Whether for security, safety or entertainment, controlled lighting is becoming more and more apparent in homes today.

Published at: Home Technology Magazine | October 2005 | By Brett Griffin

Whether for security, safety or entertainment, controlled lighting is becoming more and more apparent in homes today.

Unlike standard timers that are predictable, a central home control system with lighting control can turn on different lights at different times of the day, and can even calculate the change in sunrise and sunset to give a “lived in” look. Lighting can become as sophisticated as turning on the master bedroom light at 2 a.m., the hall light a few seconds later and the bathroom light for five minutes, and then turning them all off.

A guide to integrating lighting and home control systems for increased security

In designing a home control system for a new or existing home, several layers must be addressed for added security. Lighting is often referred to as the best defense against break-ins. If someone is committing a crime, they are most concerned about being seen. This is the primary reason many break-ins happen in the dark hours of the night.

Illuminate the Perimeter
When installing a central home control system in a client’s home, you must look at several layers of protection. The first is outside the perimeter of the house. To discourage a night break-in, illuminate dark areas of the property. Many homes now have decorative shrubbery, bushes or trees that provide dark spots for perpetrators to hide. Your installation should include ground lighting to take care of these areas. They can be programmed to come on when the home is unoccupied or based on time of day.

Invest in Sensors
The perimeter of the house is where the central home system with security and lighting control really makes sense. Like a security system, all the doors in the home are monitored as a base level of protection. Window sensors, or less-expensive motion sensors, provide a secondary level of protection. Unfortunately, many installers opt out of installing sensors because they often void the warranty of the windows. Motion sensors can be used to turn on floodlights to illuminate exterior areas near the home when motion is detected. By having a control system that communicates with both the lighting and the security system, you now have integration.

Lights can be programmed to illuminate the house if a break-in were to occur — a tactic that could potentially thwart a break-in. Once the door opens, the motion sensor trips, and the control system turns on all lights in the home and starts to flash the front porch light. This way, when authorities arrive, they can locate the home much more quickly. The flashing can only be stopped by disarming the system.

Add Cameras
You may consider integrating cameras with security and lighting systems. One tactic a burglar may use is to case the house over a period of days. For instance, a burglar may pose as a service person, and ring the doorbell several days in succession to determine what times of the day the house is unoccupied. By integrating doorbells into home control systems, the press of a doorbell can trigger several events. First, it can immediately turn on the outside lights. This also is convenient when an unexpected guest arrives. Second, the camera at the front door could begin recording the image for several minutes. Lastly, the system can be configured to call and notify you when someone is at the front door.

For those interested in taking it to the max, you can speak to someone at the front door while observing them on your Windows®-based smart phone or PDA phone. The person at the front door would have no way of knowing whether you are at home or in Tahiti. Talk about fooling the thieves!

Integrate Smoke Detectors
Including lighting control with your installation encompasses much more than the concern of break-ins. It also allows for a safer passage in a home that has caught on fire. If a smoke detector determines there is a fire in a home, the control system can turn on all the lights, allowing an easier escape. Additionally, the control system can shut down the forced air ventilation preventing the spread of smoke around the home, and possibly slowing the spread of the fire by denying it oxygen. Control systems cannot stop the fire, but they can help fight it by starving it or assisting in the safe and speedy exit of the occupants.

Find Additional Applications
In more everyday situations, the existing security sensors of the home can be used for convenience applications. For example, if someone wakes up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or to get a drink from the kitchen, the control system can detect movement and immediately turn on a pathway of lights. The lights remain dim so as not to wake up others in the home, but are bright enough for safe passage.

Additional applications include lighting settings for house parties, romantic evenings and movie nights.

What’s Out There? A look at the available lighting control technologies

Lighting control systems fall into two major categories: hard-wired lighting systems and wireless lighting systems.

