When a bad dream awakens 7-year-old Westin Lord and he heads downstairs to his mother and father's bedroom, his house knows to light the way for him.

As soon as his feet touch the floor, a sensor reports the motion to the computerized brains of the home. Given the hour of the night, the computer responds to the sensor's message by switching on a series of lights that illuminate only the hallway and winding staircase.

Imbued with computer intelligence, the Silver Spring home in the Burnt Mills neighborhood knows plenty of other tricks to make the Lords' lives easier. In fact, it is ready to learn a lot more.

Not only did obstetrician C. Douglas Lord, 50, and his wife Diane, 35, choose to automate as much of their newly built, 12,500-square-foot home as is now possible, they also ordered an extra six miles of wiring installed. The walls also conceal a household-wide skeleton of pipes that may some day facilitate the addition of fiber-optic cables or any other new wiring for distributing data throughout the house.

"We wanted to do everything we could to be ready for the future, but be able to enjoy {what is available} now," Douglas Lord said.

The Lords' foresight is well placed, according to home automation officials, who say that their industry is on the verge of breakthroughs destined to raise the "intelligence" of the average American home, not just expensive homes like the Lords'.

Delaware home builder Leon N. Weiner, a top official of Smart House L.P., which is working to develop electronic household systems, predicts the 1990s will go down in history as the "decade of home automation."

Some luxury homes already contain expensive versions of what is expected to become a mass-market product later in this decade. Custom Commands Systems, a College Park-based firm that considers itself the Ferrari of the home automation installation business, creates systems that typically start at $60,000.

Events over the next 24 months, however, could supply the final push needed to make the complete automation of average homes, both new and existing, a reality.

What the home automation community is waiting for is an industry standard that would tell builders and remodelers how to wire homes for total automation.

The standard also would provide specifications needed by manufacturers of consumer electronic products and household appliances to tie their wares into an automated home. That standard would enable the security, heating, cooling, lighting, telephone, audio and video systems in a house to work together in new ways.

The lack of a standard, said Hank Levine, Custom Command's executive vice president, creates a situation similar to "buying a CD player and then having to build a custom interface so you can plug it into your receiver and it will work. Virtually no CD players would sell because they would cost $10,000."

For the moment, though, a contest is underway to determine whatThe home automation community is waiting for an industry standard. the standard will be, said Tricia Parks, a residential electronics analyst in Dallas. "For things to take off," Parks said, "one of these {would-be standards} needs to happen."

One contender is known as the Consumer Electronic Bus (CEBus) standard. It is the brainchild of the Electronic Industries Association and completion of a first portion of the standard is due by year's end. Adding a CEBus wiring system to a 2,500-square-foot home will probably cost no more than $500 to $700 plus whatever CEBus-compatible appliances the owner chooses, Parks said.

The CEBus specifications will eventually encompass all of the methods of sending messages throughout an intelligent home, including transmissions using the existing power lines, telephone wires, cable-TV circuits, radio signals, infrared waves and fiber-optic networks.

A private consortium backed by the home-building community also hopes to set the industry norm when its Smart House technology hits the streets.

The first commercially available "smart-ready" houses in the country will be on sale here in April, with "fully smart" houses ready for occupancy in October.

An entry-level Smart House package will come in at a "highly competitive" $7,500, said Weiner, the partnership's chief executive officer.

Several independent companies are vying to set a de facto standard in much the same way International Business Machines Corp. did for computers and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. did for telephones. The "most talked about" aspirant, Parks said, is the Los Gatos, Calif.-based Echelon. On Dec. 5, the firm is expected to announce its technical proposal for distributing intelligence through a home.

If nothing else, Echelon's leadership commands industry attention. President Ken Oshman was a founder of the once-high-flying telephone equipment company Rolm Corp., and Vice Chairman Mike Markkula helped start Apple Computer Inc.

If any of these efforts or a few other dark horses fail to prevail, then Parks predicts that Europe will "take the opening" with the Esprit system currently under development for use in houses there.

Parks said she does not believe the Japanese are looking to export their home automation standard, but they are poised to move in with an array of products once the standard question is settled in the United States.

Once a standard emerges in the United States, industry officials say, the new technology will catch on so quickly that homes built up until that point will become obsolete if they aren't modified.

The National Association of Home Builders, the prime mover behind the Smart House effort, is widely credited with trying to use the technology to give newly built homes a selling advantage over existing homes.

Some day, predicted Roger B. Dooley, publisher of Electronic House magazine, "if a house does not have suitable home automation capability it will be worth less and the buyer will discount the price."

By the year 2000 or even sooner, he added, every new home built willBy the year 2000 or sooner, every new home will contain some form of automation capacity. -- Roger B. Dooley, publisher, Electronic Housecontain some form of automation capacity, even though among the less expensive homes the level of sophistication may stop with energy management or programmable lighting systems.

At that point, owners will make their commands known to their homes through touch-tone phones, hand-held remote controls, wall switches or touch screens resembling TV monitors.

But the "most dramatic" control mechanism, Levine said, will be voice-activated systems that allow the owners to speaks commands that will be relayed to the computer of the system.

The home automation edge will not, however, belong exclusively to newly built homes, industry analysts say.

The more lucrative market lies in retrofitting the estimated 94 million existing households as opposed to automating the 1 million or so new homes that are built in a busy year, industry analysts said.

Even with its emphasis on new construction, the Smart House venture plans to address the retrofit side of the market some time between 1993 and 1995, Weiner said.

Dooley estimates that about 10,000 homes, most of them belonging to the wealthy, are already completely automated.

Demand for the new automation should prove particularly strong in the Washington market, given the interest here already, said Sean W. Walsh, chief executive officer of Hometron USA Inc., the Potomac firm that automated the Lords' home. Washington presently has the second-largest number of automated home installations after Riverside, Calif., he said.

The lure of first-class entertainment systems that incorporate TVs, VCRs and stereos will win homeowners over to home automation first, Walsh predicted.

After that, homeowners will opt to add a security component, followed by an energy package or perhaps a convenience package that controls things such as lighting and monitors equipment malfunctions. Expanding the communications and information capacity of the home will probably come last, he added.

Hometron hopes to become a major player in the retrofitting of average homes. Hometron's president, George A. Cretecos Jr., predicted that will come in the third quarter of 1992.

That is when, Cretecos said, a major corporate alliance will get behind the distribution and marketing of a home automation package in the $1,000 price range that will allow household subsystems to talk back and forth.

Parks sees 1995 as the year that cheap, easy-to-use automation components will be readily found at retail outlets. At that point, though, she said she looks for intelligent subsystems, in the $4,000 to $6,000 range, controlling only parts of the home.

"Your bedroom might have a script where you say good night and all the lights go off and then, in the morning, {it turns} them back on," she said.