An Alarm Panel That Does More
February 1, 2007
When comparing today’s good/better/best residential burglar alarm panels, even the good ones have hundreds of features in them. However, many of those features are ultimately unused by customers.
“I don’t yet see dealers taking advantage of all the features that are built into some of these products,” reports Bryan Watts, manager of business development and channel management, DSC, division of Tyco Safety Products, Toronto. “The alarm system has so much in it, and if you look at the comparative cost, it’s quite a deal.”
Selecting one or more models of an intrusion alarm system to resell to your customers today can be an eye-opening experience, because of the numerous built-in features, as well as add-on options such as environmental control and Internet access. But, primarily, dealers focus on ease of use and false alarm reduction factors before looking for elaborate features.
Residential burglar alarm panels are very dependent on the basic operational features that provide an emphasis on minimizing false alarms. In addition, ease of use is extremely important, because the labor for security dealers to answer calls from customers who have forgotten their disarm codes or cannot understand the operation of their keypads can add up quickly and turn a profitable installation into an unprofitable one.
A frequent cause of false alarms is leaving the alarm system armed when someone is inside the house. Another cause is pets, although the development of pet-immune motion detectors has solved this problem for homeowners who have upgraded their sensors. Alarm users also often turn the system off inside and out, without arming the perimeter. This can leave the occupant vulnerable to intrusion.
False alarms occur frequently during exit from and entry to the home. One cause of false alarms is forgetting the disarm code, or not giving it to all family members, caregivers or other authorized occupants of a home.
Systems that bypass such codes altogether may be appropriate for this type of customer. For example, some systems use wireless key fobs or residential versions of proximity cards. Others arm automatically when a door’s deadbolt is locked or a garage door is closed, such as a new system from NAPCO Security.
Tom Karl, director of sales, NAPCO Security Systems, Amityville, N.Y., shares the results from consumer research with focus groups of residential alarm system owners. “It was amazing what we heard,” he marvels. “We heard that people were intimidated by their alarm system. If they had a false alarm or two, they’d just flat out stop using it. There was a great deal of anxiety.”
CONSIDER OPTIONS THAT MAKE SECURITY EASIERResidential alarm panels were thought by these users to be too complex and have too many buttons to push, Karl relates. “Many of these people wound up canceling their central station, which is the lifeblood of the security business,” he says.
“Traditional systems require the consumer to change their lifestyle to use a system,” Karl adds. “When you arm the system, the family lines up, you close the door, punch in the code and jump out like paratroopers, which is the way our business has been for 20 years.”
Programming that asks questions of the homeowner, as an ATM machine at a bank does, helps ease use and reduces false alarms. Some keypads communicate in symbols or icons rather than words.
Others actually use voice to communicate one-way with the homeowner through the keypad, a telephone or cellular telephone in a house in up to 30 languages. Some offer voice along with other communication options in the same keypad.
To reduce false alarms, panels that meet the CP-01 standard of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Security Industry Association (SIA) are recommended. (For more information, visit www.siacinc.org/dealer_standards.asp.)
GOOD LOOKSRegarding keypad design, aesthetics plays a large part as homeowners try to keep them unobtrusive and coordinated with a home’s décor. The increasing miniaturization of electronics and growing use of wireless keypads and sensors have made this possible.
“All the major players have come out recently with much more attractive, high-tech, unobtrusive keypads and sensors,” Rothstein reports. “Some are smaller, and the design is more streamlined. Most major manufacturers have some touch-screen option on the high end, so that’s an attractive feature.”
As display products have become more affordable, the quality of screens on keypads has improved. Four-color LCD screens are available on more models at moderate price points and may eventually become the norm, especially for keypads that include home control functions.
“On the high end as prices come down, larger screens and better backlighting will become more ubiquitous, more popular, and I think that’s been one interesting development,” Rothstein notes.
Dealers who operate in cities where many people relocate should consider offering lower-cost panel and keypad models for buyers who may not want to make a large investment in an alarm system.
