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Buying a house with A/V Distribution....  

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
I am currently in the process of buying a house. One of the options I can choose to add while the house is being built is a complete home wiring system for audio, video, networking, etc. This will probably be a system from OnQ or any of the other similar home systems out there.

Does anyone have experience with these? Do you have any tips? Any issues I should be thinking about? What is the average cost for such a system? Is it really worth it? I am just really getting into home theatre/audio in terms of setting things up myself. Since I am no expert on components, speakers, and such I thought that this type of system would be perfect and I would just buy one of those mini-theatre systems. Then all I need to worry about is choosing the right TV, DirecTV, and Tivo systems.

The system will supposedly also have an in-wall surround sound system for the family room. Any comments, feedback, or links would be appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

August Harrison

[This message has been edited by AugustH (edited 07-25-2001).]
post #2 of 22
The 'standard' for home automation these days would be as follows:

- 1 wall plate in each room with dual RG-6 and dual Cat-5 connectors. This gives you the capability for a computer network connection, 1 or more phone lines, and cable in and out (so that you can put a video source in any room and play it back through the entire house). All these wires should be 'home run' cables direct to the automation closet (home run means you don't daisy chain wiring between rooms like some telephones and cable connections are wired - each wire goes directly to the automation closet, which is the room where all the electronics will be housed).

- 1 CAT - 5 cable near the door light switch, for expansion to intercom systems, paging systems, infra-red repeaters, etc. Home run to the automation closet.

- For whole house audio in that room, you should have a 16/2 or 14/2 in-wall wire run to your speaker locations and terminating in an electrical box wherever you would want your volume control/digital keypad. From there, Home run a 16/4 or 14/4 cable and a Cat 5 cable to the automation closet.

- Rough-in wiring for front and rear door video cameras, home run to the automation closet.

- You should rough in for a security system - CAT-5 cables to every window, door, and motion sensor location.

- You should definitely run a bundle of quad-shield RG-6 (2 or 4) to your attic for future expansion to satellite systems or antennas. Home run to the automation closet.

If you really want to future-proof your house, look at the areas that will be the most difficult to get into once the walls are closed, and run some conduit there and back to you automation closet so you can pull wires in the future. If the automation stuff is in the basement, it can be a lot of work to pull wires from the second floor of a 2-story house. So you might think about putting a conduit in to the attic and terminate it in the automation closet. Then if you need to get wires into those rooms, you can pull them into the attic and then go down through the wall headers into the walls.

Now if you want to go with a whole-house hard-wired lighting system, you need to run choose a system now, and run whatever cabling it requires. There are lots of different systems out there.

How much will all this cost? It depends on the level of rough-in your want, whether you want to put in the electronics now, etc. The wire itself is relatively cheap - a 1000' roll of good quality Cat-5e cable is around $100. RG-6 Quad-Shied is a little more, but not much.

Buy two rolls of each, so you can pull 2 or 4 wires at the same time. Depending on the size of your house, that may be all you need, and in fact it may be way more than you need. If that's the case, you can buy 500' spools and do the same thing, or just pull one wire at a time.

Another cabling option is to buy a roll of 'structured' cable, which has two RG-6 and two Cat-5 cables in one sheath, along with an optional multi-mode fiber. This stuff is stiff and hard to work with, but that's not really an issue when the walls are open. I haven't priced this stuff out, but I'd guess that the wire cost will be somewhat higher than the equivalent separate wires, but that you'll save in labor in having to only pull one wire to each quad-jack. You'll still need a roll of Cat-5e to pull to the door locations and speaker switchboxes.

If you want to do this cheaply, you don't even have to rough-in electrical boxes . Just run the wires to the walls in the location you will want to have them, tack them to a piece of cardboard to hold them in place, and make a map of where they are. A GOOD map. Take some pictures of the final wiring while the walls are open, too. It'll help you visualize things much better later on.

How much does it cost? Anywhere from $300-$400 (the price of the wire, if you're willing to pull it yourself), to $20,000 or more (completely finished, whole house lighting system installed, etc.). I've seen complete automation systems that cost $50,000 or more.

I would strongly encourage you to at least run that wiring right now. Even if you have your electricial pull the wire, it shouldn't cost more than $1000 or so in total. And it'll save you endless amounts of grief and expense down the road. Once your walls are closed, even a trivial wire pulling job is a mess of drywall dust, patched holes, fishtape, crawling around insulation, etc. And if you have pros do it, you'll pay a lot. Running wires after the walls are closed can easily cost you 3-5 times as much.

