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You’ve heard it before: this is the year for home systems. Everyone thought market saturation would advance quickly for home systems, but consumers couldn’t get a handle on the plethora of products, protocols, and functions—which benefits they could use. This has changed, partially because of the greater emphasis and merging of computer and telephony technologies and increased Internet use. Consumers want connections to other users in the house. Best of all, they’re comfortable with technology. They know what automation brings to the table and how it can help them in their daily activities. While standards and protocols still weigh heavily for some, it’s mainly what these systems can provide to the user that will propel the growth of home systems. Consumers might not really care about protocols. What they want to know is if they will be able to access their security via telephone from across town, network with other computer users in the home, or pre-program lighting at preset intervals. In other words, they want benefits they can use. Programs such as Wiring America’s Homes, a program of the Home Automation and Networking Association (HANA), Washington D.C., and many others, have educated the public, in essence, bringing technology home. Showing consumers just what automation and home systems can do for them today and in the future with the right planning (i.e., wiring for the future now) is paying off. “This is the year—the market is open,” said Duane Paulson, vice president of Strategic Ventures for Interlogix Inc., St. Paul, Minn. Formerly Interactive Technologies Inc. (ITI), this traditional security firm latched onto automation long ago. Paulson, who is also HANA president and a Consumer Electronics Association’s Home Networking and Information Technology Division board member, said a desire for distributed broadband communications for the home via cable, digital subscriber lines, networking, structured wiring, and more is driving various technologies and systems to be used and deployed. “The Internet is also a huge driver of the market. Once consumers have the infrastructure in the way of structured wiring, automation will follow,” he added. Paulson said installers and users can expect more interoperability between systems through serial connections and automation modules in an add-on, integrated approach. The good news for electrical contractors is that much of the impending market penetration starts with wiring. Home networks’ role will naturally expand into various forms of automation, security, energy management, and a variety of other services. Consumers want automation According to Daniel Martinage, executive director of HANA, consumers’ and contractors’ interest in home automation and networking is at an all-time high. “More and more, home automation products lend themselves to a variety of applications and niches,” he said. For example, seniors need easy access to controls for safety, security, duress, and just plain everyday comfort—all part of the home systems genre. New players are emerging in the installing market, with the biggest push coming from electrical contractors, according to Dave Hanchette, vice president of marketing, OnQ Technologies Inc., Harrisburg, Pa. He said that current statistics indicate approximately 28 percent market saturation for structured wiring systems in new construction. Hanchette is enthusiastic, but said finding and training qualified installers may be an obstacle. “It doesn’t take special skills, but termination and testing may be areas where electrical contractors need additional assistance. Many manufacturers now offer training,” he said. (Hanchette is immediate past president of HANA and current chair of the Wiring America’s Homes Committee.) “It’s all about content and what you want in your home. Home automation is what the consumer wants it to be. It needs to build in a level of flexibility, as well, to give consumers a choice of services.” Hanchette said the market is on the “edge of booming in residential retrofit in addition to new construction.” Don’t you hope he’s right? O’MARA specializes in security and is the owner of DLO Communications Inc. in Park Ridge, Ill. She can be reached at (847)384-1916, or [email protected].