iControl Home Monitoring Kit

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Home monitoring has long appealed to people who are often away from their home, or those concerned for elderly parents living alone. For years, there have been ways to wire your home with gadgets — not just smoke alarms and security systems, but cameras, sensors and panic buttons — the key word being "wire." New wireless technologies and broadband Internet connections enable people to set up more advanced systems without a headache or holes in the wall. One innovator, iControl, combines wireless monitoring with easy Web access and a little home automation in an interesting and expandable system.

To understand what the iControl system does, you have to hear a list of its many devices. There are wired and wireless cameras and battery-powered sensors that detect motion, the opening and closing of doors, even the presence of water or freezing temperatures. There are carbon-monoxide and smoke alarms, a wearable "panic pendant" as well as a panic wristwatch. You can get automated light dimmers that plug into power sockets, and even a thermostat.

Some of these products may sound familiar, and others may be new to you. What they all have in common is that they report in, wirelessly, to a gateway that tracks everything and posts it on a secure website for you. A glance at your iControl Summary page tells you that the sensors are normal and working. If you have a freeze or a burst pipe, the system immediately sends you an e-mail, and of course registers the problem on the Web page. A chart of "recent alarms" also keeps track of when the door and motion sensors were last triggered.

Gadget reviewers like me may love a challenge, but we like it even better when products work as billed. I tested an iControl system that included a wireless camera, which I easily positioned and programmed to snap pictures of anyone walking through my front door. I coupled a motion sensor with a lamp controller, so that the light went on whenever someone walked by. The coolest part was that I could also command the lights and camera directly from the Web page. I did not test the thermostat, but like the other devices, it can be controlled remotely or set on a schedule.

You might see how a system like this can bring peace of mind. It does, however, bring it at a cost. Before you sign on, you need to have a broadband connection to your home and a home-network router, preferably a wireless one. The lowest-priced starter kit is $400, and once you get it going, you will realize quickly that you will want to augment that with additional devices. Extra door/window sensors cost $35 a piece, and extra lamp controllers cost $50. There's also a monthly fee of $15. Although you can pay upfront for a whole year, it will still cost $180 — iControl doesn't cut you a break on that.

If you have the money, and enjoy tinkering, iControl is a reasonable choice at the moment. But stay tuned, because high-tech home monitoring is the next big thing, and other contenders are gearing up.