The Locksmith’s Place in Today’s Smart Home Revolution

Nov. 1, 2016
Every electronic lock, alarm system, motion detector, door and window sensor, temperature limit detection device can be incorporated into a home automation system.

Home Automation, also referred to as Smart Home technology, is becoming one of the hottest trends in today’s consumer marketplace. The purpose or mission behind the drive for automated homes is really quite simple.

First, “Home automation gives you access to control devices in your home from a mobile device anywhere in the world” (What is home automation and how does it work?, SafeWise, Second, it contributes to the overall comfort level of a home. And third, it provides a higher level of safety and security for all concerned.

No matter how it’s defined, no matter who defines it, today’s automated   home spells OPPORTUNITY for Locksmiths.

In this Locksmith Ledger story, we’ll discuss several areas in which you as a locksmith can become involved. The training and the equipment are there for the taking. The question is: “Will you rise to the occasion?”

Historical: Where We’ve Been

In the early days before home automation became a well-known commodity, the magic phrase was “Remote Control.” At this level control was local only and a good example of it was the ordinary television remote--far larger and heavier than the one we use today no doubt. Through a single hand-held, radio-frequency (RF) device, the beholder could change the channel and turn the volume level up and down.

Another example was the X10 line of home control electrical products (  X10, which is still in use today, offers a wide array of control modules that allow the homeowner to control small appliances, lights, and a myriad of other devices all of which use electricity to power them. For example, X10 offers a hand-held radio frequency (RF) control unit that provides the wireless control of up to 16 electrical devices in the home. Again, operation at this level is local only, but it still offers the homeowner the convenience of controlling virtually any small to mid-size electrical device in or outside the home without getting up from the couch, out of bed, or from a reading chair to manually do it, which offers a huge incentive for more affluent consumers to buy.  

The second level of home control is where the homeowner can affect lighting, entertainment equipment, fans, and other devices from afar--like on vacation in Cancun. For many years as well as today, it’s been the ordinary hardline telephone service that provides the connection from a remote control location to the  home. This data transmission or signaling method uses the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to send and receive data.

As mentioned earlier, the subsystems in these early home control systems worked independent of one another. In due time engineers and system designers created the means whereby a limited amount of interaction was possible through the use of relays. Thus, when one subsystem changed state, a signal was sent to another  by switching a relay.

In due time, simple microcomputer-based processing applications were devised that made it possible to control two or more subsystems. Although there were many attempts to create a common interface for multiple subsystems, most of them were narrow in scope and impossible to manufacture in mass quantities.

The Automated Side of Home Control

In the early 1990s, yesterday’s home control with limited automation gave way to a much higher level of automation where almost any subsystem in the home could be interconnected. Now operation of multiple subsystems involves more than simple home control, but rather a means of automation never before known.

Now, the homeowner can schedule, create programmed event-oriented scenes using multiple outputs, as well as remotely access user logs, affecting alarm functions, and other feats never known before. Best of all, using established software he can control almost every aspect of the  home using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet, as well as other kinds of mobile devices.

 “The term may be used for isolated programmable devices, like thermostats and sprinkler systems, but home automation more accurately describes homes in which nearly everything -- lights, appliances, electrical outlets, heating and cooling systems -- are hooked up to a remotely controllable network. From a home security perspective, this also includes your alarm system, and all of the doors, windows, locks, smoke detectors, surveillance cameras and any other sensors that are linked to it” (What is home automation and how does it work?, SafeWise,

One of the reasons why electronic security has become such an integral part of the home automation scene relates to the centralization of home security and the need to consolidate duplication of function and the hardware that makes it possible. In a word, every motion detector, door and window sensor, temperature limit detection device, and others become the eyes, ears, hands, and legs of a growingly smart, high-tech electronic home automation system.

Home automation and the advent of the “Smart Home” includes “security.” Therefore Locksmiths enjoy a somewhat natural connection to these systems, beginning with the locks and other hardware that attach to the “doors” in a home especially when electronic locks are employed. This has led the industry to create “third-party services” that center on the homeowner's security system, environmental-related equipment, and the mobile devices the  homeowners carry with them everywhere they go.

The plus for progressive, forward-looking locksmiths who venture into this side of home automation is the fact that not only will you receive a monthly fee by the homeowner for central station monitoring (CSM), but now you’ll realize an additional monthly stipend for the interactive connection these or other third-party companies offer where it comes to the control of their indoor and outdoor lighting; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, video cameras, and more.  