I just bought a new house that was built a couple of years ago, and advertised a rough-in for whole-house audio. There are wall plates in each room for volume controls, and the 16/4 wires running to the basement as they should. But the silly builders never put in the Cat-5 cable, so I have no way to control the electronics! So now I have either an expensive and time-consuming re-wiring job which I probably won't do, or I have to come up with a different automation scheme using X-10 or RF to control the audio system. Pulling a Cat-5 to each location would have cost maybe an extra $50 or so in total, which would have saved me probably a thousand bucks or more in finishing out the system.

Oh, and figure out where you're going to have you main Television or home theater, and make sure you run lots of speaker wires from your stereo to possible locations for surrounds, subwoofers, etc. It's cheap and easy now, a pain in the butt later. I would strongly consider doing this in any room of the house that has the potential to become a main viewing area. You don't have to mess up the walls with a zillion blank plates - just leave the wires behind the walls as mentioned above and map them out.

Hope this helps.

post #3 of 22
If use use an electrician to pull the wires, make sure he runs them independently of the electric system. You can also save a bundle by terminating the connections yourself.
One mistake I made, was I told the electrician to run the conduit, but didn't specify the size. So one night I came to inspect, and he ran a 1" conduit, and the dry wall guy was right behind him. UGGGGGHHHHHHHH
Another good thing to do, if you are motivated, is to buy the wire yourself. Most Electricians, don't know much about high tech cable, and will buy the least expensive stuff at the local electric supply house.


post #4 of 22
An electrician will often screw up CAT-5 cabling, because he won't know the standard requirements for allowable wire bends, maximum tension you can put on the cable, etc. And he's not going to care if 10 years from now your wiring doesn't want to work with some new high-speed standard.

You could easily find the requirements for pulling Cat-5 on the web, do it yourself, and probably do a much better job than the electrician will. And it's really not very hard.
post #5 of 22
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the input thus far guys.

I should make clear that I would be purchasing a 'packaged' structured wiring system. This would mean that the supplying company would do all of the work themselves when the house is built.

I've read some information on structured wiring, and it seems the way to go. I just want to make sure I won't be spending obscene amounts of money and that I know exactly what I am getting and what I can and cannot do with it.

Again, your input is appreciated. Thanks.

August Harrison
post #6 of 22
You'll spend more money that way.
I have looked at many new homes that are supposedly "wired" and I was very disappointed. But then again, my last contractor remarked that Disney could move into my house.
It really depends on what you want. One jack next to the fireplace won't cut it! I had twin RG6 connections, speaker wire, and twin computer jacks all over the place (in some rooms on 2 or 3 of the walls). You know, my wife still found a way to arrange the furniture so that I needed to run cables across the floor. http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/eek.gif
You may won't to try and carve that piece out of the contract, and sub it yourself. (Contractors will whine real loud when you recommend this, but many will allow it.)
post #7 of 22
AugustH- Take a look at the contract from the company doing the installaion of the structured wiring. Make sure you have enough outlets in the rooms and the sound wiring in the rooms you want. Many in your area offer packages, which is fine, but make sure there is not a large charge to add on items.
You should be spending 1% to 1.5% of the home cost on structured wiring package. Is is worth it- Yes! in terms of satisfaction with the ability to use the latest electronics and resale. I am amazed at people who will spend an extra 5k on the leather package for their car and not even bother with the home wiring. I spend more time in my house and the value increases. Easy choice!
I have had no experience with the ONQ packages. I know the companie(s) have gone through some changes a few times.
I am using OPENHOUSE and SmartAmerica equipment. No problems and many modules and configurations to choose from.
If the electrician is doing the wiring, make sure that the outlets are tested,certified and signed-off as such on the contract. Anyone can pull wire, terminating the ends correctly and paying attention to the bends, pull tension, and proximity to other electrical areas are left for the people who are trained to handle the job.
Dhanson_ I don't agree to pull cat5 to the alarm sensors. The sensors used in the home usually use a 2 or 4 conductor stranded 24awg wire. This wire is smaller and can reach contact and glass sensors easy. Consult with an alarm installer in the area to find the correct wire for your application.
The 16/4 wire run to the rooms in your house are enough to support a multizone, multisource sound system. Have a look at the Matrix audio stuff. You may also consider that there is probably a coax connection to each room ,in which you can interface with a IR sensor from Channel Plus. Send IR down the pipe to the source equipment for complete control. There are also RF remotes from companies like AMX and Crestron to carry around. They don't have to be the expensive touchscreens either. There are some 8 button-32button models. I see them on ebay a lot. A little used gear there can do a lot. Another route is using the wireless modem on a Palm pilot connected to the house LAN and back to the Source equipment.
All fun stuff.
post #8 of 22
You're probably right about the CAT-5 to the sensors. I'm so used to specifying cat-5 for low-level stuff that I didn't consider sizing issues.

