really isn't terribly difficult. Look up the SMPT settings for your particular email. You can just try to google the settings, and you should be able to find them no problem. You can see the correct settings for Gmail in the screenshot.
Step 6: Send a Text Message When Email Is Received
You can also setup your email to send you a text message when you receive an email from Yawcam. This process is different for different emails. I use gmail, so I will outline how to accomplish this. This is useful if you don't always have mobile data running or you don't typically check your email on a regular basis. Also useful for those who do not have a smart phone. You want to catch them in the act after all.
In the gmail search bar at the top, type in yawcam. You will notice a little down arrow to the left of the search button. Click this arrow. It will bring up advanced search options. You will also notice in the bottom right corner of this view a link saying "create filter with this search." Click this to create your filter.
Select the option to forward it, and click "Add forwarding address." This will bring up a new webpage. From here you can enter your phone number as a forwarding address.
Enter your phone number at the appropriate text to email domain.
For verizon this is your 10 digit phone number followed by @vtext.com
For AT&T this is your 10 digit phone number followed by @att.net
And for Sprint this is your 10 digit phone number followed by @messaging.sprintpcs.com.
You will have to verify that this is actually a phone number you own by entering a confirmation code which will be sent to your phone via text message. Simply enter it into this screen, click "verify," and click "save changes."
That's it, you did it, you set up your email to send you a text whenever you get a message from the yawcam software. Pretty neat right?
Step 7: Conclusion and Bonus Goodies
As an added bonus, you can do additional things to make sure people think you are home when you actually aren't. I set up a timer on a radio so that it came on at certain times in the night. They hear people talking through the door and (hopefully) go away.
You can also purchase an ADT Home Security sign online for about $10 and put it on your lawn. Even if you don't actually have ADT home security, this can be a deterrent for thieves. They will more than likely skip a house they think is monitored and move onto someone else's. This may not be completely ethical though, so its up to you to decide whether or not to do it.
If you're wondering what happened to us, we did not get robbed or have any further incidents with this family. We did move out of that apartment as fast as we could though. It gave me piece of mind knowing our house was being monitored, even if it was by me.
Don't forget to vote for me in the Home Automation Contest if you found this instructable useful! Hope it helps.