“Home theaters are a nice opportunity for electrical contractors, especially when installing home-theater lighting controls,” said Jay McLellan, president and chief executive officer of Home Automation Inc. (HAI), New Orleans. “There are opportunities for dimming lights down, adding more sophisticated wall sconces and letting the homeowner more adequately control their lighting systems. We offer a wall-mounted controller that allows the homeowner to select one of four scenes. It’s easy to use and, by adjusting the switches, you can switch from one lighting scene that you may have selected for reading, another for watching movies or yet another for relaxing.”

Many manufacturers are now updating their systems with wireless technology that can easily interconnect to home-automation systems and home computers.

“We have another product coming out in the summer that will be a remote control that is designed to accommodate different pieces of equipment,” McLellan said. “For example, you will be able to hold the remote and turn on a movie and with the same remote control the lighting. The Lumina product line—which includes time scheduling, motion detection, Internet access and you can plug in a thermostat as well—is the most popular wall-mounted device that replaces light switches. It uses a new technology called UPB or universal powerline bus, which offers the most advanced digital communication standard available that transmits over standard electrical wires. The home automation business is growing by leaps and bounds. A lot of new manufacturers are coming into the business now. This used to be niche, traditionally handled by low-voltage installers because many saw it as a security system installation. Lumina’s key feature is lighting control and it offers specific opportunities for electrical contractors.”

Opportunities abound

Electrical contractors can install low-voltage lighting for coves, built-ins around television screens and accent lighting.

“Many homeowners are requesting accent lighting be installed on steps, wall sconces for access lighting and dimmers,” said Joann Wills, merchandising and training specialist for Sea Gull Lighting Products, Riverside, N.J. “The Ambiance LX product offers linear low-voltage lighting so it is really inconspicuous. It is important to install the lights out of the line of vision so the effect is indirect or dimmed.

“Disk lights for built-ins on either side of a television are popular and used as accent lights for artwork or to create an old time theater look. In our Transitions/Trenton Collection, the pendants are great for a bar area or for highlighting a movie poster in a home theater.”

Wills believes electrical contractors can easily capitalize on this marketplace.

“The opportunity for contractors in installing these home-theater systems is huge,” Wills said. “The media room has become very popular and high-end with fiber optic cabling, etc. More and more homeowners are investing quite a bit of money in these home theaters as well. When installing these systems, contractors should also keep in mind glare on the screen, lights left on a low level posing a safety issue and lights being used for games or in a family room setting. Dimmers in a home- theater installation are an absolute must.”

Home-theater system installations vary from the straightforward installation where the homeowner buys a prepackaged do-it-yourself kit in a box to new home construction with installation structured wiring and cabling for video displays, including a widescreen or projection television.

“For the home-theater installer, electrical contractors should work with builders, but the trend now is for electrical contractors to get up to speed educating themselves on the standard points of home automation and structured wiring,” said Frank Koditek, marketing manager for home entertainment product line of Belden CDT Electronics Division. “If they increase their knowledge base of low-voltage systems, they can say they are trained and certified to do those systems.”

Companies such as Belden offer a variety of products for low-voltage wiring, including data cables, Category 5 cables, sound cables, speaker wires and security wiring that is needed for the complete home wiring package.

“We do have individual and composite cables offering what we call banana peel construction, which is basically multiple cables in one unit that enables the residential installer to pull multiple cables in a single pull, eliminating the need for an overall jacket,” Koditek said. “For widescreen TVs, we offer an RGB cable, which is a component video cable designed to address analog video’s ability to capture and transmit complex moving images utilizing analog-only equipment and frequency limited cables. It provides video feed to the widescreen TV and brings the components to the screen in better definition. We offer speaker cables for the surround sound system that can be hard wired in with high-end quality wire to provide top quality sound.”

Manufacturers meet the need

Many manufacturers are developing to meet the demands of technology, telecommunications and even energy conservation.

“It ties into having the flexibility to upgrade to one stop shopping solutions for integrated products,” said Jason Sherrill, product manager for Cooper Wiring Devices. “We have seen continued growth in infrastructure developments. Structured wiring can be interfaced with any software. Our newest product, MediaSync, offers a flexible solution to the customer base.

“There has been an explosion in the audio, security and camera divisions and the certification for low-voltage installers to meet Code has risen. We believe it will truly be in every home, and electrical contractors will be running some form of low-voltage installation. Studies say that 55 percent of all new homes have structured wiring and the opportunities are only going to continue to grow from here.”

Structured wiring products need to be installed by electrical professionals who know power and data wiring and who can sell security as part of a one-stop power and structured wiring package.

“Today, 75 percent of all home-theater installations are done by low voltage or home-theater installers,” said Brad Wills, director of new business development for Square D/Schneider Electric. “The U.S. is catching up to the rest of the world, especially Europe and Australia where it is common to see a more centralized lighting system. That’s standard in Australia.”

Wills sees the home-theater market growing for residential electrical contracting firms that can do all the power and data wiring a homeowner wants.

“The electrician can set lighting to have different scenes or modes for what you prefer to view,” Wills said. “The beauty of it all is that it gives the electrical contractor the ability to offer lighting control for the balance of the home. Traditionally, it used to be just a simple wire and leave, but today, it requires the contractor to spend additional time with the consumer and finalize wiring for the balance of the home. [With] the mixture of high voltage with lighting control, the contractor may feel like bumping heads with the low-voltage installer. It is important to understand that as more electrical contractors become interested in lighting control, many jobs are being lost to these [contractors].

“It would be most successful for everyone if the low-voltage installer and electrical contractor joined forces together because the customer wants a turnkey design that goes together. It should be a cooperative effort,” Wills said.

Lighting adds flair

A simple lighting change provides an entirely different mood and ambiance.

“Lighting control adds extra flair to a home, but thanks to Saturn and Neo input devices, that streamlined, modern look isn’t limited to the scenes and moods the lights themselves create,” Wills said. “These beautiful devices are built to stand out, yet at the same time blend into a home’s aesthetics. Their functionality will make for simple usage by those who live in a home and their guests.”

Knowing when to get a foot in the door is the key for contractors looking to do home-theater installations.

“There are two variations—the dedicated home-theater room with tiered staging and dedicated seats or the home theater in a basement, family room or other multipurpose room where the lighting control is simple and dedicated,” said David Bruce, national sales manager of new business development for Square D/Schneider Electric. “The more popular theater is in the family room where you walk into the room, hit one button, a screen drops down or a flat-screen TV turns on, the shades close and the lighting is dimmed.”

In the long term, more electrical contractors will win the race if they gain additional knowledge and are able to provide lighting, security and whole home automation systems.

“Home-theater installations tend to involve up to date innovations and computer programming from the electrical contractor,” Bruce said. “It’s not something they had been required to do in the past. There is an aging demographic for electrical contractors where the sons and daughters are now getting involved in the business and expanding technology to home theater, lighting control and whole home systems with heating, security and HVAC systems designed to cut back and save energy with the push of a button.” EC

SPEED is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or kkspeed@aol.com.