The beauty of a home goes more than skin deep for today’s life styles. Home theater, computer networking, closed circuit video channels, HDTV, web surfing, and impressive security features are all a part of making a home exciting to the senses. These features require a lot of infrastructure placed deep within the walls. The time to get the special wires in the walls to support the convenience and excitement of today’s and tomorrow’s technologies is when the walls are open ? either during a remodel or during new construction.

That brings us to the fundamental philosophy of structured wiring. Wire is cheap. Opening walls is expensive. Put in ten times the amount of wire that you will use at any one time. This provides the capacity and flexibility for the future needs of your home.

If you buy into that concept, then structured wiring makes sense for you.


Structured wiring is a method of providing the communications infrastructure of your home in a well organized, easy to understand, and thorough way to provide a general solution to your present and future needs. Rather than run a coax here, and a Cat 5 there, and another coax somewhere else as you guess at the future needs, the structured approach is to consistently run a full bundle of wire to every significant room. The full structured bundle consists of two 4-pair Cat 5 cables and two coax cables (usually quad shield RG-6), and optionally two multi-mode optical fibers. There are other structures, but this is the configuration that has overwhelmingly become the standard.


The two coax cables provide a down stream and an upstream signal path. You can get just about everything you want down a single coax including cable channels, satellite signals, and your own closed circuit channels for your front porch, front yard, and back yard cameras. The upstream cable is used to carry additional closed circuit channels, such as a baby crib camera, or a VCR feed to your video distribution hub so that any TV in the house can tune to these feeds.

The two Cat 5, 4-pair telecommunication cables provide four phone lines and a separate full capability computer network backbone for your home. Cat 5 wire will support 100BaseT Ethernet networks, which are the standard for office and home multi-computer networks. It also provides the link for high speed ISDN, DSL, and Cable Modem connections to the Internet.

In the 2-2-2 structure, where there is also a pair of fibers, the use is not as clear. Many people include the fiber for their home just because it is not very costly if it is left dark (no connectors applied). Then they have it for the future. At the present, very few people use fiber lines in a residential setting. The twisted pair, high speed, Cat 5 networks are much less expensive, and much more plentiful on the market. Fiber has its place in large commercial applications where the runs for multi-building campuses are more than 90 meters ? the limit for twisted pair Ethernet.


Structured cabling systems are preparation for the future. They provide the additional capacity and flexibility to take care of the changing needs in a house. Much of their value is in how easy they are to understand by the homeowner or anyone who needs to make a change.

When a son or daughter heads to college and the parents consider converting the bedroom to a home office, it is easy with structured wiring. There is no question about how to install and integrate phone and computer systems into that room. The wiring is there. It is a simple job of plugging patch cords at the distribution panel. Want to move the office to another room, just re-patch the connections . . . a two-minute job. Need to set up a baby crib observation camera and assign it to an in-house CCTV channel? Again it is a two-minute job.

The two-minute job applies if the panel is well organized and easy to understand. In recent years many well known companies have entered the structured wiring market. Future Smart, Leviton, Channel Vision, and Open House are leading names in this industry. They are all good. There are clear differences between them in how they are visually organized and the configuration options they offer.

With the large choice of head end panels available, it is worth looking at several to make your own choice. It is good to find a firm that carries more than one line. The panels vary significantly in price. The more costly ones provide better visual organization. The economy ones are difficult to understand to all but a qualified technician. Most all of panels get the job done from a purely technical standpoint.

The added value provided by the higher end panels is that most homeowners can understand what is going on just by looking at the visual layout. This means that ten years later when a homeowner wants to convert a college kid’s bedroom to a home office, they can easily make the changes at the panel without needing the help of a technician. When the house changes hands, the new homeowner can easily understand structured wiring system. Lower cost panels, on the other hand, can be quite intimidating to a homeowner. The difference in cost between the economy models and the well-organized panels is usually just a few hundred dollars.


We evaluate a panel’s visual organization with our 5-year test. It is simple. Look at the panel. If you think in five years you can walk into the room, look at the panel, and immediately understand how it is configured and how to reconfigure it, then it passes the 5-year test. The Future Smart Pro series panels do an excellent job of passing this test. The superb organization does add to the cost of the panel, but the little additional investment gives valuable pay back in the future when you want to make a change.

The best on the market for organization are the Future Smart Networks. They were the early pioneers in structured wiring. These panels are well laid out, carefully organized, and extremely easy to understand. They are organized for visual simplicity. The top section consists of rows of color coded connectors. Each row connects to the cable going to a single room. The rows are called zones. There is nothing between the connectors on the panel and the connectors in the room except wire. Nothing is hidden. No confusion. Below the zones is a row called a service-input hub. That’s where the lines coming into the house are located. The telephone company lines, the TV cable, the off-air antenna, and satellite lines are here. There are distribution hubs for telephone, TV, and satellite that make it easy to connect the incoming lines to the zones, or room, with simple patch cords. When you look at the panel, it is very easy to see how the house is connected. Five years later it is still very understandable. That’s the beauty of this system over others.


Both Channel Vision and Open House provide very cost effective panels. They are excellent choices for owners who are comfortable with technical wiring. They both offer a wide range of easy to install features.


The important thing in getting the beauty of your house to go below the surface is to get the infrastructure wire in before the walls are closed up. It is much more difficult to put wire in later. Before your walls are closed, all you need to install is the wire and the mud rings or cut-in rings to mount the connector plates. If you prefer a flush mounted panel, then the installation can go in at this time too. All of the rest of the material gets installed after the walls are closed up and painted. This later work is called the trim out phase.


Planning is very important. Fortunately it is easy. The time many do it is when the framing begins. This is a good time because the lead times on the structure wire technology products is short (usually in stock at good distributors) and the installation of the wire occurs after the rough electrical is completed, but before the walls are closed up. The advantage in waiting until the framing has started is that you will have knowledge of the latest products available to you. Extremely early planning usually results in re-planning, as new products become available. You can usually get help with the planning from a qualified installer or from your equipment supplier.


Low voltage infrastructure wiring requires special knowledge that is different than conventional power wiring. Some of the electrical contractors have gone through the process of learning these new technologies and offer them as a standard part of their services. This is more often the exception than the rule. If you are considering using a regular electrical contractor, make sure he or she has been through training on infrastructure wiring technologies. If he or she has not, find a firm that specializes in this type of work. If you are handy, you may want to consider doing some of the work yourself. It will take some special training and about $200 for special tools, but many homeowners are doing the labor themselves.


Infrastructure wiring in the walls adds significantly to the excitement of the home. Having the wire in place for connecting computers, security cameras, home theaters, closed circuit channels, and a host of automation features, makes it so you can take advantage of new and exciting equipment when it becomes available. The time to get this wire in place is when the walls are open.

Richard Gensley is a founder of HomeTech Solutions, a company that distributes a wide range of home automation products. He has a long background in operations management for firms in various types of automation technologies.

HomeTech Solutions is a distributor of home automation products. They carry structured wiring products, automated lighting controls, home automation systems, voice and data wiring products, whole house audio equipment, architectural and landscape speakers, and specialized tools. HomeTech Solutions is located at 10600 South De Anza Boulevard, Cupertino, California 95014. Telephone (408) 257-4406 or toll free (888) 257-4406. Website: .

Where to get more information:

HomeTech Solutions offers seminars, training tapes, and books on this topic. For seminar schedules and enrollment, contact HomeTech Solutions at (408) 257-4406, or visit their store at 10600 S. De Anza Boulevard, Cupertino.