The Internet. Livingroom LANs. The Internet. Telecommuting. The Internet. Security. The Internet. DBS satellite and cable TV. And, if you didn't catch it before…the Internet.

These are a few of the many drivers that are creating one of the hottest topics in the homebuilder's world since electric lights in every room: network wiring for the home.

Homeowners today are quite aware of voice/data/video's (VDV's) capabilities in the workplace. And whether it's for necessity, prestige, or simply a "just gotta have it" attitude of the latest technology, homeowners are demanding the same capabilities where they live.

Builders, remodelers, and homeowners alike have sorted through the benefits and differences of home network wiring versus home automation. Home network wiring is about communicating information. Electronic communications-telephone and television-have earned their place as "necessities" for decades.

Today, the degree of information in the home has increased, with the addition of the Internet and through many types of media. This has driven the requirement for cables that are capable of distributing this digital, high-speed information at your doorstep throughout your home. Information can be educational, personal, entertaining, or protective, but whatever form information takes, American homeowners have deemed it necessary to have at our fingertips.

Home automation, on the other hand, is about performing a function or task. The home automation industry has made great strides in promoting products to mainstream America, particularly lighting controls with occupancy sensors and dimming. Other aspects of home automation, such as climate control, sprinkler systems, motorized drapes, and lighting scenes, are still years away from mainstream acceptance, because they are not considered necessities.

To quantify this demand, an estimated 100,000 new homes were built with star-wired network wiring last year. Many industry experts believe that by 2004, half of the housing starts in America-over 500,000 homes-will include some form of network wiring.

Fueling the interest in home network wiring, the TIA/EIA has updated the Residential Cabling Standards in September of 1999 as TIA/EIA 570A. This was a complete rework of the previous residential standard, which was last updated in 1991. Until the revisions of TIA/EIA 570-A, there was little direction for builders, installers, and homeowners in designing a functional cable plant for the home.

Telephone systems were commonly daisy-chained from one outlet to another; and telephone line configuration at an outlet was typically unnecessary, as there was seldom more than one incoming telephone line. Incoming television signal from cable or antenna were typically split and added to in order to meet the needs of the moment.

Video signals were repeatedly split, each time degrading signal strength. TIA/EIA 570-A has eliminated all haphazard practices formerly used for telephone and video signals, and recommends a star-wired topology for all twisted pair and coaxial cables in homes. The scope of TIA/EIA 570-A is threefold, in that it recommends a topology, the quantity and location for anticipated services, and performance criteria for the acceptable cable and connector installation.

The TIA/EIA 570A Residential Cabling Standard suggests two grades, or levels, of service. Grade One provides for basic telecommunications services and would contain one coaxial cable and one unshielded twisted pair cable to each outlet in the home.

Grade Two is recommended for multimedia and future applications and requires two coaxial cables and two unshielded twisted pair to each location. The standard outlines rooms that should contain at least one communications outlet and gives recommendations for additional locations. The TIA lists approved cables for communications outlets as coaxial cable having a minimum Series 6 Dual Shield and unshielded twisted pair being a minimum of Category 3, with Category 5 recommended.

While the TIA/EIA standards have always been recommendations for good cabling practices, they have rarely been adopted by local or national building codes. In the case of residential network wiring, however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stepped up on behalf of homeowners and has passed a ruling that all new cable installed after July 2000, for telecommunications services in a home, be minimally Category 3 Wiring. It is anticipated that standards organizations and local building codes will soon adopt these rulings resulting in a dramatic increase in the quality of communications wiring in our homes.

There are three main components of a residential network wiring system: a distribution device, a communications outlet, and the cable that connects the two (See Figure 1). The distribution device is a center or hub of the cabling system. The capabilities of the distribution device vary among manufacturers but should minimally contain provisions for the following networks:

Video network: Video distribution units should have the capabilities of distributing video signals throughout the house. Video may be from various external sources such as CATV, DBS satellite, or antenna, or from internal sources such as a modulated signal from a DVD player, VCR, or security/monitoring camera.

Telephone network: Telephone signals from multiple lines should be capable of being easily distributed and configured throughout a home by the homeowner. This can be accomplished through the use of a cross-connect, similar in concept to a commercial patch panel. One of the simplest methods of accomplishing this cross-connect function is the use of RJ-45 plugs for termination of the horizontal cable at the distribution device (See Figure 2). This allows for a homeowner-friendly interface for future telephone line configuration.

Local area network (LAN): Homeowners are realizing the benefits of sharing computer resources-printers, files, and Internet service-because of their familiarity with LANs in the workplace. The distribution device can provide the required hardware to configure a LAN using the same horizontal cables that are star-wired for telephone service.

In addition to the voice/data/video capabilities that are served through the distribution device, many manufacturers are making provisions for security interface, whole-house audio distribution, and security monitoring.

Communications outlets are the devices that allow homeowner interface throughout the home. They minimally contain one coaxial connector and one UTP connector rated Category 3 or higher. In order to accommodate full video capabilities, this should be upgraded to one UTP and two coaxial connectors. Homeowners who anticipate any type of digital service should see the value in upgrading to Grade Two communications outlets, thus providing two UTP and two coaxial cables at each outlet. In the residential wiring standard, all outlets shall be wired using the T568A pin/pair assignment.

Where do you as an electrical contractor fit into this picture? For the last decade, we have seen commercial telecommunications cabling chartered by cabling installers and contractors, as they were the first on the scene of this trade, responding to the needs of corporate MIS directors and telecommunications administrators.

On the residential side of the business, a group of installers operate in the world of Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association (CEDIA), which specializes in home electronics and automation. You, as an electrical contractor focusing on the residential opportunities of the business, are best suited to capture this exciting, dynamic, and profitable market. You are on the job site already. You have strong, long-time relationships with your builder partners. The homeowner is buying two wiring systems. Why are you installing only one?

LYGA is marketing manage -data communications for Pass & Seymour/ Legrand, and is a BICSI Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD). For more information, contact tom_lyga@pass-seymour.com.