Although residential security systems sometimes are described with terms such as “commodity” and “cookie cutter,” it’s a different story at the high end of the market.
As Rob Guttentag, vice president and general manager for security manufacturer DSC, Concord, Ontario, Canada, notes, the high-end market is considerably less price-sensitive.
Such customers, he says, “tend to get the full-service package of traditional security devicesâ€”contacts on all doors and windows, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, glass break detectors and motion sensors. Many integrators are now including environmental alarms, such as water sensors and humidity alarms as well.”
Even more specialized sensors, such as vibration detectors and inhalation sensors, also are finding their way into high-end residential alarms, along with sophisticated video surveillance. When a residential installation also includes a home control system, the combined system can be even more powerful.
In this article, we explore 15 great ideas for high-end residential security systems.
Integrating multiple systems“Where we’ve seen success is to take our home theater, phone, security and other system knowledge and make them all talk to one another and function together for the customer,” comments systems integrator Harold Sowell, owner of Pioneer Communications, Cookeville, Tenn.
Sowell’s company uses the Digilinx product from Netstreams to tie multiple systems together through a home computer network, which Pioneer also sets up, enabling customers to control the systems through their computer.
“We’re doing a lot of dedicated home theater rooms, and we put a Windows Media computer in that room, so from the home theater room, they can access the Internet and view it on a 72-inch television screen,” he relates.
On the same screen, customers also can view images from their video surveillance camera. “They can log onto their DVR and rewind and play back video,” notes Sowell.
If customers have satellite television, Pioneer also sets up the system so that live video from each surveillance camera can be viewed on a different channel from any television set in the home. Because cable companies block some channels, Sowell explains, “If they have cable TV, we give them access through the computer network, not through the TV.”
A Single InterfaceAs systems are more tightly integrated, customers are looking to control them from a single interface, notes Blake Jochum, manager of the residential systems division for integrator All Pro Sound, Pensacola, Fla. “People are trying to get rid of wall clutter and having separate controls for their alarm system, HVAC, lighting, audio/video and intercom,” Jochum says.
By using a single interface to control multiple systems, integrators also can create what Jerry Switzer, senior product manager for GE Security, Bradenton, Fla., calls “scenes.”
Available on GE’s SmartCommand touch screen and on products from other manufacturers, scene functionality works somewhat like the different arming modes on a traditional security system, whereby different sensors are activated depending on whether the system is armed in the “away” or “stay” mode.
With scene functionality, components such as thermostats and lighting controls can be programmed to provide different functionality based on the scene, which is selected by the customer through a touch screen or other interface.
For example, Switzer says, a systems integrator could program a “party” scene for a customer that could set living room lighting at 72 percent, turn lights off in the computer room and on the back porch and turn on front porch lights.
Some systems also can customize scene functionality depending on a user’s code, notes Jochum. All Pro Sound uses equipment from Bosch and Crestron to provide such functionality for its customers.
A homeowner could automatically have lights, HVAC and audio/video systems turn on in a certain manner when he arrives home. But, notes Jochum, “If the maid disarms the system, the display case could still be activated.”
Occupancy Sensors Save EnergyClearly one of the benefits of scene functionality is to save energy by adjusting lighting and thermostats up or down depending on whether owners are home. Another way to achieve similar results is to use passive infrared detectors and door contacts as occupancy sensors, notes Guttentag.
“If the alarm system does not detect movement for a period of time, it can communicate this to the lighting control system, shut the lights off and signal the HVAC control system to adjust the temperature accordingly,” he explains.
WAV Files for Emergency UseNow that various system components can communicate with each other according to digital standards, some systems integrators have devised creative new applications.
For example, Statewide Security, Redmond, Wash., can set up systems to play customized WAV files through a customer’s audio system in the event of an emergency.
If an intruder were to invade protected grounds around a luxury home, for example, the WAV file could instruct occupants to move to a heavily secured room. Such functionality would be triggered only after off-site monitoring personnel had verified the presence of a human intruder.
Astronomical Clock Can â€œGoof Proofâ€ the SystemAnother creative application from Statewide Security also relies on multiple systems that function as one. The company uses an astronomical clock in combination with a motion detector to control the infrared lighting used with outdoor cameras.
Technicians program the system to turn on the lighting when a person trips the motion detector, but the clock ensures that the command is ignored during daylight hours.
Remote Control and AlertsHigh-end homeowners also are likely to want a means of controlling and monitoring their systems even when they are away from home. Honeywell, Napco and other manufacturers now offer customers that capability, even giving homeowners a means of viewing surveillance video images.
Honeywell offers remote control through its Internet Connection Module (ICM) which, Honeywell senior product manager Tim Trautman explains, is essentially a small Web server.
By connecting the security system or other home control systems via an ICM, homeowners can use a Web browser or data-equipped cellular device to remotely control home systems and receive alerts.
If an IP camera is part of that system, authorized users can remotely view the camera. Trautman notes, for example, that homeowners can set up the system to alert them when their child arrives home from school and the homeowner can check in on the child via video.
Napco takes a different approach with its iSeeVideo offering. That offering relies on a Napco-operated server that can be viewed through a Web browser and also archives video from up to four cameras.
“If you integrate it with the alarm, the footage will be captured at a specific event with date and time-stamping,” explains Napco vice president of marketing Judy Jones, who notes that customers pay for the service on a monthly basis.
