Contractor Cures Installation Snafu With Wireless

A homeowner in the exclusive, gated Bay Harbor Yacht Club area of Lake Michigan was preparing to move into his new 15,000-square-foot summer home after months of anticipation when the electrical inspector thwarted his plans.

It didn’t matter that the imported wallpaper was up and the carpeting installed, the custom cabinetry finished and the furniture in place. It didn’t matter that the elevator to four of the five floors was operational, the helipad ready, the slip for his yacht complete. One detail had been overlooked: the smoke detection system didn’t annunciate properly and the homeowner would not be moving in until it did.

The inspection revealed that contractors in the home during construction had inadvertently cut several wires in the smoke system. A contractor had also improperly wired the home for fire detection and failed the annunciation requirements. Because the walls were already up and the hardwire smokes were down, the homeowner needed a wireless solution. A friend recommended Marvin Crane, president of GE Security Pro dealer ABC Alarms in West Bloomfield, Mich.
“Time is always a factor in our business, but this case was special,” Crane reports, “and I knew we had a solution because of our expertise with wireless.”

At the outset, Crane thought the job was to get smoke and heat detection in fast so the owner could get the certificate of occupancy and move in. Part of that job meant getting annunciation on every floor at every sensor, including wireless smoke detectors, pursuant to building and fire codes. He was confident that he could meet code, but he was not so confident that he wanted the job.

“Frankly, taking a job like this isn’t always cost-effective,” says Crane, who specializes in medium- to high-end residential installations, as well as commercial. “I was concerned about having to service a system that was five hours away from my office.” On the other hand, it was hard to turn down a request for assistance, especially when the request comes from the very clientele you’re in business to serve – no matter how far away they are. He agreed to take it on, and he’s glad he did.

To avoid the ripping up of walls, Crane and ABC Alarms corrected the mistakes of the previous installer by going wireless. That meant less delay and labor, while adding more features and integration.

Installer Reveals the Advantages of Going From Hardwired to Wireless

Since taking the job, Crane has solved most service issues by downloading his client’s GE Interlogix Advent system configuration from his office computer and conducting diagnostics remotely (for a complete equipment list, see the sidebar on the right side of this page). “I can add and delete system sensors from my office,” he says. “If we have to add a sensor, I program it here, add it to the system from here, ship the sensor and provide my client’s builder or maintenance personnel with mounting instructions.”

Annunciation requirements were met by tapping into the advantages of wireless communications. Through a combination of wireless smoke annunciation and relay activation of voice alarms through the Advent system speaker system, Crane achieved whole-house annunciation that met with the approval of the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

Going wireless had its advantages, especially during the installation of a smoke detector in the home’s elevator shaft: “I had one of my guys ride the top of the elevator and attach a wireless smoke up at the top of the shaft. That was about a 10-minute job. If it had to be wired, I tied up two men for a day,” states Crane, who has been in business since 1983.

Although he went in thinking the client only needed a fire system, Crane was also able to provide intrusion detection and lighting control. “Bay Harbor is an international community,” Crane points out. “With easy access from the water to any of the properties, the whole community has to be security conscious.”

Crane’s security work started with a doorway to the fifth-floor widow’s walk (the railed observation platform above the house) where carpenters had accidentally destroyed a hardwire contact. Crane produced a quick wireless fix – a recessed sensor that transmits five stories to the basement receiver.

During installation of the distant sensor, a signal-testing feature of the Advent panel automatically checked signal strength between transmitter and receiver.

According to Crane, the automatic feature of the GE Interlogix panel was designed to spare installers from having to walk back and forth between sensors and panel to test the signal. Instead, the installer runs one test to get a full report on signal strength. “We had double and triple the acceptable minimum signal strength levels – with no repeaters,” Crane notes.

Light Shines on Sky-High Solution to Helipad Lighting Problem

As he continued discussing lighting and security needs with the client, Crane learned about the helipad. “The client said it was dark from the helipad to the house, and that he liked it that way. He didn’t like to keep the lights burning all the time for security and safety at night because doing so attracted so many bugs that it wasn’t worthwhile,” Crane says. “Putting lighting on timers was possible, but still not an efficient method of control.”

Wanting to take advantage of wireless system control, Crane consulted with GE Interlogix on a lighting solution that would give his client better security without creating an insect nuisance. “GE Interlogix came out and we thought through the lighting needs from the helipad to the house,” Crane says. “We were able to integrate lighting and security system control that enables activation of lighting and other security scenarios from the helicopter during approach.”

Crane likes integrating security with sophisticated lighting control because doing so has the practical effect of reducing client costs for electricity – savings that are considerable in the homes of Bay Harbor.

Child Safety Drives Security Concerns and SolutionsCrane soon learned that his client put atop his list the safety of his grandchildren. Keeping track of wandering kids can be challenging enough, but when little ones have five floors to explore, lack of attention can lead to serious problems.

“I discussed whole-house annunciation that would use the security system’s chime feature to inform adults of the whereabouts of the grandkids no matter where they might be in the house, and he liked the idea,” Crane says. When the grandchildren open doors, the system announces their location. “That way, he doesn’t have to lock down the house and inconvenience adult family members or guests,” Crane says. “As an extra safety measure, I programmed a supervised door/window sensor on a fourth-floor doorway to activate an internal voice alarm that says ‘fourth-floor door open’ whenever the kids opened the door up to the fifth-floor widow’s walk.”

System Leaves Homeowners Options for Future Expansion

Crane chose a panel that offers seamless integration with Crestron and AMX home controls for integration with home theater, appliances, lighting and sound from the Crestron touchscreen. “In this market, you don’t want to leave a customer with a dozen remotes,” Crane says. “System integration has to mean integration of control, so I looked for a security panel that had enough software power to work with a virtual touchscreen or a whole-house control center.”

Before he had a wireless solution, the client was anticipating $100,000 in repairs to redo the job of wiring the house for smoke detection. In all, Crane got the first phase of the job done in three days with two installers without the cost, mess, or delay of having to remodel the house for repair of the hardwire alarm system.

“Going after this market with wireless is certainly worthwhile,” Crane says. “Large residential sites and c

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