“How long are they going to be in their home?” asks Jim Paulson, general manager of commercial and residential solutions, GE Security, Bradenton, Fla. “That sometimes has to do with how much they’re willing to pay.”
Those who relocate frequently and expect to be in their homes for only a short period of time might not invest as heavily in an intrusion system as those who do not anticipate moving, Paulson notes.
VOIP AND THE DIGITAL HOMEPanels that security dealers decide to offer their customers should be ready for the digital home, thinks DSC’s Bryan Watts.
“It’s very likely the installer’s going to go in a house where there isn’t a phone line, so the ability for the panel to easily communicate by VoIP is mandatory,” Watts maintains. Another option he recommends is that a panel be able to use digital cellular telephone communication with the central station.
Homeowners who use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones need special panels that can communicate reliably over the Internet or use other wireless methods. Some panels can use either the Internet or wireless if one or the other alarm signal transmission method is inoperative.
Many factors in the design and construction of keypads and panels are specified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Northbrook, Ill., so there is minimal variation among manufacturers and models.
“I think that most security systems today from the major equipment manufacturers are pretty decent products from a homeowner’s perspective,” Paulson believes. “The key differences in the products, depending on which dealer you talk to, are having a different level of long-term viability or quality that people believe they have.”
Some panels and keypads are thought to withstand lightning strikes better, Paulson asserts, but he concedes that UL standards have become de facto standards. Although inexpensive panels, some of which are imported, may indicate they meet UL standards, they still may vary in quality.
Mark Hillenburg, product architect for DMP, Springfield, Mo., thinks quality is assumed. “Once you have a quality product, it’s how elegant is the interface, how easy is it to use?” he asks.
Among the features of residential burglar alarms that customers may be interested in if they are made aware of them are “night stay,” which keeps motion detectors around a bedroom deactivated while those elsewhere in the house, such as downstairs, are activated. Some systems have several such zones because bedrooms sometimes are located on different floors of a home or on different ends of a general area that should be activated, like an atrium or living room.
ZONING OPTIONSHaving zones that can be set for portions of the house occupied by people on different schedules is helpful, such as high school or college students or those working jobs on different shifts.
An entry and exit delay allows homeowners if they forget something to go back into the house within a period of time the homeowner selects before an alarm is tripped. This keeps the homeowner from having to disarm and rearm the system for that short period of time.
A similar feature enables an alarm to be silenced but the system still to be armed. This is valuable when investigating an alarm in which an intruder still may be in the house. If that is the case, a second alarm can alert the homeowner to take evasive action.
A panel that has the ability to add a relay or has programmable outputs can allow features such as connecting the garage door with the intrusion system to be added at low cost.
Sidebar: An Alarm System Can Tell a Dealer if It's not Being UsedHaving the alarm panel send a message to the security dealer if it is not used can tip off the dealer to a possible problem with the customer’s usage behavior or understanding of the system.
“If customers aren’t arming and disarming daily, or however often their schedule dictates, maybe they forgot a code or how to use it,” points out Tommy Andrade, Kansas City branch manager for Tri-Ed Distribution Inc., Woodbury, N.Y.
That gives the dealer a reason to call and make another sales impression with the customer or head off a possible service problem or turnover.
A similar function notifies the dealer who installed an intrusion system in new construction when the phone line is connected to it. This enables the dealer to familiarize the homeowner with the features of the system or sell additional services.
Sidebar: Do More with One SystemSecurity is just one part of a complete home control system that may include temperature and lighting control, wired or wireless broadband Internet access, computer networking, structured wiring, whole-house audio/video, home theater, video surveillance and more.
“The home control area and the structured wiring are again opportunities for additional revenue from each of the installs,” points out Al Lizza, director of marketing for residential products, Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics, Syosset, N.Y. “You want to look at changing the value proposition from fear of burglary or fire to a feature set that is valuable to consumers in addition to providing enhancements to their lifestyle. Besides protection, those are additional values dealers should be looking at providing for their customers.”
When customers are more open about budgets, improved home entertainment and information can be the positive incentive needed to create enthusiasm for what began simply as an attempt for better security.
