The US has the highest statistical incidence of household fires among all industrialized nations. This relates directly to the often shoddy nature of home construction and the persistent reliance on antiquated home electrical technology whose safety is very reliant on the greatly variable competence of professional (and not so professional…) electrical contractors. Key among the factors in housing costs is the costs of plumbing and electrical contracting, thanks to the need for specially certified contractors to deal with old technology. Plumbing and electrical systems remain one area where DIY builders routinely find themselves in over their heads and can be a real hazard to themselves without proper training.
In commercial and industrial construction, however, we find a somewhat different story. For many decades commercial and industrial facilities have enjoyed the benefits of modular electrical wiring systems that afford much greater ease of assembly, much greater safety, and free adaptability. Known variously as ‘modular’, ‘zone’ or ‘structured’ wiring systems, these employ special coded multi-wire cabling systems and modular connectors that allow for the definition of circuit ‘zones’ managed from central terminal units. Using modular connectors, each circuit zone can be branched and switched independently along the hierarchy from the main terminal unit. Often designed for office use, this may also combine components for LAN and telephone cabling.
Why such technology has been available for many decades in commercial and industrial construction yet remains largely unknown in housing use is difficult to fathom but most-likely relates to the general resistance to all new technology by the housing construction trades and the simple fact that the industry has little imperative to actually reduce the costs of housing when banks make their money on maximizing it. Commercial and industrial construction also demand much more flexibility than has been common to 20th century housing. Office and factory complexes are reconfigured frequently and there is an imperative to minimize the time and cost of that reconfiguration. Many modular wiring systems have been developed in conjunction with modular office furniture and access flooring systems. Another factor may also be the lack of definitive system standards. Modular wiring has proven such a popular concept in commercial building that everyone making electrical products has wanted to develop a competing ‘standard’ of their own. These systems are generally the same in function but very different in choice of connectors and module design. Much as with the burgeoning of ‘standards’ in the early personal computer era, this is intended to lock-in market share by deliberate incompatibility.
Since Utilihab is premised on the notion that the contemporary home is an evolving structure, it has the same imperative for flexibility as commercial and industrial construction and so the Utilihab electric system employs a similar modular wiring system platform. However, it’s standard component designs are open source and derived from truly off-the-shelf standard connector components rather than proprietary connectors that are different only for the sake of difference and deliberate incompatibility. In the future Utilihab will seek to pre-integrate its modular wiring system into its profiles and panels. For the moment, however, the system is based on a plug-and-play system with pre-wired elements designed to retrofit to its profile structure and fit within the wall and floor space behind panels.
The Utilihab Modular Wiring consists of the following basic components;
•Power Management Unit - a central junction and circuit breaker/switch box defining the primary circuit zones. This provides the primary power interface along with interface to charge controllers for off-grid power systems. May feature a remote zonal power monitoring display panel and home automation system interface.
•Zone Junction Unit - a main break-out junction for primary circuits, usually associated with an individual room, with an optional connector for a master switch panel.
•Master Switch Panels - an accessory for the Zone Junction Box which allows a single reconfigurable switch panel to control all the outlet, lighting, and other electrical elements in the zone/room from a single wall panel. May optionally include optical switch modules for fiber optic lighting systems.
•Extender Cables - the main power cables that link each zone to the power management unit and provide extensions in cables linking to fixtures.
•Splitters - 3 or more port splitters which branch the zone circuit.
•Switch Drops - a special splitter designed to provide a wall switch on the circuit branch from that point.
•Fixtures - outlet units, switch units, and wiring junctions for lighting and appliances. Designed for mount along profile frames, in walls and floor panels, in counter-tops, and in cabinetry. Fixtures may also include LAN, phone, USB power, and fiber optic lighting cabling ports as well as LAN web controller switching for home automation systems. Eventually all built-in Utilihab lighting and appliances will employ the standard modular wiring interface but early hardware may need to employ junction boxes for manual wiring.
•Retrofit Conduits - retrofit profiles that allow the inner edges of the profiles to function as a cable conduit. The modular Wiring System cables need no conduits themselves and retrofit to the profiles with simple plastic snap-in cable tie-downs or clamps. Retrofit conduits are used to accommodate multiple cables, particularly in combination with non-electrical cabling such as LAN, telephone, and optical fiber.
•Frame-Integral Conduits - profiles with pre-drilled access holes to their inner channels allowing them to be used as conduits for cabling. Standard structural profiles feature pre-cut pass-through holes for utilities and inner-channel conduit access. These, however, can be pre-fitted with cabling and plumbing in integral conduits for some housing kit designs.
[Note: more research needed among off-the-shelf modular wiring products to see if any can suit immediate use while open source version under development]