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May 29, 2011 • Reviews

Vivint Adds Security and Automation to a 1970s Era Deckhouse, Part One: The System

Preview

Eight years ago we moved into a thirty-five year old Deck House fixer-upper. Deck Houses are post and beam “kit” houses that are built like a barn, offer huge open space and, because they have no joists or crawl spaces for running wires and plumbing present numerous challenges when renovating. It is for that reason (among others) that eight years later, we are still working on it. On the “wish list” of renovations was adding some home automation, but the cost and the unique challenges of the design made it less enticing than it might otherwise have been. At some point I gave up on the idea.

A few weeks ago I left the garage door open all night yet again. No, it wasn’t the first time it happened, but here’s the problem — the garage is our main point of entry into the house, since the front door is actually around the back. Remember, it is a rather odd post and beam house with an unusual configuration. We never lock the door between the garage and the house, which meant our home was wide open while we slept. Sure, we do live in a quiet and more rural part of New Jersey, and the crime rate is exceptionally low, but it was unnerving to know that I had left us so vulnerable.

Call it fate, but the very next day both Judie and I received emails from Vivint, asking if one of us would be interested in reviewing their new home automation system; Judie knows my situation, and she immediately said I should do it.

Vivint, formerly APX Alarm, is in the process of rebranding themselves and moving into the home automation market.  I was asked if I would allow the to install a review system in my house. The terms were that they would let me use the system for a year-long review and then, at the end of the year, if I wanted to keep the system I would start paying the monthly monitoring fee. Between my previously abandoned home automation dreams and my recent garage door forgetfulness, how could I say no?

It shouldn’t have taken a review opportunity for me to know that I could bring automation to my home, but this has given me a chance to really dig in and learn more about it. Vivint has taken the same approach that they used when setting up alarm systems, and they have applied it to home automation. In other words, if you want a new system, there is an up front installation fee that is far lower than the actual cost of the hardware and labor, and then there is a monthly fee that “pays” for the devices and monitoring. The system is surprisingly affordable, although customized add-ons can boost the price significantly.

I began researching their offerings, and I spoke with a couple of Vivint reps on the phone to plan out how we might set up and system. With the information I gave them, Vivint was able to work out a personalized solution. The result will be a series of articles about taking an old post and beam house and bringing it into the 21st century with Vivint’s new Home Automation System.

In this first post, I want to lay the groundwork by talking about some of the products and services that they offer, starting with …

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Go!Control Panel

The centerpiece of Vivint’s new system is their Vivint Go!Control panel. This touch screen control panel addresses both the security and home automation aspects of the system.

The Go!Control panel is the base of your smart home system. And it’s smart because it’s easy to use. With the touch of a finger, you can arm and disarm your system, call for help, and much more.

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The smart panel offers a color LCD touch screen display that has remote control capabilities, which I’ll discuss more fully soon. It uses Z?Wave’s wireless capabilities to make a system that is almost entirely wireless. In fact, the only parts of the system that require wiring are the Go!Control panel itself and the wireless camera. Everything else connects with the Go!Panel via Z-Wave. This does present one downside to the system since it thus relies on various devices connecting with one another. If the distance is too great, a booster unit will be needed to amplify the signal. It is a small downside considering that the system requires so very little hard-wiring. The Go!Panel also offers custom notifications, full voice response, has a 24?hour backup battery for times when the power goes out, displays the date, time and weather, and it automatically updates so that the system always has the latest information and firmware.

One of the biggest surprises for me was finding out that the Vivint system uses a control panel with an integrated GSM Radio. In other words, built into the Go!Control panel is a cellphone radio that communicates wirelessly with the main Vivint monitoring system. That means it does not require being tied into a landline (a good thing since we no longer have one), and it will work when the power goes out — so long as the cell system is still operational. It also means the system can provide integrated, two?way voice communication in case of emergency.

