Breaking into the Security Business

Home security can open doors for residential work:

For electrical contractors, the world of wiring basic light and power is evolving; the phrase “electric architect” aptly describes what consumers’ demand of contractors today. It might involve designing an electrical closet, wiring touchpads or installing complete home automation. Consumers are using home security systems as that first step to lead or drive home electronic integration. It is a prime opportunity for contractors willing to tackle this growing residential amenity.

Security systems evolve

A simple home security system typically features a keypad or wall console homeowners use to set their alarms. Sensors are placed above entry doors and sometimes windows. If an alarmed home is breached, a security company and the police are immediately notified through a customer’s phone line. Security system sophistication grows based on what a customer needs and wants to spend.

Toledo, Ohio-based Transtar Electric Inc., a full-service electrical contracting business, has offered home security systems for the last 29 of its 30 years in business. Often subcontracting with builders, its success in home security led to Transtar Security and Technologies. Dan Bollin serves as president for Transtar.

“What’s being done today in home security is incredible,” said Bollin. “You can install cameras and monitor them away from home through the Internet. You can integrate your lights so a microprocessor remembers your lighting habits over two weeks time and replicates them when you leave for vacation. Your lights can flash if there’s a break-in.”

The systems that Transtar installs provide up to 32 different zones in a home that can be monitored through motion detection. His systems typically incorporate smoke detectors and carbon monoxide sensors as well.

“In the security field, it seems there are no limits to a developer’s imagination,” Bollin said. “We can install a panic button for a customer so they can instantly summon police in case of an emergency. We can provide the elderly with a pendant that with the simple press of a button delivers a medical alert for family and medical personnel.”

Transtar Security and Technologies has become its own security company. It offers monitoring of its intrusion and perimeter security protection.

“We have a private monitoring station that can alert us to malfunctions or other necessary service calls,” said Bollin. “The staff is specially trained.”

Emergency calls go through what Bollin calls a central station that responds and alerts police or the fire department personnel. Security systems are increasingly tied into a complete home automation structure.

Security systems help drive home automation

A 2006 ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR research report, “Electrical Contactors’ Roles in the Residential Market,” conducted by Renaissance Research and Consulting, highlighted this changing industry. Nearly three-quarters of the surveyed respondents indicated they perform whole house automation, which can include fire/life safety and security, home theater and audio installation and other controls. Transtar does all of those. Contractors often handle this work without subcontracting and use their existing staff rather than creating a separate division or department; Transtar is an exception.

While Transtar does it all, other electrical contractors subcontract with electronic systems professionals or “integrators” as Ken Smith calls them. Smith is the president of the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA). He is also the president and owner of Custom Electronics Inc., a home integration specialist firm headquartered in Falmouth, Maine. His firm works with electrical contractors, builders and architects.

“There are so many ways we can work with an electrical contractor,” Smith said. “Security systems and integrating them into our home automation work is becoming increasingly popular.”

Like Bollin, Smith sees some amazing creativity and endless potential in home security.

“I’ve seen systems where doors can be locked remotely,” Smith said. “You can even alarm your system or disarm it from your cell phone. Cameras and closed-circuit television [CCTV] capture just about anything outside the home and can save images on a hard drive to be easily downloaded for police. It seems, the more someone uses their imagination, the better and more practical security integration becomes.”

Such integrated work largely skews toward upper income clients. It’s a growing segment with increasing opportunity. The Electrical Contractor research report reveals that in 2005 one-quarter of electrical contractors worked on a home valued at $1.5 million or more and many often worked on custom or luxury housing.

“I estimate almost 90 percent of my business is new construction, though new products are coming out to support retrofitting. Integrators need to work in concert with the other trades so everything works together. The more an electrician knows, the more helpful they can be when they subcontract with someone like me,” Smith said.

Training your employees

“We’re a union contractor,” Bollin said. “Our employees go through the formal JATC [Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee] training including voice, data and video apprentice work. We also take advantage of appropriate courses offered through NECA’s Management Education Institute [MEI] including such topics as structured wiring.”

CEDIA provides custom electronic design and installation training and certification aimed at the residential market. The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) offers its National Training School (NTS) that provides online schooling for installation certification and accreditation. Workshops and other continuing education are often available through local chapters of NBFAA. The association also recently developed its “Fire/Life Safety and Electronic Security Apprenticeship” standards recently approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Now that NBFAA has taken the next step by establishing a federally approved apprenticeship program, our goal will be to work through our National Training School (NTS) and our state chapters to create the administrative and delivery systems to make apprenticeship accessible to technicians in every state,” said NBFAA president George P. Gunning. “The fundamental components, including curriculum, work experience processes, and defining the responsibilities of the employer, apprentice and program sponsor are already in place.”

Gunning added that the apprentice program provides a mechanism to introduce and train technicians on the latest products, technologies and applications.

Paying attention to licensing

Contractors need to be aware that some cities and/or states require security system licensing. Such licensing may take the form of training and/or testing requirements for all electronic life safety, security and systems professionals. NBFAA offers a state-by-state licensing guide through its Web site. Membership may be required.

Meanwhile, leading security associations are working to address a lack of uniform standards and regulations. The Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) is composed of representatives of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), NBFAA, the Security Industry Association (SIA) and major alarm companies and manufacturers. It provides coordination in a variety of areas between the alarm industry and the Federal Communications Commission, other regulatory agencies and members of Congress.

In the end, it’s the intrepid electrical contractor who can make home security a winning residential opportunity. It may take some training and possible partnering with other contractors, but it’s a growing market ripe for development.   EC

GAVIN is the owner of Gavo Communications, a marketing services firm serving the construction and the landscaping industries. He writes trend, design and other business articles for Gavo clientele.


Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association

The Freedonia Group

Management Education Institute

National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association

Security Sales and Integration






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