Two services that immediately come to mind are Honeywell's Connected Home ( and (

Honeywell, for example, offers a service that combines home automation with remote control. For clients who already have a Honeywell Vista alarm panel in place, the Vista Automation Module (VAM) is designed to include the Vista in a larger smart home system. The VAM essentially allows you to build a smart home around a security client’s alarm system. It has a built-in web server and a video controller for Internet-connected features. It provides Z-wave device control with email verification using 802.11 routers encrypted for WEP, WPA, and WPS. For more information on the VAM, go to:

Electronic Locks: the Locksmith’s Path to Home Automation

Electronic locks are a great way for locksmiths to enter the home automation market. These locks are designed to lock and unlock using either an electric solenoid or a small motor-driven assembly. Other than that, electronic locks are specifically made to replace ordinary deadbolt and knob-and-key locks. Thus, the challenge associated with installing this product involves the wireless communication channels that connect them to the homeowner’s mobile devices, whether the client is standing outside the front door, lying in bed, or on a trip thousands of miles away. There wireless devices makes it possible for the client to manage his home from anywhere in the world where there’s either an internet or cellular 4G connection.

Electric locks are made today that require a variety of RF data transmission methods. This includes 802.11, ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth. There’s a fourth communication technology, but it’s not necessarily relevant to this story and that is Near Field Communications (NFC)

The first one, technically referred to as 802.11 ‑ also called WiFi--is designed to link computers, smartphones, IoT (Internet of Things) devices, and other Internet-related equipment to the Internet. Through WiFi, some electronic locks can communicate with a burglar alarm control panel as well as any number of other subsystems in the house.

In most cases you can continue using the homeowner’s own WiFi router, which is also referred to as an “access point.” The access point in some systems may also be a special, proprietary device. In both cases, whether it’s the homeowner’s own WiFi unit or an access point provided by someone else, both of them connect to the Internet through a modem. Because both methods are wireless, there is no need for Ethernet cable. The effective distance between an electric WiFi lock and the router or access point is between 150 and 300 feet.

 “A general rule of thumb in home networking says that Wi-Fi routers operating on the traditional 2.4 GHz band reach up to 150 feet (46 m) indoors and 300 feet (92 m) outdoors. Older 802.11a routers that ran on 5 GHz bands reached approximately one-third of these distances. Newer 802.11n and 802.11ac routers that operate on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands vary in the reach similarly,” says Bradley Mitchell, wireless networking expert with “Physical obstructions in homes such as brick walls and metal frames or siding reduce the range of a Wi-Fi network by 25% or more.” (

Bluetooth is another communication protocol that electronic lock manufacturers often use for data communications. Not only will it link your lock to the client’s smartphone (outside the door), but it also will link the lock to other devices and systems in the home. The effective range of Bluetooth is an average of 30 feet, but that distance can be extended using a mesh transmission format that enables specific devices to also act as a repeater.

Some security panels actually use Bluetooth technology between an installer’s smartphone or tablet and an electric lock for programming. One example where this technique is used for installer programming is the Qolsys line of products. Revolution and Qolsys;as well as DMP, Honeywell, DSC, and others; also allow their subscribers to use smartphone mobile connections for viewing alarm data, camera images, and general alarm system control.

Z-Wave and ZigBee Communications

Although WiFi and Bluetooth are used by a select few in the industry, the two most popular means of communications is that of Z-Wave and ZigBee. Today, thermostats are made that use both  Z-wave and  ZigBee radio communications to sync with the homeowner’s alarm control panel. Using a smartphone broadband link, the homeowner can adjust the temperature of their home in real time. They also can use the same communication channel to program the set points in the HVAC system by schedule or event.

Both ZigBee and Z-wave connectivity also provide user control of electrified door locking hardware, which is where a trained and seasoned locksmith comes into the picture. In fact, this connection, along with the alarm control panel, allows the end user to use his or her smartphone to unlock a door when arriving home and to lock it while signaling the alarm to arm it.

Remote control over doors and general security also is a handy feature to have when a serviceman arrives at the door to do some work and no one is there to let him in. The smartphone connection allows the client to disarm the alarm system and unlock the door. If cameras are present, the client may also be able to watch the service man to assure that he does what he’s suppose to do without entering private areas of the home, such as a bedroom.

Both  Z-wave and  ZigBee radio signals have an effective range of approximately 30 feet, which is identical to that of Bluetooth. But what makes these technologies slightly different is the fact that powered devices that use these technologies are able to retransmit all Z-Wave/ZigBee signals within the same space. As mentioned earlier, this technique is referred to as “mesh radio technology.”  In this regard, 30 feet can easily be extended to 150, 300, or more, which will depend on the number of powered devices in the home. And with Internet connectivity, this distance is almost limitless.

No matter how you do it, finding one or two ways to enter the Smart Home era is a smart thing to do. By participating in smart home installation projects you and your technicians are bound to absorb valuable information in other areas of the project, such as security and video surveillance. Don’t wait too long before you decide that it’s the right thing to do.