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On Guard: Next-Generation Home-Security Systems

Today’s home-security systems make it easier than ever before to keep track of your property while you’re away. Thanks to wireless technology, you now can monitor and control your system from your smartphone or your computer.

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Bill Frymire/Masterfile

Staying connected has become a way of life in the smartphone age. So it’s no surprise that home-security-system providers have joined the wireless party by introducing free applications that turn your smartphone into a remote control for your home-security system.

Consequently, home-security systems are no longer a one-way street of communication. Now you can “talk back” to your home-security system via your smartphone or a computer to arm or disarm the system automatically, among other commands. In short, the addition of remote-control capabilities to home-security systems is the first step toward what the industry hopes will transform the system into a nerve center that can help you to manage other elements of your home, such as energy use.

REMOTE POSSIBILITIES. Now that the latest home-security systems allow you to operate them remotely, you also can lock and unlock doors, get email alerts when security sensors are tripped, view live video feeds of your home, turn lights off and on, or even adjust the thermostat for your home’s heating and cooling system. In addition, these home-security systems allow you to program them to do things automatically, such as unlock the front door at a set time each day—when your child comes home from school, so he/she doesn’t have to carry a key or remember a code.

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Remote-control and home-automation functions for security systems have been around since 2006, but what’s new is that the home-security industry now uses a standard wireless technology—called Z-Wave—for home-security hardware. The result is that home-security systems that have remote-control and home-automation capability are available to consumers in low-cost preset packages instead of just expensive customized systems. The first preset models that have Z-Wave capability arrived in 2010.

You can pay as little as $199 to get a home-security system that features Z-Wave capability. That’s at least $800 less than what you would pay for a customized system that has remote-control or home-automation capabilities.

The technology has two disadvantages, however. First, if you want to use the system to remotely or automatically control your door locks or thermostat, you’ll have to upgrade those items, too. You’ll pay at least $199 for a door lock and at least $99 for a thermostat that works with Z-Wave. Second, monthly monitoring costs are higher (at least an extra $10 per month) for systems that take advantage of Z-Wave capability. That’s because home-security-service companies are trying to recoup added costs, such as new monitoring equipment, and upgraded technology, such as Web servers and apps that aren’t necessary for traditional monitoring. For instance, the $69-per-month monitoring fee that Vivint charges for its least expensive Z-Wave-oriented system is twice as much as what you’d pay in monthly monitoring costs for comparable models that don’t have Z-Wave capability. That’s an extra $360 per year in monitoring costs.

Home-security-monitoring providers say using their service to automate thermostats and lighting (and large appliances in the years ahead) will help you to cut energy bills. For instance, Don Boerema of ADT says customers who use ADT’s latest model that has home-automation capability save up to 30 percent on their monthly energy bills. But it’s unclear to us how much that anyone should expect to save if he/she installs a home-security system that has home-automation capability, because not enough systems have been installed for any third-party energy-savings audits to be performed. So, any energy-savings claims that manufacturers make should be taken with a grain of salt.

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