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As they explain,

The two-way voice feature lets our Central Monitoring Station operators listen and talk to you when a signal is received, ensuring that the proper emergency response personnel are dispatched as soon as possible.

(The rep with whom I spoke told me their current response time between hitting the emergency button on the Go!Control Panel and getting a rep on the line is under 8 seconds.)

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Climate Control/Energy Management

A big piece of the home automation setup is the wireless thermostat. With it you can

Raise or lower the temperature of your thermostat—and save money while you’re doing it. Whether you’re home or way, you can make sure your home isn’t wasting energy.

The savings for people who make serious use of the system by adjusting the thermostat’s settings so that it does not cool, or heat, the home when you are gone and adjusts the temperature while you sleep can be tremendous. Numbers ranging from $25 month to well over $100 a month were tossed around when it was being described. With more and more of us being environmentally conscious, and with energy costs soaring, even a small amount of savings will be welcome.

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Video Surveillance

Another mainstay of the company’s new system is the video surveillance they offer. Vivint will be offering two types of cameras. One is a fixed view camera and the other a pan and tilt camera. Obviously the cameras need a way to communicate with their system, and that means they need to tie into your broadband connection.

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We will be tying the camera into my current router, but if you do not have a wireless system in your home already the company can provide a wireless router.

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Remote Management

This would be a good point to share one of the coolest aspects of the new system: the smartphone integration.

Remote access means you can manage all of your Vivint systems—security, energy, and home automation—from your smartphone, computer, or web-enabled device (like an iPad). As they explain:

With Vivint, you can arm or disarm your home or business security system with just a touch of a mobile phone. In fact, Vivint mobile applications let you monitor and control your entire system from practically anywhere.* That includes any web-enabled cell phone or smartphone, including iPhone, BlackBerry and Google Android devices.

Send commands to arm or disarm your system remotely.

Watch live video and recorded clips from your security cameras.

See which doors and window are open.

Search even history as far back as 60 days.

You don’t need to own the latest smartphone to benefit from Vivint’s remote access. As long as your phone has a web browser, you can sign into Go!Control Web Access from anywhere using our cell phone-optimized website. It’s designed to give you quick access to all of Go!Control Web Access’s useful features:

Check current system and sensor status.

Arm and disarm the system from anywhere.

Watch live video and saved video clips.

View recent system and sensor activity.

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Yes, the entire system can be monitored, controlled and much more with your iPhone, Android handset and even your Blackberry. With your phone you can change the temperature, arm and disarm the system and you can even access the video surveillance. As far as the video system goes, the company explains,

you can access your video clips from your compatible smartphone or web-connected mobile device. You can also program your cameras to record video clips whenever motion is detected or during scheduled times.

The last two aspects of the home automation system are the lighting & small appliance controls and the automatic door locks.

The lighting and small appliance controls are devices that plug into your standard outlets and then can be controlled from the Go!Panel or remotely from the web or your mobile device. It is not as neatly integrated as some of the ground-up home automation systems available today, but they do allow remote control and they can be moved from one location to another with ease.

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The automatic door locks are especially neat. They let you lock and unlock you door without a key and do the same remotely from your smartphone or the web; they also allow you to arm and disarm your system without ever having to go near the Go!Control panel.

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Here’s one scenario where this might come in handy. Say, for example, you have a guest coming to your house and you are stuck in traffic. They don’t have a key, so they would have either have to sit in the car or go to a diner until you got back. With this system you could unlock the door, turn off the alarm, and then watch them from your smartphone to make sure they get inside. How cool is that??

Security System

Of course, since the original company, APX Alarm, was a security system provider, the system is also designed to secure your home. They offer door and window sensors, glass break and motion detectors and fire and CO2 detectors. You can also use the door and window sensors to alert you whenever specifics areas of the house are accessed. For example, if you have a gun cabinet, you could add a sensor and then be alerted via text message if anyone ever opens it.

All of which is neat, especially with the remote smartphone access being fully integrated.

