Intruder Test: Switched On Products Light Switch Timer

For many homeowners, leaving on a light when they’re out of the house has become something of a habit. We all joke about not leaving the hall light on, because burglars will realise that the whole family won’t be sitting in the hallway, but despite the perceived obviousness of such a move, there is still a significant number of people who feel that such a move is a necessity. For most homeowners there are a few main options, and in the App-driven world home automation is rapidly becoming a reality. Into the domestic security market comes another product, the Light Switch Timer from Switched On Products, but is it worthy of consideration?

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ate last year an insurer carried out a survey of domestic policy holders in an attempt to gauge how they viewed the security of their homes. The reason for the survey was that the insurance industry has seen a significant change in attitudes toward the protection and management of assets and property at a householder level.

Whilst the insurance sector is a great champion of graded standards-compliant alarm systems in the commercial and industrial sectors, its attitude towards the mainstream homeowner market is somewhat more lax. A few years ago, domestic security comprised enhanced strength locks and bolts, DIY alarms and professional intruder detection systems.

Unless a property faced very specific risks, few ventured away from these core offerings. They were often supplemented by additional elements such as a dog, or the traditional art of leaving a light on when out! Whilst it’s fair to say that neither of these fall under the banner of ‘security solutions’, the public do perceive them to provide an element of security.

The insurance company which carried out the survey was responding to an obvious trend. In recent times the UK has become increasingly tech-savvy, and the world of App-driven remote control has changed the way we view our homes and domestic lives. The benefits of remote control have been realised, and the simplicity of managing our homes remotely is staggering. If the smartphone has done anything, it has educated the end user to possibilities!

Whilst the survey revealed interest in additional security technologies such as video surveillance, plus an interest in management and automation systems which included security, there was still an understanding of the value of alarm systems. Many also identified the emerging home hub type products from the Apples and Googles of the world as an area where domestic users might look for security in the future.

However, despite a move towards technology and an acceptance of smart remote control, one aspect of security cropped up regularly. It appeared across the board, from those with professional graded alarm systems right down to householders with no security at all. Leaving a light on when out remains a habit that is hard to break.

As an increasing number of intruder alarm manufacturers add home automation to their systems, enabling remote control via an App-based interface, the control of lights, either in real time or via schedules, becomes simpler. Of course, such systems offer such a depth of other functionality so they tap directly into the trend towards smarter living.

Outside of the core security market, home management systems are on the increase, and again light control can be bundled in with a host of other options.

For occasional users, there are timer devices which can either be built into the light switch, or timer sockets can be used with lamps. For those who aren’t away for long, there’s always the manual method! Given that most burglaries are opportunistic, many householders over-estimate the risk of a burglar watching a hose night after night to determine patterns!

With the trend moving towards higher technology solutions, Switched ON Products has launched its Light Switch Timer, a standalone mechanical device which is designed to give the impression of a house being occupied.

Specification
The Light Switch Timer is a battery-powered mechanical device which can be used to switch some lights on and off in response to configured schedules. Designed to quick and simple installation, the standalone device can be programmed with different schedules on a daily, weekly or multiple day (Monday-Thursday, Monday-Friday and Saturday-Sunday)basis. The manual states that the unit supports up to nine programs for each day, but it doesn’t: the total supported is nine programs. Operation can be scheduled, random or manual.

The unit consists of two parts: a cradle which is mounted behind the physical light switch, and the controller. The light switch is loosened, and the cradle slides behind it. It is then held securely when the switch fascia is retightened. Obviously this means that the device is only suitable for single gang switches, and certain types of switches – flush-mount, flat panel, dimmers, etc. – will not work with the unit.

The controller slots into the cradle, covering the light switch. It has a large LCD screen, plus a series of buttons. These are On and Off for general use and override, and there are five buttons – Day, Hour, Min, Enter and Prog – used for configuration. The controller measures 130 x 95mm, with a depth of 50mm.

The LCD screen displays the time, AM or PM, and the day, as well as indicating whether the light is on or off. It also displays the temperature, albeit not very accurately. It does give the impression that the product is a bit gimmicky.

The device is powered by two AA batteries (not supplied), and does include a low battery warning. In the back of the unit, above the uncovered battery space, is a plastic screen with a perforated edge including small circular clips. A plastic wheel is inserted into the clip (there are settings for single, double and triple switches, and two wheels are supplied). When activated, the screen mechanically slides down or up, and the wheel activates the switch.

Whilst the Light Switch Timer will, in some circumstances, switch lighting and offer more flexibility for those seeking more than timed operation, it is not typically the type of product we would consider. However, it has been awarded Secured by Design recognition, and as such the company is promoting it to the professional sector as ‘the Police-approved light switch timer’. As such, some householders may request it as an add-on to a domestic alarm.

The issue with Secured by Design is that the scheme covers a very wide range of devices, from high end complex systems right down to basic DIY products, and without grading it doesn’t deliver a realistic impression of where products or services sit. As such, expectations will be influenced by the individual’s perception of other Secured by Design initiatives or solutions.

Build quality
The unit is manufactured from white polymer, and construction-wise the housing has the same sort of finish as a typical budget electrical switch or socket. The battery compartment is not covered, but it sits inside the cradle so that shouldn’t be an issue in most applications.

Operation of the slide that actually physically moves the switch is driven by a small electrical motor. A gear train using plastic gears then operates an elliptical piston which moves the slide up and down.

The various components are held in place by the casing; there are no fixings or clips internally. Again, this shouldn’t be an issue because there are no serviceable parts. However, this means the elements do connect, and our test sample had a good smear of lubricant inside to keep motion smooth.

When considering the build quality, you have to look at the aesthetics of the unit. There isn’t any way to dress up the fact that it’s ugly. In an age where a growing number of householders are embracing smart devices and enabling technologies, this unit has its roots in the less-than-elegant past.

Admittedly the controller can be removed when not in use, but that leaves the cradle in situ. During our test, the homeowner removed the controller from the cradle when not in use because of its aesthetics, then after a few days of not needing the unit they removed the cradle, and then couldn’t be bothered to replace it, instead just switching the lights on when going out using the light switch!

Given the ‘wow’ factor that some of the automation options can deliver, we did realise that in an ever more technology-based world, the Light Switch Timer doesn’t inspire people with its looks or its functionality.

Performance
Where you have an appropriate light switch, and where that is positioned to allow the cradle to be fitted, the Light Switch Timer works. Operation does deliver an element of noise, but as people will typically be out when it’s in use that matters not.

Configuration is straightforward. The various programs are assigned with On and Off times. It’s a case of select a Program, enter the day, hour and minute for the On time, enter that, then repeat for the off time. The promotional material does imply that you can have up to nine programs per day, but that’ll only be the case if you set it for weekly operation. In reality, there are nine programs!

Besides that, there’s not really a lot to say. The Light Switch Timer is very basic, has one function and operates with one switch unit. If you really want to give the impression of a house being occupied, you will need multiple units and time to configure each individually.

Verdict
When the Light Timer Switch was first launched the company promoted it via blogs to the public as a DIY product. Why they now see the professional market as an option is hard to fathom, but we’d guess that the Secured by Design accreditation was a driver.

During the test out unit was used by a number of householders. None were thrilled with it, and a few gave up using it. They didn’t express interest in using multiple units to give their home that ‘occupied’ look if away on holiday.

The domestic security market is evolving, and the security industry is starting to see the emerging trends of automation and remote control. This product simply doesn’t fit into that space, and belongs in the DIY market.

As a cheap standalone timed light switch, it does what it claims, albeit without modern elegance. For those who are tech-savvy or interested in security solutions, it doesn’t deliver.

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