All eyes on Iris: Will DIY hurt RMR?

Lowe’s new offering will generate interest, SSN readers say, but many question its long-term viability
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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

YARMOUTH, Maine—Is it a home security “game changer” whose time has come, a marketing annoyance that will confuse consumers, or a false-alarm nightmare waiting to happen?

More than 200 Security Systems News readers weighed in on Iris, Lowe’s new do-it-yourself home security/home automation system, for SSN’s September News Poll. Amid the wide range of opinions was one consensus: Iris’ price point will generate interest in the marketplace. But readers were clearly divided on whether consumers will follow through on handling their own home security, and if that might mean a loss of RMR for companies already established in the field.

Iris is a cloud-based system designed to be installed by homeowners, with starter kits ranging from $179 to $299. There are no monthly fees for those who choose to do their own monitoring, which includes access to remote video streaming via smartphone or computer. Lowe’s began offering Iris online in July and anticipated having it in the retailer’s 500 U.S. stores in late August.

Nearly 40 percent of respondents to the unscientific SSN poll said Iris would be popular in the security space. Thirty-five percent said they weren’t sure it would be a market success, but that at a minimum it would serve to educate consumers about home security and home automation. Twenty-six percent said Iris’ cost benefits were outweighed by the value of professional service.

Readers who said Iris would be a hit focused their comments mainly on RMR, the lifeblood of alarm companies.

“Game changer for the RMR industry,” one reader wrote. “No alarm license required. No central station. Many Lowe’s-like large ‘box store’ offerings to follow.”

Steven Bernard of Florida-based Safeguard America wrote that as much as the industry would like to discredit or ignore Iris, “the truth is during this financial climate, customers will be drawn to this more cost-effective option.”

“Lowe’s has built a level of credibility in the DIY industry and has performed well even during the housing crisis,” Bernard said. “Its success … is tribute to the fact that consumers are willing to at least attempt to install this product on their own to realize the financial benefit.”

Other readers were more skeptical about DIY installation. Thirty-nine percent said it would be a drawback because it would be too intimidating, with 36 percent saying Iris’ success would hinge on the effectiveness of Lowe’s “how to” video guide.

“I do service work and I am always finding homeowners who have a difficult time arming, disarming and understanding how to use an alarm [or] automation system without an orientation from the professional installer,” wrote Wayne Shimko of Richmond Alarm Co. of Midlothian, Va. “Most homeowners would rather have a professional install a system than try doing it themselves.”

“Knowing what device to install and where is the key to a professionally installed system,” another reader wrote. “The nomenclature of ‘alarm systems’ is wrong. The correct wording is ‘life safety system.’ When it’s not installed right and there is a fatality, that’s when the lawsuits start.”

Liability was a frequent concern raised by poll respondents when commenting on homeowners monitoring their own security systems. Many readers said false alarms would become an even bigger problem for municipalities if DIY products gain traction in the marketplace.

“This could be a very dangerous way to go about security,” said Bill Mooney of Protex Central Inc., a Nebraska-based integrator. “Think about a homeowner rushing home to respond to an alarm and being met by an intruder who has a gun and is not afraid to use it. … Security should really be left to the professionals and to law enforcement.”

“When the first homeowner is killed responding to a false alarm, the story will cause this latest ‘take the money and run’ scheme to collapse under the weight of lawsuits and bad publicity,” said another poll respondent.

Shimko, of Richmond Alarm, was also concerned about self-monitoring in regard to alarms for heat, fire, smoke or gas in a home. First Alert smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are among the vendor devices that can be used with Iris, Lowe’s has stated.

“If the homeowner does not receive the alert or ignores it, life and property will be lost,” Shimko wrote. “Professional monitoring will not ignore the fire, heat or gas alarm and will dispatch the proper emergency response personnel.”