Home Security Metal Products
Quality security services in the greater Ottawa Carleton region since 1983
Tel: (613) 737-5955 Cell: (613) 798-3434 Fax: (613) 737-6093
Automation systems, or smart home systems are finally affordable. They suit a variety of different purposes, and range widely in cost. They are almost always designed to a custom need, and so must be taken in this context. The original trend in the 1990s regarding alarm systems is repeating itself. Before then, only high end residences tended to have electronic security measures. At a certain point in time, as prices decreased, they became affordable enough to appeal to middle income homes. This opened the market wide open, and allowed for an immense new opportunity for business people, and home owners alike. Now that alarm systems have proliferated, the growth in this sector is changing. Home automation systems are now approaching this cost threshold where the public at large will likely adopt it in great numbers soon. This will be the next stage in technological evolution, and will bridge all aspects of the home together. This will extend the social revolution that began with the smartphone even further.
Traditionally, such systems were relegated to the high end market only, represented by multi thousand dollar systems, with high quality, albeit proprietary designs. They are typically employed as a means of audio and visual distribution, with a network closet style approach. In other words, a central area in a utility space will house all of the media servers, media players, remote control receivers and the like. This means all the speakers and televisions in a home can be controlled centrally via elaborate wall mounted whole home keypads, or smartphones and tablets as well. All wires hidden, simple and elegant interfaces allow for a very effective aesthetic. These systems are still expensive, still high quality, and as of this writing, represent the most common system out there.
Other, more humble systems coming out of the audio/visual world include universal remote controls. We all tend to have multiple HDMI devices for our TVs these days, with a plethora of different remotes. Companies have made different devices to bridge all of these different remote controls together, simplifying a user experience. Others have designed simple infrared repeaters, infrared distribution systems, and HDMI distrubution systems to allow the hiding of many of these components out of view. This replicates a small portion of the features of the higher end systems. They represent good value, and can be integrated into a more cost effective approach.
There has begun a large change in the security industry, focusing on alarm systems with rudimentary automation features built right in. These hybrid systems tend to integrate environmental and security features very well, and comes at the world of the smart home from a new direction. Lighting, locks, thermostat control are quite well integrated into these systems. Beware this approach however, as many such manufacturers are forcing themselves in as middle men. This ends up bloating the monthly fees to absurd levels! These systems are also as of this writing not capable of integrating audio visual components or other more exotic consumer electronics into a larger holistic design. A modest monthly fee increase is justifiable for any company employing such systems, but as stated elsewhere on this website, add up your monthly costs, installation costs, and occasional service call fees to judge the true expense. Get multiple quotes, and make sure you are comparing apples to apples! The options out there these days are often widely different from one another.
Security companies recognize that dealers everywhere do not have the IP skillsets to effectively sell and install these sometimes complex systems. So there is a growing emphasis on the promotion and growth of such services as alarm.com who effectively do all the home automation control and setup for the dealer. But in doing so, they add an internal monthly fee which must eventually be born by the end user through unnecessarily higher monthly costs.
There have also been a myriad of consumer level 'smart' devices coming onto the market. This "Internet of things" phenomenon is just beginning, and we ought to expect many more start up companies and products available at electronic stores. Many of these companies rush to market due to crowd sourced funding of a new business or product. Often times their design phase or production cycles are behind schedule. Such companies sometimes struggle to meet their commitments to their backers, or distributors. This can sometimes mean at the worst, unfinished or buggy software or questionable network security. At the best, what is usual is a lack of a means of integrating these systems together. What is often lost on these manufacturers is that their products must talk to other such devices, for them to truly shine. The end result is usually a bunch of different devices in a home, all with their own Stand-alone smart phone application. This isn't truly a smart home at all. A consumer should investigate which products have APIs (Application Programmer Interface), or a SDK (Software Developer Kit), or an integrator friendly software approach in general. In layman's terms this means the manufacturer took it upon themselves to make it easy for other manufacturers professionals, users, or software developers to use their products in other ways not necessarily intended by their designers. It's a necessary component for integration into a larger design.
