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Planning a Residential Media System
Planning a Residential Media System
You’re building a new home or you are the contractor providing the media/data communications/voice communications system. You may have a floor plan to work from or simply a list of what the client requires in each room of the house. In either case, you need to design a system that is future-proof, reasonably priced and easy to operate. Is this an unrealistic expectation?
Media systems vary in sophistication. In new home constructions, the media system may consist only of the cabling infrastructure routed from rooms to a central location within the home. The homeowner selects a service contractor to complete the cable terminations and install equipment. More commonly, the media system is a completed product where the general contract and/or the homeowner are active in the development of the project.
Media systems are not limited to new home construction. Existing homes are being upgraded with remodeling and this often includes the addition of a media system. Though somewhat more challenging to implement, constructing media system in existing homes follow the same general considerations as media systems constructed in new homes.
There are many media system product lines on the market. Nearly all of them are based on the premise that one runs as many wires as desired to a central location where a box or set of boxes house electronic communications equipment. The central boxes also permit orderly termination of cables and a convenient location for system testing. While the philosophy of installing as many types of wire as possible to address all potential future needs is prudent, it also results in a lot of unused cabling for most homes and unnecessarily increases the cost of implementing the media system.
A Practical Configuration
Review your own design requirements. Is there really a need for LAN, two coaxial cables, and a multi-line telephone at every media outlet location in the home? Some homes even have LAN jacks in the bathrooms – perhaps a little extreme? On the other hand, the kitchen may be an important location for checking daily email messages and monitoring security cameras. A network connection in the kitchen may be a vital component in some media system designs.
Time has changed the role of information in people’s lives. In the 1980s, a television jack and telephone jack in bedrooms, the living room and family room represented the most advanced residential cabling configuration. Today wireless telephones outnumber wired telephones in most residences thereby requiring fewer wired telephone jacks – perhaps. Yet local area network (LAN) jacks for computers generally outnumber telephone jacks in new construction. The proliferation of the Internet has altered the role of the telephone and the computer.
Television has certainly changed and is in the process of making its greatest technological transition since the advent of color television broadcasting. HDTV and many forms of digital television involve satellite service, cable television and the ever trusty rooftop antenna (or attic installed antenna) coexist as multiple services many customers enjoy. A single coaxial cable routed to each bedroom may be insufficient. However for media viewing rooms or the main location for the home entertainment center, several or more coaxial cables are required to support a variety of media services.
Make a list of the communication and media requirements of each room in the home. Locate a central location, or a location as near-central as practical for the installation of the media panel or media panels. All communications cabling in the residence will originate from this location. Take note of the electrical power available at the proposed media panel location. Is there ventilation in this space? The media panel may be installed within the wall of the space. However the increasing effort to consolidate sophisticated electronic communications equipment within the panel has prompted the need to consider surface mount installation to allow improved cooling.
Addressing Future Cabling Needs
Coaxial cable has certainly proved its longevity in the past 40 years since its introduction to the consumer electronics market. It is being constructed better with higher frequency response than older cables but the basic premise of coaxial cable as a superior transport of high frequencies signals remains unchanged. Likewise Category 5 cable evolved into 5E with improvements in its construction. Advances in PC networking and higher bandwidth Internet services available to the consumer will certainly push development of higher transmission rates surpassing the performance of today’s LAN cabling.
So, how long before the cabling infrastructure in today’s media system construction becomes obsolete?
Not sure? Consider that the first consumer coaxial cable introduced in the late 1960s was RG-59 with solid polyethylene, to RG-59 with cellular foam polyethylene in the late 1970s to RG-6 foam in the 1980s to RG-6 quad shielded of the 1990s to the RG-6 quad shielded, 2.5 GHz cable of today. Five generations of coaxial cable in 40 years with two generations maturing in just the last 10 years. The need for higher frequency response encouraged manufacturers to produce more advanced cables to be compliant with wider bandwidth communications systems – especially with the rapid pace of technological development in the last few years.
Anticipate the change in technology by designing an easy way to upgrade cable installations in the media system. You cannot predict what types of cables will be required in future electronic communications but you can prepare for making modifications.
You can install electrical boxes and conduits stubbed through the floor where access is possible after building construction is completed. You may not need to install electrical boxes at all media outlet locations but specific locations where future cabling changes are likely, conduit raceways save considerable expense when upgrades are made. Many newer homes have insulation within interior walls for sound retention between rooms making it very difficult to “fish” cables through walls after construction. Furthermore, holes drilled at the wall plate (as in the basement for example) must be sealed with fire stop after the cables are installed. You cannot depend upon drilling an oversized hole being available for routing future cabling. Most local building codes require fire stop around cable penetrations and building inspections cite unsealed wall openings.
Cable raceway conduits are generally accepted in local building codes provided cables are installed and the ends of the conduit are sealed. Seals can be temporarily removed later for the routing of future cables. It may not be necessary to install conduit from every media outlet in the home to either the attic or basement but if done, you will have option to make cable changes at any time. In two story home construction for example, a large diameter conduit, 2 ½” could be installed from the media panel (first floor or basement) to the second floor attic. Fire stop would be required at each end of the conduit following the installation of cables but future cable changes are easily facilitated.
The installation of cable conduits and a good understanding of what will be required by the homeowner are part of planning a well designed residential media system. Rather than trying to anticipate every communications need, present and future, plan a system that allows for easy cabling modifications as technology changes.
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