posted by David Adams on Thu 17th Jun 2004 11:18 UTC
IconThe second in an ongoing series of articles about expanding the realm of your computing environment to encompass your whole home, this article covers my experience becoming a certified Home Technology Integrator. Though the internet is a great source of information for nearly every aspect of home automation, there's no substitute for a little formal education.

This article is the second in a series of stories about my efforts to design and install my own home automation system in a home that I'll be building this year. The previous article, which covered my initial attempts at information gathering, was a great success for me, because OSNews readers were full of helpful suggestions and resources. One of these helpful OSNews readers who emailed me works for an organization called CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association) and told me about a new certification they've developed called "Home Technology Integrator" (HTI+). He asked me if I would be interested in becoming certified, and writing about my experience, and I said yes. CompTIA sent me all the necessary materials, and I embarked on not just learning more about home automation technology, but also becoming a certified home automation professional.

Since I wrote the first installment of this series, I've done a lot of work on the other aspects of my home construction project (working on the plans, lining up contractors, picking materials, etc) but not a lot on the home automation front. I've spent most of my effort in educating myself about technologies, products and techniques, and trying to narrow down my specific requirements. I've been greatly aided in this effort by the formal education I received while preparing for the HTI+ certification.

CompTIA created the HTI+ certification because, previously, home automation specialists either operated outside of any formal certification or came from another field, such as the electrical, home theater, telecommunications, networking, or security industries, which each have one or more licenses or certifications associated with them. HTI+ covers a bit of capability from all of these fields, covering a breadth of what one would need to know to design, install, and support a wide range of home technologies. HIT+ covers wiring, home networking, configuring a residential gateway and server, security systems, fire alarms, remote access, remote control of lighting and other appliances, wireless technology, audio/video, HVAC control, and home access, among other things.

I don't have any way of knowing whether having this certification would actually help my job prospects. I haven't gone out looking for a job, and I suspect that many employers do not even know that HTI+ exists yet, but it certainly would only help. If I were looking to hire someone for my own home technology consulting firm, though, I would look for HTI+ certified people, because I found the curriculum to be quite comprehensive, and the test was downright hard. In fact, if I didn't have a relatively complete knowledge of networking, computing, and general electronics, I don't think I would have been able to pass the test even if I had studied the materials provided to me even more thoroughly.

The materials that were provided to me consisted of a hardcover book, a softcover lab manual, and a CD-ROM. The book is organized into chapters that cover major areas: wiring, security, codes and regulations, etc. Though it's a great primer on home technology and a great way to prepare for the test, I think that its greatest value to me will be as a reference volume. It even has a lot of practical information about running a business, such as how to prepare a contract, and what kinds of end-user support you should offer. As I'm installing the various parts of my system, I'm sure I'll have this book nearby, and it will get plenty of use.

The materials that I received were sponsored by the Leviton company, so some of what was in there was slanted toward the way Leviton does things. Now, Leviton is a powerhouse in the electrical industry, so that's not necessarily a bad thing. But, just as an example, when it comes to lighting control, Leviton has made an investment in power line carrier-based lighting controls (like X-10), so the book and the test covered that quite thoroughly. Other companies, especially ones with high-end products, focus on methods that depend on low voltage wiring to remotely turn lights on and off rather than piggybacking over the AC current. It's a system that provides superior reliability, but as X-10 is more easily and inexpensively implemented, it's more popular. In other words, this curriculum will not teach you about every single technology, but it will teach you about most of the ones that are the most widespread.

The HTI+ certification draws a distinction between a home technology integrator, responsible for a broad implementation of home technologies, and a home audio technician or home theater specialist. That is to say, even though HTI+ will give you a thorough background in running all the appropriate cable and understanding the basic concepts, it only briefly touches on complicated issues such as setting up distributed audio systems or choosing and configuring audio and video components. The main focus of the HTI+ A/V curriculum is understanding the uses and benefits of different types of cables and connectors. Quick quiz: which connector offers better video quality, component or composite? (Component). Some important issues, such as acoustics, speaker selection and placement, or focusing a projection TV are not even mentioned. This is probably a good thing. There is so much to know about home theater, for example, that it deserves an association and a certification all its own. And it has one: CEDIA. If you have any doubt as to the depth of knowledge required to set up a top notch home theater, browse around for a few hours. You think Linux geeks are zealous and opinionated? You should see audiophiles!

To be honest, my home automation project is going to contain a pretty serious home theater, and I find myself floundering a bit when it comes to designing it myself. I could probably use some education on that front, but if much of it had been crammed into the HTI+ curriculum, I would have been overwhelmed, and I doubt I would have passed the test.

Table of contents
  1. "Wired Home, Page 1/2"
  2. "Wired Home, Page 2/2"
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