At a time when skeptics say advancements in technology for residential security systems has plateaued, manufacturers, providers, integrators and builders are working together to carry home security to new heights. Advanced video imaging, remote access via cell phones and the Internet, plus integration with other home networking systems have helped redefine the focus of home security systems and provide better services to homeowners.
Newly applied technology in the home electronics industry is driving homeowners to redirect their needs from a home security system that merely protects their property to an all-encompassing "life safety" system. The dual nature of security systems as both property security and whole-house monitoring is the direction in which homeowners and technology are driving the home security market.
"Home security systems are now providing more usable information to homeowners. In addition to providing security and peace of mind, they've grown to provide information on lifestyle activities," says Jim Paulson, general manager for residential and commercial solutions, G.E. Security.
Tony Byerly, senior vice president, sales and national accounts for Honeywell Security Monitoring, says he has noticed the trend toward integrated security systems being used to monitor activity in the home rather than guard its perimeter. "It's a life safety system, not just a home security system," Byerly says.
Jay Stuck, vice president, brand marketing and corporate communications for ADT Security Services, agrees security systems are expected to perform more operations for homeowners. "More and more people are utilizing this kind of technology to increase their peace of mind," Stuck says.
Some services include cameras that allow homeowners to monitor what is going on inside and outside the home, often called nanny cams. "What we're hearing that homeowners need is security cameras for home safety, to watch the pool or children in the yard," says Bradley Kamcheff, marketing manager for Aiphone Corp.
"Homeowners want to keep an eye on things, but they also want to have the surveillance. Some cameras could be positioned only for security of the building, while others would be positioned to keep an eye on the kids, or to keep an eye on the nanny," says Mel Newcomb, factory sales representative for Elbex America.
Homeowners are not just looking to their security systems to alert them that an alarm has been triggered. They're looking for information, Paulson says. "It's no longer OK just to arm and disarm the home. In addition, they want more real-time information about the home and not just about alarms. They want to know if somebody opened the gun cabinet, or the liquor cabinet," he explains.
Homeowners historically have been on a learning curve with cameras in the home, harboring concerns of someone using the cameras to violate their privacy. With more homeowners becoming educated about this technology and becoming electronically savvy, the acceptance of cameras to monitor the home is growing.
Paulson says homeowners have resisted putting cameras in as part of security systems, that attitude is changing. "There's an increasing amount of willingness to put video (surveillance) in the home. Homeowners can look in and not worry about someone else looking in on them," Paulson said.
Video is now becoming a feature almost unanimously demanded by the homeowner as part of a home security system. The involvement of video surveillance in home security systems is not a new idea, but as homeowners begin to incorporate them as the centerpieces of their home security systems, they are demanding better performance from their cameras, too.
"These (security systems) were hard to sell 10 years ago and now everyone understands and is accepting of them. When you build a new home, they expect one to be in there," says Jay McClellan, president and CEO, Home Automation Inc.
Security system acceptance is being driven by the widespread use of broadband Internet because it allows for the transfer of video over TCP/IP connections to a secure site where homeowners can view real-time images securely when they're away from their homes. "People want to jump on a web server that they alone can access, and look at their home, from work, for instance," Paulson says.
One advancement driving the home security market to new monitoring capabilities is the growing availability of broadband Internet connections for homes and businesses. Many security service providers offer remote access to a home security system via the Internet, PDAs and cell phones.
Newcomb says he's recognized the trend. "I think the trend is toward publishing cameras on a network over some type of IP connection. That has a high level of convenience because people can then access the camera over their computers," he says.
Newcomb also says he can see a problem arising with installing security systems that homeowners can remotely access, because of the bandwidth connection needed to support live video feeds. "A lot of networks can't sustain the continuous video feed. It just takes time for the signal to get through to where you are. But over time, (these) problems will take care of themselves," he says.
Many camera and home security system manufacturers now offer high-resolution, color video that can be viewed on either a touch screen, keypad or remote location, such as a website. The cameras can produce high-quality images to provide accurate, real-time information.
"Someone who's going to spend a million dollars on a home is going to want something that's comparable to their home. Security cameras are like anything else - a Volkswagen will get you back and forth from work, but a Mercedes would do it a little more nicely," Newcomb says.
Elbex offers a new video intercom system that Newcomb boasts as ideal for a custom home security setting. The system includes an Elbex camera and is designed for large homes, with up to three entrances and up to eight inside monitoring stations. G.E. Security also offers a service called PremisesConnect, a web-enabled connectivity software.
Second homes constitute a large segment of homeowners demanding more from their home security systems. Homeowners want to remotely monitor their vacation homes while they're at their main home, or vice versa. "There's a substantial amount of money being put into second homes," Paulson says. "And homeowners want to be able to look in on that second home."
One benefit of integrating the security system with the rest of a home's systems is that homeowners can control other systems such as lighting, temperature and entertainment using the same interface from which they control their security system.
Paulson says he has seen a recent trend toward the convergence of systems such as lighting, HVAC, home automation and entertainment with security systems. "(Home security systems) really are evolving. Security solutions have become bigger in terms of capabilities because they tend to be more robust, with more processing capabilities. They're starting to offer some of the things that you'd traditionally have to go to a separate structured wiring system for," Paulson says.
Total home integration with remote video monitoring is helping prevent false alarms, as the homeowner can view what may have triggered the alarm before authorities are notified. "There are now sensors for carbon monoxide detectors, and smoke detectors. Keypads in our case also take care of lighting, temperature control and audio functions, all in one elegant touch screen," McClellan says. "Simplification is a powerful thing."
HAI offers the OmniPro II, an Ethernet-equipped security panel built specifically for larger homes (more than 2,000 sq. ft.), with the ability to control lights, thermostats, audio systems, and a variety of other products and systems.
One area Stuck says custom homeowners are monitoring via their security systems is the basement or wine cellar. Security systems such as ADT's have sensors that can inform homeowners that the temperature in their wine cellar has changed, or that their washing machine has overflowed. "I think (homeowners) are demanding reliability and peace of mind," Stuck says.
ADT's iCenter keypad for home security systems is Internet-enabled and will dial out many times a day to provide owners with status reports. Homeowners can remotely turn on and off the security system, raise and lower the garage door, open the door for a maid or workman, and monitor who enters and leaves the house, all via a secure website, Stuck says.
"I think you're going to see some incredible breakthroughs in technology in terms of reliability and usability in coming years," Stuck says of integrated home security systems. "They'll be much more intuitive. The system will recognize the users, and you're going to see much more visual verification of alarms and cameras in the house," he adds.
Homeowners are seeking ease of use with their integrated systems, and builders should be sensitive to homeowners' needs when installing a system.
Chris Kangis, director of client solutions for Electronics Interiors Inc., Hopedale, Mass., teaches a course titled "Understanding and Interfacing with Security Systems," at the CEDIA Expo each year. He says he's concerned that with integrating many different systems into one master system, homeowners won't understand what they need from a home security system, and what elements fit their home best. The combination of new technologies sometimes can be confusing and make the interface difficult to navigate.
"With a custom home, a designer should sit down and discuss what's important to a customer, what's not, and determine what's going to work for that homeowner," Kangis says.
"Don't just buy line items," he notes, "Ask homeowners what they want and why. Install what's good for the homeowner, and what will benefit them most."