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Let There Be Ligh

New Technology Deters Crime with Cutting-edge Trickery
John Angelica

John Angelica shows off Lutron’s unobtrusive wall panels, which can be programmed and engraved in any way the homeowner desires.

Light timers – a way to deter burglars when a house is empty for days on end – are nothing new. The Lutron system takes them to the next level, creating a complex illusion of home occupancy. As officials with Angelica Brothers – a local electrical contractor and Lutron installer – told BusinessWest, that’s just one feature of this lighting system that home and business owners praise for its convenience and aesthetics as much as its security.

Home alarm systems are meant to protect property. If that property doesn’t belong to you, however, they can be annoying.

That’s why municipalities have laws to limit the amount of time an alarm may sound before it’s automatically turned off. Burglars know this — and if no one responds to an alarm in, say, the 15 minutes before it shuts down, they may just be bold enough to proceed with the burglary.

That’s Brett Purchas’ take as he describes the Lutron system, which is, at its core, a lighting product —but one that can also protect houses and businesses from trespassers without making a sound.

Purchas, a programming engineer with Angelica Brothers Electrical Contracting in Holyoke, explained that Lutron keeps an internal record of what lights were used in a house during the previous two weeks, and for how long, and essentially replays the pattern when a family goes on vacation —a major step up from traditional light timers.

“It takes what you’ve done for the past 14 days and plays that over and over, just as it occurred,” Purchas said. “So if you went from the kitchen through the bedroom into the bathroom, it runs the same pattern, but with slight variations, so you could never stand outside the house with a stopwatch and say, ‘that’s a security system.’”

A subtle security system is exactly what some people are looking for at a time when houses are becoming more elaborate and property crime is as prevalent as ever, said John Angelica, president of Angelica Brothers, one of the few contractors to sell the Lutron product locally.

According to the FBI, a burglary takes place in the U.S. once every 15 seconds. Most occur during the day, but a large percentage involve homes and businesses that are unoccupied —and obviously so — at night.

“Interior lighting is necessary to show signs of life and activity inside a residence at night,” writes Chris McGoey, an expert on crime vulnerability and security systems, on his Web site, “A darkened home night after night sends the message to burglars that you are away on a trip. Light timers are inexpensive and can be found everywhere. They should be used on a daily basis, not just when you’re away.”

However, many light timers are simply unconvincing, Purchas told BusinessWest. Indeed, McGoey argues that timer patterns should simulate actual occupancy and include televisions or radios, not just lights. Lutron accomplishes all of that, with a precision unequaled in the marketplace. Purchas said.

This issue, BusinessWest examines how one product offers homeowners and business owners control, convenience, energy savings … and security.

Lights, Action

At its heart, Lutron is a system of lighting that promotes both convenience and energy-efficiency — and the more rooms a homeowner has to light, the more appealing it is, Angelica said.

“Nowadays, people are building bigger and bigger houses, and they’re into interior design,” he said — and that means aesthetic appeal.

To demonstrate, as he spoke with BusinessWest, Angelica held up a wall switchplate that featured about six switches and dimmers. “It’s too long to put it in your kitchen. And to put it like this,” he said, turning it vertically, “it just doesn’t look good.”

“These houses are becoming more sophisticated — we call them ‘layers of lighting,’” Purchas said. “And instead of having a bank of seven standard toggle switches to turn on and off, we have these keypads that get rid of that wall clutter, while keeping the same functionality in the controls. Lutron gives you multiple layers of light in a room with a single keypad.”

The key to Lutron is deciding what kind of lighting fits several specific situations, and then programming the lights — in several different rooms, if appropriate — for each scenario. These combinations are then accessed on keypads marked with customized buttons reading “welcome,” “bedtime,” “entertain,” or any one-word description the homeowner chooses.

In other words, do you like just bathroom and undercounter lights on at night? Check. Do you want certain lights on when cooking and another combination of lights — perhaps dimmed for mood — when eating? Check, and check. Do you want to see just the kitchen, hallway, and landscape lights upon pulling up the driveway? Again, check, thanks to a remote-control feature. Lutron even offers a system of programmable, electronic window shades.

“We’re creatures of habit,” Angelica said. “You might come home from work every day at 5 and go to bed at 9. You can program your lighting to your lifestyle.” Purchas added that the system is programmed to know when the sun rises and sets and adjusts accordingly, so it doesn’t need to be reset for seasonal reasons.

Lutron boasts plenty of other features as well, Angelica noted. For starters, every light switch in the house can be wired into the system, so that a family can turn off all the lights when they leave — including the one in the 8-year-old’s closet that he may have forgotten to turn off. And the system is fully upgradable so that a homeowner who installs it for just a portion of the house’s lights can easily expand it to other lights later on.

“We have systems for 1,500-square-foot houses and 5,000-square-foot houses, systems for every budget,” Purchas said. “But at no point in time do I have to say to a customer, ‘you installed your system already, and that’s it.’ We can always upgrade.”

Some features brought a smile to Angelica’s face as he demonstrated them to BusinessWest — for example, the way that Lutron can serve as a passive monitoring system. For example, the wall plate in a homeowner’s bedroom can be programmed to indicate, with small lights, that a child’s lights are on past bedtime.

One customer even used it to notice that his basement media room had gone dark while his son watched a movie with his girlfriend. He kept bringing the lights up remotely until his son emerged upstairs to ask what was causing the electrical problem.

Safety Dance

Shining a spotlight on teenage temptation is just a bonus, of course. What makes Lutron truly a security system, Angelica said, is the way it interacts with other wired products in a home, including traditional alarm systems.

Specifically, Lutron can be programmed so that a tripped alarm will turn on every light inside and outside the house — making some of them flash, if so desired — and simultaneously lock out the lighting controls so they can’t be turned off.

That’s an attractive feature, he said, recognizing that homeowners hope it won’t be necessary, and that the illusion of occupancy created by the timed lighting patterns will be enough to deter breakins. After all, convincing would-be burglars to choose another target is most of the battle — which explains the value of stickering an alarm company’s name to the front door, or owning barking dogs, for that matter.

But Lutron goes further than traditional light timers, Angelica said. “What’s great about it is that it doesn’t turn on a light at the same time each day,” even if the homeowner does, he explained. “There’s a half-hour differential built in, so one day it might be 7:05, the next 7:19 or 7:12.”

Purchas said even a skeptical criminal doesn’t want to chance a confrontation when other houses are clearly unoccupied. “If you’re outside seeing lights go on and off — now the bedroom light is on, now he’s going downstairs, there goes the light in the bathroom — you’re saying, ‘I’m not breaking into this house; someone’s home.’”

But it’s not only the combination of lights that can be preset, Angelica said; the intensity of the bulb can be adjusted as well. That translates to energy savings for anyone, but it’s especially important to businesses with multiple locations and lights that stay on all night — in parking lots or warehouses, for instance.

“Businesses that want a product like this are sensitive to energy savings,” Purchas said, noting that the difference between 100% and 90% brightness is undetectable to the naked eye, but a bulb running at 90% will extend the life of a bulb considerably. “That’s one reason for commercial installations — it lowers electric costs considerably.”

The programmable nature of Lutron can save money in other ways as well. For example, Angelica timed the lights in his own laundry room to stay on only five minutes — longer than the average time a person would spend loading or switching the laundry — ensuring that those lights don’t stay on for hours on end during laundry day.

Of course, Angelica admitted, not everyone will program their lights with such detail — they’re happy as long as burglars aren’t taking them to the cleaners.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]