This house has a strange mix of wires. The previous owner spent the money to put in whole-house audio, but there aren't even phone jacks or cable outlets in any bedroom except the master. We have a young daughter, and I just know that not having a network and telephone connection in her bedroom is going to come back and bite me when she's a teenager. I could go the all-wireless route, with an 802.11b wireless hub upstairs to feed any computers in the kids bedrooms, but I'd rather just have it done right and put in the proper cabling. The tough part is the infra-red, because all the rooms lack that and some of them will be considerably harder to get to than the kids rooms.

The Channelplus stuff might be a solution, but again it's expensive compared to the cost of having done the wiring done right in the first place. Plus, the way it stands now I have no return cables to the automation closet in the basement, so all source equipment like VCR's and DVD players will have to be in the basement. I'd much rather locate them where it was most convenient to change tapes or DVD's, and just modulate their output and feed it back into the cable system.

I don't think you can easily connect a wireless modem in a palm pilot to your home automation system. Those modems are CPDP packet modems, if I recall correctly. What you could do is put an 802.11b compactflash card in a PocketPC along with a wireless hub in the house, and I'm considering that route. The trouble is, it's expensive. $500 for the PocketPC, another $200 for the CF card, and $300 for the hub. If you need 2 or 3 Pocket PC's in various locations of the house, it'd be pretty easy to drop 2-3K just on the hardware. But I'm still considering that.

See how much hassle it is to not do the wiring right in the first place? If the guy who built this house had spent a measly couple of hundred more dollars to run cable and Cat-5 to each room, this wouldn't even be an issue now, and building out the system would just be a matter of plugging in the right peripherals.
post #9 of 22
Depending on your budget, you may want to consider cat5 on every wall (or at least opposite walls).

Also, cat5 into major light switches.

I think theres a 802.11 module that came out for the visor

post #10 of 22
dHanson_ I am sorry to hear that there are no cable or phone jacks is the rooms. I would not blame all of it on the owner, as the house maybe a spec house from the builder and he left the job to the electrician.
You can buy some Plenum rated wire and snake it through the HVAC pipes to the rooms, drill through the vent area behind the grill and over to the next wall stud and put in a "clamp box" to hold the jack. You can finish all the rooms in a couple of nights.
Take a look at the Matrix audio stuff. It uses only the 16/4 to send the commands back to the processor. The units are in 4 or 8 zones. The new keypads have source access, and number pads. Extremely easy to program and a remote is available too. They use a proprietary modulated IR, so your remotes are not going to work. The unit has 4 source capability and is not very expensive. Control your DVD, CD, MP3, VCR, SAt or cable box remotely with only 16/4! Just another work around for you to check out.
All major control systems now have a ethernet interface, so the Palm or the Visor will work with the wireless LAN port. I agree it is expensive, but some already have a unit and giving the handheld dual duties is then an added savings. Universal 8-in-one remotes are available in wireless form too. Only $120.00 tops. -have fun and keep posting!
post #11 of 22
Actually, the house is a very detailed and nicely finished custom home, built by a high-end custom home builder. The homeowner simply dropped the ball when spec'ing it out. There are other signs of lapses in attention - for example, the mechanical system is very elaborate for a house of this size - it's 2600 sq ft on 2 levels with a walkout basement, but it has 2 furnaces plus 3 zones of in-floor heat in the basement and ensuite. So no expense was spared. Yet, the homeowner didn't spend the extra couple of hundred bucks to move the electrical distribution panel into the mechanical area, so now when I develop the basement I have to build a box around it with access doors (and wouldn't you know the thing is right in the middle of my future home theater location). And the basement was intended to be developed, so that wasn't an excuse. Boxing that thing in will cost more than what it would have cost to simply put it in the mechanical room to begin with.

