So you hate to integrate?
Integration can be a pain, but the benefit to you and your clients are innumerable, writes Harry Simidis.
If only I had a dollar for each time I had a someone tell me, “No, I think it’s best that we keep all the systems separate,” or “I don’t want the headache of one system wreaking havoc with any others.” Although these are valid concerns, in reality most are largely unfounded provided the interface design is done competently before any integration takes place.
Obvious candidates for integration include everything from security, access, lighting control to AV and heating/cooling systems. In addition, appliances such as blinds and curtains should always be integrated as a given. What most people don’t understand is that each of these systems is designed so that it’s able to stand and operate on its own, without any of the other systems.
Before diving into any sort of diatribe about how cool integration is, it’s probably important take a look at some of the obvious benefits of doing so, which include:
1. Integrating systems like security and lighting leads to significant savings in the cost of more expensive lighting control sensors. That’s because the less expensive security sensors could instead be used to also activate lights in desired areas.
2. Greater comfort and security can be derived by integrating security events such as ‘Disarm’ and ‘Alarm’ respectively. For example, disarming the security system could activate a ‘Welcome Home’ scenario customised for the PIN number just entered. Mum, Dad and even the kids could each have their own ‘Welcome Home’ scenario that could conceivably activate not only lighting but other sub-systems such as AV, motorised blinds and air conditioning.
3. Wall switches and controls can be dramatically reduced as controls for things such as blinds, floor heating, air conditioning, AV and others could easily be integrated on lighting switches.
4. Lighting control systems usually offer powerful scheduling capabilities that could easily control systems, such as irrigation and floor heating among many others.
5. Energy efficiency is inevitable through the use of devices such as security sensors monitoring presence, and subsequently switching lights off.
So yes, it’s all very nice to have systems interconnected, however there are some aspects of the design process that warrant serious consideration:
1. Each sub-system must have the ability to operate on its own, in the event that the others fail or cease to work for whatever reason.
2. The interface design must be well documented and easy to understand in order for it to be maintained well into the future.
3. The interface should be based on tried and trusted communication protocols such as RS232 (nowadays very much a legacy protocol, it’s still very reliable), IP (Internet Protocol) or even the humble dry contact interface. The extent of high or low level interface will be determined by the extent of integration required. For instance, if you just want to activate some lights whenever there’s an alarm then all you need is a dry contact input or two into the lighting control system. On the other hand, if you wanted to, say, activate the hallway and bathroom lights at 40% after midnight based on movement detected by the security sensor in that area then you would be well advised to consider a higher level interface, such as serial RS232.
4. Design expertise is crucial in this area as someone who’s done this previously will dramatically reduce the programming time and generate impressive results that add significant benefit and value to the client’s lifestyle.
Now that I’ve got all the justification stuff out of the way, here’s a not so unfamiliar scenario that will hopefully paint a picture to describe what I’ve been rambling about above.
Imagine it’s pouring outside, it’s late at night and you’ve just returned home from visiting friends. A press of the garage door button, on your security key fob, opens your garage door and disarms the Garage area of your home. You get out of the car, after you’ve parked, and punch in your access PIN, at the code pad by the door. Instantly, the electric door strike releases the lock as you push the door open into you well lit home. As the security system granted access to you, it disarmed the internal areas and also communicated this to the lighting system which switched on a few lights around the entrance and a pathway leading upstairs to the master bedroom. Had it been your teenage kids disarming the system with their PIN, the system would have known to switch on the lights in the kitchen and living room and possibly even the flat screen TV for some night time viewing.
Once you’ve retired to the bedroom for the evening, pressing the Goodnight button on the bedside lighting switch not only switches off most of the lights and draws down the blinds, it also arms the perimeter of the home keeping everyone inside safe and secure against any threat of intrusion. The Goodnight scenario also checks with the security system to ensure that entrances such as the Garage door have been closed. As you sleep, the timers built into the lighting control system manage the under floor and heated towel rails throughout the home ensuring that setback temperatures are enforced to minimise energy usage but still provide nice warm floors and towels for the morning when everyone has their shower. Throughout the day, pre-programmed schedules ensure that plants and lawns are irrigated according to both a timer and inputs from soil moisture level sensors. Water is only ever reticulated when there’s inadequate moisture in the soil and when it’s scheduled to do so. As morning arrives, motorised blinds are drawn open, allowing sunlight into the home to provide natural warmth and so minimise the need for heating in the cooler months.
So yes, I guess you could say there are significant benefits that can be derived by integrating various systems in and around the home. What’s been described above is only a very simple example. There are literally countless integration possibilities that could be realised, provided the right products are brought together in a well executed system installation.
Next time you embark on a project with systems that can integrate well with each other, be prepared to extol the virtues of doing so to those that show some hesitation. Provided it’s done right, your client and you have much to benefit from doing so.