New view on home security; Fences: They continue getting better, and less expensive.


A West Coast security company greets visitors to its Web page with this line from Robert Frost:

"Good fences make good neighbors."

By that logic, neighborly relations should be at an all-time high, because the "fences" available to homeowners continue improving.

Advances in security technology and corresponding decreases in price have changed the home security industry drastically in the past few years.

Homeowners can purchase security products and systems that were geared more toward businesses, such as closed-circuit television systems. And traditional home alarm systems haven't gone out of style, either -- they've been updated with features that accommodate working parents, frequent travelers and those who work out of the home.

"People are beginning to think, 'Not only does technology help my life, but it can make me feel safer,' " said Ann Lindstrom, national manager of corporate communications for ADT Security Services Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla.

Joel Snyder of Owings Mills knows that feeling. Snyder is president of Alarmco Security Systems Inc., a firm that wires and installs security systems for custom homebuilders in the Towson-Pikesville area, particularly Ashley Custom Builders. Snyder's own home has a security system that includes closed-circuit TV.

Through a process called cable modulation, several channels on Snyder's television transmit live images from four cameras inside and outside the house. The sleek cameras, the size and shape of tennis balls or baseballs, are housed in plastic. A camera in the baby's bedroom is equipped with infrared illuminators, allowing the Snyders to keep an eye on their 1-year-old sleeping in a dark room.

"A camera is a pair of eyes where a pair of eyes can't be," said Snyder. "You can't be everywhere at once."

The cameras are also hooked up to the family's VCR; if the cameras' sensors detect motion, they can trigger the VCR to begin recording. Snyder says the decreasing size and cost of closed-circuit TV systems has made them much more attractive to homeowners.

"Cosmetics and cost were factors that discouraged people [from buying them]," he said. "People could put one of those big commercial units outside their home, but that's not real attractive. Now cosmetics is not a factor -- you don't even know it's there -- and cost has come way down."

Cable modulation that adds three channels to home TVs costs about $250, Snyder estimated, and stand-alone cameras cost about $250 each. A control unit for motion-triggered video recording, he says, costs about $200.

Closed-circuit TV systems (CCTV), like security systems in general, can be either "prewired" or wireless. In prewired CCTV systems, wiring for the system is installed as the house is being built. Cameras can be installed at any time afterward. Today, many newly built homes have the necessary wiring for a closed-circuit system, whether their owners are interested in having cameras or not.

ADT, which has offered commercial closed-circuit TV systems for years, introduced CCTV for residential use last year. As can ADT's home alarm systems, its CCTV systems can be adapted to prewired or wireless conditions. Some possible wireless adaptations for security systems include drawing power for CCTV cameras from electrical outlets and using long-life lithium batteries to power motion detectors, said Paul Retzbach, general manager for ADT in Baltimore.

"If you're going into a new home, it's easier to hard-wire the system as the home is being built," Retzbach said. "In an existing home with a finished basement, wireless would make more sense. Wireless is sometimes more expensive, but it depends on the application."

Honeywell Inc.'s Security Products Division offers a hard-wired desktop monitor video system that displays images from other areas of the home. The monitor costs $800 to $1,200 and can accommodate up to four cameras. According to Wendy Kreutzberg, the division's market manager for home security, the system is particularly popular with people who have home offices.

"You can see if the babies are sleeping, if the back door to the pool is closed," she said.

Kreutzberg believes that the popularity of home security systems is evidence of a "cocooner" mentality among Americans. "It's really interesting how people have the need for security when statistics show crime is down. It's more of a sense of control that people feel they need," she said.

"Cocooners are spending more time at home, working out of the home. They want peace of mind."

Lindstrom, on the other hand, sees the advances in home security as a response to the increased amount of travel in people's lifestyles.

"There's a lot of wealth in this country, a lot of very nice homes," she said. "As people are becoming more wealthy and are away more to support that lifestyle, the more [they] want to invest and look out for it."

Many of the newer features of traditional alarm systems reflect the concerns of working parents. Several security companies offer systems that let parents at the office know their child has arrived home safely from school.

Brink's Home Security Inc. of Irving, Texas, recently added a paging feature to its alarm systems. In addition to alerting homeowners about emergencies such as fires or break-ins, the pager has the capability to notify parents that their child made it home.

"If Johnny or Jill comes home and puts in their specific code [to disarm the alarm system,] it lets you know," explained Bruce Goldberg, senior vice president of marketing.

According to Ray Andrathy, director of protective services at Baltimore's Dunbar Alarm Systems Inc., technology is now on the market that allows parents to answer their home doorbell vicariously from work.

"The telephone can alert you at your office if someone rings the doorbell and you don't want the kids to answer it. You can answer it from your office," he reports.

Another trend in the home security industry are innovations that allow homeowners remote access to their security systems. In the past, homeowners generally could turn their systems on and off or modify settings only through the controls inside the home. Now homeowners can access their security systems by telephone or remote control.

Brink's offers a telephone control module that allows any telephone to function as a keypad from which you can control the settings of your security system. "You could be walking on the Great Wall of China and call home to check the status of your system," Goldberg said.

Many companies offer wireless "keyfobs," devices similar to remote controls that allow homeowners to control their systems at the push of a button.

"You can jump in your car and, as you're driving up the road, set your system and turn it on," Andrathy said.

The next step in remote access to home security systems is the personal computer.

Just as some day care centers have installed cameras that parents can access over the Internet from their workplace, technology that will allow homeowners to access images from their home CCTV systems over the Internet is becoming available.

Kreutzberg said Honeywell expects to have the capacity to provide remote computer access to home CCTV systems next year.

Though the technology available to homeowners concerned about security has improved rapidly in recent years, people in the security industry stress that the new products are designed to be operated by the average person and not the "techno-geek."

"I don't want to install any product that's complicated. For most people, just programming their VCR is difficult," Snyder laughed.

One way of making security systems easier and more convenient is integrating them with other systems.

Snyder sees this becoming more and more of a trend, with prewiring including everything from temperature control to in-home computer networks to CCTV.

The lighting, temperature control and security systems in Snyder's home are interdependent. Whenever Snyder turns the alarm system on, the system lowers the temperature setting in the house. If something sets the alarm off, lights turn on, illuminating exits.

"A trend now is to have all the systems in the home integrated, one control panel that basically runs your whole house 24 hours a day," Kreutzberg said.

Although some of the technological advances in home security are rather high-priced for the average homeowner, those in the industry say that will soon change.

Lindstrom says ADT's residential CCTV customers are largely upper-middle-class. However, she believes that the market will broaden as the technology continues to become more affordable.

"CCTV is not going to be a common [thing] for most people necessarily, but I think that'll change," she says. "It's the kind of thing that I think once people get used to having it, it's something they won't want to live without."

"The markets haven't caught up with the technology at this point; it's the old calculator concept," said Dunbar's Ray Andrathy. "When calculators first came out, they cost hundreds of dollars, and now you can get them for $10."

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