Hard-wired lighting systems are typically more expensive because of the degree of prior planning and increased labor involved in installing them. They’re also more difficult, if not nearly impossible, to retrofit, expand, or change in the future. These systems require dedicated high- and/or low-voltage cabling to central systems for load control or remote control of the switches. Because dedicated wiring is frequently upgraded and changed, it makes hard-wired lighting systems difficult to upkeep.

A simpler approach would be to use a wireless lighting system. These systems need no special wiring; however, many do require the neutral to be present at the switch location. The two most common are RF-based and power line carrier (PLC). The RF-based systems have proven their reliability, but are typically more expensive.

Until recently, the only PLC technology used in lighting was X-10, though some manufactures modified the technology to make it more reliable. The technology has been around for several decades and has flaws that many manufactures have done their best to overcome. However, PLC continues to be chosen because of it affordability to the masses.

Now, a new PLC technology has been developed — a successor to X-10 technology that is designed to be reliable and easier to work with. The new technology has been termed Universal Powerline Bus, or UPB. The technology has been so solid that it has been used commercially since 1999 and in residential applications since 2003. Currently, the technology has been licensed by six manufacturers. In addition, five additional manufacturers support the technology, with many more to come in the near future.

The Bottom Line For the professional installation community, central home control systems represent a new and growing opportunity for profit. The key to success in the business is as old as the hills:

* Select a quality product with the best price/performance ratio.
* Learn how to sell it effectively.
* Install with care and respect for the customer’s property.
* Do it often.

Here are some things to look for when selecting products to offer:

Reliability. Your best plans will be spoiled if your profits are consumed by callbacks. Select a system with a record of accomplishment, and be sure that it affords remote maintenance using your office computer. Not only should you be able to download the system’s programs and set-up items, the system should support real-time status monitoring of temperatures, security zones, status of lights and control items, messages and any other system features. Having more information readily available could prevent rolling out to the customer site.

Price. Although pricing is less sensitive in home automation systems than in your common security-only systems, it is still an important consideration that must be observed. Choose a product line with small, medium and large offerings, and enough commonality that you do not have to stock or learn three completely different systems. Be sure the product selected is competitive with other offerings in the marketplace.

Support from the vendor. The “do it often” part means selling many systems and gathering recurring revenue from many customers. Check the vendor’s end-user brochures, sales tools and Web site to be sure that your customer can verify the quality and prominence of the system. See if there is a lead program for referrals generated by the vendor. Follow up on them, since they are often hot leads from customers looking for that exact system.

Flexibility. Choose a system with an easy programming capability and the capacity to connect to other home systems. Bear in mind that flexibility is a double-edged sword and sometimes comes with greater complexity. Look for connectivity partners that vendors have established to select systems that are engineered to be compatible — for example, a home security and automation controller and a touch screen. Many systems can interconnect using serial strings sent via RS-232 or RS-485.

Retrofit capability. Keep retrofit in mind: This is a very profitable and almost no-competition market. Be sure your system can address the retrofit market. Wireless options for security and power line carrier for lighting control ensure that you can install in new or existing homes. Often, selling in an existing home is easier than a home under construction; the job can be completed in a few days without the detailed scheduling often required in a new build.

Network and expansion capacity. For clients with an interest in networking and computers, an Ethernet port on the home automation system allows connectivity to the in-house network, enabling any computer to control the system. Your vendor should offer enough expansion capacity to accommodate new protocols and features as time goes by. Look for an expansion port, expansion bus or other feature that the vendor can add when a new feature is introduced. Internet interface capability. Whether optional as a software package or built into the controller, monitoring and controlling the home over the Internet using Web browser technology is an important feature to have. Systems without it will soon be considered obsolete.

Availability. Getting the parts to install and complete a job is critical. Your vendor, whether a manufacturer or a distributor, should stock everything you need for your job and be able to get it to you quickly. Whether for security, safety or entertainment, controlled lighting is becoming more and more apparent in homes today.

Published in: Home Technology Products, October/November 2004 issue, pgs. 20-22

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