Gone are the days when home security systems were labor-intensive to install and provided no safety or security if the homeowner forgot to set the alarm. Modern systems provide new levels of controls, accessibility and connection and provide electrical contractors another avenue to expand their offerings. Based on current trends, the home security product market, including the automation segment, may experience a 17 percent growth rate over the next five years, according to Michael Streeter, manager of sales operations for Visonic Inc., Bloomfield, Conn.

All residential security systems, regardless of their complexity, have a control panel with a communication port. Lower end and less expensive systems have fewer devices, such as contacts for doors and windows and motion, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. In the middle range of complexity, there are more zones and peripheral devices, which may include temperature gauges, water and flood detectors, exterior motion sensors, and remote key fobs and arming stations. In this range, homeowners can also program lights and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to respond to an event and, of course, notify police. Higher end systems incorporate such options as audiovisual integration with message notification for the police and audio warnings in the house, password protection, web-based cameras, driveway sensors, access controls, Apple iPad applications for remote control, the ability to review event logs, and dedicated touchscreens for whole-house control.

Technologies and trends
“Wireless communication in home security systems is becoming more popular,” said Greg Rhoades, associate director of marketing for Home Automation Inc. (HAI), New Orleans.

Some systems no longer even require a landline to alert police, which is useful for homes in remote locations. In this type of system, a wireless backup device, or even a primary GSM SIM card device, is hooked up to the security system panel, which automatically and wirelessly calls police and any other numbers the home-owner has stored, when an event occurs and the system is activated. SIM cards are removable, thumbnail-sized smart cards that identify the user of the GSM cellular network and can store information, such as phone numbers. SIM cards can be moved from one phone to another.

Residential security systems are also now using Internet protocol (IP) communication technology, which enables the homeowner to control system components from a desktop computer or through a router.
“IP technology also allows the home-owner to use mobile devices to remotely control the system and arm and disarm the system, check status, view camera input in real-time, and even get event notifications, as well as turn on and off lights, appliances, adjust thermostats, etc.,” Visonic’s Streeter said.

With advances in security system technology comes wider integration of system components with other subsystems in the home, including Zigbee standard-compliant locks that can be operated both wirelessly and automatically though a homeowner-determined programmed schedule, according to Rhoades. In a smart home, the security system needs to be integrated with other subsystems.

“Integration really is the basis of a smart home and the backbone of automated control and whole-house functionality,” Rhoades said.

To fully engage the security market, contractors need to consider the flexibility of the products and systems, particularly in retrofit applications.

“Most security work, especially with the currently depressed new construction segment, will be in retrofit projects,” Rhoades said.

Contractors should listen to the customer and help the home-owner determine what actual levels of security, customization and automation they require.

“Don’t focus necessarily on pushing the most expensive or popular technology,” he said.

Contractors should understand IP technology because that is the direction in which the market is moving.

According to Streeter, contractors “need to educate themselves in the alarm installation licensing requirements of their jurisdiction and should attend security trade shows, such as the International Security Conference, to learn about trends, technologies and products.”

Then, they can partner with builders and demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of expanding the contractor’s role past the traditional electrical installation.

“Contractors can use their gained expertise and demonstrate the benefits of being a single source for all wired and wireless installations throughout the home,” he said.

Even those fully engaged in the market must stay current on emerging technologies, such as high-resolution screen images and the increased functionality of mobile devices, to stay successful.

“Tech-savvy customers demand the latest technologies and are telling alarm dealers and manufacturers that they want whole-house control and the ability to easily interact with the system,” Streeter said.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.