Most homes are not yet equipped with a plug-and-use infrastructure for information, communication, entertainment, and control products â€” devices and systems that a growing number of consumers consider essential to their lives.
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In many existing homes, cables and wires from home theaters, computers, broadband, and additional telephone lines hang off joists, drift across floors, and poke through walls. This is not exactly the image one has of the digital age. But in many homes it is a reality.
Why aren’t more new homes designed with an infrastructure for information, communication, entertainment, and control built in? There are some builders and architects who are making this happen, but the majority of the new-home industry continues to build 20th century homes for 21st century consumers. The home buyer realizes his new home is lacking a vital infrastructure only after moving in. Part of the problem is that consumers typically don’t know the important questions to ask to ensure they are being well served by a builder or contractor.
Tangora Technologies, in Delmar, N.Y., is an award-winning home technology integration firm that was recently named one of the Top 100 installers in the United States by CEPro Magazine. During a recent interview, I asked Mike Tangora, HTI+, president and founder of Tangora Technologies to help clarify some of the issues involved with creating an infrastructure that takes care not only of today’s needs, but also tomorrow’s.
Bowman: The industry term for the infrastructure of cables and wires for these new systems is structured wiring. I don’t think most people have a clear understanding of what structured wiring is.
Tangora: Structured wiring is analogous to a central nervous system. Each wire and cable, like an individual nerve, transmits signals. Lines of structured wire are routed throughout the home from a centrally located control panel to data ports, where products plug into the infrastructure. Most rooms in a home will have, ideally, at least one data port built into a wall. See Figure 1. Visualize electrical outlets with a different face plate and you have an idea of what data ports look like. See Figure 2.
Figure 1 â€” Mike Tangora, HTI+ begins to install
a data port in a new home Figure 2 â€” Close up of a data port, left
The centrally located control panel is not only the point where all the wires come together, but it is also where outside utilities, such as cable TV, broadband, and phone lines, are tied into the home infrastructure. See Figure 3
Figure 3 â€” Mike Tangora, HTI+, wires a central control panel
Structured wiring can also be utilized for security systems and to facilitate control of such systems as heating, air conditioning, and lighting. Structured wires controlling these systems do not require data ports â€” there is generally a direct connection. The entire system of wires is “low voltage” and sometimes you will hear that term used in place of structured wiring.
Bowman: Connecting to one wall plate, the homeowner can basically network computers, access the internet, plug in phones, and hook up cable TV?
Tangora: Yes, that is the beauty of structured wiring. This infrastructure of cables and wires can give homeowners maximum flexibility in how they use a room. For example, move a bed, dresser, TV, and audio system out of a bedroom, and move in a desk, computer, printer, house phone, office phone, and fax to set up an effective home office. The infrastructure is built in. There should be no additional wiring needed. It is all right there.
Bowman: If I described structured wiring as providing wall outlets for technology, would I be correct?
Tangora: To a point. Structured wiring can give the homeowner much more than a simple plug. A single DVD player, VCR, or TiVo in a central location can be accessed by family members from any other room in the home for remote viewing. There can now be just one digital cable TV box per home, not one for each television receiving premium channels. Parents can put a video camera in a baby’s room as a way of monitoring the child from anywhere in the home. The family can share printers and files. There are the additional control capabilities for security, lights, heating and cooling, and even watering the lawn. Once a home has a structured wiring infrastructure, the homeowner will develop a deeper appreciation of new possibilities. It’s quite exciting.
Bowman: How much does a typical structured wiring system cost?
Tangora: For new home construction in our region of New York, each data port wired into a central panel is about $250. We recommend a minimum of one data port per room and at least two per living room and recreation area. For example, a Tangora Technologies eight-data-port system for 3,000 to 6,000 square feet of living area will cost $2,935. This upgradeable and expandable system features:
* 1 panel enclosure
* 8 phone locations
* 8 cable locations
* 8 data locations
* Dual Coax broadband amplifier
* Bandwidth 5Mhz to 2.4 Ghz
* Return path for interactive CATV
* Satellite ready connection
* Cable modem ready connection
* Surge protection
* Low voltage power supply
* Telephone interface for security
Wiring for systems like security and lighting control is less per run than the data ports. We tell people if at all possible, put in the wires before the walls go up! That is the most economical way to go.
The cost of installing data ports in existing homes in our area ranges from $500 to $700 per port. Right now, Tangora Technologies structured wiring business is 90 percent in new homes and 10 percent in existing homes. We anticipate that as more consumers become aware of the possibilities, they will want to add structured wiring to existing homes. Well designed structured wiring should increase the home’s resale value.
Bowman: Isn’t wireless an alternative to structured wiring?
Tangora: Fundamentally, wireless and structured wiring is an apples to oranges comparison. Structured wiring is inclusive of information, communication, entertainment, and control. Wireless today is principally about the flexibility of using computers and accessing the internet anywhere in the home. The selection of one or both depends on the homeowner’s long-term aspirations and how they want to be able to utilize these technologies. There can be major issues of privacy and security with wireless that the homeowner should be aware of.
Bowman: Who installs structured wiring in new and existing homes?
Tangora: The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) www.comptia.org developed the HTI+ (Home Technology Integrator) certification as a way to help builders and home owners identify qualified individuals, and also to promote best practices and standards. In addition to requesting CompTIA HTI+ certified personnel, builders and homeowners should visit the Consumer Electronics Association (www.ce.org), the National Home Builders Association (NHBA) website www.nahb.org, and the Home Automation Section in the Yellow Pages for leads on installers and for additional information. Retailers such as Sears, CompUSA, Best Buy, and wholesalers like D&H Distributing encourage or require trained and certified technicians. Many licensed electricians have developed the expertise to effectively put in a structured wiring system. Others have not.
Our advice to builders and consumers is to find experienced home technology integrators who are trained and certified. Look for integrators with demonstrated expertise not only with data port installation, but also with experience in setting up information, communications, entertainment, and control products and systems once the data ports are in place. And definitely, ask for references.
Bowman: Are builders as a rule of thumb using trained and certified home technology integrators?
Tangora: Not necessarily. Just because a data port is in a wall doesn’t mean that it has been installed properly or with full capabilities. Installers have to know what they are doing, otherwise there will be problems. For example, we recommend that that each data port have, at a minimum, two CAT5E cables with each pair of four wires per cable connected. See Figures 4, 5, and 6. This will give the homeowner the capability for high speed internet, computer networking, and the possibility of up to four phone lines per CAT5E cable.
Figures 4,5 and 6
The steps in terminating CAT5E wires
Furthermore, there should be two RG-6 Quad Coaxial cables fully connected to each data port. See Figures 7 and 8. This will provide maximum flexibility in video. The control center should be large enough to accommodate all these terminations and still have room for future growth. If the builder is offering anything less than what I’ve described here, the system is not as capable as it should be.
Figures 7 and 8 â€” Stripping an RG-6 quad coaxial cable and crimping on a connector
Remember, structured wiring is all about being able to use not only today’s technologies, but also tomorrow’s. Done right, structured wiring will immeasurably improve the liveability of a home for a modest price.
Mike Tangora can be reached at email@example.com. Tangora Technologies website www.tangoratechnologies.com