CE Pro Magazine – 2000


Controlling Interest
A Secure Foundation
A security controller can be a perfect entree to home automation
By Ezra Dyer 3/00

In a recent survey by Honeywell Home and Building Control (Golden Valley, MN), only eight percent of homeowners said that they have a centralized system that controls multiple home devices, yet more than half reported that they would find such a system useful. One way to capitalize on that demand is to give clients the option of integrating automation functions with their security system.

“Security is a vital part of automation,” says Frank Vander Wiede, president of installer/manufacturer Intella-Home Inc. (Sebastian, FL). “Since security systems already have sensors everywhere, they make a natural trigger to initiate automation activities.” The problem, according to Vander Wiede, is that relatively few security systems provide the outputs necessary to use their status information in this way. Intella-Home’s installations typically center on the X-6100 controller from Apex (Raleigh, NC), which combines a security system with X10 and relay outputs. The Apex can be programmed to control several events. For instance, it can use the security system’s motion sensors to automatically activate lighting or adjust temperature when rooms are occupied, or trigger lighting, climate, or appliance commands when the system is armed or disarmed. Clients can also control all of these functions from outside their homes via a touchtone phone.

“That’s another big advantage of controlling automation through a security system,” says Vander Wiede. “Since it’s already hooked up to a phone line, it allows control from outside the house.” The implication for customers is that they can check and adjust the status of their home from wherever they are. For installers, it means that they can make programming adjustments without having to visit the client’s home. “The security system is like the home’s server, and it’s always online,” says Vander Wiede.

Honeywell plans to capitalize on the possibilities that the Internet and increasingly powerful processors offer for home control. Its new Windows CE-powered Home Controller interfaces a security system with lights, telephones, appliances—basically any electrical home device that a client would like to integrate. The wall-mounted control box supports thermostat, Ethernet, CEbus, POTS, and X10 communication. House Mode allows the customer to use any interface to send macros, controlling lights, sensors, and appliances with one command. The Home Controller’s various functions can be controlled via telephone, the wall-mounted interface, key-chain remote, thermostat, or the system’s own Web page.

The Web interface (accessed via Honeywell’s secure server) adds functionality in a number of ways. For instance, the security system monitors motion, window and door opening, and glass breakage. There are also sensors for freezing, flooding, smoke, and carbon monoxide. If any of these sensors are triggered, an alarm will sound and the event will be posted to that system’s website. The website also allows clients to check and adjust any aspect of the system from anywhere in the world. If the homeowner is in an area without reliable Internet access, he can still control the security functions with a touchtone phone.

The option for Web-based control is one way that Honeywell hopes to ensure that the Home Controller is useful and upgradable into the future. According to Honeywell, more than 30 percent of North American homes are currently online, with that number expected to hit 54 percent by 2002.

Clients who want security-system integration on a smaller scale might consider the Magic Module from Elk Products Inc. (Hildebran, NC). Simply put, the Magic Module is a programmable controller that performs a function when a state changes. Like the Apex X-6100, it has a port for transmitting X10 signals, so it can be used to control a variety of appliances. The Magic Module sends these X10 signals based on information from a security system or its own sensors (the company offers real-time clock and temperature modules, to name two). The device can also read proximity cards and iButtons from Dallas Semiconductor. The iButton is a tiny chip worn on a ring or carried in a wallet; it stores identity information, which is then quickly downloaded by a reader. A client carrying an iButton can present it to the reader, and the Magic Module will then arm or disarm a security system, open doors, or set lights.

Don’t limit yourself
Lights and locks are fairly obvious candidates for security system-controlled automation, but there are some more transparent applications as well. Water heaters, for example. For most people, water heaters aren’t ever thought of (unless they malfunction, of course). But the mundane water heater can be integrated into the security system of a conservation-minded homeowner. According to Don Lamb, Elk design engineer, the Magic Module can use security commands, such as arm/disarm, or proximity sensors, to turn the water heater off automatically when the homeowner leaves for the day. This saves energy and, unlike a simple timer, ensures that there’s hot water on unscheduled (sick or vacation) days.

At the other end of the complexity spectrum is the Aegis Home Management System, sold by Home Systems Plus (Owings Mills, MD) with its own software. Jeffery Jerome, vice president of marketing and product development, makes the distinction that while the Aegis offers security system-triggered functions, it allows many other triggers as well (such as sundown, temperature, or A/V command). Jerome is well acquainted with the Aegis system, because he uses it himself on a daily basis.

“I’ve had the system in my home for about four years, and it’s been very reliable,” he says. “The only problem I’ve had with my house is that sometimes X10-controlled lights go on or off unintentionally. But if customers are worried about that, we’ve come out with a hardwired lighting module that takes care of the problem.”

Like the Honeywell Home Controller, the Aegis offers both Web- and phone-based control. But the HSP philosophy differs from that of Honeywell in that the phone interface is more elaborate than the Web page. “You can control the entire system with a cell phone through the voice menu,” says Jerome. He’s found this particularly useful when a service technician has to visit the house. “When the person gets there, I can call into the system and have it disarm the security, turn on the lights, and open the garage door. It’s very convenient. And being able to control and monitor everything remotely also makes it great for vacation homes.”

One feature shared by the Magic Module, the Aegis, and Intella-Home’s installations is the option for voice feedback. Intella-Home actually developed its own X10-controlled voice annunciator, the IntellaVoice, in response to demand from its customers. “We invented IntellaVoice because we found from our installations that people needed feedback,” Vander Wiede says. The IntellaVoice plays up to 32 recorded messages based on X10 signals. “That way people aren’t just sitting there pushing buttons, not knowing what’s going on,” he says. It is also an enhancement to security systems. “A lot of our customers live on the beach,” Vander Wiede says, “and they used to have a problem with people mistaking their boardwalks for public ways. They had strangers ending up in their back yards. With the IntellaVoice interfaced with the security system, if someone is detected coming up the boardwalk they hear a message warning that they’re on private property, and the lights come on inside the house. That usually eliminates the confusion.”

Life Organizer
Jerome’s Aegis voice interface is programmed not only to keep him updated on the status of the home’s systems, but also to help him organize his life. “It tells me to put on a coat when it’s below 40 degrees, it lets me know when the mortgage is due, everyday things like that,” he says.

As is evident from Jerome’s house, there are myriad uses for security-automation interfaces. But how do you convince your client that the technology goes well beyond merely simplifying one’s lifestyle? Vander Wiede says that a security-automation interface makes a home safer in a very tangible way. “For instance, if there’s a fire, the system will unlock the doors, turn on the lights, lock the entry gate open for the fire department, audibly announce that there’s a fire in the house, and turn off the air conditioning to prevent it from spreading.” Clients should be made aware that an automation-capable security system could save them not only time, but potentially their lives as well. As Vander Wiede points out, “This isn’t just king-of-your-castle stuff—it has practical applications as well.”