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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

How do you find a good installer? Electronic House offers a Planning Guide (see sidebar for ordering information) that helps homeowners sort out their options and choose installers.

"We also refer homeowners to the Consumer Electronics Design and Installation Assn.," Mielke said.

This is an international trade association whose members specialize in designing and installing electronic systems for the home.

Member companies are established, insured businesses. Call (800) 669-5329 or go to http://www.cedia.org for free referrals. Some association members specialize in installing wire and cable.

Don't Be Stingy

Whether you're wiring a new or an existing home, certain rules apply, according to the experts:

* Add wire generously.

New category-5 and RG-6 cabling costs just pennies more a foot than lower-grade cabling. Plan to spend between 10 and 20 cents a foot for high-grade wiring. Since wiring is so inexpensive, run it to every spot where you may want a computer, entertainment component or telephone.

* Add a hub.

Professional installers recommend "homerunning" the cabling: running an individual piece of cabling from a central hub to each component.

It's common to run two category-5 and two RG-6 cables to each reception site. Doing this, as Gensley mentioned, means that the hub receives signals on one cable and uses the other cable to send signals to televisions, computers, etc.

A Good Investment

Finally, adding upgraded wiring can actually save you money in the long run, Mielke said. By having the right wire behind the walls, you can ensure that you won't have to spend extra money on printers for every computer in the house, for example, because they all can be networked to one printer.

And forget buying separate VCRs and other equipment for televisions in different rooms. With updated wiring, "each room can have access to the home's digital satellite receiver, VCR or cable box," Mielke said. For Rowe, the investment has certainly paid off--and brought peace of mind.

"The new wiring is the electronic backbone of the whole house," he said. "Now I can continue to upgrade my business and my home electronics, knowing I have what I need to make it all work together."

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Wiring Terminology

Sorting out the high-tech lingo is probably the toughest part of upgrading your wiring. Bone up here before you call the installers.

AWG or American Wire Gauge: The measurement scale for conducting wire, such as phone cord and speaker wire. The lower the number, the thicker the wire.

Category-3, -4, and -5: Quality designators for twisted-pair cable that indicate the basic data-handling capability of the cable. Category-3 cable is designated for data rates of 10 Mbps, category-4 is for 20 Mbps and category-5 is for 100 Mbps.

Coaxial Cable: A cable consisting of two concentric conductors: an inner wire and an outer braided sleeve. It's capable of passing a wide range of frequencies with very low signal loss and is often referred to as "coax." It's used for TV and entertainment systems.

Conduit: A pipe or tubing made of varying materials, primarily metal or plastic, used to carry telephone or electrical wire.

Faceplate: A metal or plastic cover over an outlet plug that protects in-wall wire connections.

Gang Box: An electrical outlet box made by joining two or more boxes together, forming a larger enclosure (e.g., a double-gang box would be large enough to house four electrical outlets).

Homerunning: A wiring method that connects individual electronic components directly to a control panel.

Hub: A device that connects together multiple branches of network wiring. Hubs typically regenerate the signals that originate on one branch for transmission on all other attached branches.

LAN or Local Area Network: A network typically restricted in size to a single home or office for a limited number of connected devices (two to 100). Each type of LAN has different size restrictions.

Powerline: Refers to the electrical wiring of a home or building.

RG-6 Coaxial Cable: A grade of cable commonly used for entertainment systems.

Twisted-Pair (telephone/data cable): A wire line consisting of two separately insulated conductors twisted about each other.

Source: Electronic House Buyer's Guide.

For More Information

* Consumer Electronics Design and Installation Assn. (trade association for designers and installers), (800) 669-5329 or http://www.cedia.org.

* Home Automation Assn., (202) 712-9050. Member companies include distributors, installers and contractors.

* Electronic House magazine ($19.95 for a one-year subscription; six issues), P.O. Box 5070, Brentwood, TN 37024-9731. Check out their Web site at http://www.electronichouse.com.

* Electronic House Annual Planning Guide. To order, call (800) 375-8015. Cost is $19.95 plus $3 shipping and handling.

* http://www.hometechsolutions.com. Includes home-wiring tutorials.

* http://www.hometoys.com. Includes a directory of installers, informative articles and a shopping mall.

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