What you need to know to pass the HTI+ certification

CompTIA's HTI+ certification arrived with very little fanfare. Find out about its niche market and see what you should know to pass the exam.

The Home Technology Integrator (HTI+) certification from CompTIA is a vendor-neutral cert consisting of two tests on technology and automation in the home. It is intended for individuals with two years of technical experience. Although no prerequisites are in place, other certifications from CompTIA—such as Network+ or A+—are helpful.

The vast majority of CompTIA's certifications are intended for computer technicians and system/network administrators; this one is not. CompTIA created this certification in conjunction with a number of companies—such as Sears, Honeywell International, and Whirlpool—to fulfill a need in the home integration market. If your job doesn't entail installing home security, audio/video integration, HVAC, etc., this certification won't carry a lot of weight when you apply for your next job.

On the other hand, if you're getting downsized from your system administration position and want to get a foot in the door as a home electrician, this certification should climb to the top of the list. This is also a good certification for architects and others who want to demonstrate that they understand the systems they market or recommend.

Here's what you need to know to pass the HTI+ exam on the first try.

About HTI+
Like all certifications from CompTIA, once you pass, you are certified for life. The two exams you must take are Residential Systems (HTO-101) and Systems Infrastructure and Integration (HTO-102). The exams are administered by both Prometric and VUE testing centers. Each exam contains 100 to120 questions and must be completed in 90 minutes; a score of 650 is required to pass.

Understand a little about a lot
The exams do not focus only on home wiring or only on HVAC. Instead, they expect you to know a little about water systems and a little about home access, and so on. The following list shows the topics ("domains") on the Residential Systems test and their weighting in relation to the overall exam:
  • Computer Networking Fundamentals—25 percent
  • Audio/Video Fundamentals—20 percent
  • Home Security and Surveillance Systems—10 percent
  • Telecommunications Standards—10 percent
  • Home Lighting Control—10 percent
  • HVAC Management—10 percent
  • Water System Controls—10 percent
  • Home Access Controls—3 percent
  • Miscellaneous Automated Home Features—2 percent

See the CompTIA Web site for a complete list of the objectives and subobjectives for this exam. A similar list of the topics on the Systems Infrastructure and Integration exam can be found here, but the breakout and weighting is much simpler:
  • Low Voltage Structured Wiring—25 percent
  • High Voltage Structured Wiring—25 percent
  • Systems Integration: User Interfaces and Control Processors—50 percent

A good place to start studying is the Curriculum Demo that Cisco has posted. Although the slides in the presentation are not complete, they offer a good overall look at various components related to the exams.

Know wiring
Wiring is central to many of the certification topics. Dave Dusthimer, of Cisco Learning Institute Press, wrote a series of 12 articles intended to "prepare electrical contractors to take the exam and become home technology integrators." The series, called "The Wired Home," is an excellent resource that's being posted on the EC&M Web site in installments. Seven had been posted at the time of this writing.

Be familiar with standards
When preparing to take this exam, make sure you know who the major standards-issuing bodies are and how they relate to one another. "Uncle Ted's Guide to VDV (voice/data/video) Cabling" is a brilliant presentation of the standards and how everything fits together. (Don't be fooled by the title.) Be sure to click on the Jargon link for a comprehensive rundown.

A core set of standards and codes appear time and time again in the objectives for this exam. They include:

Know the wireless protocols
You need a basic understanding of wireless protocols and standards to prepare for this cert. Start by looking at the overview of standards and then check out Clarinet Systems' PDF download comparing Infrared, 802.11b, and Bluetooth. Supplement your studies with articles on minimizing interference—for example, "Minimizing 802.11 Interference Issues" and "Minimizing Bluetooth Interference." Round out your study in this area by reading "The State of RF Initiatives" by Tom Schmidt.

Think Network+/i-Net+
There is always a fair amount of overlap between exams that CompTIA offers. This certification borrows a bit from the Network+ and i-Net+ exams in that it asks you to know the basics of some common network devices:
  • A network interface card (NIC) is the physical card installed in the computer allowing the network operating system (NOS) to interact with the network.
  • A hub is used in a star network, such as 10BaseT, to provide the central point from which all connections originate. It is easy to add workstations to the network and reconfigure the network at any given time. There are three hub types: passive, active, and intelligent. Passive hubs allow for connections and central wiring only. Active hubs amplify the signals coming in and filter out noise. Intelligent hubs provide switching capabilities or management features.
  • Switching hubs allow quick routing of signals between hub ports to direct data where it needs to go and reduce the bandwidth of sending the data to all locations. Switching hubs are always intelligent hubs.
  • Repeaters (Physical Layer of the OSI model) are devices used to extend the length of a LAN by amplifying the signal and sending it on, thus preventing data loss due to weak signals. They amplify everything that comes in and send it out, providing no cleaning or filtering of noise.
  • Bridges (Data Link Layer of the OSI model) are devices used to attach two networks. In a nutshell, a bridge operates by looking at the header of the data that comes to it. If the data is for the network upon which the bridge resides, it leaves it alone. If the data is for another network, it gets rid of it by sending it to a predefined location. Remote bridges are nothing more than bridges that connect two LANs into a WAN.
  • Routers are physical devices that operate at the Network Layer and connect segments into a large network. Routers can be used to establish pathways among any number of networks. The biggest problem with a router is that it depends on the protocol in question to be routable. Routers cannot work with nonroutable protocols—typically those that rely on broadcasts and are intended to stay within the confines of the LAN. With the vast number of network protocols in use, it is easier to remember the small number of nonroutable protocols than the large list of those that are routable: NetBEUI, DLC, and LAT (a protocol from DEC). Brouters combine the features of a router with those of a bridge. What you are really combining is the MAC subcomponent functionality from the Data Link layer with the functionality of the Network Layer.
  • The router/brouter that extends the network beyond the local environment is the default gateway. It is this server/component that allows data between the Internet (or other network) and the local network.
  • A firewall is a security device installed between the local network and the outside world. It can be installed as a hardware or software solution and configured to limit the types of traffic allowed to travel in each direction between the networks.
  • A wireless access point (WAP) is a device that is connected (wired) to the local network and interacts with the wireless clients. One WAP can commonly interact with numerous clients and is limited by factors such as load and range.

Know the basics of audio/video
The audio/video knowledge you need here is not how to frame your children in proper lighting, but rather how to do site/project surveys, wire and test the equipment, and train/document its usage. Design and location considerations play an important part in this knowledge area as well.

The series on the Wired Home mentions audio and video components, and you should also read through "High-Performance Residential Cabling: An Overview for Installation Professionals."

Don't overanalyze the questions
I say this when I'm talking about all CompTIA certifications, but I can't stress it enough: Every exam CompTIA has ever created is loaded with multiple-choice questions, many of which use vague language. The language is not there to trip you up or increase the difficulty of the exam but is actually a byproduct of the method CompTIA employs in generating its exams. When you look at the questions, do not overthink them—choose the most obvious answer and move on.

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