Think that security is the end-all in residential systems? That mindset will get you nowhere today in the home systems market, and most companies know that. Security may be part of a residential system design, but even more importantly homeowners want convenience. They want remote access via their Web browser, PDA, etc. They want automatic lighting control and audio, video and high-speed telecommunications connections—on a multiuser network to boot. The user wants to look in on a babysitter, turn on or off a spa from the car, or set the parameters of the security system while hundreds of miles away. Security is no longer bells, whistles and sirens, but more accurately described as convenience, automation and control functions wrapped up in an easy to install—and use—package.

X-10 Inc., based in Tampa, Fla., was a pioneer of the concept of home automation years ago, and today the communications protocol is one of the most highly recognized and widely used methods of relaying signals to products and appliances within the home. “Lifestyle enhancements” is how Gerald Rooks, president of the company, described the growing trend toward home automation. The company continues to focus on enriching its communications protocol, which allows a variety of devices to “talk” to each other and deploy command and control functions within the home environment, accomplishing an array of tasks that range from electrical, home automation, landscape/irrigation, pool/spa and security functions. Rooks said X-10 continues to work on enhancing the reliability and dependability of its product through ongoing refinements and also focusing on features that allow more and more products to integrate or work together.

“There are two current trends in the residential market: the emergence of a very cost-effective wireless system geared to the masses and remote control and other technologically advanced features that come from more robust panels and sensor offerings,” he said.

Early on, home automation manufacturers simply provided more and more options for the consumer, causing panels and keypads to become overly complicated. Now, it’s back to basics, with a focus on popular features consumers want and a simplification of the operation overall. “Offering day-to-day convenience and automatic or remote control is where the market is headed, as well as more intuitive controls,” Rooks added.

Within the home security and home automation genres, the sky’s the limit. The prices of many new and emerging technologies and products continue to drop, making way for further application possibilities. Microchip and microprocessor technology have gotten cheaper, enabling sensors, switches, detectors and other devices to communicate with each other better than ever before. In the works, according to Rooks, is new chip technology soon to be more widely deployed in sensors that will make them capable of storing additional memory and intelligence. Wireless may not always be part of the total solution, but it finds use in many examples, such as networking. Reliability of wireless too has increased, and as such, more users may make the move to wireless security, automation and other systems and services in the home.

The true potential of traditional security has yet to be seen, especially in the midrange price category where there is less market saturation than the free or no-cost market. Like the home automation market, there is still a big price gap in system cost. In security, for example, you have the no-cost or low-cost systems sold primarily for monthly recurring revenue in the way of monitoring. Companies such as Brinks and ADT began mass-marketing alarms in the ’80s and continue to find success in this area. There are also the high-end systems for upper-end residential, and in the middle, smaller-scale, individually tailored systems sold and monitored by independent or smaller alarm companies.

In home management or automation, there is a middle market still to be reached, with a wide gulf between high-end central control systems such as AMX and Crestron and DIY products such as those from X-10 (X-10 operates the X-10 PRO professional division and an X-10 retail or DIY division). Sensors have new adaptability and built-in smarts and this extends their function to cover not only motion detection for intrusion, but to lighting or energy management and much more.

According to Boston-based marketing consultants Stat Resources, the 2003 total end-user market size for the burglar alarm market was $5.7 billion, which includes monitoring costs. “The market for traditional burglar alarms is growing at a rate of 8 to 9 percent per year,” said Bernie Krentzin, consulting associate. “In addition, there’s also an emerging trend to make the keypad more than a burglar alarm control.”

Prices for security systems seem to have stabilized. Recent statistics by security trade magazine Security Distributing & Marketing put the average price for a traditional residential security system at $1,471 in 2003, compared to $1,425 in 2002. In addition, emerging remote video monitoring services have grown and will continue to do so, according to the magazine’s annual forecast study of the market.

