The Custom Installer: Are You Ready to Retrofit?

Adding wiring to an existing home can seem as daunting as building the pyramids. How do you run cable from one side of the room to the other, let alone from one side of the house to the other? If it were as simple as draping wires across the floor or stapling them to the wall, you'd do it yourself. But when everything has to be hidden from sight, with nothing left behind but great pictures and sound, your best bet is to hire a custom installer.

When you have an install firm do retrofit work, time is money - the less time they spend on the job, the less it will cost. Before calling in the hired guns, here are some tips that will help you look at your house through an installer's eyes.

1. Home Run The location of your electronics will be the home run for all wiring. If that location isn't set in stone, select a spot that allows the easiest access to different parts of your house - attic, crawlspace, outside, and so on. Running wire is all about getting from Point A (your electronics) to Point B (the TV, the speakers, controllers, and so on). Moving furniture and emptying knickknacks from cabinetry before the installers arrive will save them time on the job.

2. Existing Wiring It's possible you already have some wiring that can be re-tasked. If your house was built recently, it was probably wired with Cat-5 cable for the phones and RG-6 for the TV. Cat-5 can be used to carry an immense variety of signals, including analog and digital audio, RGB, component video, and HDMI. RG-6 can carry RF, baseband composite video, and digital audio signals. Even if the wiring isn't labeled, installers have tools that can identify it and make sure it hasn't been compromised.

3. The House's Foundation If your house is built on a concrete slab, running wire underneath it isn't in the cards. But if you have a crawlspace or basement, virtually anything is possible. The thought of worming your way under your house might make your skin crawl, but installers will exploit this space to the fullest. If your home is built on stilts - like many near the ocean or in areas prone to flooding - running wire underneath it can be a walk in the park.

4. Number of Stories A single-story house with attic space over every room is ideal, but you aren't necessarily out of luck if you have a multistory home. Running wire between floors can be the hardest part, so a custom installer will look for a variety of ways to do this. He might use closet or pantry space, for instance, or the open cavity of a ventless fireplace. If the house should happen to have an elevator, its shaft can be the perfect conduit for traveling between floors. Running wire into the ceiling (say, for recessed speakers) when there's another room above it can be very difficult, but possible if the trussing runs in the right direction. Installers can remove recessed lighting to see how the trusses run, or drill through obstacles using extra-long bits.