To recap ... we are building a Demonstration Lab and Home Theater Showroom in an existing building to learn and pass on some of the experiences to those of you who want to enhance your lifestyle by networking your home entertainment, control,data and communication systems. In the introduction I covered some of the concepts and outlined the project. In this article I will cover some of the design considerations and preliminary construction processes.
As with any construction project we begin with a drawing or drawings that show what we are planning to build. Whether you draw it up yourself or have it done by others there is one main thing to keep in mind here. The purpose of the drawing is to convey information from you ... the owner and end user ... to the people who are going to build the project ... contractors and equipment installers. If you use an architect or designer to produce the drawings remember that he is a middle man / translator / guidance provider. You must be clear with what you want from the project and make sure that the designer understands it too.
When dealing with home technology do not assume that your designer has all of the knowledge necessary. Insist that he bring in a systems integrator at the beginning of the project and work together at every stage of the design. The most beautiful home theater cabinetry in the world is rendered useless if the equipment does not fit into it or will not function because of lack of access or overheating issues. Attention to these details is what makes or breaks the installation. Remember that once construction is completed all these guys go home and you are left to live in the home. Take on the responsibility and make sure you get what you pay for and want. Take the time at the beginning to learn and understand what the drawing is saying. Eraser's are cheap ... sledge hammers aren't.
I could write a complete book on how to design a networked home but that's another project. For the demo we have 2 rooms to design and a quagmire of wire to run throughout the building. For the Home Theater room I did a construction drawing showing the physical renovations that need to take place. This involves removing a wall, building in some display shelving, framing out for the equipment cabinets and relocating and adding lighting, power and heating equipment. Nothing fancy here ... as I said we just need to convey the information to the builders. Since I planned to do the framing myself all I really needed was an outline and some dimensions for the construction end of things. The complexity in this project lies in the wiring and equipment cabinetry. The bulk of the low voltage wiring in the Home Theater runs to and from the equipment cabinet. I'll cover this key element of design a bit later but suffice to say that extra planning effort here will pay off big time later. You want something that looks nice, is convenient to access and provides room for current and future equipment requirements.
The lab / wiring hub / equipment closet is even easier. It's located at the other end of the building (about 60 feet away) in a partly finished workshop / storage room. Since it is a lab I wasn't too worried about the looks ... more about the function. One wall of the room (about 10 feet long) is dedicated to the equipment and wiring. This is probably more room than most will need but for our purposes we wanted to allow for lots of future expansion and experimentation. All I needed to do here was put in an old desk and table to hold the PC and multi room audio equipment along with odd bits and pieces for home control. Centrally located above this I marked out where all of the wiring is to come through the ceiling. We have an attic space above so running the wire is fairly easy. The wiring panel will go on the wall in a central location below the wiring access hole.
The messiest part of this project will be installing the multi room audio system and communication outlets. Cutting speakers and keypads into existing ceilings and walls creates drywall dust everywhere ... making Gracie a very unhappy lady and me a sneezy guy. A bit of planning here can save some of the mess ... but don't kid yourself ... if you are wiring an existing home you will be living in a construction zone for awhile.
There are many ways to sort out where wire needs to go, what types of wire to use and what it does. Floor plans showing outlets and wire runs, schematic drawings, wiring details etc. You and/or your designer and integrator will need to do whatever is necessary to prepare a set of instructions for the electrician or whomever is going to physically install the wire and another set of instructions for whomever is going to connect it to the equipment at each end. While there are some industry accepted standard wiring recommendations, someone must still get into the details to ensure that current and future wiring requirements are met. You really only want someone crawling around in the attic and drilling holes etc. for a few days at the beginning of construction. Having to run an extra wire at the end of the project is costly, messy and a general pain in the butt. If in doubt ... put in extra wire now and try to anticipate future needs and locations. If you need to tear out walls and ceilings to run wire then it's wise to install conduit in these locations for future wiring needs or repairs.
I could have done a drawing showing all of the locations etc. (which is what you would normally do) but since I plan to be available during all of the construction processes I chose to use masking tape to clearly mark all of the speaker, keypad and wall outlet locations for the electricians to run wire to. I put a piece of tape at each location marked with the room name, types of wires and where they are to run (mostly to the lab). In all cases I tried to locate keypads and outlets etc. one stud space over from the existing wall switches to avoid noise on the lines from the high voltage wiring. This was not always possible but in all cases I tried to keep as far away as possible from the powerline with the low voltage wire. Bear in mind that the insides of walls and ceilings can be full of surprises so be prepared to move things around if need be because of unexpected stud locations, backing and other general Murphy's law issues.
Another point to touch on here is that many projects do not proceed all at once ... nor should they have to. We tend to do things bit by bit around here ... sometimes because of time constraints, sometimes budget limitations and often just because we don't think that clearly all the time :-( This project for example started last summer when I started updating the lighting system from the older X10 switches to new Leviton DHC units. We were also relocating and renovating our offices. I decided at that time that while the electricians were crawling around in the attic and we were in construction mode that I would get them to run some of the wire for this project (which at that time was still a long term idea without detailed plans). A quick call to an Integrator for some guidance ... a few rolls of CAT5 and audio wire ... some general ideas for keypad and outlet locations ... and away we went. As it turned out some of the wire was wrong but the majority worked out and it saved us a mess later on ... especially in occupied offices. It also opened our eyes to the process. My feeling is that many people would like to start but are afraid to make a mistake or miss out on something. My recommendation is that you jump in and do what you can when you can afford the time and money. I learned to use a computer by buying one ... not reading a book about it!
Here's a summary of the wire that we have run for our project:
I'll cover more about setting up the scenes when we get there but basically I want to be able to set the light levels for various activities such as reading, watching TV or entertaining without having to use the home theater controller. My feeling is that having a scene controller with a few buttons on the wall for this will be more user friendly for the rest of the family and guests.
So ... here we are with a bunch of plans, a bit of equipment, a few miles of wire to run and a mess to make. In my next article I'll discuss the installation of the wiring, the cabinet design and installation, the lab layout and some other considerations to take into account. If all goes well I'll be able to share have it ready next month.
If you have any ideas to for this project please let me know. That way we can all learn from each other.