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HOW STUFF WORKS / INDUSTRY

Why Builders Should Pre Wire Homes

By Robin Courtenay, CEDIA | Sunday | 06/11/2005

In the past 10 years the average home has changed dramatically. We are seeing new entertainment and communication devices along with a new generation of broadband applications. So what is key.

The way we live is rapidly changing. Forty years ago we did not have central heating in every new home and wenty years ago most people only had a single telephone point and ten years ago very few people had Internet access even in their office, let alone at home. Now, discerning home owners are demanding all the latest benefits that technology can offer. This means broadband Internet access throughout the house, flat screen TVs in most of the main rooms, and a digital music system that will play back music from their iPod or sound server via in-ceiling speakers.

Builders of new homes are in a unique position because, although it is possible to retro-fit the cables necessary for these technologies to be installed, it is far easier, and cheaper, to do it during the construction process. 'Pre-wiring', as it is called, adds only a small incremental cost on top of the traditional cables that need to be run, and can be done at the 'first fix' stage by a standard contracted electrician in order to keep costs down. Although it is possible to retro-fit cables, it is far easier, and cheaper, to do it during the construction process

The benefits

The benefits of pre-wiring are enormous, not only in terms of 'future proofing' the property for new technologies just around the corner, but also maximising the value of the house by making it more appealing to new buyers' needs. Importantly, the end user does not see any of the wires, just faceplates where they can plug their various devices into such as telephone, TV, computer or iPod. Many new homes are now pre-wired as standard, while older homes can be upgraded with new cables during the refurbishment process. Nor is it just smaller property developers who are wiring for the future. Major house builders are too. Pre-wiring adds only a small incremental cost on top of the traditional cables that need to be run, and can be done at the 'first fix' stage by a standard contracted electrician

Is the future wireless?

There is a common belief that in the future everything will be wireless. However, this is simply not the case. Although wireless, or 'Wi-Fi' technologies can be used for some applications, such as transmitting data between computers, they are still not suitable for many applications. Wireless technology cannot be used reliably to stream video to a flat screen and does not offer the necessary bandwidth for forthcoming HDTV (High Definition TV) broadcasts. Indeed, in the broadcast environment, the need for wiring is now even greater than before. For example, SkyPlus - the popular set-top box that allows you to record two digital TV programmes at the same time - requires two sets of coaxial cable running from the dish, plus its own dedicated telephone socket. This means that those who have still got a single telephone point in the hallway or do not have a telephone socket near their set-top box will have to run an extension cable.

The cables

Generally speaking, pre-wiring a home does not just involve one type of cable. Usually several types of cable are necessary, so it is a good idea to use coloured wiring in order to make the job run more smoothly. For video signals, CT100-grade co-axial cable or above is recommended, with many CEDIA installers now choosing CT125, especially for satellite dishes with two signal outputs such as SkyPlus-equipped units. Using coloured wiring makes the job run more smoothly

Of course, coaxial cable, though still vitally important, is not the only cable that should be installed. CAT5 'Ethernet' cable is rapidly becoming the de-facto standard in many new homes, not just for home networking but also for other applications such as multiroom audio, security and control systems. Many of the multiroom audio solutions, popular with many new home builders, work entirely on CAT5, with the cable being used both for control and also for audio playback via in-ceiling speakers. And while CAT6 provides gigabit networking with speeds up to 1000Mb/s (compared to 100Mb/s for CAT5), it is not only more expensive, but also requires the connectors at the end to be CAT6-certified in order to be a proper CAT6 network.

When pre-wiring homes, many CEDIA installers also fit speaker cable. Importantly, audio/signal cables must be separated from normal high-voltage power cables to minimise interference, and should have 750mm separation for long runs over 3m. However, crossover or pinch points through the walls are okay.

Conclusion

Clearly the major benefit of a pre-wired home for both builders and home owners alike, is that by using this technology, it is possible to free up valuable floor space. Cables can be buried in the wall, while star wiring from each of the rooms back to a central point or hub, allows bulky equipment to be hidden from view, usually on a special rack inside a cupboard. What is more, with a central hub, it is possible to provide a completely flexible solution, enabling different services, such as home entertainment, security, lighting etc, to be 'patched through' to different rooms. This is particularly important as rooms change use over time. For example, what was once a nursery may well become a home office once the baby has grown up. It is the ultimate in flexible living!

For builders, pre-wiring for the latest integrated technologies is rapidly becoming a necessity. Just as every home buyer now expects central heating, discerning home buyers are increasingly choosing homes that are pre-wired for the latest technologies. The costs of pre-wiring are relatively low, but the benefits to the end user are potentially enormous.

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