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Structured wiring

The $1.7 million mansion overlooking a Kansas City golf course features an indoor basketball court and a humidity-controlled wine closet. Like many other new, custom-built homes, the 10,000 sq ft house is also equipped with a $15,000 home automation system that programs the lighting, security, HVAC and intercom system."Smart homes" are not a wave of the future. They're here today and the home automation

The $1.7 million mansion overlooking a Kansas City golf course features an indoor basketball court and a humidity-controlled wine closet. Like many other new, custom-built homes, the 10,000 sq ft house is also equipped with a $15,000 home automation system that programs the lighting, security, HVAC and intercom system.

"Smart homes" are not a wave of the future. They're here today and the home automation market is growing steadily. Allied Business Intelligence, an Oyster Bay, New York-based technology research company found that the total home automation and networking market is expected to pull in revenues of $7.7 billion by 2004. ABI also reported that the total revenues from residential structured wiring installations are expected to triple from $69.5 million in 1998 to $207.9 million in 1999.

Structured Wiring Navin Sabharwal, a home automation analyst for ABI, said structured wiring installation will be an invaluable skill for electrical professionals in the future. Structured wiring, which acts as a backbone for delivering signals throughout a home, often involves the installation of Cat 5 and coaxial cable.

"Structured wiring is a lucrative market and is growing rapidly," Sabharwal said. "Instead of hiring two separate labor crews-one for electrical and one for structured wiring-why not have one crew do both?"

That's exactly what happened at a job site in South Dakota. Gary Bell, president and CEO of Future House in Leawood, Kan., said he had the electrical contractor handle the structured wiring for a lottery winner's $1.6 million, 9000 sq foot log cabin. The cabin will be equipped with a security system with cameras, an intercom system that speaks to the entertainment system, a telephone ID system and a home theater. Because the electrical contractor had seven electricians on the site, Bell laid out the structured wiring platform. The electricians then pulled the cable and Bell initialized the platform.

"It was the fastest way to do it and was cost effective," Bell said. "I didn't have to drag a second crew to a remote point."

Tim Arneson, president of Arneson Electric, said it was the first time his crew has installed both the electrical and structured wiring.

"Pulling the cables was pretty simple," Arneson said. "Bell told them where to put the cables and the guys made the pulls for him. The fact that we were already there doing the wiring made it easier for us to do it rather than for him to mobilize people all the way from Kansas."

Arneson said the project took about a day and a half, but he had to go back to the site later to fix the smart switches.

"The project went well, but we had one major problem-the smart switches didn't handle anywhere near the capacity of 500 W," Arneson said. "The switches literally melted. They generated a terrible amount of heat."

Bell said that six of the dimmers were placed in one box, causing them to overheat.

"Dimmers must be derated when placed in multi-ganged applications," Bell said. "Dimmers are an electronic device, not a mechanical switch." Arneson estimated that he spent 30 to 40 hours replacing the dimmer switches with 1000 W dimmers.

"It caused a great deal of excess labor," Arneson said. "It's a matter of learning tricks. When we do this again, we're not doing anything less than 1000 W dimmers."

Training for electrical professionals Arneson said his crew didn't have much training with pulling cable or working with switches. Recently, however, he took a class on Cat 5 cabling. "There's a certain expertise to cable pulling," Arneson said.

Ken Neal, security consultant for Teague Electric Construction, Inc., agreed that there is a finesse to working with structured wiring. His company got involved with structured wiring two years ago when Teague Electric started installing structured wiring in a large south Kansas City subdivision. The subdivision will eventually have 1500 houses on about 960 acres-and all of them will be equipped with Amp's OnQ structured wiring system. The OnQ structured wiring system features a central distribution panel, which brings all the wires to a central point. This will allow the homeowners to future-proof their homes while they are newly-built rather than wiring their homes down the road, which can double or triple the cost.

"There's an addendum in the contract which says the homeowners have to get the OnQ structured wiring system," Neal said. "Most people put in the basic system, but some want more features. It's a selling point because it will be known as a progressive subdivision."