Our approach as a company differs from most professional alarm or automation companies. We employ a mixture of traditional security systems, entry level automation systems, and a large list of peripherals. As such, we can provide a cost effective and holistic approach, where no aspect of home electronics is left without a solution. As best possible, we've been able to work with some of the new consumer level gear on the market as well. We are able to link our automation systems such that they can cleanly integrate both the security and audio/visual worlds. We do this without needing to employ the traditional high end systems that used to be required to do all of this.
It should be noted that the further one goes down this road, the more important their local area network becomes. Quite like explained in the IP Monitoring section of this site, the use of a UPS (Universal Power Supply) is highly recommended. On top of this, a capable and reliable router and modem combination is a must. Without adequately accommodating your network, a home automation platform may be rife with problems. Your professional automation / security professional ought to insist on quality gear, or help you build a better foundation where warranted. Lastly, there are a few key mistakes one can make in not properly securing your network. Other mistakes would include risky behaviour online with unsecured personal computers and web browsers. Good password control and a 'once over' of all the network devices in your home is recommended, with special attention to Windows computers mal-ware protection, and router configurations in mind.
Home automation systems require the use of standards for wireless or wired components. Here's a breakdown;
This is a power-line platform. That means it sends and receives data over the same copper wiring in your electrical system. An old platform, often regarded as somewhat unreliable, but also the domain of the "Do It Yourself" market, which sometimes explains this reputation. Although not employed any longer, many of the automation concepts of lighting or electrical control came from this technology. It is the forebear of all modern automation standards. Retrofitting of older X-10 systems into a new whole home design is often possible.
This is a purely wireless platform. Light switches, plug in modules, thermostats, smart locks, garage door openers are all made to this specification. It is a puritan specification, that insists on cross platform compatibility, making life simple for designing larger systems. This is the current go to choice for most in the security industry, as the components are reliable, predictable, and easy to install. Unlike X-10 or other "power-line" transmission mediums, this pure wireless platform relies on a mesh design. That is to say, that every powered Z-Wave device acts as a repeater as well. (battery operated units excluded) This necessitates occasionally installing more devices in larger homes to allow this 'hopping' effect in some situations.
This is a purely wireless platform. It is similar to Z-Wave in many respects. It has a similar range of products, and has the same mesh design for repeating of signals. It is however most often employed in more proprietary designs, such as high end home automation systems, or for highly specific purposes. It also has higher bandwidth, so can do more, such as transmit data. As such, it is occasionally useful but usually used for converting legacy wired devices to something a home automation system can understand. Or, it's an alternative to Z-Wave that is likely to see greater adoption in years to come.
This is a dual-mesh platform that operates in a wireless fashion and through power lines. It's consumer level, and is often a good alternative to Z-Wave. In many respects it's the direct descendent to X-10. This is being employed by many home automation companies as an approachable platform for integrators and end users alike.
WiFi and Ethernet
WiFi is a hub and spoke wireless platform based upon routers or access points at the centre of the network. Ethernet is the standard for wired network systems. These are not known as a home automation standards, but instead a data medium for internet traffic. Many consumer level devices are made to work with these platforms, as their manufacturers correctly know them to be the most common networks in people's homes by a large margin. As such, many of these devices are direct IP, usually with cloud servers to allow remote access or similar features, and sometimes a local website in the device, local to the network in question. Many home automation systems employ drivers for these IP peripherals, but it often depends on user created plugins, or the cooperation of the manufacturer in question. The most common use of IP systems in home automation is in relation to camera systems. Other things, such as Intercoms or other doorbells, some lock systems, lighting systems and the like will use WiFi, but are targeted strictly to the end user, with varying degrees of support for integration.
There exist many other mediums for connecting devices together. Some of which are quite like the ones described above. Some are very different. Home automation controllers can be made to talk to Infrared devices (audio/visual), RS232 and USB, (Serial ports), Closed-Contact relays (Sprinkler systems, legacy hardware systems), and almost anything under the sun. It's your professional's job to navigate these possibilities for you, and to give you a clear picture of what is possible, what is recommended, and where one might be delving into the unknown. As this is a new approach to this market space and the sheer number of possible devices to integrate are available, it is not possible for a professional to have had direct experience with everything in question but should instead give you realistic expectations when doing something novel.
