Home automation: If you provide it, will they come?

Friday, July 1, 2005

By now, the idea of bringing disparate systems together onto a single control panel is well accepted within the security industry. Manufacturers have made it easier for lights, temperature and other household systems to run from what was once a security-only panel.
But those in the security installer community are still not getting the calls to make these types of systems a reality.
Richard Perry, president and chief executive officer of Florida-based Security Networks LLC, said home automation has been a minimal market for security installers. "It's still a very niche market," he explained, attractive to "people who have an interest in gadgets."
While his company is poised to handle the installations of these multiple feature systems, "we haven't seen a tremendous amount of demand. It's not a top-of-mind request with homeowners."
On the other side of the country, G. Thomas Eggebrecht, president and chief executive officer of Bonds Alarm Co., Phoenix, likened home automation to VCRs--"it's blinking 12. We can program panels, but the consumer can't operate it."
He said security devices are still primarily "old technology, but in a couple of years, we'll see everything connected."
Right now, he said, one of the biggest requests he gets is for remote control of furnaces for residents who have homes in ski areas. "But it's more of an educated consumer that you're dealing with," he explained.
Despite these somewhat pessimistic views on the installer side, manufacturers of control panels continue to move forward with plans to bring more functions into the security system.
End users are getting used to having more devices that give them control within their house, while installers see this as a value proposition, said Al Lizza, director of marketing-residential for Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics.
"The security systems primary job is to know what is going on in the home," said Lizza, so integrating this ability with other systems is a natural progression. "We want to be able to use the information the security system has and present it as information to other systems in the house for adequate response," he explained, such as turning on lights when there is an alarm, or turning on lights, but in a dimmer condition, when the fire alarm goes off so residents can see through the smoke.
Lizza said lights and temperature controls "provide clear value because they solve problems for homeowners."
Security control panels are a "good path" for integrating home controls, said Tom Mechler, product marketing manager at Bosch Security Systems.
"As the general public becomes more technologically savvy, we expect to do more with the system," he said.
Mechler said the mechanics of the house have been the focal point for multi-function systems, but "where I do see an opportunity to integrate is CCTV surveillance."
He said as it comes down in price, "it makes sense to have it in the home."
As part of the total security concept, Mechler said residents will be able to sit in their easy chairs "and see who is at the door on your TV."
What Mechler doesn't see happening, he said, is bringing home entertainment into alarm panels.
Jay McLennan, president of HAI, concurred that even though home entertainment gets a lot of coverage, "our business is focused on security, temperature and lighting, and adding audio."
Multi-room audio is a fast-growing category, he said, because it does away with individual speakers and instead builds them into the wall. Its connection with the security system means patio speakers can be put into night mode when the system is armed so the teenagers in the home can't wake up the neighbors with a late-night party.
He said security customers with existing systems can add controls, such as lighting and temperature, depending on which system they have in place.
No matter which components are added to a security system, Lizza of Honeywell said the challenge will always be offsetting opportunity with value.
"It's not just a matter of what's nice to have," he said, "but whether I see a real value here."