I spent some time on the weekend mapping out access to the cold air returns, and I think I can use them to get the wiring into the upstairs rooms. Question - how do you do this? I used to do commercial network wiring, but I haven't done much residential stuff. If you run wires through your cold air ducts, do you just cut a hole through the tin, fish your wires through, and then caulk around them once they are in place? Or put in grommets? Are there any other code requirement regarding number of runs or anything? Obviously, I'd be using plenum-rated cable, but I'm not sure whether there are other things I have to make sure of when breaching the integrity of the duct.
post #12 of 22
The way I done it in the past is with a Metal fish tape curled all the way over on the end to negotiate the turns.
Pick the easiest route, Feed or return. Cut a small rectangle out of the duct in the basement or remove a section of the duct to allow yourself to move the metal tape around. I like the idea of using rubber grommets, but I used electrical clamps filled with silicon ( messy). Just seal the duct in and out locations tight. Use a slightly larger square of metal with holes in it to screw and seal over the opening (if you are cutting one). The holes should be large enough for clamps or grommets.
I am sorry to hear of the fuse box trouble. I bet it would be difficult to move. Keep in mind the code requirements for enclosing the box. There might be local requirements that you should know ahead of time. If you are not pulling a work permit for the basement, don't worry about it.
BTW, did I metion I only work on New construction now...
post #13 of 22
Thread Starter 
Again, thanks to everyone for their comments and suggestions.
I now have more information regarding the system to be installed.

The company doing the work is 'C&R Systems' (http://www.crsys.net).

For the wiring, this is what I would get:
* All bedrooms have 2 RG-6 Coax & 2 Cat 5 wires in same location
* Family room media center also has 2 Coax & 2 Cat 5 wires
* Kitchen gets 1 Cat-5 wire
* 2 Coax wires run to the side of the house for cable & roadrunner service
* 2 Cat 5 wires run to the side of the house for phone & DSL
* Attic will be wired for satellite

The total cost of that is $1143. So, I would have:
* Multiple access points in home
* 5 gigahertz speed capability with combination of tecport wire
* LAN with category five wire
* 22db amplifier gain for coaxial cable
* Low noise filter - 5db
* Surge protection capability for lightning storms or power surges
* Phone system integration with simple interface
* Computer networking capability with 10 or 100 BaseT Ethernet hub
* "Cable modem ready" for high speed internet surfing
* Distribution of VCR, satellite, cable, DVD, laserdisc throughout the home
* Four lines of phone capability on each category 5 wire

Set up of the home theatre system (surround sound) will run around $1750 with speakers. Pre-wire alone is only $375.

They also provide central vacuum, intercom, zone audio systems, home monitoring, and security; priced separately.

The price seems reasonable to me, but again this is the first time I have looked into getting this done. As always, your comments are welcome.

August Harrison

[This message has been edited by AugustH (edited 08-05-2001).]
post #14 of 22
<FONT face="Times New Roman">Text</FONT f> AugustH_ how many bedrooms? What panel and modules are being used. Thanks for the cable detail. You are going to be very happy that you put in a structured wiring system.
post #15 of 22
Thread Starter 
4 bedrooms
home office, family room, and game room

I don't have the details on the panel or modules yet. I've just been given summary information and pricing. All other information, I grabbed from the company's web site (see my previous post).

August Harrison
post #16 of 22
AugustH- Looks like 9 or 10 Multi-media outlets. One in each bedroom + 2 in the home office on opposite walls and 2 in the family room (for redecorating)+ one in the game room and another in the kitchen. Some kitchens have a desk or area for a computer. If your Kitchen design is like that, add one. Additional telephone lines (cat5) in the M. Bedroom near the night stand, garage, laundry , basement, master bath. Add an additional RG6Q to the master bath for TV or monitor. Not all of the wires have to be termintated in the panel right away, but make sure you have the wires labeled and a plan sheet.
The price that you have for the wiring is fair. I think you need a few more outlets, but that is my opinion. I would like others to answer for you too.
Is the music wiring all included?

