Tech Talk: It’s Time to Ride Z-Wave

After many years, promises and false starts, the lofty vision of home automation technology is coming to fruition. Although it has gotten to where automation is almost a bad word, often replaced with controls, there are a number of newer technologies and associated products opening up exciting opportunities for security contractors willing to give it a go.

When you sell a residential security system these days do you offer the customer the option of home automation? Not interested in complicating your security installation? I can understand, but what about adding to your residential RMR base? Now that I have your attention, you are ready to enter the “Z-Zone.” Z-Wave is wireless home energy management technology rapidly gaining in popularity and will be a primary focus for us this month.

Sure, we have been talking about new wireless automation technology for some time. I know that many dealers and integrators do not like to work with leading-edge, sometimes referred to as bleeding-edge, technologies and that is often a smart decision. However, wireless residential automation technology is out of the gates and ready for realistic offerings by security integrators. It has been projected that 90 million homes worldwide will employ home automation systems by 2017.

Surveys have shown the security integrator to be the most trusted professional for applying new technology to the residential market. New data from the Department of Energy’s Automated Home Energy Management (AHEM) Strategical Technical Committee (STC) indicates the professional trade is needed to both educate and apply new residential automation technology (see sidebar). Don’t let this exciting opportunity bypass your organization.

10 Tips for Deploying Z-Wave

According to the Z-Wave Alliance the industry has just certified its 600th product, an indication the trend is now a mainstream movement. One Z-Wave application area that excites this alarm old-timer is the integration of wireless locks into alarm controls. In fact, you may have seen these products available for the DIY market from the big-box stores. But integrating them into alarm controls will still be a place for the security pros.

I have been picking Z-Wave experts’ minds for some overall tips to help you get started:

Apply the three Ps (Planning, Planning, Planning). While overall the technology is based on a standard, manufacturers have proprietary means (why am I not surprised). Check and double check with manufacturers on products and services you plan to use.

Systems consist of controllers and slaves. The controllers initiate transmission and also hold all routing schemes. The slaves are system end devices with input/output functions that follow controller commands.

The operating frequency of Z-Wave is 908MHz in the United States, which helps avoid interference with other popular gigahertz technologies.

These are mesh networks and all devices need to discover which nearby devices they should report to. If you change or remove a device, the network needs to be updated. (Tech Talk Tip: Make sure your customers understand this and don’t unplug devices. Better yet, install plug-in devices where your customer cannot easily unplug them.)

Many modules are repeaters as that is how a mesh network works. However, lock and thermostat modules may not be repeaters and have to be located close (30 feet maximum) to the system controllers.

Newer modules may have a “beaming” feature that allows communicating with locks and devices to activate them.

The mixing of modules by different manufacturers is not recommended, especially for beginners.

Use caution when mixing technologies such as universal powerline bus (UPB).

The technique of “grouping,” which is handy for light schemes, typically does not apply to locks and thermostat modules.

Setting up modules will typically need a laptop or portable controller that must be within inches of the device. Once the device is configured, (as mentioned) maximum range is about 30 feet. Try to have alternate paths in the Z-Wave network for reliability of service.

What Fellow Integrators Are Saying

I asked members of our trade community for comments and suggestions on applying Z-Wave technology. Following is what some of them had to share:

“I have set up a couple of favorites to trigger Z-Wave devices. An entry trigger from inputting your code in a Kwikset lock turns off the alarm and turns on the footer light. If there is a fire alarm, it triggers all Z-Wave lights to turn on, shuts off the AC and heat, and unlocks the lock.”

— Rodney Hassett, service manager, Dallas Security Systems, Dallas/Fort Worth

“I would like to be able to turn lights on and off based on a schedule rather than a panel event. I hope these features will be added in the future. I think this would go hand-in-hand with offering a customer a security system because they can make the house look occupied even when no one is home.”

— Bob Gamble, central systems operations manager, Security Instrument Corp., Philadelphia

“All Z-Wave devices have to comply with the same standard so different systems from different manufacturers shouldn’t be a problem. One thing to remember, there can only be one primary controller and any number of secondary controllers. Use a primary controller with firmware that is user upgradeable and portable. If going into an existing installation, you should be able to transfer the device info and create a new primary controller. The old primary controller will no longer be valid once you do this.” 

— Eric Josue, project manager, 1676887 Alberta Inc., Calgary, Canada

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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