IP cameras are the way of the future, and are becoming more affordable by the day. Multiple integration methods exist here, with many cameras designed with this in mind. Once cameras are integrated, they can be set to automatically take pictures when an alarm is tripped. They can turn lights on when they detect motion, and they can send notifications of all sorts. Their feed can often be directly fed into the automation controller's smartphone applications, making a one stop shop for viewing and controlling the home. Some older CCTV based camera systems can also be integrated with varying degrees of features.
Many furnaces and air conditioners can be integrated. Most conventional HVAC (Heating, Ventillation, Air Conditioning) systems are compatible with smart home systems. The need to replace the thermostat is usually necessary, as a wireless radio must be added. Once integrated, it can automatically switch to energy saving mode when the alarm system indicates your departure, and return to normal when you come home. It can allow remote control from anywhere, and notify you if it gets too hot or cold in the home. It can shut itself down as a result of a smoke detector tripping, possibly minimizing fire damage for example. Modest energy savings over the long term can be attained through prudent use of these features. It should be understood that we are not HVAC technicians. As such, with furnaces under warranty, it will be required to work with your furnace installation company to install these devices. We will work with them to make it happen.
Lighting systems can be integrated to allow manual control from smartphones and tablets. They come in a variety of wireless platforms, and form factors. They could be rocker style switches for basic on/off. Dimmers are available where light bulb compatibility allows, and some light bulbs have the radios built right in, simplifying installation. Some high end ones even change colour, allowing quite elaborate mood lighting, alarm strobe conditions, and the like. Wall plug in modules are available for floor lamps, as well. Someone's presence can be simulated by randomizing lights when the system is armed. This effect can be turned off at a certain hour, so as to be realistic. Lights can turn on and off based on timers and the day/night cycle, triggered by a door opening, or a camera or motion detector sensing someone's presence. The Play/pause button on certain media players can even turn on or off the lights, to provide a very cool home theatre experience. Depending on the situation, modification of electrical systems may be necessary. It should be noted that we are not electricians, and some situations will require working with an electrician to do some of the installation work. We will work with them to make it happen.
Most of what an alarm system can accomplish is detailed in other pages on this site. In relation to home automation systems, it comes down to compatibility. Not all alarm systems can be integrated into smart home design, although most of them can. Some extremely old ones can even be made new again. For example, the latest line from DSC - the Neo series of panels - has an encrypted keybus (unlike their older versions) which makes compatability with third party IP communicators impossible (using the self serving excuse that they are worried about the security of an open bus)
When integrated within the alarm, the sensors attached become dual purpose. They can also trigger lighting, email or other push notifications to phones. They can cause cameras to take pictures, and many other features. Having access to all of this information on the smart phone allows for intelligent decision making when an alarm is triggered. Then you know whether or not to tell the monitoring company whether or not the authorities should be called, or whether or not it's just new cleaning lady having difficulties. Being able to verify the alarm cuts down on needless false alarm police tickets, and can speed up police response as well, when they are told that camera feed can see someone in the home. The alarm states, such as Away or Stay can also determine many other things. Locks can lock themselves when exit delays finish, and parents can get notifications on their phones whenever their kids come and go. Likewise, in some circumstances the home might automatically know when an authorized user is coming home, and unlock the door, turn itself off, and modify the thermostat settings without the user even needing to do anything.
Many stand-alone automation systems are advertised as alternatives to a monitored alarm. They tend to have expensive and lower quality sensors, and put the entire shoulder of responsibility on cell phones and their users. When combined with a monitored alarm, you get back up systems, greater control, and much cheaper and higher quality sensors. This combination provides a very rich user experience, as nothing beats the reliability of a professionally monitored alarm, and nothing beats the features of an automation system.
