Today's increasingly sophisticated homeowners are prime prospects for a wide variety of upscale electrical/electronic products and installations that offer increased control, safety, or comfort to the home environment, both from within the home and remotely. All can add value to your bid as well, as to the value of the home.

Home control and protection devices

Cutler-Hammer's Advanced Power System (APS) for the home is an "intelligent" high-tech load center that can replace or supplement an existing load center for monitoring and controlling energy usage, as well as controlling lighting and activating various electrical products and systems. A convenient way to provide a platform for energy management and home automation, it sends and receives signals over existing AC power circuits, so no new wiring is required.

The APS's primary components include a power manager that allows monitoring, control, and communications from the load center. It interfaces with home automation systems such as security and temperature controls, and power sensors that monitor electricity usage at the incoming power line. That way, homeowners can see whole-house spending, as well as branch circuit consumption.

The system also includes remote-control circuit breakers that control dedicated electrical circuits for items such as air conditioners, ranges, water heaters, hot tubs, pools, and lighting. These all can be turned off by the power center under appropriate control input (such as when a fire detector activates).

For homeowner control, the load center's power manager electronic module can connect to the Energy Control Center interface, an electronic wall-mounted keyboard with an LCD display that the homeowner uses to program the system to control light scenes, power management, and security. Other user interface options include personal computer software, touch screens, or special telephones.

According to a recent study using data from the National Fire Protection Association, about 40 percent of fires in residences can be attributed to arcing faults. These faults are often caused by such situations as overheated cords or wires, frayed appliance extension cords, pierced insulation on electrical construction wire, and worn insulation on an appliance's internal wires - conditions outside the normal protection offered by traditional circuit breakers.

To help protect against those types of fires, you can suggest installing a relatively new technology, arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). These provide an added level of protection to a home's electrical wiring system, sensing even low-level arcs.

Available from several manufacturers, including GE, Siemens (offering both plug-in and bolt-on styles), Square D (the Arc-D-tect), and Cutler-Hammer (FIRE-GUARD), AFCIs use electronics designed specifically to detect arcing. Should it detect an arc-type fault, the AFCI stops the flow of electricity in a fraction of a second.

These breakers also provide various levels of protection including thermal protection, overload protection, short circuit protection, arc fault, and ground fault protection. They are suited for either new construction or retrofits.

Although not currently legislated by the National Electrical Code, AFCI will be required nationwide in 15- and 20-ampere residential bedroom circuits beginning in 2002. In fact, Vermont has already passed legislation requiring the installation of the new interrupters in bedroom and all other 120V living area branch circuits in new residential construction by January of 2001.

A recent study by the American Society of Home Inspectors found that nearly 20 percent of ground fault circuit interrupters in homes fail to operate as intended over time and that in areas where there is a high incidence of lightning, nearly 60 percent did not work.

Leviton Manufacturing has just released its new Lockout-Action GFCI, available in 15- and 20-amp versions. This mechanically prevents the GFCI from being reset after it has been damaged and can no longer provide ground-fault protection. This innovation in GFCI technology ensures that power to the GFCI and any feed-through connected device remains off.

Homeowners often have big investments in sophisticated electronics: security systems, multiple TVs, VCRs, computers, telephones, fax machines, answering machines, and a plethora of appliances that can be destroyed by unwanted but common power surges originating outside the home. To help safeguard all the equipment, you might want to suggest whole-house surge protection that would offer added peace of mind during an electrical storm or utility spikes. The whole house protectors take the brunt of the hit, although point-of-use devices should still be used to protect from surges generated within a building, such as from a copy machine or a heater.

Whole-house surge protectors come in a variety of styles: as stand-alone devices for installed adjacent to the load center, as attachments to the center, or as individual breakers. Stand-alone devices offer the highest levels of protection.

Eagle Electric's stand-alone Clean Power Centers Whole House Surge Suppressor, with no internal serviceable parts, is wired to the panel.

Cutler-Hammer's CHSP 3-Way Home Surge Protectors are attached to the panel through a standard panel knockout and protect against all surges on incoming AC power, telephone, and cable lines.

