Now that home automation has become the wave of the future, many people are seeking residential LANs that increase their homes’ efficiency.

Today, many homes are wired so lighting, entertainment, security, telecommunications, and heating/air conditioning are linked into one centrally controlled system. This system’s wiring includes four-pair twisted Category 5 telephone wire and dual-shielded coaxial cable that is home run to a junction box having access to available electrical power and accessible consumer outlets for system connection. Home run means running all the wires together vertically through central polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping. Wires serving the first floor would be run up from the basement, while wires for the second floor would be run down from the attic. Structured residential local area network (LAN) wiring systems cost between $750 and $2,000.

“There are four ways of accomplishing a residential LAN: power, phone, wireless, and Ethernet applications, and each provides great data speeds in the house,” said David Dern, marketing director for Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA). These four methods include the following:

* A distribution box, containing devices for voice/data/video (VDV) must be readily accessible to cabling maintenance. This provides universal access to networks within the home as well as connectivity to service providers.

* Recommended wiring consists of two Category 5 cables, two RG-6 quad-shielded coax cables, and one dual Category 5/dual-coax outlet to key the room in the house. This wiring provides for basic multimedia and interactive communications services. It supports various communication technology in the home office, including multiple computers, fax machines, home theaters, etc.

* All cables must be strung in a star formation to allow wires to directly link from the distribution box to the outlet. As a result, other connected devices don’t disrupt the services.

* Universal service outlets are designed to support a full range of communication technologies including VDV configurations. The homeowner is able to determine which technologies will be used in a specific room even after the wiring system installation is complete. Outlets may be changed to meet the changing demands of the homeowner.

Most electrical contractors are searching for ways to get more involved in residential networking because there is such a growing need for it, and they need to learn the technologies before they can understand their limitations, Dern said.

For example, Intel recently introduced its AnyPoint Wireless Home Network system, which provides access from one Internet connection for all home PCs. Compaq offers iPAQ Connection Point for high-speed Internet access with firewall security for home networking.

“A wireless LAN is the master council connection to a PC,” said Chuck Hobson, owner of HomeLANs in Michigan. “The other PCs have cards and communicate with the primary PC. It’s great for kids playing games room to room, parents can watch their kids, and it increases the resale value of the house.”
How does it work?

Controlling devices send signals to a central microprocessor, which forwards them to the appliances and systems in the house to be controlled. It then sends or routes communication signals throughout the house. Users may interface with the system by keypads, touch screens, panic buttons, television screens, computers, telephones, handheld remotes, or other devices.

An advanced home wiring system is usually comprised of the central hub service center, which distributes services like digital signal satellite (DSS), Internet, and telephone throughout the house. Residential LAN networks move data at a speed of 100 million bits per second.

Digital satellite, high-speed Internet, and digital television require high-performance cables. These include RG-6 coaxial cable for television and video and Category 5 for telephone and data uses. Coaxial cable offers maximum protection from television interference while Category 5 cabling provides high-speed access to multiple telephone lines. In addition, the home must be wired for the proper amount of outlets based on the services desired for each room, i.e., cable, telephone, Internet access, etc.

“The opportunities for electrical contractors are expanding with the different technologies available,” said David Hill, vice president of business development for Panja and member of the board of directors for the Consumer Electronics Association. “Many are pre-wiring for telephony cabling since more homes are requiring Category 5 cabling. With the increasing demand for new entertainment like MP3 players and digital devices, these contractors are able to make the homes broadband centric.”

Thirteen industry leaders, including Intel, Motorola and 3Com, have acknowledged the demand for residential LANs, having recently formed the HomePlug Powerline. Its purpose is to promote cost-effective, interoperable, and specification-based home powerline networks and products for the connected home.

“This has become a gateway for allowing service providers a way into residences,” said James Sheridan of Superior Essex Group, Inc. “There is a lot of new technology like introducing fiber into the house that has not come just yet. The bottom line is that structured wiring is advancing and people are starting to talk about putting the proper wiring into their homes for whole-house audio and video, automated lighting, and security systems.”

Home automation standards serve as the communication infrastructure for a home automation system, enabling communication between different products and subsystems. From access controls, audio/video systems, and security systems to internal and external communications and satellites, most people realize the importance of getting their homes wired.

SPEED, a Weymouth, Mass.-based freelance writer, can be reached at kkspeed@aol.com.