Standards, CSI, and residential cabling

To commemorate CI&M magazine's 10th anniversary, we asked our monthly columnist, Donna Ballast, to reflect on the progress she has seen in the industry over the past decade.

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Q: Five years ago, this magazine predicted that global cabling standards were on the way. What efforts have the Telecommunications Industry Association's TR-42 Committee taken to harmonize its specifications with those of other standards bodies, such as ISO/IEC and CENELEC?

A: In an effort to globally harmonize product specifications as closely as possible, TR-42 provides and receives draft documents and work requests with various national and international standards bodies. TR-42 has formal liaison with ODVA and exchanges information directly with TIA/FO-4, IEEE 802.3, CENELEC, ICEA, CSA, and with ISO/IEC JTC1 SC25/WG3 through the USTAG. Translation: They trade documents so that each group is aware of the other's position, but rarely do their standards completely agree.

Q: When the cabling industry's "Division 17" advocates were lobbying the Construction Specifications Institute for more space in its MasterFormat document, they took the Rodney Dangerfield approach: "Cabling don't get no respect." In your years as a telecom designer, a participant in standards and codes committees, and an observer of the cabling industry in general, have you noticed a growing acceptance of telecommunications cabling as a necessary and important building system?

A: Necessary? Yes. Important? That depends on with whom you are speaking. While we "telecommunications cabling evangelists" have spent years attempting to integrate technology into the design of a building, preaching that "telecommunications is the fourth utility," not everyone has gotten the message.

Having Construction Specifications Institute (CSI—www.csi.org) include requirements for voice, data, video, security, fire/safety, Internet access, integrated HVAC, and lighting controls into the MasterFormat is a huge step in the right direction. MasterFormat is a master list of numbers and titles for organizing information about construction requirements, products, and activities into a standard sequence know as Divisions. Architects and other design professionals use MasterFormat to organize the requirements for a new building or renovation project.

Not only will telecommunications be one of the disciplines required on the project design team, but this will also force coordination between the construction disciplines during the design of the other building systems. Hopefully, this will mean no more air ducts on top of the cable tray for the length of the corridors when the architect decides to shorten the slab-to-slab ceiling height by a foot on each floor to meet a building-height restriction.

Q: Is there a topic that you believe cabling-industry magazines (this one included) could/should cover more than we currently do?

A: Cabling homes for the digital age. Not just the $1,000,000-plus homes shown on magazine covers, but all homes— from mobile homes to brownstones, condos to houseboats.

Today, there is no mandate to install a single voice, data, video, security or control cable within the residential unit. Recognizing this as a problem, BICSI submitted a proposed addition to NEC 2005, which reads as follows: "800.52 (F) Dwelling Unit Communications Outlets. In every kitchen, family room, dining room, living room, parlor, library, den, office, sunroom, bedroom, recreation room, or similar room or area of dwelling units, cabled communications outlets shall be installed."

I recently attended the meeting of Code Making Panel 16, where they rejected this proposal. The official Panel Statement explained that it would force the pre-wiring of all dwelling units. Offline statements included comments like, "The builders would have a fit," and "What would that cost?"

The next week, I was off to the International Builders Show in Las Vegas where I visited NextGen Home.

According to their literature, "The NextGen Home incorporates cutting-edge technologies that save builders time and money, while offering the homebuyer a wide range of benefits, from durability, energy efficiency, and low maintenance to twenty-first century connectivity." Sounded great, so I attended the press conference where Dave Engel, director of HUD's Affordable Housing Research and Technology Division, presented Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) awards to several of the creators of the NextGen Demonstration Home.

PATH (www.pathnet.org), administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a public-private partnership of homebuilders, manufacturers, researchers, professional groups, and federal agencies concerned with housing.

During his address, director Engel stated, "The real significance of the NextGen Home is the spirit of innovation that drove its development. It's a mindset the whole industry must adopt, to shape the future of American homebuilding." In closing, he invited those of us with questions, ideas, or who needed assistance in working with the "government," to contact him. So, I walked over, shook his hand, looked him in the eye and asked for support in cabling residences for the digital age. He said that would be impossible and suggested that I give up the crusade. Not being easily discouraged, I asked if he was aware that, currently, a builder could construct a house or apartment and never install a single telecommunications cable, not even for a telephone.

"Oh, the telephone company takes care of that," he replied. Yes, and so does the cable TV installer—each by stapling or clamping their cable along the outside of the structure, and then we have adequate access by drilling a hole in the side of the building, through the wall into the living space where the cable is then terminated. Technologies profiled by PATH are selected for their quality and durability, energy efficiency, environmental performance, safety and disaster mitigation, and affordability. Doesn't it seem that telecommunications cabling should fit in there somewhere?

In my opinion, if the communications cabling in a residence were a NEC requirement, all builders would install the cabling and pass the cost along to the consumer—just like the electrical cabling, which is required today.

Additional commentary from Donna on residential cabling can be found in the online version of this article at www.cable-install.com

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Donna Ballast is BICSI's standards representative, and a BICSI registered communications distribution designer (RCDD). Send your questions to Donna via e-mail: ballast@utexas.edu.

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