Square D's external modular SURGEBREAKER Plus is hardwired to the load center.

Siemens' Circuit Breaker and Surge Arrestor and GE's THQLSURGE breaker both plug into the panel.

Lighting controls

While occupancy sensors have been popular in warehouses and offices for years, they are starting to stand sentry in homes, as well. In areas where automatic activation of lighting is likely to be appreciated - such as in the garage or in the laundry area - they are an inexpensive, nifty convenience. Some occupancy sensors feature adjustable light-sensitivity settings that can prevent lights from being turned on during ample daylight.

Installed outdoors, often over the patio, a deck, or by garage doors, reliable motion detectors can act as silent watchdogs. You may want to point this out to all your clients. Available from many manufacturers, motion detectors are straightforward installs and are an easy way to add value to the job.

Dimmers, too, are appearing in new places (beyond dining rooms), including master bedroom bathrooms and other spaces where low lighting is sometimes desirable. Since it shouldn't take much longer to install a dimmer than to install a simple on/off switch, if you bill by profit and overhead on materials and labor, you stand to make a lot more money suggesting those installations where they seem appropriate. Your customers will appreciate the suggestion.

Scene-compatible dimmers, covering a variety of lighting choices within one space, are increasing popular high-end lighting control choices in family rooms and home-theater rooms, both as new installations and as retrofits.

Using standard wiring and infrared technology, the Lutron Spacer System, for example, allows homeowners to create and recall up to five lighting scenes. They can set these with a choice of fade-in times (from three seconds to one minute), pretty much in the same way they would set and recall favorite stations on a car radio.

Four-scene and five-scene controllers are available. Dimmers, featuring subtle fade-to-on, function individually and as part of the system. Homeowners can use remote controls with any control configuration.

There are also various types of home automation systems that feature interaction of lighting, security, distributed audio/video, HVAC, and other motor loads to promote owner comfort, safety, and energy savings.

These include basic systems that integrate lighting and security systems, as well as more-complex systems that integrate on-site or remote control of a broad range of appliances and devices. As prices of products drop and as consumer awareness heightens, installations of home automation systems will filter down from luxury homes to a broader market.

For new construction, Lutron's HomeWorks Interactive Lighting Control System, using Windows-based software, offers control of all of a home's lighting, audio, video, HVAC, and other subsystems. The HomeWorks Interactive processor communicates with keypads, handheld controls, dimmers, switches, preset scene controls, and central dimming and switching modules to operate lights, relays, motorized shades, and other devices. Up to 16 processors, each capable of controlling 256 lighting zones, may be integrated.

The software accepts multiple schedules of events, so it can be set for special weekday, weekend, holiday, or vacation modes (when it can make it appear someone occupies the house). The system can be installed on one standard 59-inch panel or on a combination of smaller 32-inch panels.

Lutron's integrated local dimmers or GRAFIK Eye Preset Lighting Controls facilitate up to four scene-lighting choices within each room. The control also interfaces to audiovisual equipment; a handheld infrared wireless remote control will work from anywhere in the room. If a security system is connected to HomeWorks Interactive, selected lights will either flash or turn on to a preselected level in response to an alarm or to manual activation from a keypad.

An optional telephone interface to HomeWorks provides homeowners with access and control of up to nine different functions or events from any touch-tone telephone, in the home or off site. For example, someone owning a second home can call to turn on air-conditioning or heating, preparing the house for when the homeowner arrives for a vacation.

Leviton Decora Home Controls (DHC) is a modular network of transmitters and receivers that uses the home's existing AC wiring to automate control of lighting and appliances. It does not require any low-voltage wiring or dedicated wiring system.

Components fit into standard wallboxes, replacing existing switches and outlets. Many DHC modules feature the company's proprietary Intellisense, a built-in circuit that, notes Leviton, eliminates switching problems caused by line noise interference.

DHC Switch/Receivers can add three-way, four-way, and higher level lighting control to a home without complicated rewiring. All wall switch receivers feature Decora styling. The variety of DHC receivers includes wall-mounted switches, dimmers, and receptacles, as well as plug-in, fixture-mounted, and universal low-voltage modules.
Leviton DHC Transmitters provide programmable and remote control of lighting and appliances by sending command signals over the AC power line.

