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HIGH-TECH HOME : Arming Homes Against Thefts, Fire

June 03, 1989|MARIA L. La GANGA | Times Staff Writer

So you're leaving the rat race this summer for a few weeks in the mountains. You've packed the bags, suspended newspaper delivery, put the dog in the kennel and hired the neighbor kid to water the lawn.

But have you thought about all those crooks who aren't taking a much-needed summer off?

Asking a neighbor to be vigilant on behalf of your home is a start, but it will only keep the place so safe.

"Crime does go up in the summer, and not just because people go away," says Sandy Jones, president of the Security Industry Assn., "but also because, when people are home, they have a tendency to be at home in their back yards. One of the first precautions people should take as homeowners is to lock their front door and keep their garage door closed."

That may be the lowest-tech home security method around, one that predates electronic security systems by a couple of centuries. But it's also one that a surprising number of people overlook. According to Security Industry Assn. statistics:

In 1985, the most recent year for which data was available, 42% of all burglaries occurred without forced entry. In addition, 37% of all home burglaries occurred in broad daylight--between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

But what if you already lock those doors and windows, still don't feel safe enough and want to join the technological age? What if you want to "arm" your home, to borrow a phrase from the security industry?

Then you open up the Yellow Pages and call someone like the Greater Alarm Co. Inc. in Huntington Beach, a company that was named 1988 Dealer of the Year by the trade journal Security Distributing & Marketing.

Greater Alarm earned the distinction in part because of its stock: an inventory filled with the most innovative technology for the safeguard of homes ranging from 1,800-square-foot Fullerton tract houses to 33,000-square-foot Beverly Hills mansions.

"We moved right along into using what we feel are some of the top quality and innovative products, like security control panels by Radionics Inc. and the Unity Home Manager," said Michael Peters, vice president of sales and marketing for the Greater Alarm.

A basic electronic home security system averages $1,583 including installation. At the center of such a system is the "brain," a Radionics master control panel equipped with a so-called key pad, kind of like the face of a push-button phone. Radionics' control panels run from $500 to $1,000.

The control panel is mounted in the wall and is programmed to turn the security system on and off, or as Peters puts it, "arm and disarm." Radionics is advanced enough so that anything from one room to the whole house can be armed.

It's what is attached to the control panel that secures the house. Magnetic contacts are installed in doors and windows and wired into the control panel. The panel is programmed to secure the doors and windows, and, if the secured entryways are disturbed, an alarm will go off and the police will be called.

"You can choose how you want to alarm your perimeter," Peter says. "You can do all the doors and windows or only the accessible ones. That's the homeowner's option."

Sentrol Inc. sells a popular line of contacts that run $40 to $70 each, with installation included.

In addition to the very basic entry protection, smoke detectors, heat detectors and motion detectors can be hooked up to the Radionics control panel. Smoke detectors range from $100 to $130 each and should be hooked up in corridors outside bedrooms, Peters said.

Heat detectors are often placed in kitchens and garages, where home fires most commonly start. A heat detector will sense a fire before it begins to smoke. It will message the control panel to call the fire department.

Radionics and all its hookups represent innovation in basic home security. The Unity Home Manager, in contrast, is like something out of a Jetsons cartoon and represents what is called the "smart home."

The Home Manager looks like a television screen mounted in the wall, but it is a sophisticated system that operates the security system, can keep all rooms climate controlled--at different temperatures--can operate your appliances and switch on your pool, lights and Jacuzzi.

In 1988, Unity Systems marketed a remote control feature that allows homeowners to control their homes' functions remotely from touch-tone telephones or personal computers.

"They allow you to do security control and tie in lighting and appliance control," Peters says. "You can tell your landscape lights to come on at a certain time of day. We actually program in the longitude and latitude of where the home is located on the face of the earth, and it will automatically adjust for all the seasons and the time changes."

In addition, the system's screen will show a floor plan of your house and will tell you in a 14-letter message just where an intruder is: Den, master bedroom, Annie's room, kitchen. At the same time it's alerting you, it's dialing the police.

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