Growing Integration in Home Automation and Home Security

"Smart home" systems represent one of the hottest trends in residential home security, market research from Security Info Watch indicates. The cost of home automation is falling at the same time consumers are demanding more ability to control their homes remotely via mobile phones and devices.

Meanwhile, residential sales accounted for 40 percent of the $2.7 billion global market in intruder alarm sales in 2012, notes IMS Research. The trend is accelerating fastest with single-family units in North America and Europe, while the multi-family apartment market in places such as Asia and the global business sector await industry standardization. Forecasters predict the residential market will continue expanding at an annual growth rate of 5.3 percent by 2017.

As automated residential alarm systems become increasingly available and affordable, consumers need to know what to look for. It's important to consider technological features, payment plans and customer service issues when investing in a system.

Where Automation Meets Home Security

Integrated home automation systems can potentially bundle security with many other features for remote home management. To envision the potential, imagine using your cell phone to activate your home alarm the same way you would remotely lock your car door. Now, imagine your smartphone could not only control your fire and burglar alarms, but also view security cameras in your house, as well as control your heating, air conditioning, lights, and shades.

Some systems can even activate automatic pet feeders or "domestic robots" that perform chores. Imagine vacuuming your house at the click of a button while you're driving home from work so that your floor is clean just in time for your dinner guests. Other robots can clean your cat's litter box for you. Security robots can patrol your home, and text you alerts if there is suspicious activity.

In-Demand Features

Of course, not all home automation systems include all these features, and security companies offer a variety of options — it's up to you to do the research. You might only be interested in an alarm system you can activate remotely. Or, you might want to combine your security system with other home automation features. Providers increasingly offer a range of customization. When shopping, it helps to know what options are available.

One consideration is what type of mobile device you will be using to activate your system. If you'll only be using one or two devices, you may be able to go with a package that only supports these options. Other consumers may want a full range of options, including cellular, broadband, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, or Bluetooth.

Geolocation is another important feature. By remotely linking your mobile device's location to your home security panel, your system can send you an alert if you travel beyond a set geographic range. This can be a useful reminder if you tend to forget to arm your security system. For convenience, some services also enable you to automatically activate your alarms if you travel outside the predetermined range.

Energy management is another increasingly popular feature. With this option, you can pre-program your house to make your thermostat kick in at a certain time, turn your lights on at night to make it look like you're home, or open your shades when your plants need light. You can also manually turn off that light you forgot about when you were rushing off to work.

Other features enable you to do things such as let the baby-sitter in when you're not home, let your dog out to the backyard, or open your garage door.

Last but not least are security-specific features. These can include presence simulation automation, intrusion detection sensors, surveillance cameras, blind controls, intruder alarms, alarms for fires and gas and water leaks, and medical alerts.

Payment Plans

Payment plans vary based on features included, type of monitoring device, and whether you pay up-front or via subscription. Basic alarm systems currently average around $200 to $300 for the hardware, while premium packages run higher. Cellular alarm monitoring is more reliable than phone line or broadband, and therefore slightly more expensive, averaging $30 to $50 a month versus $20 to $40. Some plans charge for equipment up front. Others provide it free or at a discount by building costs into subscription fees. Some companies are moving to eliminate monthly fees in favor of up-front installation.

Getting Past the Installation Hurdle

Industry representatives report the biggest barrier to consumers investing in home automation is actually not price, but technological intimidation at the prospect of having to replace wall switches and configure security software. If you're not inclined to do it yourself, make sure you choose a provider who offers to work within your technological comfort zone. Additionally, whatever your technical capability, make sure to choose a vendor with a reputation for good maintenance and support.

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