9 areas for music or surround sound should only run you about $500.00. $375 seems steep for one room of wire for surround only. The rear speakers could have a switch for music and surround if you are using the direct radiating types. Speakers vary greatly in cost. What was the $1750 for?
post #17 of 22
Thread Starter 
Right. I need to make sure that I have more outlets in my home office and definitely that the game room and tech area (loft) are connected as well. I won't need (don't want) any further connections in the kitchen. Also, bathroom connectivity in that sense is not practical. At some point you need to unplug. http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/wink.gif

The structured wiring set up is $1143.

The audio stuff is as follows:
* Prewire / volume control (1st location) - $281
* Prewire / volume control (add location) - $144
* Prewire speakers w/ volume control - $500
* Surround sound prewire - $375
* Surround sound w/ speaker system - $1750

I'd most likely be getting my own speakers. Also, they do the zone audio through the intercom system it seems. The system itself is $1563 and additional speakers are $156. I could be wrong about that though.

August Harrison
post #18 of 22
In your bedroom locations, have a separate phone wire run to the walls where the bed will be located. Typically you'll set up your telephone by your nightstand and the TV on the wall opposite the bed. Placing the cable and phone outlet on the same wall is not optimal for the bedroom (except for satellite use). Unless you're using a cordless phone you'll have to get out of bed to answer the phone or have a wire running across the floor from the nightstand telephone to the phone jack by the TV.

-John G.
post #19 of 22
Thread Starter 
Hey there. I received more information today.

For my structured wiring, I was able to confirm that my game room and home office is covered in the listed price. I am having them check on the 'tech. center,' which is like a loft for a small open area workspace.

Pre-wire surround sound:
(1) Pre-wire pair of front channel speakers (buried)
(1) Pre-wire pair of rear channel speakers (buried)
(1) Pre-wire for subwoofer in plaster ring (by request)

Additional Information:
* all 16/2 wires are home run to the family room media
* all surround sound wires will be buried, homerun to a
plaster ring in the media niche next to the TV pre-wire

Roberts Surround Package:
Equipment Included:
(1) Pair of Roberts audio RA-620 two way in-ceiling front
channel speakers
(1) Pair of Roberts audio RA-620 two way in-ceiling rear
channel speakers
(1) One Energy EX-L 10 100 watt powered subwoofer
(1) One Energy Center Channel speaker located over

Additional Information:
* 16 gauge wiring is included to all locations
* Locations have ben pre-determined
* Locations may differe up to 16"
* Optionally have a system custom designed for my needs

So how does that sound?

August Harrison
post #20 of 22
The Roberts Audio speakers for the theater may be a bit suspect. I'm not familiar with them, and I'm familiar with most of the major lines, but I could be wrong.
Also, you definitely want voice matched speakers, which you can't by using two different manufacturers(Roberts and Energy). Plus, ceiling location of front and rear speakers is less than ideal. In wall (front and rear/side)is much more desireable. Also, I would have them wire for a 7.1 surround system, even if you're only doing 5.1 today.
post #21 of 22
Thread Starter 
I am going to visit the company next Friday (8/31) and take a look at their demo rooms and ask all of my questions in person.

August Harrison
post #22 of 22
Its all in the details!
You need to get an idea if the cost includes testing and termination. Also it is critical to know the length of the runs when determining cost (blue prints/layout). At $1143, I would imagine that this is the cost for the prewire only (assuming that they are going to open back low volt nail in boxes). What will they terminate with? (leviton quickports?). Will they test the CAT 5 and coax runs? How will you terminate at the hub?

MBR- should have the option of phone/TV on multiple walls. If you do not have a layout for the other rooms in mind, one ganged run to each room may cause a problem. Multiple pulls to one site is less work than single runs to multiple sites in the same room.

DIY is fine, but you will need a friend, a good drill with speed bores or right angle drill with auger bits, fish tape, wire cutters tape, T25 or 37 wire staplers and or zip ties,one short and one tall ladder, etc. You will also have to avoid running adjacent to electrical wire and for keypad be one bay away from the electrical switch. You cannot leave a cat5 wire in the same box as the electrical wire.

The easiest part of the DIY wiring with the walls open, is single room wiring, like the surround sound wiring.

You will have to decide if you want in room volume or keypad control for multi-room audio distribution (you can run speaker wire (16/4) cat5 to a wall mounted LV gang box and then run the speaker wire to the speaker location (16/2).

Assure all wire is appropriate for in wall installation.

Don O

[This message has been edited by Don O'Brien (edited 08-24-2001).]

[This message has been edited by Don O'Brien (edited 08-24-2001).]
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