"Wired" Homes Still a Dream for Many

March 2005

Even New FCC Standard Disappoints Tech-smart Buyers

Homebuyers are increasingly savvy about how they want their homes to be wired. In today's dream homes, high-performance communications are essential. Yet some new homes continue to be built with inadequate wiring for computers, entertainment systems and other forms of sophisticated home electronics.

A new minimum standard for residential communications wiring was enacted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2000, but many builders remain poorly informed about the ruling or have little understanding of what it means. A few still build homes that don't even measure up to the basic FCC requirement. Others barely meet the standard. Consequently, homeowners who want more than the bare minimum often have to rewire at a cost substantially higher than the cost of installing adequate wiring in the first place.

Conceived by the FCC in the 1990s, the minimum standard governing inside broadband wiring is not very high-tech, based as it is on 10-year-old technology. There is a simple remedy for this, however. At little additional cost to builders, high-performance copper communications wiring known as Category 5e can - and should - be installed in new homes.

Inside Wiring Report Card

Wiring bundle grade report

As a guide for potential buyers and owners, the Copper Development Association suggests grading homes according to the level of communications wiring installed therein. Think of it as a "report card" for builders.

A = Excellent
This home exceeds expectations. Two Category 5e structured wiring ports - one for telephone and one for data - combined with two RG-6 coaxial cable ports for two-way video signals, are available at two different locations in virtually every room. A central distribution device (CDD) provides connectivity between rooms and with the outside world, and simplifies network management. Wiring is installed in a star configuration, meaning that each outlet is wired directly back to the CDD. This home might also have a sophisticated home entertainment center, and may be wired for whole-house audio with speaker wires extending to key listening areas in the home.

B = Good
Two Category 5e and two RG-6 ports are star-wired to at least one location in all key rooms, including bedrooms. Additional wiring has been installed behind walls for future use, although outlets must be installed as needed by the homeowner. Entertainment, security and energy-management features may also be present.

C = Average
Category 5e and RG-6 outlets are provided in two or three key rooms, also using a star configuration. This wiring is fairly typical of what is promoted as "structured wiring" in new homes today. The homeowner may find it limiting or inflexible in terms of entertainment features or for sending broadband to children's bedrooms and adding home automation and security cameras.

D = Minimum standard
This house barely meets FCC requirements for its wiring, which is adequate mainly for telephone lines. Not exactly the "dream home" tech-smart people are looking for today - or will need tomorrow.

F = Failure
In this case, the house does not meet even the minimum FCC standard. Even if the builder used the right wires, check out the installation - daisy chaining, or wiring sequentially from outlet to outlet, does not get a passing grade. As far as up-to-date technology goes, this home is a lemon! It is the responsibility of the builder and installer to bring the home up to the FCC minimum standard.

What Can Be Done?

Builders must make decisions based on customers' future needs. Buyers must insist on a full description of the communications wiring systems in a new home. A number of industry groups are actively pushing for improvements in home wiring.

Many builders now recognize that a new home without a high-performance communications wiring system is an impediment to sales. Buyers of new homes are finding it easy to say "No" to homes with inadequate wiring.

One of the biggest reasons for buying a brand-new home is to benefit from the latest home technology. There is no reason to accept a new home that does not merit a grade of "B" or better when it comes to communications wiring.

A new educational CD-ROM, "Structured Wiring for Today's Homes," is available free on request from the Copper Development Association. For ordering this CD-ROM or for more information about the FCC ruling and high-performance communications wiring, visit the CDA's Telecommunications section. TOP