Much of the inroads in the residential market have been in the area of convenience functions and remote capabilities. This trend is expected to continue. Three of the latest new and emerging trends in the residential systems market include:

o Integration and extension of applications

Consider the low-voltage options now available to the home buyer. They expect structured wiring in new construction, and wireless can fill in the gaps or provide coverage for solutions that can’t be hardwired. According to Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst for Parks Associates, Dallas, the total number of U.S. households expected to have a structured wiring solution by the end of 2007 will near 6 million. Scherf says Parks Associates is investigating other trends, such as how broadband Internet connections have impacted the residential security business. Other broadband related solutions, IP-based cameras, etc., are also coming to the forefront of the market, added Scherf.

But the real story is that a variety of functions now work together. For example, the security system may disarm, but also set a command of controls that include turning on outside landscape lights, inside lighting, audio and more.

“Security has gone from simple controls with limited zones and sensing capability to robust control panels with individual zoning capabilities and more features and options for the consumer,” continued Rooks of X-10. “Not only are new features added, but their use has been simplified. Trends in the residential market focus on day-to-day convenience and automatic or remote control.”

Global positioning systems are the latest product to hit the alarm-installing community, such as ADT, which offers this service to its customer as an extension of monitoring. A GPS can be used to track autos or truck fleets, but also in the near future may be extended to personal use, such as to keep track on the whereabouts of individual subscribers or their children.

o Remote surveillance/control and Web-based offerings

One of the hottest trends to hit the security industry is the use of remote capabilities to access system status and provide other functions. Web-based closed-circuit television surveillance is another area gaining popularity in the home environment. Commercial users may wish to check in on their retail location from the comfort of their own homes at the wee hours of the morning when a delivery is made to the location. With a PC, PDA or even a cellular telephone, they may be able to view the location, check the caller at the door and deny or grant access. They can also relock doors when the delivery has been made.

Most new homes will have structured wiring, so the groundwork will be set for greater use of technology within its confines.

“There are more and more electronics built into the home, and now, they’re communicating with each other,” said Jay McLellan, president of HAI Inc. in New Orleans. “You can network, control and monitor a home from virtually anywhere, integrating a home’s lighting, appliances and audio/video to regulate temperatures and security.” These products enhance the comfort, convenience, safety and value of consumer’s homes.

One of HAI’s new products is Web-Link II software that allows for access and control of systems via the Internet. Users can check and adjust the temperature, lights and security via a PC, PDA or Web-enabled phone.

o Targeted and smart detection

Some compare it to the trend about 10 years ago to install smoke detectors in residential applications—carbon monoxide detection may be the next requirement for new and existing homes.

According to Geoffrey J. Winters, president and CEO of Electronic Control Systems, Greenwich, Conn., carbon monoxide detection-sensor installations will be the biggest trend in the residential market since smoke detectors became a requirement. “This is the biggest thing to hit the security industry since smoke detectors,” said Winters. Winters said many new laws require CO detectors in all new and existing homes, in addition to public places. “This is a multibillion-dollar installation market and also provides the opportunity to expand monitoring. The detectors require replacement every five years, so maintenance can be part of the sale,” he said. The UltraGuard unit from ECS not only signals trouble at the keypad, but indicates the source by zone, provides audio alarm and automatically shuts down the furnace and hot water heater to eliminate the source.

This and other types of sensing capabilities show an evolution in smart detection. Sensors can be used to trigger an alarm, but also, such as in the case of the ECS detector, shut down the water heater or the HVAC system. They can also trigger a trouble signal at the keypad or control, or alert a cell phone user or pager. Sensors are multifunction and smarter than ever, adding greater functionality and extending applications to their furthest reaches.

Residential systems focus more than traditional intrusion detection. Double-duty sensors not only prevent intruders, they can sense when you come home and turn your lights on. Automating features and functions that lead to greater convenience and enhance the user’s lifestyle—whether it be via a computer network, audio system, energy management or home theater, are in the realm of possibility and certainly the shape of things to come. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net