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A Line on the Future

Whether you use e-mail or snail mail, getting your home wired for the Electronic Age is a sound investment.

May 16, 1999|KATHY SENA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES. Kathy Sena is a freelance writer in Manhattan Beach

When Bob and Kareen Rowe moved their family into an 80-year-old home in one of Pasadena's historic districts in October, they had more to worry about than a truckload of furniture.

With four school-age kids, a busy home-based graphic design business and six Macintosh computers, the couple brought with them a need to get the "new" house wired for heavy computer use--quickly.

Fortunately, they planned ahead. "I knew I'd need upgraded wiring and a hub to network the computers, so before the move I talked with people at the local computer stores about how to set it up myself," Bob Rowe said.

Checking out Ethernet hardware manufacturers' Web sites was helpful too.

"Several of them have tutorials that explain what wiring to buy and how to install it," he added.

Within a few days, the server and two workstations that keep Bob Rowe and Associates Design humming along were up and running. The kids were busy cranking out book reports and term papers on the family's three other computers. And the entire setup was running on an upgraded Ethernet network.

As a home-based business owner, Rowe has to stay on top of technology, especially when it involves rewiring parts of a house built at a time when only about 5,000 Americans owned even basic radio receivers.

"All I had to buy was a couple hundred feet of category-5 cabling and one 10-port hub," Rowe said. Total cost: Around $300, plus a little extra for networking upgrades for his older computers.

'Future-proofing'

Though Rowe considers his wiring upgrade just a necessary part of moving, what he did is a prime example of "future-proofing" his home, experts say. The word sounds a bit like sci-fi movie jargon. But it simply means "designing and / or installing a system that will meet the technological needs of today as well as preparing a home for future use," according to Electronic House magazine.

Future-proofing can include wiring your home to accommodate everything from outfitting a home office to networking several family computers to adding sophisticated entertainment or security systems.

Wire, Hubs, Outlets

Here's a rundown on what Electronic House editors recommend for upgrading home wiring for communications, entertainment and security purposes. (The terminology isn't too intimidating. We've even included a cheat sheet--see accompanying story--so you can sound like a pro when you talk with installers.

* Communications / Telephone Cabling.

Older copper communications and telephone cabling, known as category-3 twisted-pair wiring, transmits data at speeds up to 10 megabits per second, or Mbps. The newer category-5 cabling moves information at 100 Mbps--10 times as fast. Category-5 cabling enables modems to download information more quickly, greatly improves telephone reception and allows computers in the home to network faster and more reliably.

* Entertainment / Coaxial Cabling.

Older entertainment/coaxial cabling, known as RG-59, transmits between 600 and 900 million bits of information per second. Newer RG-6 coaxial cabling, with its much-larger bandwidth, transmits up to 1.5 billion bits per second. Both cable TV reception and high-definition TV reception are improved with the newer cabling.

To reduce installation time, some manufacturers pre-bundle category-5 and RG-6 cable in one cable "jacket." With pre-bundled cable, some houses can be wired in just a few hours. These packages usually include multimedia outlets and a service hub.

The service hub is home base for your wiring system. It receives telephone, satellite, cable and Internet signals, and sends those signals throughout the house to the multimedia outlets. The hub is mounted to a wall in an out-of-the-way spot such as a utility room or garage. Avoid mounting your hub in the attic, experts note, to keep from exposing the hub to excessive heat.

"That's the best way to go," said Richard Gensley, vice president of HomeTech Solutions, a retail store in Cupertino that sells home automation supplies. "You always want to run your wiring back to a central distribution point."

If this is done, the hub can receive signals on one cable and use the other cable to send signals to televisions, for example.

"Plan to devote about 4 square feet of wall space for a hub," advised HomeTech Solutions President Jeff Fisher. Hubs for home use generally come in two sizes, he said. The smaller hub runs about 28 inches high by 14 inches wide and 4 inches deep, allowing it to be mounted between studs and flush with the wall. The larger hub is 24 1/2 inches high, 19 inches wide and 8 inches deep.

About the size of typical electrical outlets, multimedia outlets consolidate any combination of coaxial cable jacks (for linking entertainment equipment), telephone jacks (for phones, fax machines or modems) and binding posts (for speaker connections).

Consider placing multimedia outlets in every room where you might want to use a phone, work on a computer, watch TV or listen to music.

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