The Custom Installer: Wiring For The Future

We're bombarded with warnings and suggestions every day of our lives. Some are beneficial and should be obeyed at all costs. For instance, I'll never argue with my garbage disposal about not "inserting hand or other body part into disposal while unit is running." And I'm careful not to run static images on our store's plasma displays because they can cause screen burnin. Others we can ignore with no ill effects. I don't regret hanging up on the telemarketer who told me I was "missing the opportunity of a lifetime" by not attending his time-share seminar. And my shampoo bottle has yet to convince me of the need to repeat after rinsing.

The same holds true when you're building a new home. You're showered with suggestions from so many contractors that you have little choice but to filter many of them out. But this can mean missing out on something important. And it can put the A/V contractor in a bad position. Since he's often the last to the party, no one wants to listen to him when he shows up.

You don't tend to question the electrician when he tells you that code requires an outlet every so many feet. But when I tell people that they need to pull additional wiring to a location, there's always a reason why they don't want to do it. "I don't need a phone outlet in these rooms since I use only cordless phones," or "I'll never want a TV there," or "We've already got wire there" - and my new favorite, "Oh, we'll never own more than one computer."

Well, I, for one, am tired of being the shampoo bottle!

For years, custom installers have been touting the need to "smart wire" houses or to use a "future-proof" structured-wiring system that can support cable and satellite TV, up to four phone lines, Ethernet, and in-home video distribution. The industry's recommended minimum for structured wiring is two runs of RG6 coaxial cable and two runs of an unshielded, twisted pair of Cat-5 cable pulled to at least one location in every room. That bundle will accommodate everything I mentioned above.

Many builders and architects understand structured wiring, and that's fantastic. But in the area where I work, it's a constant battle to convince people that we aren't just frivolously trying to pull extra wire. I'm sure that in time our view will prevail, but there'll be some technological casualties along the way.

Think of your home's wiring as an interstate freeway system, but with bits of information zipping back and forth instead of cars. It can probably handle the equivalent of two lanes of traffic (simple cable-TV and telephone) moving in opposite directions at 60 miles per hour, and that probably seems sufficient. When cars first appeared, the idea of driving 60 mph was unthinkable, and no one could imagine rush hour turning 12 lanes of L.A. freeway into a giant parking lot. But now we know better.

When I recommend that a client install structured wiring in a room, the response is often that he doesn't play games online, download music, share files, or use a computer in that room. But without the proper wiring, his "I don't" is going to turn into "I can't." And the number of things that he could be shut out of is growing every day.

"Convergence" was a big buzzword a few years ago, and plenty of people were confidently predicting that our computers and entertainment systems would soon merge seamlessly together. Everyone talked about it, but not much came of it. That's changing, however, very quickly.

If your home isn't networked and you don't have a broadband Internet connection, you're going to miss out on a lot of incredible technologies. And these wonders aren't years away - they're right around the corner. Many new A/V components come with everything necessary to hook into a home network. In fact, you might already own a component that's just waiting to talk to some other piece of gear that you'll buy down the road.

You've been hearing a lot about Wi-Fi technology, and great strides have been made in wireless transmission, but for the foreseeable future, a system that's hard-wired will be more reliable than a wireless one. And some new gear requires so much bandwidth that it simply can't work wirelessly. One example would be the Kaleidescape video server.

But wiring your home correctly isn't only for folks who can afford gear like the Kaleidescape. In fact, completely fitting a home for distributed audio, video, cable TV, telephone, and data usually runs around 1% of the construction cost. Also, wiring that's installed properly using good cable will result in noticeably better telephone sound and cable-TV pictures.

If you're building a home, or thinking about building or remodeling in the future, look up an installer at and listen to what he has to say. It'll be one piece of advice you won't regret following.

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