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Best Practice Structured Wiring for New-Build Properties (1/9/2007)
By Chris Janes, Digital Plumbers
Technology and expectations are changing all the time. More and more people want to watch their video sources in any room, hear their music around the home, and be able to connect to the Internet anywhere in the property without having to resort to wireless, and all without ugly equipment on show.
But when it comes to smart home wiring for new-builds, all too often the provision made falls way below the standard we should all be able to expect. Typically there will be some coax points in the main lounge and possibly in the master bedroom, and the property may even be star-wired to a TV amplifier in the loft, with multiple connections available around the home. However, this usually involves a single coax cable, and therefore does not provide the necessary connections for Sky+, or provide for the ability to distribute satellite and other video around the home into other rooms.
Very often there will be no Cat5e cabling for data networks in the home for sharing computer peripherals and storage between computers, which has implications for those wanting to work at home or to connect new products such as Apple TV or future incoming services.
In addition, with no provision made for a single location of satellite, TV, data and telephone services for satellite TV reception equipment, it is very difficult to connect satellite receivers that require telephone and network connections, and often leads to the trailing of wires around the skirting.
Finally, series-wired telephone sockets mean a master/slave BT cabling solution, making the addition of a second telephone line into a room more difficult and broadband connections from the main socket difficult to add. At the very least you will need a filter on each telephone point.
Of course it is difficult to second-guess the technology market, and while no one wants to incur unnecessary costs by over-specifying a cabling system, there are a few simple things that the developer can do at relatively low cost, which will tick all the boxes for their purchasers' main requirements.
In our experience, most people simply want to watch TV, be it terrestrial, cable and/or satellite, in several rooms. If they have for example, a Sky box in their living room, they will also want to watch it in the bedroom, without someone having to drill holes in their brand new double glazing and run ugly black cables up the side of their new house.
They will also want to have several telephone points around the home. Perhaps more importantly nowadays, they will want Internet connectivity throughout, and while wireless systems are readily available, we all know that these are no panacea, especially as more digital media are stored and distributed around the home. Lastly, most purchasers will have some kind of music and DVD collection, and there are things you can do to help them make the most of these.
To support these requirements around the home, we recommend a centralised, star-wired infrastructure. Basically, this means you have a panel or hub in a central location to which all incoming services, i.e. telephone, broadband, TV and satellite are connected, and from which all the above services are distributed to connected rooms in the home.
The central panel is usually discreetly located under the stairs, in the garage, or in a services cupboard. Allow some separation from your main fuse board or consumer unit, because mains electricity can interfere with TV and data signals. Then, run cables from this central panel to all of the rooms to be connected. Each room should have its own dedicated cables that are run straight back to the panel - hence the term 'star-wiring'.
As far as cable types are concerned, you can achieve pretty much all you need to using coaxial and Cat5 cables. We always specify two coax and two Cat5e cables to each room. This provides for TV services, including Sky+ or Sky HD, in all rooms, via the coax; and also provides for data and telephone to each room via the Cat5e. At Digital Plumbers, we have made the job even easier by designing our own dedicated cable, MediaFlex, that bundles these four cables together in one sleeve.
We also send an additional coax and Cat5e to the main living room. This allows you to distribute audio, Sky, cable or Freeview services back to all the other rooms, via the central hub.
These days, many people will have some kind of home cinema sound system, which will include rear speakers. There is nothing more annoying than having to run ugly speaker cables across a new carpet, or around the skirting, to the back of the living room. We always recommend that rear speaker cables are run in the principal AV room during first fix. It is very simple. Just run two speaker cables, one for rear-left and one for rear-right, from the TV location in the living room. These can then be terminated in speaker sockets during second fix.
Finally, it is worth considering pre-wiring for ceiling speakers in secondary rooms such as bedrooms, kitchens, dining areas and bathrooms. We do not put ceiling speakers in the living room as standard, because the homeowner will probably rely on his or her home cinema or dedicated hi-fi system in this area.
When to wire
Structured wiring for the home is by nature difficult to accomplish as a retro-fit task, and so should be considered at the same time as the first fit electrical works. Electrical drawings are helpful to show locations for room media sockets and any local audio inputs, as part of the initial design phase of any new-build or home renovation project. Local audio inputs are used for listening to music from an iPod, CD player or other audio source a room, through the ceiling speakers in that room, or even in another room or all rooms in the house, depending on the type of multiroom audio distribution system employed.
With a little foresight and research, and a budget of around GBP1500 for a panel, cabling and room sockets, a developer can provide a wiring system that allows the installation and enjoyment Sky+ satellite services around the home; printers to be shared between different PCs; wired broadband connection in multiple rooms; the backup of PC files to a central storage device; access to centrally-stored media from different computer devices in different rooms; the connection and enjoyment of a home cinema with full surround sound; and music around the home with a multiroom audio system.
Installing best practice structured cabling not only accommodates current needs, but will future-proof the home for next-generation A/V services, while keeping the customer happy and proud of their new home!
Chris Janes is the Sales and Marketing Manager for Digital Plumbers, speciliast in providing dedicated structured wiring solutions for developers using industry-standard cables to connect audio, video and data signals around the home.
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