What should I pre-wire in my new home? Should I pre-wire at all, or just go wireless? These are both great questions. At a minimum, we recommend pre-wiring for your audio/surround, video, and home network needs. Yes – you can find wireless solutions for all these applications, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you have the option to pre-wire now. I’ll touch on specific pre-wire items in a minute, but first lets address the hard-wired vs wireless battle.
Hardwired vs. Wireless
1. Audio, Surround & Video — I’m of the opinion that these applications are always best with wire. I recently attended a demo for WiSA’s new wireless surround system. It was fantastic, and I can’t wait to sell it to customers who have an existing space that wasn’t pre-wired. But I wouldn’t sell WiSA certified speakers to someone who still had the chance to pre-wire their home theater or surround sound.
The same can be said for Video. We had to use a wireless HDMI for a customer in his fitness room recently. It worked great, and the customer was pleased with the finished result, but I wouldn’t choose to watch my Video content that way if I had the option to hard-wire it now. Lastly, there’s a number of companies like Netflix that are requiring hard-wired connections for 4K content.
2. Network — this is the biggest culprit. Yes you can do a lot wirelessly, but understand how that works. If a home has 10 devices on a wireless network, those devices share 100 Mbps of bandwidth (think of bandwidth like a pipe that information flows through. The size of the pipe limits the amount of information that can pass through at any given moment.) If you take the same 10 devices and hardwire them into the network you get 1,000 Mbps of bandwidth per device.
Additionally, your wireless network plays to the lowest common denominator. So if you have an older Blu-ray or printer that’s slow, it will slow down all devices on the network. Of course you’re going to use wireless devices on your network, but understand there’s value in hardwiring devices when the application makes sense. The performance is superior.
Every company does it a little differently, but you’re usually going to pay between $30-60 a drop terminated. A ‘drop’ is one cable run. Termination means they put the faceplate and connections on the end of the cable so it’s ready for use.
You want to run cables up to the attic so that the Satellite guy doesn’t wrap your home with cable – (that’s where they staple black cables all over the side of your brand new house).
We prefer to wire every TV location with 2 ethernet cables (Cat5e) and 1 Coax (RG6). You can get away with 1 ethernet, but two is preferred and 3 is even better. Remember companies like Netflix want hardwired connections, so you want at least 1 ethernet behind the TV for 4K Content, 1 ethernet for Media Distribution, and 1 Ethernet as a spare. You never know what you might use the 3rd ethernet for, maybe a control wire, or maybe one wire gets damaged in construction. It’s always nice to have the spare.
Typically we pre-wire audio packages in 4 room increments, but you can pre-wire as many rooms as you want. Best practice is to run 16/4 from the Media Rack to the first speaker in the zone. Run a 16/2 from the first speaker to the second speaker in the zone. No more than 2 speakers per 16/4. 14/4 and 14/2 wire can also be used. Many clients will pre-wire their entire home for audio speakers, but then add the speakers over time.
I think every home should pre-wire at least one room for surround. It can be modest, a 5.1 with in ceiling speakers, or if you have a dedicated theater room a 7.1.4 pre-wire (the .4 is for the overhead Dolby Atmos speakers). It’s preferred to use 14/2 speaker wire when you pre-wire for your surround, but you can get away with 16/2 speaker wire.
Yes they have wireless cameras, but wireless cameras still need power. So you either need to have outlets strategically placed in your soffit, or you need to run wire to every camera location. We run Cat5e. It’s the wonder wire. It can work for either analogue or IP cameras.
Any more, wireless sensors are only a few dollars more than hardwired sensors. So unless you just hate changing batteries once every 5 years, go wireless. However, it’s nice to pre-wire the keypads. Pre-wire a keypad in your mudroom, and your Master Bedroom. This prevents any visible power adapters plugged in beneath the keypads.
Pre-wire for wifi hotspots. You want to pre-wire your home so you have a good even wifi network. As homes become more connected, you’ll want good even coverage throughout the home.
We like to run wire for potential control to 2 or 3 locations in the home. These are places where an iPad may sit on a wall, or where a dedicated control keypad from a system like Control4 might sit on the wall. That may seem like a lot of wire, but bundled all together a pre-wire package on your home is usually very reasonable and affordable.
Matt is a co-founder and lead systems designer for TYM LLC. His smart home and audio/visual designs have won three “Home of the Year Awards” from Electronic House & CE Pro magazine, and two awards from the Consumer Technology Association, including "Home Theater of the Year", and "Custom Smart Home of the Year".
Matt is a golden State fan.