Your home is more than just a place to eat and sleep—it’s where you listen to music, get your information, receive entertainment and complete job-related tasks. That all means technology: computer networks, radios, stereos, televisions and even security lighting systems and cameras. If you’re building a new home or remodelling an existing home, you can plan your wiring from the outset to get the most out of your technology.
In order for technology to fulfil its various roles, you need to provide the necessary infrastructure, and that means what is sometimes referred to as "structured wiring." This means that each location in your home will have outlet panels for a number of cables, some of which may not be used immediately. These cables connect to a central communications panel, which allows you to easily configure which location receives which services. It all starts with having the necessary wiring in place.
Make a list of the things you like to do—or would like to do—that require technology. Do you listen to music throughout the house? Would you like to have a television available in just about every room? How about telephones? Do your kids like to watch videos in their rooms? Do you want to watch movies downloaded from your camcorder, or from an Internet provider? Don't just think about what you do right now. The time to consider future needs and expansion is when you're installing the wiring.
List each room in your house, and compare it to the list you prepared in Step 1. How do you use each room today, and how might you use it in the future? How might other people use it, if you were to sell your house? If you don't have children right now, do you expect to have them? Do you have a home office, or are you likely to install one in a spare bedroom? List the types of electronic appliances that could be used in each room.
Indicate for each room the types of wiring that will carry various types of information. Coaxial cable, often referred to as “RG-6 coax,” carries television and radio station signals as well as the Internet signal for cable modem installations. Category-5 (CAT-5) cable is used for computer networks and telephone applications. You might also install wire for remote speaker systems, consisting of pairs of multistrand wires that will feed audio signals to your speakers.
Don't get carried away with television and network cabling and forget to plan for good old alternating current (AC) outlets. There are few things more frustrating than wanting to rearrange the furniture in a room, and realising that you can't do it because you don't have power outlets at the proper locations.
Also, when setting up your wiring diagrams, make sure that you're not running power cables right next to coax, CAT-5 and speaker wiring. The power cables can set up currents within the other types of wiring, leading to pops, crackles and hums.
Look to the future. Don't stop at coaxial cable, CAT-5 and speaker wire. What computer-media needs to you have right now, and what combinations might you use in the future? For example, many people today download movies directly from the Internet provider, rather than waiting for DVDs to arrive in the mail. A CAT-5 interconnection between your computer in your den and your flat-screen television might work, or you might require a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection.
If you think you might want to show video stored on your computer's hard drive or a DVD, and route it to your media centre, you'll need to plan on using a special kind of coax, RG-59. You can also use this kind of coax for security cameras. Be sure to run the appropriate wire alongside the camera coax to power the camera and run any control features.
Start with a well thought-out plan and a methodical approach, and you can do much of the wiring yourself. You might be able to install the wire and cable runs, and then get a code inspection and sign-off before closing everything up. This is especially true if you're installing electrical wiring to outlets, switches and fixtures at the same time you're running coax and CAT-5 cables. Make sure the cable you buy is approved for inwall wiring applications; be aware that not all wire is. Again, check your local building codes.
If you're starting with an existing house, and you don't want to open each wall, consider using baseboard units now available that have built-in cable runs. You can then drop wires from your new wall outlet boxes to the baseboards.
Double-check the operation of all wires and cables before closing up the walls. It's expensive and frustrating to try to track down shorts and other wiring problems after the walls have been closed up.