Retrofit an Existing Home With Structured Wiring

Remodeling provides a perfect opportunity to upgrade technology.

There's no denying that consumers needs have changed, especially when it comes to information technology at home. It's not uncommon to want high-speed Internet, networked computers, home theater, sound, paging and intercom systems. For these types of systems, structured cabling is a must. It allows for much faster data transfer rates, known as bandwidth, than the plain old telephone system or POTS.

Increasingly, structured wiring is not for new construction only. Many remodeling jobs entail opening or adding walls, a perfect opportunity to bring up to current wiring standards not only the areas being remodeled, but the rest of the home as well.

Suffice to say installing a structured wiring system in a retrofit application adds time and therefore labor/money to the equation. That's why preplanning is key. Rooms that will get structured wiring need to be carefully selected. With structured wiring, high performance cables and wiring are connected to a main distribution center where everything is homerun back to the main control panel. In areas where existing walls remain intact, running wires obviously requires fishing wires through walls and through floors at the baseboard to reach the control units.

Installers of these types of systems, sometimes called integrators or home networking specialists, will agree that the more open the home and its walls are, the less time it will take to run the wire and cabling. An open structure is the perfect time to install either what is called Category 5e or Category 6 solid copper unshielded twisted pair, according to Ian Handler, director of Business Development of Leviton Integrated Networks in Little Neck, N.Y. "They don't have to terminate (use it) now, but it can be in place," he says.

"If the walls are open in a major remodeling, it's best to install the wiring as a form of 'insurance'," says Bill Skaer, president and chief executive officer of Eric Grundelman, a custom design and communications company in Mesquite, Texas.

Even if the walls are not completely open throughout, structured wiring can be installed. What's most important, Skaer says, is to pinpoint exactly what you want in a room (i.e., sound speakers, high-speed Internet, etc.). It may take up to twice as long to install a whole-house structured wiring system in a retrofit application because everyone knows that newly opened walls may yield some surprises, he adds.

The installation itself is the same whether new construction or retrofit. The preferred method is the Telecommunications Industry Association star wiring method. Each individual workstation (speaker, network and intercom) in a residential building is wired directly from the device or outlet to the distribution or control center with four-pair twisted wire.

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