Home Automation Primer for Locksmiths

Jan. 4, 2021
You should be aware of the differences and benefits among stand-alone, centralized and integrated products.

To homeowners, home automation often represents luxury, convenience, prestige and technological progressiveness. Through a plethora of sensors and other enhancements, such as lighting, intrusion detection, entertainment and video cameras, the environment of an average home can be transformed quickly in any number of ways and managed via smartphone app. This is the so-called smart home.

To security professionals, which include locksmiths, the prospect of installing home-automation systems might invoke visions of more money than they typically realize by installing mechanical locks on a few doors. Unfortunately, this is cash that so many choose to leave sitting on the table.

“We added Z-Wave devices to our lineup, and it was then that everything took off, and we literally couldn’t keep up,” says Todd Fitch, CEO of SIS Marketing in Georgetown, Texas. “The three devices that changed the game and we still see the most are cameras, thermostats and door locks. Fast-forward five years, and now, on a much larger scale, we are seeing more and more commercial and property-management companies gravitate towards these same solutions in large high-rises, apartment complexes and office parks.”

Home-automation systems no longer are just a dream for many. Lower prices allowed more people to add home-automation components. In addition, according to researcher Parks Associates, 20 percent of U.S. broadband households are interested in smart-home solutions to manage energy use, costs and comfort because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of these reasons and more make home automation a great investment for end users and the security professionals who sell and install it.

There’s no way to cover home automation in depth in a single story. We’ll cover the basics, so you have a rudimentary foundation on which to build a more extensive understanding. Let’s begin by outlining the three distinct levels or approaches to home automation that are employed in the average home. They are:

  • Stand-alone
  • Centralized
  • Integrated

Stand-alone Products

Stand-alone home automation involves individual devices that have the capability to perform specific functions within a home. Each operates on its own without the benefit of any other device. Some might have the capability to “talk” to one another, which could lead to an integrated solution — and more income for you — later.

A slew of products on the market fall into this category, many of which are available from security distributors. These products provide benefits associated with the control of lighting, temperature control, communications, water detection, entertainment and more. Some of these stand-alone devices can be included in a unified home-automation platform either through a centralized head-end or by the integration method.

Possibly the most common stand-alone home-automation device is an electronic lock. According to Parks Associates, the smart-electronic-lock market is expected to reach $352 million by the end of 2023.

Many of these locks use a number of wireless technologies, which allows you to integrate them with other products in the home. So, the single, stand-alone solution you sell today can be incorporated in a larger system in the future, thus providing an additional opportunity to sell your clients more protection later.

Another area considered to be stand-alone is environmentally oriented devices, such as temperature, water detection and power loss. A good example of this is the EnviroAlert Eight Zone IP Network Console, EA800-ip, manufactured by Winland Electronics. The console actually might be considered a data logger, working in conjunction with a variety of 12 wireless/wired sensors that include temperature, humidity, water, gas and pressure.

The console can operate in stand-alone mode, or it can be monitored remotely by a conventional alarm panel, home-automation control system or a cloud-based platform that features Big Data analysis through a Software as a Service (SaaS) online offering.

Other products feature limited interaction with a remote cloud-based SaaS. One example is that of an IP-enabled doorbell camera. For a low monthly fee, the manufacturers of these products provide cloud storage of video clips that take place before, during and after movement is detected at or near a door.

Two other examples are the Amazon Echo and the Google Home Assistant, both of which, have the capability to interact with Google Nest thermostats. In years past, the best you could hope for was the ability to schedule reductions and increases in home temperature based on day-of-the-week and hour-of-the-day criteria. These stand-alone thermostats can be integrated with a centralized home-automation system.

Centralized Platforms

The second method of home automation — centralized — relies on a specific platform for command and control. Examples include the Honeywell Home Lynx Touch 7000, the Resideo ProSeries Platform and the Control4 platform.

Many opportunities exist for centralized home-automation solutions built on a basic platform to which other products connect by using a variety of wired and wireless means.

From the manufacturing side, according to George Janelis, channel marketing manager at Resideo, “We’re focused on providing solutions that can deliver on the needs of our customers and homeowners, which is why we offer an all-in-one platform that combines security, life safety and smart home control.”

Resideo has an expandable platform that allows the security pro to scale a client’s home security, providing just the right degree of control required to fulfill the client’s demands. In the case of Resideo, “security professionals can meet those needs best if they have a scalable, modular design that can adapt and adjust as the family’s needs change over time,” Janelis says.