Transmitters include a touch-screen scene controller/programmer, a variety of one-to-four-button wall-mounted controllers (including scene lighting models), hand-held wireless devices, and an outdoor PIR (WHAT?) motion sensor. The DHC telephone transponder allows end-users to access the DHC network from anywhere outside the home using a touch-tone telephone.

Scene Lighting Control allows individual dimmers to be coordinated into user-selected lighting scenes in a room or across a group of rooms. Leviton's Scene Maker Digital Lighting Controls are part of the DHC line of home automation products. Scene Maker Controllers provide consumers with four separate buttons to resume preprogrammed lighting scenes.

For high-end residential and commercial installations, Leviton's Monet Architectural Grade dimmers can control incandescent, low-voltage, and fluorescent lighting. Monet dimmers can be used with a four- or six-scene controller to provide scene lighting capability.

For residential applications, Leviton's Decora-style Mural dimmers can also be used with a four- or six-scene controller.

Enhancement products for Monet and Mural Dimmers include an infrared hand-held remote control, an occupancy sensor bridge, and a building control interface. (WHAT DO THE SENSOR BRIDGE AND BUILDING CONTROL INTERFACE DO?)

Opportunities for all behind the wall

Here's a phrase you will probably hear increasingly as the young millennium ages: structured wiring. Many builders, who heretofore have been specifying "antiquated" nonintegrated wiring for distinct applications such as intercom, CATV, and telephone, are starting to incorporate structured wiring for the future as a standard amenity in many of their projects, at all strata of the market.

Featuring a central service center (the hub) and using Category 5 and coaxial RG-6 cables and outlets, structured wiring is a process of built-in connections. This wiring can not only distribute conventional telephone and television services but also support closed circuit TV security systems, home entertainment theaters, home office equipment, high-speed Internet access, computer LANs, and various types of home automation. Structured wiring can control heating and cooling, in addition to programming lighting and appliances.

Although most homeowners are not yet aware these technologies are available, many builders, particularly of large projects, are taking advantage of manufacturer-sponsored "builder programs." These programs provide not only discounts on the wiring systems but also marketing materials that help builders explain the advantages of the new structured-wiring systems to potential buyers.

Statistics from Allied Business Intelligence, a research think tank in Oyster Bay, N.Y., show that from 1998 to 1999, total revenues from residential structured wiring almost tripled, from not quite $70 million to almost $208 million. According to ABI, the trend - currently driven by consumer interest in home networking - will continue to gather strength in the year 2000 and beyond.

Of approximately 1.5 million single-family houses built last year, about 100,000 had structured wiring, up from 30,000 in 1998. This year and for the next several years, as consumers and builders become aware of all the benefits and opportunities made available by structured wiring, those numbers are expected to rise.

Park Associates, a Dallas-based market research and consulting firm that analyzes emerging technologies for the home, predicts that by 2004, 40 percent of new homes (including single-family and multi-building dwelling units) will be prewired with either structured wiring or its equivalent.

Several companies offer their own structured wiring systems. Because the systems use sensitive, high-speed Category 5 cabling, that requires a light touch during installation, most - if not all - offer training courses. Firms typically require an individual to complete at least one course before certifying that person to install their system.

Some structured-wiring systems simply consist of wire, service center or hub, and termination points (outlets and plates). Others are more ambitious and provide optional home management and automation controls, as well.

So far, builders are generally putting in the wiring and devices as selling points to make the homes future-friendly, and are leaving the home management and automation systems to homeowners to select as options, either at the time of construction or later.

Representative providers

Greyfox Systems' Advanced Home Wiring System offers a modular approach designed around the Residential Gateway Hub to provide up to 16 audio, video, and data ports throughout a home. The hub manages and integrates basic and optional modules including camera, computer networking, power distribution, audio distribution, residential telecommunications, and home office modules.

