Installing One Piece at a Time
See how installing one system at at a time can save money and limit frustration.
Pam and Jim Katz have already decided to invest in a plasma TV and a surround-sound system. This room may get the goods. Photo by Doug Snower.
December 01, 2005 by Lisa Montgomery

Building a house is a great way to see how far you can stretch a dollar. Most people find that their money doesn’t go very far, especially when they start adding sophisticated whole-house music, automation and home theater systems to the plans. However, there are ways to economize. n For instance, it’s very popular to put every imaginable system in while the house is under construction. At this stage, installers can more easily thread wire, plant speakers and hang video projectors. After all, we all know that the less time it takes to put something in, the less you’ll spend on labor.

This do-it-now-not-later philosophy sounded unreasonable to homeowners Jim and Pam Katz, however. “To us, it made more sense to make sure we liked certain items before we spent the money to put them in,” Jim explains. “We didn’t just buy art for the sake of having art on the walls. We waited until we found what we really loved. It was the same with the landscape plan, the furniture and the electronic systems for the house. We may have done things in a different order than many people, but staging the additions really helped us with our financing.”

Phase 1
About the only electronic amenity the Katzes decided to have installed right away was a robust infrastructure of wiring. Custom Entertainment Inc., a Chicago-based home systems installation firm, routed Category 6 cabling to several telephone and computer locations throughout the house as it was being built. “Category 6 cabling is a higher grade than the more common Category 5e cabling being used in homes,” explains Ed Rakowski, company president. “But it’ll ensure that the family can keep adding electronics to their house and never run out of bandwidth.” When Jim and Pam are ready to distribute high- definition video throughout the house, for example, the wiring will be ready to handle the task.

For the first six months in their new home, the family was perfectly content using the infrastructure to link the home’s three computers and for communicating with the heating and cooling system. Jim and Pam put the HAI OmniPro II automation system in charge of their home’s four thermostats. Whenever the outdoor temperature and humidity reached a certain level, the thermostats would adjust to make every inch of the 5,000-square-foot home feel comfortable. Jim says that’s a huge accomplishment, given the open floor plan of the house.

The home’s three computers also give the wiring network quite a workout. Using the network, the family can surf the Internet simultaneously, share a single printer and exchange files. Then when Jim and Pam are ready to spring for a PC for their son Danny, 12, that machine can join the network by just being plugged into a wall jack.

Phase 2
Six months after moving in, the family was ready to start adding new electronic features to the house. First up: a whole-house music system. Fortunately, Custom Entertainment had pulled all the necessary speaker and control wire for an audio system, so the addition was fairly simple. “We also took pictures while the wiring was being pulled to help the installers remember where the wire was,” says Jim.

Knowing what type of system they wanted helped simplify the installation. “During those six months without a stereo, we were able to determine which rooms we’d want to listen to music in,” explains Jim. The family chose to have 10 rooms fitted with built-in speakers and wall-mounted keypads for controlling the music from afar. The system they chose was ADA’s Suite 16. It’s by far the most expensive system in the house, but it was a natural choice for the music-loving family. “I like my music to sound the best it possibly can,” Jim says. “Plus, it’s able to handle more music sources as we add them.” Currently, the Suite 16 feeds music from two radio tuners, a CD player and Jim’s beloved iPod. However, it’s not always his iPod that fuels the system. “Instead of bringing a salad over when they visit, my friends all bring their iPods,” he says. “In 10 minutes, we are able to make a playlist from their music collection and play it throughout the house.”

Phase 3
The iPod music-making gatherings have introduced the Katzes to a new way of entertaining at home, where the media can be tailored to fit the mood of the party and controlling it is as simple as pressing a button on the wall. It’s no wonder the family’s next phase of electronic upgrades will include stretching the music system to rock speakers in the courtyard, finishing up their lighting control system and putting a plasma TV and sound system in the family room. But the Katzes are in no hurry. They’ll add the amenities gradually, in stages, just as they’ve always done.

More Photos


Frank Lloyd Wright would be proud. Jim and Pam Katz, owners of this prairie-style house, took their time when they selected their electronic systems. By taking baby steps into technology, they were able to preserve the integrity of their home’s design and find the components they really loved. They also saved money. Photo by Doug Snower.


Large rooms like this kitchen and an open floorplan could have made it difficult for Jim and Pam Katz to maintain a consistent temperature throughout their house. An HAI OmniPro II system manages to make every room feel great by continuously monitoring and regulating four thermostats.  Photo by Doug Snower.


One of the Katzes’ most recent additions to their house is an ADA Suite 16 whole-house music system. The system distributes music to speakers installed throughout the abode. And all the homeowners need to do to summon a song is press a button on a wall-mounted keypad. Photo by Doug Snower.

Electronics Design and Installation
Audio Video Design
Mission Viejo, CA

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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