Ask someone to describe their ideal home technology system. They will likely conjure images of the latest 4K TVs. They will describe high-fidelity speakers that can produce an immersive listening environment throughout their home. They will picture a control system that is fully integrated and easy to operate. And they will want this all to blend in seamlessly, without compromising the design of their home. While all of these technologies are wonderful, it is much less glamorous to discuss what makes these coveted systems possible: the wiring.
Good Wiring Yields Placement Flexibility
A proper infrastructure will serve as the foundation of any home technology system. Yet more often than not the infrastructure receives far too little planning. This has the potential to create a number of problems that may only come to light near the end of the project, when they are difficult and expensive to fix. With a little planning these issues can easily be avoided, allowing the technology to shine, without any compromise to the home’s aesthetic value.
A common issue that results from improper wire planning is the inability to locate devices in areas where they can perform their function without being visually intrusive. A standard practice employed by many home systems integrators to combat this inflexibility is known as structured cabling. With structured cabling all of the wires throughout the home are pulled to a centralized location, such as a garage, closet, or basement. These wires are then landed inside specialized panels, where each cable can be properly labeled, terminated, and certified. Having a structured cabling plan ensures a level of flexibility as the owner’s technology needs evolve. It also reduces clutter throughout the home by allowing devices such as cable modems and routers to be hidden in a centralized location.
What About Wireless?Any conversation about a home’s infrastructure wouldn’t be complete without mentioning wireless technology. Home systems integrators are commonly asked “When is all of this technology going be wireless?” The short answer: a very long time from now. Even commonplace technologies like Wi-Fi require infrastructure planning, namely running network cabling to strategic locations for wireless access points. Additionally, transporting digital signals around the home requires a great deal of bandwidth, particularly as technologies like 4K video become more prevalent. There are currently very few options for facilitating this transport wirelessly, and even fewer that actually work. In short, the need for a properly planned, hardwired infrastructure is still paramount. This fact will not change any time soon. —JG
Wiring Lets You Hide A/V Components
While the term structured cabling is typically used to describe telecom wiring, the same principles apply when designing the infrastructure for a home’s audio and video systems. Today’s design aesthetic demands a minimal amount of visual intrusion from A/V components, and an effective way to hide these components is to run the wiring for a distributed audio and video system. Utilizing this method will allow components such as amplifiers, A/V receivers and cable boxes to be placed in a centralized location like a basement or mechanical room. From there, the audio and video signals travel over wiring (which has been fished behind the walls) to speakers and TVs throughout the house.
Utilizing a distributed approach not only eliminates clutter, but also protects the equipment from damage. Over extended periods of use, electronic components generate heat; without adequate ventilation they can be compromised. Often, the most effective way to avoid heat build-up is through the use of motorized fans. Although helpful to the well-being of the equipment, fans are noisy. This can be particularly bothersome in critical entertainment areas like media rooms and dedicated theaters. By centrally locating all of these components, adequate cooling and ventilation will only need to be ensured in one area, instead of in various cabinets and closets throughout the home.
Wiring Fosters Synergy of Design & Tech
Getting the wire to its central termination location is only half the battle. One of the most time consuming and important parts of wire planning is determining exact landing locations—in other words, where the wire will meet up with the technology (speakers, keypads, TVs, etc.) that will be installed into each room. Making technology blend seamlessly into a home is only accomplished through an eye for detail. Ensuring that speakers line up perfectly with the surrounding lights, or that TVs get mounted in ideal viewing positions are two great examples. But if care is not taken to precisely land wires during the rough-in, attaining this seamless look will become all but impossible.
Implementing a home technology system is no easy feat. Doing so without making compromises to the home’s design is even tougher. The very definition of an integrator’s job is to provide technologies that homeowners can see, touch, and hear. Ironically it is what homeowners do not see — the wiring — that makes it all possible. It is only through careful planning and execution of the infrastructure that technology can be blended seamlessly into today’s homes.
Jason Griffing is a project manager at VIA Home, West Hollywood, Calif., viahome.com, and hosts two industry-related podcasts at HomeTech.fm and AVShopTalk.com