Lucent Technologies' Home Star Wiring System employs a home run or star network topology throughout the residence. Each outlet is a termination point for a direct, dedicated run from the service center.

IBM's Home Networking system consists of the Home Network Connection Center, which contains the hub, and the Home Network Controller, a dedicated processor with software that allows connection and integration of the systems in the home.

Honeywell Systems' new model features an Internet-enabled home controller interface for security, HVAC, lighting and other systems, which can be monitored and controlled remotely over the Web.

OnQ Technologies offers both OnQ home wiring and OnQ Home management, which includes an integrated, sophisticated lighting control system and two different home management systems, which can incorporate optional add-ons.

Users can control the OnQ applications by keypad, key fob, home PC or touch-tone telephone (both local and remote).

Ortronics Inc.'s In House is a complete star-wired modular, residential, structured cabling system that allows for plug-and-play capabilities. It incorporates a variety of networking products including multimedia wall plates with snap-I connector modules.

The UStec tecLAN III home network product line offers numerous components including a digital TV-capable dual coax network amplifier with surge protection on each port, and a satellite expansion multiswitch. It also features a camera power module, an audio speaker hub (that services three to seven rooms), and a surveillance camera with built-in modulator that creates a television channel for viewing on every TV in the house (including at the front door).

Other high-tech wiring devices

Several easy-to-install products for either new construction or retrofits offer convenience for both installers and end-users and contribute to a neat, finished look for the home.

Pass & Seymour/Legrand has a new line of network wiring devices that includes work station products and telecommunications products, many of which could be used in residential structured wiring. These include faceplates that accept a variety of jack types on one plate; surface-mounted boxes that can support basic voice or data as well as fiber-optic cable and multimedia applications, and snap-in jacks that come in Category 5/5e, Cat 3, USOC, and multimedia modules.

The Wiremold Company's Activate Connectivity System includes inserts, faceplates, and specialty mounting bezels that could offer aesthetically pleasing, flexible ways of connecting communications cabling at the point of use in a home. For example, the Super VHS insert, featuring a solderless termination method, provides convenient connections for projection TVs and home theater systems.

Eliminating the need for multiple single-gang boxes and faceplates, the company's WallSource Multi-Service Box offers multiple-service access at a single location, facilitating subsequent adds, moves, and changes.

For managing and concealing home office cables and other wires and cables associated with computer, communications, and entertainment equipment, The Wiremold Company offers Access 5000 raceway in a decorative baseboard or chair rail design. The raceway, which features snap off/snap on raceway covers and fittings, mounts to any surface, including plaster, concrete, brick, drywall, or paneling. Device plates, installable anywhere along the raceway, accommodate power receptacles, telephone jacks, and outlets for data, coaxial, security, and home automation cabling.

The FELDMANS write on trends and products, including computers and electronic commerce technologies, for the electrical and general contracting fields. Authors of Construction & Computers (McGraw-Hill), they can be reached at wfeldman@worldnet.att.net or at (914) 238-6272.

Companies mentioned in text:

Cutler-Hammer: www.cutlerhammer.com, (800) 525-2000;
Eagle Electric Manufacturing Co., Inc.: www.eagle-electric.com, (800) 441-3177;
General Electric: www.ge.com, (800) 431-7867;
Greyfox Systems: www.greyfox.com, (877) GREYFOX;
Honeywell Inc.: www.honeywell.com, (800) 345-6770 ext. 7474;
IBM: www.ibm.com, (800) 426-7144;
Leviton Manufacturing Co., Inc.: www.leviton.com, (800) 323-8920;
Lucent Technologies: www.lucent.com/networks/homestar, (800) 344-0223;
Lutron Electronics Co., Inc.: www.lutron.com, (610) 282-3800, ext. 6067;
OnQ Technologies, Inc.: www.onqtech.com, (800) 321-2343;
Ortronics, Inc.: www.ortronics.com, (860) 599-1760;
Pass & Seymour/Legrand: www.passandseymour.com, (315) 468-6211;
The Wiremold Co.: www.wiremold.com, (860) 233-6251; and
UStec: www.ustecnet.com, (800) 836-2312