Structuring a New Opportunity
Today’s homeowners are getting connected like never before. With the proliferation of electronic devices for entertainment, communication and security, demand for integrated systems in the home is reaching an all-time high.
In fact, “more than 30 million households will have a network that bridges numerous products and extends the entertainment experience to multiple rooms in the home by 2010,” according to a recent report by Parks Associates, a Dallas-based market research firm specializing in home connectivity. Electrical contractors are well positioned to get in on this exploding market, which is expected to grow steadily over the next six years, reaching $6 billion in 2012. And structured wiring is the way to break in.
Entertainment Driving Demand
Homeowners want televisions and computers, audio and video devices all over the home to communicate with each other.
The most popular technology being used to meet this demand is structured wiring, or systems of high-speed cabling. “There’s no question that structured wiring has the highest penetration rates in new home building than any other service,” says Walt Zerbe, a member and committee chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).
“More and more, homes need structured wiring because of the devices people want to use, like gaming stations,” Zerbe says. “They have broadband connectivity so multiple players can play—or for, telecommuting. TiVo and other services can also be networked and talk to each other. And the majority of them need the wires there so they can do it.”
Zerbe is an authority in multi-room audio, having headed the CEA work group that developed the CEA Multi-Room Audio Cabling Standard. “Audio and home theater are two of the fastest growing categories in the home-building market,” he says. “The iPod has given audio a rebirth. People have gotten used to the portability and convenience. It’s safe to say that you can lump structured wiring and audio and home theater pretty closely together.”The Basics
Structured wiring, as its name suggests, offers an organized solution to the current and future needs of a home’s communication infrastructure. And it makes economic sense. After all, pulling bundles of wires to every room in the house now is a less expensive proposition than opening walls and pulling wires later.
The structured wiring network begins at a central distribution panel, which serves as the network hub. From this central panel, structured bundles of wire can be extended to every significant room in the house. Most often, Category 5e cable (or Cat 5) communications cabling and RG-6 coaxial cabling are used in order to accommodate computer networks, telephone, whole-house audio and more.
“You shouldn’t think of Cat 5 and coax wires as just for phone and cable,” Zerbe says. “You should think of it as a medium to which a whole host of things can be attached. On either end of that wire, you could put an endless amount of devices: a phone jack, network jack, intercom, camera, an audio keypad and more.”
By using pre-configured systems of high-speed cabling, you can provide the homeowner extreme flexibility with the ability to modify and add components to the network at any time.
Keep Pace with New Demand
Zerbe encourages electrical contractors to become familiar with industry standards before jumping in.
As a first step, he recommends studying the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) 570-B standard. “This standard summarizes very nicely what you should learn, such as how much phone cable to pull to a room, what kind of phone cable it should be, what kind of coax to use, what kind of ratings the cables need to have, and how far cables should be placed from electricity,” Zerbe says.
CEA-2030, the multi-room audio cabling standard that Zerbe’s committee developed, also provides guidelines for installing wiring for entertainment throughout the home.
“CEA-CEB17 provides recommended practice for putting speakers in a house—where can you put them; what should you be concerned about,” he adds. “It’s very informative and a very good guide for someone just starting out.”
Position Yourself for Success
With demand for home networks growing—and custom integrators taking a larger share every year—it’s time for electrical contractors to get in on the ground floor of this hot market. “It’s often a good situation for electricians,” Zerbe says. “Because many states or jurisdictions require you to be a licensed electrician to pull low-voltage wiring, they’re almost handing you the business. So, you should become familiar with this area.”
|Stand Your Ground|
The numbers tell the story: It’s important for electrical contractors to get in on the structured wiring/home technology integration market. There has been a downward trend in working with electrical contractors for home technologies since 2002, while builders and contractors have been turning to custom installers more year after year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) Fifth Annual State of the Builder’s Study.
Type of Installation Contractor for Home Technologies