Many of today’s security systems are designed to accommodate home-control functions when a client expresses an interest. These systems are capable of communicating with home-automation components through a variety of technologies, such as Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, near field communication and Bluetooth.

“I have Control4 in my personal house and use it to test new ideas and features before selling them to prospective clients,” says Ryan Miller, director of operations with RM Integrations of Milton, Florida. “I have routines that play announcements when the mailbox is opened, and certain lighting scenes happen based upon whose code is entered into the door lock. We have a goodnight scene for our daughter’s room that plays a lullaby when she goes to bed. My next project is a gate system that will do different functions based upon whose vehicle remote is used to open it.”

Control of lighting, cameras, music and other home-automation elements can be achieved by schedule or by an event, often referred to as a “trigger.” The activation of security and life-safety sensors can act as a trigger to any number of critical home-control functions.

“The security aspect of our customer-built smart-home solutions is the focus point for 90 percent of our clientele,” says Christopher Poole, security alarm technician with ASI Solutions of Charleston, S.C. “Each automation device we offer interacts with the main components of the security system. This, in turn, gives the customer the availability to create a smart-home ecosystem built for safety and convenience.”

Common home-control functions that homeowners enjoy through a unified command and control includes:

  • Heating and cooling
  • Lighting
  • Gate control
  • Door access
  • Entertainment
  • Security cameras
  • Doorbell cameras

“In the event that a fire breaks out, not only will the system alert the proper authorities, but it can also be built to assist you in getting you and your family out safely by incorporating smart lights, locks and thermostats,” Poole says.

In addition, it’s possible to detect a broken or leaking water pipe, which can act as a trigger to an electronically controlled solenoid water valve, thus shutting off the water supply. Without this arrangement, an average home could experience thousands of dollars in flooding damage.

Integrated Solutions

Finally, an integrated home-automation system is what you’d expect — an interconnected system where devices can be added and communicate with each other without having a centralized command unit.

Being a locksmith, you probably already know the benefits of having electronic locks. For review, they include:

  • Ease of programming
  • Rapid keyless entry
  • Local smartphone interaction
  • Remote access and control

From a home-control point of view, in most cases, electronic locks have Z-Wave communications, which figures heavily in a home’s automation potential. Through Z-Wave mesh radio, it’s possible to integrate dissimilar devices, so they constitute an integrated system. The benefits grow as devices are added. This is where a cloud-based service comes into play, such as Alarm.com.

Alarm.com offers energy management through control and automation of lighting and appliances, thermostats and energy-monitoring devices,” says Jake Voll, president of SS&Si Dealer Network. “The platform also allows control and automation of garage doors, locks, water valves and irrigation. These events can be triggered by geolocation, security and environmental sensors and even video analytics.

A Z-Wave Hub, for example, can create programmed scenes so when there’s a specific trigger, such as the locking of a Z-Wave door lock, lights can be turned on or off, dimmed or brightened automatically, draperies can be pulled shut or opened automatically and more.

According to Voll, you can set automations based on alarm status and events. In addition, you can trigger automations based on video analytics. For example, if someone were detected walking to the front door, the porch light could turn on automatically.

Schedules also can be created so lighting can be activated at certain times, dimmed later in the evening or turned off altogether at a certain hour. A mobile app provides the interface for programming, receiving sensor data and controlling Z-Wave devices on- and off-site.

Some hubs also provide a geofencing feature where an enabled mobile device detected outside a designated geographical boundary will alert the homeowner through text and email, using push notification, for example.

Z-Wave light bulbs provide dimming and on-or-off functionality, and some even act as radio repeaters as part of a Z-Wave mesh network within a home. Thermostats for heating and cooling also come equipped with Z-Wave communications, which allows the head-end home-automation platform to schedule temperature changes based on day, time or events. Receptacles and light switches also come with Z-Wave communication, as well as garage-door controls and handheld controllers.

No matter on what level you decide to enter the diverse and profitable world of home automation, it will take time and effort to move from mechanical locks to sophisticated electronic systems. If you’re starting from scratch, you might connect with a distributor to see what it stocks and what educational opportunities it can provide. Attend training — factory or distributor-offered sessions — and then offer these products to your customers. Always look for opportunities to sell subscription-based services, because in many cases, if you don’t, someone else will!

Allan B. Colombo is a longtime trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. Contact him at [email protected], 330-956-9003 or www.tpromocom.com.