Residential Lockdown

"A man’s home is his castle,” the saying goes, and electronic security helps prevent the ramparts from being breached by an invading horde.

Home security is an important part of a family’s everyday life, and its use is growing every day. One of the reasons for this is the affordability of today’s alarm systems compared to 20 or 30 years ago. In those days, an average home system with two doors would have cost $1,000. The same system in today’s world, however, can cost as little as $99 down.

The lesson for electrical contractors (ECs) is twofold. First, there’s a tremendous earning potential in home security. Second, there’s a recurring revenue component that provides enormous cash flow when developed to the fullest.

Picking a security system

The first rule of thumb when choosing an alarm system is to think “user friendly.” Unless the system you install is easy to operate, clients may not want to use it. This would adversely affect the likelihood of word-of-mouth advertising, which is one of the most important methods of advertising you can hope for.

The first item to look for is a quality, attractive keypad. It’s especially important to pick one that is easy to navigate, and concentrate on finding one that requires the user to press as few buttons as possible to arm, disarm, restore alarms, and view the status of the system.

Intelligibility when deciphering the nature of an event also is essential. Be sure you choose a system with an event buffer by which the user can view past events.

Ease of programming is key, especially when an EC first enters the security market. If possible, one or two technicians should be sent to a manufacturer’s training school to learn the fine points associated with programming.

Closed vs. open distribution

Another issue the EC must settle is whether to use closed or open distribution. Closed distribution—whereby the purchaser signs an agreement with the manufacturer saying the firm will purchase a given dollar amount over the next 12 months—has its advantages. With closed distribution, the EC will enjoy a greatly reduced playing field in which the number of dealers who handle the same product is kept to a minimum. An EC also can expect a higher level of factory support.

The open distribution method relies on the purchase of goods through open channels, such as electrical distributors. In many cases, the same distributor that supplies the EC’s electrical equipment likewise will offer home security systems. Of course, open distribution maintains an absence of minimum purchase agreements.

Details, details

When conducting an initial sales call at a prospect’s home, draw a rough floor plan of the structure. Include relevant walls, doors and windows. This will become part of the installation package given to the technicians if the client accepts the bid.

In most homes, one keypad will do, but some require additional units. Study the client’s needs before making a recommendation, and consider different areas of the home. For instance, do not overlook the basement or garage when installing security. A garage, in particular, can pose an enormous risk, because once a criminal gains access to it, he usually can take his time attacking the interior, possibly using the homeowner’s tools to, for example, cut a hole in the drywall from the garage to the interior.

Another overlooked area is the basement. In most homes, the alarm panel, which is the brains of the system, is contained in a utility room in the basement. Because basement windows are small, they may be unprotected, and some criminals enter this way. Once inside, they can disconnect telephone lines, negotiate door and motion devices, or remove power from the alarm panel altogether.

Engineering a security system

When laying out a home security system, it is important to engineer several layers of protection into a client’s program. The first layer is outside protection, which usually requires adequate perimeter lighting. Not only does this make the home more secure, it adds an element of safety. Entrances are especially vulnerable to criminals who lay in wait for the return of an unsuspecting homeowner.

The second layer of protection is the structure’s perimeter, which includes doors, windows and special accommodations, such as pet openings. There is an assortment of devices available for the protection of almost every kind of perimeter opening you can imagine. The most common and effective are simple magnetic switch devices that act to protect doors and windows. Included in this category are electronic listening devices that protect glass windows, which are commonly called glass-break detectors.

The key to a successful, trouble-free installation is using the right device for each application. False alarms commonly occur when the wrong device is deployed. The Internet is a great place to start with your research of devices and their use. There are numerous online forums and user groups where you can ask questions and find answers. In many cases, equipment manufacturers offer detailed breakdowns and installation instructions on their Web site.

Wireless vs. hardwired systems

To ensure the right device for a given door or window, a product line must be selected early in the process so the salesman has a thorough knowledge of all available sensors. One of the most important aspects associated with new start-ups is which flavor of security to use: wireless or hardwired.

The best path to take in this regard is the hybrid route in which you have the ability to move in either or both directions. In fact, it is common to use both methods of installation on a single job.

Hybrid panels may cost a little more, but in the long run, there are definite benefits to using a product that can readily accommodate both hardwired and wireless needs. For one thing, instead of two products for technicians to learn, there is only one. This is especially helpful where it comes to programming.

There are many hybrid systems on the market today, and it is important to understand what’s available before you make a final selection. Probably the most expedient and efficient route is to select a product with a radio receiver built into the panel. The next best selection is a product line that offers a separate radio receiver, either as an add-on option or built within a keypad.

If possible, add a wireless receiver/keypad even when installing the initial system with metallic wire. The presence of a radio in the system means the EC can offer wireless upgrades later. Possibilities include a wireless panic button, medical alert pendant and a multiple-button keyfob that allows the client to perform a variety of tasks.

Keyfobs are especially helpful because they allow clients to arm, disarm and trigger a panic alarm. Some keyfobs come with a fourth button for turning lights off/on or opening/closing garage doors.

So, taking all of these aspects into consideration, electrical contractors can really put home security to work for themselves.

COLOMBO is a 32-year veteran in the security and life safety markets. He currently is director with and a nationally recognized trade journalist located in East Canton, Ohio.


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