Home Electronics Are Not An Afterthought

Home electronics

I have found that many of my clients, when planning a large custom home, fully intend to include the latest state-of-the-art electronic systems, but they think that there will be time enough to consider the details them once everything else is completed. Sometimes people will call me just after they move into their new home not realizing that planning for electronics is an integral part of the construction process, resulting in higher installation costs and system limitations if implemented after construction is completed. With the capabilities of today's electronics, they can no longer be considered just an add-on.

Of course, the main consideration is pre-wiring. Most new homes benefit greatly from what's known as “structured cabling”. This term refers to the basic infrastructure for low voltage communications that are a necessary part of every home. The central axiom of “structured cabling” is that all cables are ran without interruption from the point where you will want to access them to a central enclosure where they meet the incoming services. By pre-wiring your home in this way, and avoiding “daisy-chaining” as used to be the standard in telephone wiring particularly, you not only end up with a neater finished product, with all cables routed and labeled within the enclosure, but it makes future changes and troubleshooting very straightforward.

The most common functions of the structured cabling setup are telephones, data networking, and television cable. All of these elements are brought into the home from outside, usually to a demarcation point in a utility room. With all of the distribution cables emanating out from the enclosure that is located at the demark, final connections are easy, neat and straightforward - but you can include a lot more within the structured panel. You can add a hub for intercom, or for a CCTV system. There are multi-room audio amplifiers that are designed to be installed in a structured panel as well, and if it suits your purposes, your modem can be here. A structured panel hub for coax cable distribution can include necessary amplification to make sure the signal is still strong when it reaches the room wall plate. A hub for telephones can include a special jack that allows you to easily integrate your security system so that it will capture the outgoing line to call the monitoring station when there is an alarm.

Quite often the distribution for high definition television might be located somewhere else in the house, where you can access all of your sources, like Blu-Ray players and set-top boxes for your cable or satellite. In a large home where sources are shared by several rooms, they may be in a special equipment rack and that rack would also be centrally located. It might be right beside the structured panel in the Utility room, or if you want the source components to be more accessible, it might be located in your main entertainment centre, possibly in a Great Room or even a Master Bedroom. The design of the pre-wire and the location of the hubs are entirely customized to reflect your specific needs, but the basic requirement to get those cables in place before the insulation and drywall are installed remains.

I am also often told by clients that they do not worry about pre-wiring because these days everything is wireless. The wireless capabilities of electronic consumer items certainly do add a lot of flexibility to your options, but nothing is entirely wireless. If you have a hand held remote, for example, to control all your devices it still has to communicate with an access point that then sends the data by copper wire to the rack where the components are. If you stream everything from your smart phone or tablet, you still need to pick up the signal from somewhere, and in a big home some of the interior construction may present barriers to the transmission of wireless signals. The solution is to install wireless access points, which again are hard wired back to a central system. Remember that nothing interferes with a properly installed hard-wired system while several things within and without your home can impair wireless transmissions.

Wireless audio speakers and systems are becoming more common but you have to keep in mind that, unless you are going to get by with battery powered speakers, they will still need to plug in to a power outlet because they are individually amplified. If you are going to go that route, you do not need to run speaker wires but you do need to let your electrician know where you are going to want to plug in a speaker. The same would apply if you were to install powered window coverings, a great convenience and energy saver in a modern home. While you might control them with a hand held remote, they will still need power, usually an outlet near the drapery tracks.

Home automation and lighting controls are gaining popularity for both the energy savings and comfort they provide. Some are easily retrofitted but others not only require pre-wiring, they call for their own proprietary cable. Every home automation system is different. Some combine with security, while others combine with audio and video. It is a good idea to decide on a specific system early in the planning stages so that you will know what you might require in terms of pre-wiring.

Even though speakers and TV displays will not likely be installed until the end of the project, you should know where you want to put them so that you have allowed sufficient room to work with your other furnishings and features, to create the most pleasing aesthetic result as well as the best audio.

Your best bet is to contact a professional systems integrator at the outset, preferably someone who not only is professional and capable of working well with your architect and designers but who knows about the wide variety of options that are available to you. If you go to an audio video retailer (other than a big box store), you will find good quality products and a knowledgeable staff that can tell you everything you want to know about the products on their shelves. The problem is that their expertise is usually limited to the products in their inventory and may not be able to guide you to the best custom solution as well as an independent home integration contractor. If you get the right contractor he will be guided by your needs rather than by the products he wants to sell.

Advance planning is an advantage in any endeavour. With so many decisions to be made in the construction of a custom home, the less you leave to the end the less you will be pulling your hair out in frustration. Do your research and make your decisions early so that you can accommodate every detail of the operating systems you want to be part of your home.

About the Author

Bill Monahan applies a lifetime of interest and professional experience in home construction to the application of home electronics to enhance personal lifestyles, comfort and safety. In the "smart home" industry since 1997, he applies a wealth of knowledge to custom solutions for all clients, serving the south shore of Georgian Bay.

Posted by: Bill Monahan
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