Feel Safe Video, Tabernacle, N.J., has been selling iSeeVideo and company owner Gregory Nixon says, “People love it.” Customers use it to watch their vacation homes, to watch children around swimming pools, and to keep an eye on nannies, he says.
The system also has video motion detection, enabling technicians to set it up so that if someone walks up to the house, the camera will send an image of that person and a text message to the homeowner, who can then go to live video.
Feel Safe has been demonstrating the product at a lot of local shows and, Nixon notes, “Every time we sponsor a show, we get a thousand hits on our Web site.” Nixon also is talking with local police about remote video monitoring.
“The police have Internet connectivity in their cars, and the owner could register their camera system with the local police,” explains Nixon. The idea would be that, “If there is an alarm, the police can view it before they enter the house,” Nixon says.
Rethinking AlertsAs systems become more flexible, systems integrators also are rethinking how various types of alerts should be handled.
It may make sense to install a water sensor in an HVAC drip pan or beneath an aquarium, notes Jochum, who often works with Smith Security, an alarm dealer also based in Pensacola, on high-end residential installations.
Smith Security offers some deluxe fee-based services for high-end customers. “If the fish tank goes off, the customer is the second one called,” notes Jochum. “The first is the fish tank guy. If you know the customer is out and depending on which sensor is tripped, Smith Security will let the aquarium technician, HVAC technician or plumber in and supervise the service.”
Two-way WirelessTwo-way wireless systems are finding their way into more high-end residential systems, notes Tom Mechler, product marketing manager for Bosch Security Systems Inc., Fairport, N.Y.
In the past, individual sensors could communicate with the central control panel, but not the other way around. To ensure that signals were received, sensors would transmit each signal multiple times, which put a major drain on batteries.
Today’s two-way wireless systems communicate in both directions, increasing battery life and providing higher security because the control panel now can acknowledge alarm events.
Two-way wireless also facilitates some new applications. “You could use it to interface with a garage door opener or lighting,” notes Mechler. “It provides the ability to extend the automation of the system without running wires if you need to retrofit an existing home.”
New Communication MethodsHigh-end residential customers also are using some new communication methods. “There is a shift away from standard communication formats over the phone to other formats like Internet protocol, GPRS and GSM,” notes Mechler.
IP communications use a broadband connection such as DSL or a cable modem, while GSM and GPRS are acronyms for advanced cellular communication formats.
These new communication methods “provide the end user with higher security and faster communication,” Mechler maintains.
He notes, for example, that the use of IP provides higher-speed alarm communications compared with traditional telephone dial-up. Also, with IP alarm communications, the control panel will not encounter a busy signal from the receiver, which results in more data getting through to the central station automation system.
To ensure uninterrupted functionality and therefore higher security, the IP communications receiver can send supervision messages to the control panel every few seconds that the protected premise will acknowledge. If authentication and encryption algorithms detect potentially damaging activity, the central station operator is alerted.
Because the Internet sometimes fails, however, high-end residential customers will want to have a standard telephone line or cellular connection as a backup.
Phone-based IntercomsSome systems integrators have stopped using intercoms in high-end residential systems. Pioneer Communications, for example, installs a phone system from Avaya that includes intercom functionality.
“It works really well and allows intercom calling from room to room,” notes Sowell.
Powered Door LocksHigh-end homes tend to be largeâ€”and that means they may have many more entry/exit doors than the typical home.
As Jochum explains, “If you have a 24,000-square-foot house, it can take 10 minutes just to lock all the doors.” All Pro Sound simplifies that task for those homeowners by installing powered locks, which can lock all doors with a single command.
Secure RoomsThe more deluxe equipment a system has, the more important it is to add an extra level of protection for that equipment. Integrators like Jochum and Sowell create what they call “secure rooms” to house valuable audio and video system components, particularly those to which the homeowner does not need frequent access.
Secure rooms may be kept locked at all times and have motion detectors and door contacts. Typically, they are kept on a separate zone of the security system, which is armed at all times; 24-hour zones also are useful for display cases containing valuable objects. Jochum notes that special contacts for display cases are available.
Inhalation Sensors Protect ArtworkA wide range of specialized sensors and protection devices are available for high-end systems. One such device that O’Donnell finds useful is an inhalation sensor. “It samples the air all the time and is a thousand times faster to detect fire than a standard smoke detector,” notes O’Donnell.
Statewide technicians use inhalation sensors to protect valuable artwork to help ensure that, in the event of a fire, a sprinkler is activated in time to save the artwork.
O’Donnell adds that he prefers to use a security system that has many zones, enabling Statewide to assign separate zones to all the specialized sensors that the company uses.
Buried Coax Secures PerimeterTo protect perimeter areas, which often are not fenced, O’Donnell likes to use a coaxial cable system from OmniTrax that it buries in the ground. The technology works by using pairs of cables, one of which acts as a transmitter and the other as a receiver. “It generates a field that intruders can’t jump over and it’s invisible,” notes O’Donnell. By using built-in time domain reflectometer technology, the system also can pinpoint where the intruder entered to within three feet.
Vibration Sensors Protect WallsFor an extra level of protection for paintings, vaults or other secured areas, Statewide relies on vibration sensors installed in the walls to prevent intruders from cutting through the wall. Such sensors, which may be based on either fiber optic or geophone technology, also can be used in some cases to protect perimeters, O’Donnell says.
By applying creative thinking to the wide range of security and home control solutions available today, it seems the possibilities for high-end residential alarm systems are limitless.