The electrical installation industry is yet again at the fore-front of a technology that could change the way we live forever. At the turn of the last century, electrical power wiring changed everything. At the turn of this century, residential structured wiring could be the next big leap.

The similarities between the two events are interesting. Some people see wired homes as a luxury that will remain reserved for the wealthy. But when electricity was introduced, it had few applications. For instance, the electric washing machine was seen as a luxury item. That's why structured wiring is poised to grow 10 times in size in the next four years to a $1.4 billion industry, according to Cahners In-Stat Group. How can you make the most of this opportunity? The key is to understand what's driving the trend. Let's separate the myths from the realities.

Myth. Structured wiring is a luxury item with few applications.

Reality. Structured wiring will affect homes of all sizes.

Structured wiring is about selling bundles as much as electricity is about putting in outlets. Structured wiring helps simplify lifestyles through practical applications. Luxury homes are installing systems today that manage the entire home, but at the very least, the PC and clear TV reception are good reasons for proper wiring in the rest of the market. More than 54% of U.S. households own a PC and 25% of those households own at least two PCs. The top driver today for wired homes is shared PC resources (printers and Internet). Besides, consumers accept that wiring is relatively cheap and can be added to modularly, whereas trying to upgrade infrastructure later can cost up to four times as much, including the inconvenience of tearing into walls.

Myth. Structured wiring is a pre-packaged bundle of wires.

Reality. Structured wiring is a planned system of delivering data.

Pre-packaged bundles might provide a short cut for cost savings in mass production houses, but each wiring system should be planned according to desired usage. Structured wiring is actually an EIA/TIA definition that covers phone and data wiring requirements, which are not necessarily pre-packaged. The bundle approach without planning can often lead to wasted outlets with no use or no outlets where a potential use exists. Bundles can force you to strip back cable runs at least 30 feet when you split the bundle apart, providing for waste and cable management challenges. Planned wiring matches specific current and potential future devices with the client's lifestyle.

Myth. Bundles will eliminate the need for electricians.

Reality. Structured wiring requires a professional installer.

Our company specializes in creating intelligent home designs, which often include wiring diagrams and specifications. When it comes to running the wire, we rely on electricians because of their expertise.

Myth. Existing wiring standards are sufficient.

Reality. The current minimum EIA/TIA and FCC standards are insufficient.

We adhere to the ANSI EIA/TIA 568-A commercial standard for Cat. 5 (or better) data and quad shielded RG-6 for best signal quality. We also rely on star topology to maintain quality and upgrade flexibility.

The bottom line is that it is up to you to align with firms that specialize in promoting the popular uses of structured wiring and not just the need for a wired home. There's a solution for every market, and as with electricity, the luxury market is an advanced indicator of what will be coming to the mass market.

The opinions expressed in this piece are entirely the author's. Send your electrical-industry essays to Mike Harrington at mike_harrington@intertec.com.


Kevin Enke is the marketing director for Integrated Systems by Rich (ISR) Inc., Lisle, Ill.