||New Security Systems Keep Homeowners Plugged In
Tarik Celebi takes his home security system with him to work, to dinner, just about anywhere he carries his cellphone.
By phone, he "arms" his home-security alarm from his car before he leaves for work -- no need to punch buttons on a keypad and hustle out the door before the alarm goes off.
During his workday, he gets e-mail alerts every time his front door opens, even though he's miles away.
If the door opens at an unusual time -- say midday when no one should be coming or going -- he can order up a 30-second video clip from the camera that watches the door. If it's just his mother-in-law getting a package delivery, no worries.
Even when Celebi is at home, his alarm system keeps him more aware of what's going on in and around the home, he says.
When seated downstairs, he can adjust the temperature of the baby's room upstairs, from his smartphone. If the doorbell rings and he's busy in another room, he can quickly see who's at the door via a wireless tablet that goes with the system. If he brings in groceries and forgets to close the garage door, his system lets him know.
Celebi, 33, a resident of the San Francisco suburb of Dublin, is a cutting-edge user of the latest features of home-security systems.
In addition to sounding alarms when intrusions occur and notifying homeowners or police, as traditional systems do, the interactive features give users new ways to remotely control their systems and their home environment.
Market leaders, such as ADT, Protection 1 and Vivint, are pushing the interactive systems. But the area is drawing a slew of new investment from cable and telephone companies, including Comcast and AT&T, too. They're adding home security and management to their menu of services.
While every company's system may be different, the interactive features generally allow users to:
Manage Systems Remotely
With traditional home-security alarms, homeowners typically turn them on before they leave their homes.
The interactive systems enable consumers to arm and disarm systems from smartphones, iPads and PCs, no matter where they are. That's useful to unlock the door to let in the pet sitter, for instance, and to make sure the system is turned back on after he or she leaves. No need to give out keys or alarm-system codes.
Nationwide, about 20% of homes have home-security systems. About half stop using them because they tire of the hassle, says Peter Rogers, co-founder of the Virginia-based FrontPoint Security.
Being able to arm systems even while dashing to the subway or while at work will increase their usage, says Eric Taylor, vice president of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Bay Alarm.
Get More, or Less, Data
Most traditional systems are set up to sound an alarm if doors or windows are opened. The interactive systems give homeowners more options. On the websites of their home-security providers, for instance, users elect when they want to be notified.
For instance, they might want an e-mail or text every time a door is opened, or only during the hours of 3 to 4 p.m., when kids come home from school.
Like Celebi, they can add cameras and get video clips when doors open. That could be helpful in making sure kids aren't bringing friends home when they're not supposed to.
Celebi gets three or four e-mail alerts a day. He's programmed his system to alert him every time the front door opens. He could do more, asking for alerts every time someone went upstairs, for instance. Motion sensors detect movement inside parts of his house by anything in excess of 80 pounds.
"You don't want to be bombarded," he says.
Bay Alarm customer Steve Dettlinger, of Alamo, Calif., has, only half-jokingly, warned his boys, ages 11 and 13, that it will be hard to sneak out at night when they get older.
He's programmed his interactive system to chime anytime the front or back door opens, even if the system is disarmed. "We've used it as a warning shot across the bow," Dettlinger, 46, says.
Control the Environment
Many of the systems enable users to remotely turn lights on and off. That could confuse a thief looking for empty homes. The systems also enable users to adjust thermostats to reduce energy use or warm up rooms, or program the lights to go on when the system is disarmed so no one walks into a dark house.
Celebi's system also includes carbon monoxide and heat/smoke detectors.
The interactive features, industry executives say, could push home-security system penetration rates closer to 30%, which would be a big movement for an industry that's been largely stuck at 20% for the past decade.
"We all know it's going to get bigger. We just don't know how long it's going to take," Rogers says.
The new functions add costs to home security. Typically, they'll add about $10 a month to a baseline home-security contract of $35 to $45 a month, says James Krapfel, industry analyst with Morningstar.
Broadly speaking, costs for interactive systems, with a couple of cameras, now run less than $1,000, with monthly costs ranging from $30 to $60, says Michael Barnes, a consultant to the security alarm industry. Three-year contracts are typically required.
Celebi's ADT Pulse, installed by ADT dealer California Security Pro, is more involved than the average. With four cameras, three motion detectors, two thermostats and a garage door lock system, it ran $2,100 and costs almost $60 a month, Celebi says.
ADT says almost one in three of its direct residential customers chose ADT Pulse in the last three months of last year, up from 14% in the same quarter a year before. It started rolling it out in late 2010.
FrontPoint's systems are wireless, so there's no need to drill holes in walls or run installation wire. Consumers also install them. FrontPoint works with customers by phone to design where cameras and motion sensors go. It then programs the system and sends out the equipment.
Tips on Home-Security Systems:
There are thousands of security companies to choose from, including big and small players. If you're shopping for an interactive system, here are some questions that industry experts suggest asking:
• Are there any hidden fees? Some companies advertise free basic equipment -- such as door sensors and motion detectors -- but their activation fees wipe out any savings. Some companies also advertise low-price systems that are really too small to do the job. The extra cost to add the needed equipment can be substantial.
• How much of the system works off cellular networks vs. traditional telephone lines or the Internet? With systems that are cellular-based, or at least have cellular coverage as a backup, they'll continue to work even if thieves cut phone and Internet lines. (Alarm systems have backup battery power so they keep working even if the power goes out.)
• Does the system have 24/7 professional monitoring? That means dedicated personnel in a dispatch center who monitor systems around the clock and alert homeowners to problems and, if needed, call the police. Some companies sell security systems that don't include professional monitoring.
• What length contract is required? Typically, companies require customers to sign up for three to five years. As with cellphone service, there are early-termination fees. They vary by company and by state.
• How much does a maintenance call cost? Free maintenance isn't necessarily part of your monthly bill. Find out how much a home-maintenance visit costs.
(Source: USA Today, 03/26/13)
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