Locks and Garage Door Openers
By now most people have seen locks with keypads on them and motors to lock and unlock the bolt. They are convenience features to allow key-less entry. You can give a code to a neighbour without needing to loan them a key, for example. Now, these locks can also contain radios to integrate into alarms and automation systems. This means when a lock is unlocked, it can immediately turn off the alarm system among other things, and send customized notifications. Each key code in the alarm and lock can match, allowing a home owner to know who is coming and going. Locks can lock themselves on schedule to prevent someone from forgetting, or when an alarm is armed. Manual control over these locks remotely via smartphone is trivial, and can allow remotely allowing someone entry into the home. These can also be triggered manually by certain intercom systems, making them backwards compatible with some older access control methods. A variety of manufacturers and finishes are available, with a range of costs.
Garage door openers can be integrated. We've long had wireless transmitters which trigger them, to allow a user to open them from the car. Similar devices can be added which integrate into the smart home. Notifications can be sent if the door is left open too long. Doors can be closed on arming of alarm systems, via schedule, or anything else. A single button on a smartphone can simultaneously open the garage door, turn off the alarm, send notifications to responsible parties, and turn on the lights for you in an instant.
Media Players and Television
Some media player software and entire television set ups can be integrated. Notifications on the television screen when certain events can take place, keeping a user in the loop of what else is occurring in the home. Lighting control can be added, to provide a real home theatre experience. Heating, lock control, and alarm arming stay mode can be influenced to make sure certain things are in play while you are engrossed in your movie. Turning on a light in the basement theatre room can automatically turn on the audio/visual equipment and prepare everything for viewing.
Certain sound systems can be integrated to double as annunciators to system events. Some of which are also available for theatre 3.1 or 5.1 systems. For example, speakers can speak in plain English a greeting to someone who comes home, or could notify someone in a far off part of a larger home when the kids have arrived. It could create loud alerts to alarm trips or entry delays, and warn would be intruders away. Specific internet radio channels can be played when the system is armed, to simulate someone's presence in the home when no one is home.
The most challenging aspect to home automation is the proper choice and installation of a gateway. The heart of a home automation system, this is the device that will bring all the various devices in a home together. Once integrated, any device may directly influence any other device in the system, even if they weren't designed to talk to one another, and employ radically different communication methods. Usually large ecosystems of applications exist for these systems, to allow all sorts of extra software features to the hardware you already have. Usually multiple applications for smartphones and tablets such as Android, iOS and others exist as well to choose from, amplifying the software available to you yet again. A generalists tool, these gateways are often rough around the edges, as their designers can not hope to anticipate how these products will be used. The basic features will be well streamlined, but some of the more exotic hardware drivers are made by the user community.
Gateways come in a number of varieties. As stated, some are built directly into the alarm systems themselves, allowing the alarm keypad to act as a home automation keypad as well. These tend to be simplistic but effective. They usually employ greater use of cloud based services, offloading much of the processing to remote servers. These sorts of systems are going to be the most common employed by security professionals as they simplify the programming and work load. The cloud services will add a large addition to the monthly fee beyond what we would charge for our own services. They are however often very pretty as well. Most major alarm manufacturers are quickly developing their next platforms to be these cloud based security/automation hybrids.
Many gateways are very expensive, and are related to the high end market already mentioned. These are the best quality, highest feature sets, and capable of integrating the most devices.
Other gateways are entry level which when integrated with an alarm system offer the best of all possible worlds. The quality sensors as found in a monitored alarm system, mixed with great smart phone control and ability to integrate audio/visual systems make this the ideal choice for most people. This is where we as a company choose to operate.
Smart Home Monitoring Service
We offer a premium service with accounts for everything discussed above and more as time moves on. We ask for an addition of $9.95 plus tax to the regular monitoring fee. This is to pay for the significant upfront extra time that will be required to design and build a custom system for our clients. On-going support is available to accommodate seasonal or other programming changes, and to help do research on our client's behalf in terms of what else might be integrated. Warranties are subject to parts and labour, which will usually be 1 year on most automation equipment.
We will install and maintain these systems to the same level of dedication we have towards our alarm monitoring service, except that this is value added and geared towards luxury features at affordable prices on parts and our time.