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Twister Alerts

There is one additional aspect of the safety system that really caught my eye, especially after last week’s latest deadly tornado. The system now also offers severe weather alerts which include tornado alerts. In light of what has been taking place in parts of the country, such alerts can save lives… and have. One company rep told me that one of their customers in Missouri was alerted to a coming tornado by his Vivint system, five minutes before the local alerts went out, and a full ten minutes before the national alert was received. Ten minute of additional warning time is a huge deal when a tornado is bearing down on you, and for those who live in tornado-prone areas, it might be an added incentive when considering a system such as this.

After doing a close read of the company’s website and talking to the reps, I called Judie and told her that I was both impressed and excited about the upcoming installation. She said she was looking forward to hearing how it worked for me, and that she hoped the experience of using it would live up to the hype.

Here is a comparison f the different packages and what they offer.

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And here are the various elements that are available from the company.

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Vivint is installing the home automation, energy management and security system packages in my home. This is the information on each:

 

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Vivint Home Package

When you’re looking for a comprehensive way to connect the technologies that run your home, the Vivint Home package is the answer. It features all the products in our Security and Energy packages, but also gives you a lot more. It includes automatic door locks, video surveillance, and non-emergency alerts. With only a $199 activation fee* plus the monthly monitoring charge, this package provides simple, affordable home automation. ??From premier security, to heating and cooling, to access control and video surveillance, our Home package meet your needs today while helping you prepare for a smarter future. Its additional products include automatic door locks, video surveillance, and non-emergency alerts. And you can manage them all through your computer or smart phone, so you always know exactly what’s happening at your home—even when you’re not there.

Watch live video feed from your computer or smart phone. Our cameras allow you to record video clips whenever motion is detected or during scheduled times. And you can be notified when a clip is recorded via text message or email, and watch them via an app on your smart phone. That way, you know what’s happening right away.

• The Vivint Home Automation package ?begins with:
• 1 Go!Control panel
• 3 door and window sensors
• 1 motion detector
• 1 key fob
• 1 Smart Thermostat
• 1 lamp and small appliance control
• 12 energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs
• 1 video camera
• 1 automatic door lock
• 1 yard sign

Base Up-Front Cost: $199

Vivint Energy Package

At Vivint, we want to help you live smarter. And what better way to do that than to help you save money while protecting our planet? That’s why we offer an Energy package. With only a $149 activation fee* plus the monthly monitoring charge, this package provides simple, affordable energy management. It comes standard with the products listed to the right. You can also add or subtract products to create a unique package that meets the needs of your home, your family, and your life. The prices at the bottom of the page reflect the value of each product.

• The Vivint Energy Management package begins with:
• 1 Go!Control panel
• 3 door and window sensors
• 1 motion detector
• 1 key fob
• 1 Smart Thermostat
• 1 lamp and small appliance control
• 12 energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs
• 1 yard sign

Base Up-Front Cost: $149

Security Management Package

Our Security Management package gives you everything you need to effectively safeguard your home: assurance against home invasion, burglary, and other unwanted intrusion.

In a world where people can connect with each other in seconds from across the globe, it only makes sense that home security should be intelligent too. That’s why when you choose a Security package from Vivint, you not only get premier protection—locks, alarms, motion detectors, and a variety of sensors—but you also get a centralized panel that enables your devices to talk to each other to ensure that every area of your home is safe. With only a $99 activation fee* plus the monthly monitoring charge, this package provides premier security.

• The Vivint Security package begins with:
• 1 Go!Control panel
• 3 door and window sensors
• 1 motion detector
• 1 key fob
• 1 yard sign

Base Up-Front Cost: $99

Vivint’s various home automation and security packages look promising. Clearly they have built a system that can turn any home into an automated residence without spending tens of thousands of dollars. But would I be as impressed after the installers came to put it in? Would the system work as promised? Would it be as valuable in practice as it appeared to be on the site?

I’ll soon know, and so will you.

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