Camera Mounting Guide 2014

By Brian Rhodes, Published Oct 30, 2014, 12:00am EDT

Choosing the right spot to mount a camera is about more than Field of View. While some discount this as a trivial detail for installers to worry about, it can have a huge impact on cost and long term maintenance. In this note, we examine and compare mounting on:

  • Drop ceiling tiles
  • Drywall
  • Structural Steel
  • Masonry/ Cinder block
  • EIFS
  • Metal Siding
  • Stone

Mounting Comparison

Installers will find themselves being challenged to mount cameras in a variety of locations and materials. Mounting these cameras successfully requires good skills, but also requires the right tools and materials. While understanding which surface is best for a given camera is a judgement that installers develop with experience, the learning curve is steep and costly mistakes are better avoided.

The chart below lists the most common types of mounting surfaces, and compares their complexity and cost while addressing key issues of each type:

Like the adage goes: "A house is only as stong as its foundation", the material surrounding a camera location plays a huge role in operational success. In the sections below, we review each these surface types and describe the best way to mount cameras in each.

Indoor - Which Surface is Best?

Installers often have the final word in camera placement. Even when detailed plans exist that describe the intended Fields of View for cameras, there often is latitude in the exact location where the camera is hung. Consider the image below:

The target scene for the camera above is a classroom. This requires the camera hung at ceiling height in a corner of the room, however the installer has three surfaces to choose from. The the case of the camera above, the installer chose the easiest and quickest installing surface - grid ceiling tiles - while foregoing the more secure and stable wall surfaces.

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There are specific pros and cons for each installation surface. Not only could the overall performance of the camera be impacted, but the amount of installation labor required to mount in each can vary greatly. In the sections below, we identify some of these factors and highlight the situations where each are used.

Drop Ceiling Tiles

One of the most common mounting surfaces is also the most risky. Drop ceiling tiles are designed to be light weight and not dense, since they are suspended by wires from a grid. However, that same light weight construction makes them a nightmare for hanging cameras from. The pressed fiber composition of these tiles makes drilling holes through them difficult, and they are susceptible to water damage in a catastrophic way - when they fail, they drop huge chunks to the floor.

Mounting cameras directly to these tiles often requires additional brackets or reinforcements, however many installers ignore this. The practice of screw mounting cameras directly to ceiling tiles is very common, but little regard is paid to what happens if the tile becomes water damaged or is tampered with - often resulting in a fallen camera. The image below shows a 'near miss' from a roof leak nearly taking down a surveillance camera.

Special Tile Mounts

Because tiles are thin and brittle, they cannot sustain the weight of most cameras. For cameras with a large form factor, like boxes and domes, special tile mounts are used to suspend surveillance cameras from the ceiling grid. For example, this box mount costs ~$250 online, but dome mounts [link no longer available] are available in the $75 - $100 range. In many cases, these tiles provide extra protection against vandalism or tampering. See image below for an example tile housing:

Drywall

The most common surface for mounting indoor cameras is on drywall (also called gypsum board), and the material is used to sheath walls and ceilings alike. In any given installation, most of the indoor cameras may be selected to install on drywall. Despite offering a solid, stable surface for cameras, a few basic considerations must be taken to ensure good installs.

Because fasteners can easily pull away from drywall, specialized mounting hardware like toggle bolts and plastic wall anchors are indispensable. Not only do drywall anchors secure the fastener into the wall, they distributes the camera weight over a wider area.

Drilling holes into drywall becomes necessary to install anchors, and potentially can create many problems if done improperly. Drywall is a delicate surface and breaks easily. Drilling holes with dull drill bits alone can cause costly damage. A bit is dull when the installer must forcefully drive the drill into drywall, rather than permit the drill to pull the spinning bit into the surface. See the image below for 'breakout damage' caused by dull drill bits:

Using a clean and sharp set of high-speed steel 'twist' drill bits will help prevent installation damage. While popular for their sharpness for metallic drilling, carbon steel bits are not recommended for drilling into gypsum. The sandy, gritty mineral will dull carbon steel very quickly compared to materials like wood and plastic, and drywall damage can easily occur with dull bits.

Repairs to gouges or errant holes in drywall can be easily be made with spackle putty, a putty knife, and and latex paint. Unlike wood, brick, metal, or plastic surfaces that require special repair tools or materials, fixing mistakes in drywall is a rather unskilled and inexpensive process.

