Whole-House Audio Woes
Brick, plaster and a funky layout are going to cause trouble for editor of Electronic House.
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The direction of the floor joists will determine path of the wiring for my whole-house music system.
May 27, 2011 by Lisa Montgomery

I’ve been writing about technology for around 13 years. I’ve made friends with scads of professional installers, logged in thousands of hours interviewing key CE manufacturers, and seen all sorts of smart homes in action. You’d think my own home would be loaded with the stuff. I’m embarrassed to say it’s not. I battle with my remote controls, leave lights on, struggle to find the right tunes for a party. Sad but true, I’m like the cobbler who has no shoes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to have a house with all the bells and whistles. One that remembered to shut the garage doors so I wouldn’t have to get out of bed to do so. So what’s holding me back? Money, for starters. There’s simply not much left in my wallet for “luxury” items after replacing the warped floors and rotted windows of a 30-year-old house.

Speaking of age, that’s another reason for my neglect of technology. Older homes can be extremely unaccommodating of electronic systems. Besides being old, my home is also a crazy quad-level, which means the basement and attic (great places to run cabling) sit below and above only a few of the rooms. Wiring access to the majority of the home is sorely limited. Don’t take my word for it. Ask nearby installer Peter Cook of Automation Design + Entertainment, Portage, Mich. During a recent visit to my house he actually called it a “retrofit nightmare.” All I want is a whole-house music system. Nothing fancy—just something that’ll allow me to have my tunes when I want where I want without having to cart around a portable iPod player, which I’ve been doing now for a good three years. After inspecting the construction of my house (lots of brick and plaster) and the layout (again, limited wiring access), Peter broke the bad news: The labor that would be involved to wire up a system would probably send me into the poor house. “Your house is an ideal candidate for a wireless system, like one from Sonos,” he said. As for something “wired,” he recommended setting up a surround-sound system in our family room and rec room.

When Peter said “wireless,” visions of having to set up the system myself immediately came to mind—something I neither have the patience or the time to do. An expert’s touch is really what I was hoping for. Good news: Peter said that since I wanted so many areas (basically every room) to have music, it would be best for a pro do to the install—even if it is wireless—as the speakers will still need to be tucked into the walls.

All told, it took Peter about 90 minutes to get the lay of the land. He asked me lots of questions, took down some notes, told me he’d be in touch soon and headed out the door.
He’s crunching the numbers now, and I’m anxious to hear what he figures it’ll cost and the sorts of products that’ll make the most sense. Stay tuned.

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Pro installer Peter Cook of Automation Design + Entertainment, Portage, Mich., gets a feel for my basement. The flashlight app on his iPhone came in handy for uncovering possible wiring avenues.

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Where are the studs? That’s the million-dollar question when adding new wiring in an existing home. An electronic stud finder helps, but Peter resorts to the old-fashioned method of knocking on the walls.

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Heating and cooling ducts are usually installed within stud bays. Find the air returns in each room and you’ll know where the bays are, which is often a good place to fish wire.

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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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