Sidebar: Many Alarm Systems Jobs Today are â€˜Hybridâ€™ â€” Wired Plus WirelessMany of the hesitancies about wireless systems from the 1980s and early 1990s are not being felt anymore by security dealers. Interference on the frequencies wireless systems use has been reduced and the lifetimes of the batteries in the devices have been lengthened.
Not only can sensors be wireless, but also keypads in their communications with the control panels located in equipment rooms, closets or basements. Keypads and panels also can communicate wirelessly to central stations.
“Our experience with dealers in purchasing the wireless products that we sell has changed dramatically over the years,” declares James Rothstein, senior vice president, Tri-Ed Distribution Inc., Woodbury, N.Y. “The return rate and the dissatisfaction voiced among dealers has gone down dramatically. Anecdotally, the experience and comfort factor with wireless is almost universally there now.”
Wireless keypads can be placed on a bedroom night table rather than wired into a wall.
All things being equal, when wiring an intrusion system is convenient, wired devices seem to be preferred by dealers, not only for their reliability, but also in some cases for their lower cost.
However, for retrofitting, hard-to-reach places or occasions when installation needs to be quick, hybrid wired panels that accept wireless devices such as door or window contacts or glass-breakage sensors are preferred.
Another reason for choosing a wired product is aesthetics, points out Jim Paulson, general manager of commercial and residential solutions, GE Security, Bradenton, Fla.
“With most manufacturers, you have one or two wireless keypad options,” he points out. “With a hardwired connection, you have a lot of different looks and feels you can offer.”
Wireless devices that indicate to installers through a light or other method when they are active can ease installation. Wireless installation also is less expensive, maintains Tom Mechler, product marketing manager, intrusion, for Bosch Security Systems, Fairport, N.Y.
“Typically systems are a combination of wired and wireless,” he declares. “So where wires can be easily run, the installer will run the wires. For new construction, if it’s a prewire, it’s much more common to wire the system. In retrofit, it’s more common to use wireless.”
With many wireless systems, batteries need to be replaced at intervals from 5 years to 10 years depending on use. “Today, that’s really the only difference between wired and wireless,” asserts Al Lizza, director of marketing for residential products, Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics, Syosset, N.Y. “They’re both as reliable.”
Mechler agrees. “There will be some maintenance of the system going forward, whereas with wired that’s not the case,” he notes.
The type of battery is not always a determining factor in battery life. “In some applications, alkaline will last as long as lithium,” Mechler maintains. “Today’s alkaline technology has progressed significantly.”
Sidebar: How Secure Are â€˜All-in-Oneâ€™ Units?Budget is a consideration when dealing with customers. If their budget is low, a basic system with the possibility of upgrading may be all that is needed.
Perhaps a wireless all-in-one unit containing the keypad and control panel is sufficient protection instead of locating the control panel, which is the brain of the system, in a separate equipment room, closet, garage or basement, and connecting to it with wires or wirelessly.
What kind of coverage does the customer want? “Do you want full coverage, everything on the ground floor and basement, along with water moisture sensors and carbon monoxide and smoke detection and full system coverage, or do you really want just basic security?” asks Jim Paulson, general manager of commercial and residential solutions, GE Security, Bradenton, Fla.
But “all-in-one” units are not recommended by Mark Hillenburg, product architect for DMP, Springfield, Mo. “There’s obvious risk involved in having the entire alarm system in one appliance,” he declares. “Someone walks in, grabs it and rips it off the wall, and it’s all done.
“Part of the security of a security system is the physical security of the control panel, where it’s installed, and the ability to not know where that control panel or brains of the system are installed,” he insists.
Part of that concern has been addressed by manufacturers. A remote siren can confuse an intruder about the location of the keypad.
Some dealers recommend locating all-in-one keypads away from well-traveled areas so intruders would not be able to find them easily or even know they were in use. Such remote panels can be conveniently communicated with by wireless remotes. Some also can foil intruders who attack them by transmitting alarms wirelessly.