Running cabling inside drywall finished walls is a common practice. Due to the wide spacing of internal studs and lightweight construction of frames, running cables so that are not exposed is not complex.

Structural Steel

In many cases, hanging cameras from building structural steel or 'red iron' is required. Vast areas of a facility may not have 'finished' walls, like warehouse or industrial areas, or even an 'open plan' office space may include exposed support ceiling members. Unlike other materials, drilling holes in these elements may be outright prohibited due to concerns of weakening, or at the very least is very difficult due to thick steel construction.

Structural steel is often I-Beam girders, joists, purlins, or trusses. They typically are painted with primer and sometimes insulated, looking generally like this:

No matter the specific shape or function of the members, hanging cameras generally uses the same method: conduit hangers or clamps. Hanging cameras from structural steel is easiest when anchors intended for electrical conduit or cabling is adapted for security cameras. Many options for clamps are available, with prices ranging from $0.30 to $10 each. Many offer several mounting positions, as shown below:

Overall, the challenge is gaining accessibility to these mounting spots, as they generally are high off the floor and sometimes obscured by machinery, ductwork, or other conduit. Worklifts are commonly needed for this type of mounting location.

Also, with a strictly mechanical connection (clipped or clamped onto metal work), natural vibrations or buffeting can cause loosing over time. Ensure that all bolted clams are secured with thread locker is a prudent step, and revisiting these locations to retighten mounts every couple of years may be needed.

Masonry Block/Brick

Like drywall, drilling non-damaging holes into block/brick walls starts with using the proper bit. Masonry Bits feature a carbide cutting spade and have cutting flutes designed to quickly carry away dust and grit. Unlike normal drill bits that can quickly overheat and dull when drilling into masonry, these special bits are designed to carry into dense rock without dulling. The holes these bits cut are course compared to more precise wood cutting drills, so additional reinforcing fasteners are often required. The image below shows the detail of the spade tip and open flutes of a masory bit compared to other types:

Another critical element of mounting into masonry is using a hammer drill instead of a standard high speed drill. These types of tools feature a pounding action that helps pulverize tough materials like rock and move the bit quickly into the material. Using a hammer drill helps achieve this result without risking breaking the bit, which can occur with normal drills:

Repairs to masonry walls can be costly and time consuming. Typically, broken blocks/bricks must be completely removed and replaced and regrouted into place. Since this requires special trade skills, masons or bricklayers most commonly perform it. However, filling errant holes and small gouges can be done with polyurethane putty or butyl caulking. The image below provides an example of brick damage, and while the conduit appears watertight, the installation is unsightly:

Despite the caution required in mounting cameras to masonry, the surface is one of the most stable, rigid, and secure options for mounting surveillance cameras. The structural weaknesses of drywall and ceiling tiles are not shared by block walls, and they often provide ideal outdoor mounting surfaces. However, running ethernet and power cabling through a masonry wall is difficult, and if filled with concrete or rebar, often the only option is to run cable externally inside of conduit.

EIFS, or Synthetic Stucco

This surface is particularly challenging due to the frequent omission of a rigid backing material, but is a very common commercial finish and is widely used. Because of the numerous challenges and considerations in mounting to this surface, we covered the particulars in a separate note, titled "Surveillance Problems with Synthetic Stucco".

Metal Siding or Corrugated Paneling

Metal panel sheathing is common to industrial and commercial construction, and is characterized by very thin material only made rigid through corrugations. Like EIFS, mounting cameras on this surface often requires extra backing materials, although the availability of rigid steel supports is greater with this type of construction. Since unpainted metal is especially prone to corrosion, extra care must be taken to completely seal any penetrations or holes in the surface.

Architectural Stone or Rock

One of the most labor intensive and cosmetically sensitive mounting surfaces is stone or rock. While uncommon in commercial construction, rock is used extensively in government and institutional buildings. Often the rock is an especially hard and dense variety like granite or marble - and special tools are required to mount surveillance cameras.

When mounting cameras flush with stone, a core drill is commonly employed to make room for screw bushings. While this process calls for specialized tooling and fasteners, the basic method is the same as using drywall anchors in gypsum board, but instead with very precise holes and stainless steel bushings. The image below shows the stage of the process for mounting into stone, starting with cored holes, insertion of a steel bushing, and the final installation of a mounting plate:

Repairs to stone are costly and very specialized. Often to avoid the difficulties of mounting to stone, alternative locations (roof tops) are designated for camera mounts. Running cabling inside stone is often impossible, or complicated by irregular wire run pathways.

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