Updating Buzzer & Intercom Systems Old Challenges vs. New Options

As smartphones have become ubiquitous, app-based technologies have impacted nearly every corner of our lives - including how we secure and grant access to our homes. While plenty of multifamily buildings still rely primarily on buzzers and intercom systems for controlling who comes and goes, more and more are moving to include, or even transition entirely to cell phone apps for access control. Apartment dwellers today have the option of answering their door from almost anywhere. With a fully remote-enabled system, the days of coming home to a ‘Sorry we missed you’ notice from UPS on the front door may be over.

Options for improved buzzer and intercom systems still run the gamut from the more traditional audio-only box inside your front door, to video flat screens with phone app-based viewing options, to systems that support not just audio/video, but access control as well, all from a smartphone. What type of system your co-op or condo chooses may depend more on the cost of upgrading and residents’ level of tech-savviness than other factors, but the options are there. Here are a few things to consider if your building is thinking of updating its access control system:

Out With the Old?

“There is a correlation between the age of the system and how easy it is to replace,” says Tony Liebel, CEO of Buzr Labs, a tech start-up located on Roosevelt Island in New York City. “But there’s no cutoff for building age. Theoretically, any system can be replaced.” In working on an older building, Liebel says, “Existing wiring that’s the biggest obstacle to replacement.  In most very old buildings, the wires run from the front door to each unit and are entrenched, so removing or changing them is very difficult.” To get around that complication, he says, “Some companies only replace what’s at the front door and go to a cell phone app-based system, so there isn’t any intercom station in the apartment.”  

“If the existing buzzer or intercom system is working though,” continues Liebel, “the benefit of a retrofit is to bring that system online. For many apartment dwellers still living with old [offline] door-to-door systems, that’s the problem. When you’re not home and you have a delivery, for example, you can’t let them in. Fully 30 percent of packages are undelivered on the first attempt today. But with a cellphone-based app you can let people in without being there.”  

A Cautionary Tale

Along the lines of what Liebel describes, replacement and upgrading an old entry system does have the potential for hassle. One resident of a 56-unit pre-war co-op in Washington Heights describes their experience:


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