Safe, Secure and Sophisticated

Today's advanced home security systems boast automated lifestyle features

With 30 years’ experience as a volunteer firefighter, Steve Merola has a special appreciation for alarm technology. The New York-based custom integrator wishes more of his customers had the same attitude.

“As a full integration specialist, I see people wanting to spend more money on entertainment before their family’s safety,” he lamented after hanging up with a customer who was ready to spend big bucks on a home theater system. “Personal safety and security should come before the fluff.”

New Horizons
Merola started his custom installation career doing mainly security and home network wiring installations. A move into the world of custom electronics proved a wise decision as his company, Futuristic Home, expanded and thrived. But security remains a big part of his world. In an industry where many custom integrators outsource their security installations for financial reasons, Merola is among those who believe opportunity exists to make more money by doing jobs in-house.

“I think integrators would be foolish not to consider security installations,” he said.

When picturing an integrated home, many homeowners might imagine intercoms, multiroom audio, high-definition televisions, automated lighting and climate control. Security systems typically take a backseat to these lifestyle-enhancing gadgets and are regarded mainly as noisy alarms.

But what if a security system could enhance a homeowner’s lifestyle in addition to providing protection?

In fact, emerging security technology does more than emit loud, piercing noise during a possible intrusion. Modern security systems offer customers capabilities such as remote control via cell phones, laptops and PDAs. Parents can be immediately notified when their children safely return home from school—and watch them enter the front door through streaming video from their work computers. And homeowners can control security, lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems from their desktops.

Imagine sitting in your home office paying bills while adjusting a thermostat and arming the security system for the night—without ever leaving your chair.

Besides enhancing security, these features are in line with today’s consumer demands for custom electronics that can make life easier.

“We can sell more than security,” Merola said. “It’s taking security to the next level.”

Security as Custom Electronics
The rising demand for custom electronics has been driven in part by customers who want instant, tailored information. BlackBerrys and other PDA-type devices have exploded into the mainstream, and text messaging is the preferred method of communication for many.

Thanks to recent advancements, security technology can now meet this demand. New alarm radios, for example, transmit signals to central stations through digital communication paths as opposed to the soon-to-be-obsolete analog lines. But these wireless, digital networks offer more than just a way to alert the proper authorities.

Digital networks—such as the increasingly popular Global System for Mobile Communication mobile phone standard—enable security system control through Web-enabled laptop computers, PDAs and even cell phones. If a homeowner forgets to arm her system before leaving for work in the morning, for example, she can simply send a text command via cell phone. If she’s away on vacation, she can punch in codes on her mobile phone to check the status of her security systems.

For installers, the services offered through technology such as GSM alarm radios represent an opportunity to grow business and increase recurring monthly revenue.

While Merola believes custom integrators should consider security installations more often, he also concedes that security dealers can’t pigeonhole themselves either.

Technology such as that used in Honeywell’s Internet Connection Module, one of the security vendor’s signature custom electronics products, is an example of how both worlds coexist. The ICM allows customers to control security systems through a virtual keypad via the Internet. The system, however, doesn’t stop with the security, as it also networks with other ICMs designed to control thermostats and lighting. The common platform gives users control from a single point. The result is that a user driving home from work could send a command from a PDA or cell phone to raise the temperature on the thermostat. This way, the homeowner saves energy during the day and still comes home to a comfortable indoor climate.

Selling Peace of Mind
Just as the aforementioned examples illustrate how security technology can complement custom electronics, those same custom electronics can enhance the security system. A security system’s key selling point, after all, is its ability to better protect the home.

Systems like the ICM can be programmed for specific security incidents. During a fire alarm, for instance, the ICM can send signals to turn on hallway and bedroom lights and shut off the HVAC system to stop the spread of smoke. For noncritical events, similar integrated systems could be programmed to perform tasks such as automatically shutting off thermostats during the summer months if a window is opened.

Another staple of custom integration, structured cabling, can provide a strong link to security systems, as well as a strong sell. By linking network cameras to home televisions, homeowners can monitor visitors at the front or back doors or children playing in the swimming pool.

The system also can take intelligent actions based upon the type of security required. For instance, if a glass-break or motion detector determines that an intruder is attempting to break into the house, the system can turn on inside and outside lights to scare him away. And in the event of a break-in or fire, new alarm systems such as the GSM radios offer redundant communication paths to ensure signals reach authorities. Honeywell’s recently launched GSM radios, for example, offer three communication paths—general packet radio service, the Internet and short message service. The advantage of this approach is that if one path fails, another will back it up.

This digital technology is therefore ideal for tech-savvy customers who have shunned traditional land lines for services such as voice over Internet protocol. It also prevents these customers from having to pay for a phone line for the sole purpose of having a security system.

“A lot of people are also looking for just one phone bill because they already have a cell phone and feel it’s enough,” Merola said. “People want the solution to fit into their budget and simplify their lives. If they go with VoIP as their phone service, why not offer a more secure and 99.9 percent guaranteed signal connection with the GSM radio service, instead of having to buy another land line?”

The Bigger Picture
Merola’s tag line for Futuristic Home is “We bring lifestyle solutions to life.” Although it’s not the only part, security is a big component of the lifestyle he sells.

The entertainment and home automation aspects may be the most talked-about custom integration topics. But the recent advancements in home security technology have brought new, convenient capabilities to the homeowner’s fingertips. And when plugged into the bigger puzzle, it can make for a much smarter, and safer, home.

“It’s a much stronger sell,” he said, “when you can tell a homeowner, ‘When the fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night, your bedrooms and hallway will light up, the thermostat is going to shut off and stop blowing smoke around the house, the front door light is going to flash, and you’ve got a safer house.’ ”

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