Add to your profit with voice and data wiring

Residential electrical contractor owners and managers must often push aside their efforts to increase business and improve the bottom line to make way for bidding projects and managing jobs. Outside of additional jobs or adding line-voltage work to a current job, your choices are limited. Add-ons and change orders can help, but what most contractors have to do is think outside the box. Usually you want to get the job finished, inspected and move on to the next residence. Finding a way to add to your bottom line, with a minimum capital investment and training, while using your current worker base, would be ideal. You can do this by working in an area where you already have expertise, but are not bound by electrical codes and inspections.

Installing residential telephone, data and cable wiring inside the home is no longer something local phone companies do or cable/satellite providers want to do. Telephone providers are required to run their lines only to the demarcation box outside the residence. Cable and satellite providers will work in the home, but they prefer to bring their lines near the demarcation box. Independent telephone installers or homeowners run the internal lines, connecting to the demarcation box. It is similar to a power company feeding the load center and you, the contractor, distributing the load within the structure. This is where you seize the opportunity to add profitability to your bottom-line while still on a job site.

What is different about installing residential voice, data and CATV wiring is that, except for some basic building and wiring codes (plenum versus nonplenum wire, for instance), there are no building or electrical codes or inspections with which you must comply.

Pulling voice, data and CATV structured wiring follows some very straightforward standards established over the past 20 years as the industry’s commercial side has evolved. They were put into place to encourage “futureproofing” commercial and government structured wiring. By doing this, buildings wired to current standards could be billed as “wired for the future,” in that the structured wiring will handle advances in voice and data technology. Also, one installation would be similar in performance to an installation in another part of the world. This would enable, to some extent, a new owner or tenant to move in and “plug and play” their telephone and data network without much more than a few visits to the telecommunications closet. In many cases, project managers are used to ensure everything runs smoothly once the installation job is won.

Residential structured wiring has evolved on a similar but smaller and less competitive scale. With many contractors aiming at bidding and winning large commercial jobs, the residential side has been left virtually unattended. The structure size, number of “drops” and ability to design the job with the customer makes preinstallation easy work. There are residential standards that, when followed, enable a person to plug and play telephones, computers and CATV at their new home. They can move them to another residence and have the same plug-and-play success, if both are wired properly. The standards include minimum numbers of outlets per room, outlet configuration, types of wire to use and suggestions on how to route wires and cables. Because these are standards and not legal code, you are free to install jacks, faceplates and wiring wherever and however you and your customers choose. Following the standards will help ensure the job is completed with the future in mind. Your job will be to work with the customer to make reasonable suggestions as to how to lay out the cabling plan. Complying with the standards should be the rule, rather than the exception, as doing so justifies the added income warranted by futureproofing the residence.

The residential standards are basic and not difficult to follow, but compliance requires training. Most residential product manufacturers will gladly put on a free training session in anticipation of your using their products. Local distributors also sponsor training sessions. These courses usually include a short classroom session, including hands-on training, product training and perhaps a demonstration of the wiring techniques used in residential structured wiring. The learning curve for residential structured wiring is relatively short—a few terminations and cable runs is all it takes to see how it all comes together.

One of the great benefits of being an electrical contractor is that you are already on the site where the structured wiring will be installed. Your installers already have the basic tools and items in hand drills, gem boxes and wire cutters. You will need some additional tools, but the investment is relatively inexpensive compared to the possible profit generated by doing residential communications wiring. Although the structured wiring can be installed either before or after the electrical wiring, it is suggested that it be done after the electrical wiring is pulled. That way it can be routed to meet residential-voice and data-wiring standards while limiting electrical interference. As your installers understand the difference between the electrical and voice/data wiring, they will be able to comply with the proposed standards very quickly.

In order to optimize the selling and marketing of this new profit center, you should approach the builders you currently work with. Tell them what you are considering doing to enhance not only your business, but also their business. You want to offer the builder a way for them to make their home more appealing to the buyers. Communications and entertainment wiring is something that the customer wants, but it is rarely brought up by the builder. Having a communications-wiring package will make the builder stand out from competitors. You will also separate your company from your competition by making the same offer to the builder. The builder wins and you win. Work closely with your builder and the customer, covering all the bases and letting them know installing all the wiring at the right time is the most cost effective.

Start to think about expanding your business, but within your area of expertise: residential wiring. There is no magic formula, but you must get into the business properly. In the next installment, you will read about the training, tools, basic standards and what it will cost to begin profiting from residential communications wiring. EC

DEGAN has been involved with the sales and marketing of electrical and structured wiring industry for 18 years. He has managed a regional distribution channel, worked for major manufacturers and is currently the Mid-Atlantic regional manager for a manufacturer. He can be reached at skipd@nexet.com.