To brush up on structured wiring, Neal and his coworker attended a three-day training course offered by ADI, a national wholesale security company. Since then, he has taken a few, short training courses to keep him up-to-date .

"The wiring has to be loose, not tight," Neal said. You also have to try to avoid 90 deg turns, try to loop instead of bend and try to avoid running the wiring parallel with ac electrical wiring."

Teague Electric, one of the largest residential contractors in the Kansas City area, now has three full-time structured wiring installers. Neal said it is critical for electricians to learn the basics of structured wiring.

"The technology, even in the electrical field, is changing," Neal said. "The systems out there involve a little more than a single pull switch that operates a light. In order to keep up with the progress, electricians will have to learn the technology."

Because electrical contractors may not be familiar with low-voltage wiring, both manufacturers and organizations have launched training programs for installers. The Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) is starting an initiative to create a curriculum and a test at vocational schools and high schools for electrical system technicians. Matthew Swanston, manager of communications for CEMA, said this low-voltage wiring training will give electricians a step ahead in the home automation market.

"Traditional electricians shy away from low voltage because it seems complicated," Swanston said. "But it's not more complicated than following building codes for electricians. Pulling Cat 5 and fiber optic cable is going to be a lucrative business for folks. A number of people are starting to embrace it."

Swanston said qualified, entry-level electricians are hard to find, let alone electricians who are knowledgeable about (Continued from page 20) low-voltage wiring. He said he hopes the training programs will prepare electricians for the future. "We're going to create a field of expertise by training a pool of qualified electricians who can do all the facets of low voltage wiring," Swanston said.

Because of the shortage of trained installers, IBM has also launched a program to train electricians, security system installers and HVAC installers to plan, maintain and install its home automation system, Home Director. Elizabeth Cornell, integrator channel manager, said IBM currently has 75 companies with a total of about 300 installers authorized to install the system. Cornell said the majority of the installers come from security system companies with only about 10 electrical contractors authorized by IBM.

Swanston said IBM's program of training installers shows that qualified electricians and installers are in demand. "It is a symptom of the shortage that manufacturers have to go out and train their own people," Swanston said. "You would not see Kenmore train plumbers to install its dishwashers."

Bell said the reason for the low number of contractors is because of the time involved in setting up a home automation system. Those who are authorized by IBM are expected to not only install the Home Director, but also meet with the homeowner to program the system. After the initial setup, the integrators remain on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to calls from customers. He predicts that few electrical contractors will perform both the installation and the maintenance of the home automation systems.

Instead, he thinks that home automation and security companies will serve as the "electronic architect" with the electricians serving as the installers. "Most electrical contractors don't understand home automation and are afraid of it because it is labor intensive," Bell said. "Typically the electrical contractor wants to put it in, get paid and walk away."

For example, Bell said when he worked on the 10,000 sq ft Kansas City home, he worked with the family on customizing the home automation system to fit their lifestyle. Doug Cusick, a Kansas City plastic surgeon, said the house was both hard-wired and set up with a X-10 system, which transmits information over the power lines, so he and his family could lower costs while increasing flexibility. "I was interested in using an X-10 system because I had used it before," Cusick said. "The system works flawlessly and we're thrilled with it. The system does more and it is a lot less expensive."

Bell hard-wired the main controllers to his computer and then installed X-10 switches throughout the house. This allowed the Cusick family the ability to add on different automation features without paying for rewiring. For security reasons, the family wanted to be able to turn on all the exterior lights, all the interior lights or all the lights in the house with the single flick of a switch. "The lights can talk to the security system," Bell said. "Most burglars don't want to stay around if all the lights are on."

The Leviton "smart switches" each carry an identification number or "address." These switches can be controlled by the PC in the den and Square D's Elan Home Electronics Network in the basement. "The home automation system is like a computer without a monitor, modem or hard drive but with a lot of memory," Bell said.

Smart homes, like Cusick's house, are no longer in the realm of science fiction, Bell said. "Most customers don't realize that it is here now and it's capable of greatly enriching their lives," he said.

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