In 2004, there were 1.56 million fires attended by fire departments across the United States, with more than a half-million taking place within a structure of some type. An overwhelming majority of them, 410,500 to be exact (78 percent), took place in a home, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of Quincy, Mass.
From a life-safety standpoint, lighting can be a tremendous help to family members trying to escape a burning home. Home lighting control is also a great add-on to any home alarm system. It provides benefits that go well beyond the obvious, providing homeowners with greater convenience while improving crime deterrence, personal safety and homeowner survivability when there’s a fire.
This month, we will explain the basic reasons why security dealers should offer their residential clients lighting control. We will cover the life-safety aspects as well as those associated with crime prevention, convenience and personal safety. We will also discuss ways in which home lighting systems can be interfaced with combination alarm control panels for both automated and manual response.
Lighting Vital for Exiting Home Fires
One way to make egress faster during the initial stages of a home fire is to turn on select lights that lead to exit points throughout the home.
“Having the lights come on [especially in exit routes] on activation of a smoke alarm [or other device] would have a great deal of potential to save lives. Even if it were a bit smoky in the house, the lights would improve visibility greatly and allow people to move quickly,” says Doug Sanders with the Office of the Fire Commissioner of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
“I also think it would identify more readily places not to go,” he continues. “In the dark, a person would not see smoke and may walk into a cloud of it. Smoke is CO [and soot and other gases], and CO causes people not to think very clearly, even at low levels. The lights would help people escape and to avoid smoke.”
What’s it like to grope your way through thick toxic smoke as a fire rages behind you? Some who have lived to tell the tale liken it to breathing fire while trying to navigate through the blackest, thickest darkness you’ll ever encounter.
“The door opens and the hot smoke hits the cooler air and banks down. The smoke is right to the floor and using a flashlight is like using high beams driving in the fog. It’s not useless, it’s worse than useless,” says Sanders. “A thousand thoughts cross your mind as you move through the house, using the clues available to tell you what you need to know. The focus is on finding the fire and any occupants.”
Introducing light into the home at such a critical time can provide those few extra seconds that so often mean life or death. Having the benefit of house lights to show the way to exit points can impact the final outcome.
Home Control Enhances Life Safety
From a crime prevention and personal safety standpoint, lighting is an absolutely essential component of home protection. Homeowners are often glad to add it to the mix once they understand that would-be criminals do not like to target well-lit homes. Many of them will, in fact, target a darkened residence where the chance of discovery is greatly reduced.
Outdoor and indoor lighting during nighttime hours reduce the amount of time criminals can safely spend outside a home trying to access an opening. For many years, vintage alarm panels have had the ability to turn on a string of lights inside the home. Most of the time this capability was limited to one address using X-10 power line carrier (PLC) technology.
Many of today’s alarm panels are able to perform the same feat, but they can take it several steps further than vintage systems can. For example, through an elaborate software program built into an alarm panel, alarm technicians can program multiple lights inside and outside the home to come on at certain times of the day and night, as well as certain appliances.
Using a number of PLC technologies, these alarm panels are able to provide enhanced lighting control. Because these software programs are able to accommodate multiple PLC addresses, the potential for multiple lighting control and life safety is enhanced. Alarm panels can also be programmed to turn lights on when CO or smoke is detected in the environment.
2 Ways to Integrate Lighting Control
There are two ways to integrate most lighting control systems with an alarm system. Hardware integration offers a limited set of capabilities where software/data integration widens the scope of control.
“There are two ways to marry a rudimentary security panel with a couple of voltage outputs. The other way is to connect the panel’s serial output to the lighting control system,” says Jay McClellan, president and CEO of Home Automation Inc. (HAI) of New Orleans. The company’s Lumina system will do both, McClellan says.
The serial method offers the most versatile set of options for security dealers. This is because tapping into the data coming out of the serial output of the panel allows the lighting control system to monitor just about everything that goes on in the alarm system. This includes individual detector activations as well as arming/disarming level and scheduled events.
“We’re taking the ASCii text and interpreting it in the Lumina. This enables us to turn lights on during entry delays based on door openings or motion detection,” says McClellan.
“In the case of the Apex interface, the ICM reads the ASCii output. But in reality, the ICM will handle any [data] protocol,” says Aaron Myer of Salt Lake City-based In2Networks, a Honeywell Security technology partner. “Honeywell’s ICM interfaces the [home devices] to the Vista panel’s keypad bus. The Apex panel connects through an on-board serial port.”
A third method is to use an alarm panel with home automation capability, like the Omni by HAI and Apex by Honeywell. There are other alarm panels with home control features to choose from in the marketplace. When lighting control is implemented in this manner, there’s a whole new set of capabilities that security dealers and their clients are able to realize.
Using the power of software, this type of installation will enable the dealer to allow events by day of week, time of day and by security system event. In most installations, outdoor lights are extinguished at a certain hour of the night to save money. In an integrated home control system where the alarm panel is designed specifically for home automation and security, these lights can be dimmed instead, thus saving money.
Another benefit realized by the integrated approach is the reenactment of activities while the family is away from home, such as on vacation.
No matter how you sell it, home lighting control will earn you extra dollars. At the same time, it will provide the homeowner with a number of valuable benefits that may even contribute to the saving of a loved one’s life. Savvy dealers will automatically offer lighting control as an option with every home security bid, in addition to back-up central station reporting.