Smart Home Cabling
Detailed planning of electrical systems and infrastructure is essential in running a successful smart home project. Cabling infrastructure forms part of the fabric of the building and as such is costly to change at a later date. Smart home solutions bring separate systems together to provide a much improvement for the occupants. As such systems should be selected and layout designed with integration in mind from the outset.
To produce the best results we recommended a consultation takes place before any of the homes systems are decided upon. We can then make valuable recommendations on suitable systems and layout for seamless integration. If systems are selected and designed with integration in mind, the user experience can be maximised, and a cleaner aesthetic provided.
Our smart home designs not only work around current technology, but we keep a close eye on industry advancements allowing emerging technologies to be taken into consideration. Ideally installed infrastructure should last for many years to come making this is an important aspect. In addition we try to cater not only for the ‘definitely wants’, but the ‘maybe in futures’ as well. The first fix of a project is the golden opportunity to get cabling in place, with any cabling work carried out after this time often proving disruptive and costly.
Once good infrastructure is in place, the installation of equipment is a straightforward procedure that can be carried out at any time.
IP (Internet Protocol) network infrastructure is providing the basis for a rapidly expanding array of communications, and as such is an area that requires careful attention and a detailed understanding. It can be used for anything from routing of simple control commands to high bandwidth applications such as video distribution. Though the majority of devices will offer the ability to connect to the network via WiFi, we strongly recommend that a cabled connection is provided where possible. WiFi is a good solution for connection of mobile devices, however it slows with every connected device. Further considerations with WiFi are it’s susceptibility interference from other radio signals, susceptibility to interference from materials such as metalwork and water, and the fact it generally offers slower speeds than a wired connection. Not a good basis on which to build communications for your smart home.
When designing a smart home the modus operandi should be to run a cable for all static devices.
This provides optimal performance for those wired devices, but additionally improves WiFi performance for the devices that can connect no other way.
Network infrastructure offering 1GbE (Gigabit Ethernet) hit the market in 1999 and has generally been the standard for residential installations since. Move forward to the present day however and there are a number of products commonly being installed as part of residential smart home systems that require 10x this data rate. Commonplace applications include video distribution, with MoIP and HDBT as well as WiFi access points offering the new WiFi 6 standard. With bandwidth demands increasing across the board, 10GbE should now be the baseline for ethernet connections on any new installation. So what is required in terms of cabling infrastructure to offer this level of performance across the board? The table below plots cable category against the distance that 10GbE can be sustained. These lengths are for in wall runs and leave a little wiggle room for the patch cables that will be required at either end.
You can see from the table that CAT6a will cover 10GbE in most residential applications, though for larger properties or properties with more complex network demands it may be a good idea to consider fibre for some aspects.
Of course this is working on the basis of offering 10GbE, which is a requirement for current technology in a number of areas, so what about leaving some breathing room for higher future demands?
There are only a few residential applications that demand such high bandwidth currently. WiFi 6 is not yet widespread and carries a sizable chunk of growing room relative to current WiFi speeds experienced. Digital video content however can already far exceed the 10Gbps mark in its uncompressed format, and is set to grow in leaps and bounds in future. For this reason we offer four grades of TV infrastructure, allowing us to cater for an array of budget, quality and longevity options.
When it comes to audio, you’re entering a complex world dependent on a long list of factors that can affect the quality of outcome. Generally the aim is to reproduce the live performance as accurately as possible but this is usually compromised against budget, aesthetics and the practical use of a space. Nevertheless, it’s always important to keep sound quality at the forefront of system design.
Ultimately, speaker systems are simple and robust. Very little thought is needed to connect speakers to an amplifier and produce sound of a listenable quality. Listenable however is a fairly low bar and doesn’t represent the best return for your investment. We always aim to offer an emotive sound experience optimised for each space, this is why we aim to gain an in-depth understanding of how our clients will use each space, as it allows us to consider things in more detail.
It’s important to understand how a space will be used, and to design the layout accordingly. What works best for one space probably isn’t the best solution for another.
In everyday living environments, discretion is usually an important factor and with a range of architectural and even invisible speaker solutions, it is possible to provide a high quality sound with little or no interruption to the aesthetic.
In designing infrastructure, it is important to understand how layout will affect the experience. In living spaces, we are generally looking to offer a consistent and balanced performance throughout, often utilising a larger number of small speakers. This approach provides a well balanced sound at lower volume levels and enables easy conversation, and of course things remain comfortable when pushing on to a higher volume if desired. In a high quality, critical listening setting, such as a dedicated music listening area or home theatre, the aim is to offer a much more focused and directional sound across a smaller area. In both cases the construction of the room and how it is furnished will have an impact on sound and should be taken into account.
In terms of cabling, speaker cable runs should always be minimised where possible. More speaker cable means more resistance, which in turn results in earlier high frequency roll off and a flat, dull sounding bottom end. In a critical listening environment we always locate power amplifiers as close to the speakers as possible, however in a distributed audio setting amplifiers are generally located within the central rack. In the case of the later, the length of speaker cable runs should be considered and speaker cable gauge chosen accordingly. This helps to keep losses down and contributes to a lively and dynamic sound.
Coaxial Cabling Infrastructure
The use of coaxial cabling for distribution of TV dates back to the 1940’s and for the most part since then, it has been the workhorse of residential audio visual distribution. Though it’s uses are in rapid decline and it has generally been superseded by fibre and twisted pair category cabling, for the time being it forms an essential part of smart home cabling infrastructure. Coaxial provides a simple method of distributing terrestrial and satellite TV signals. Though the general standard for installation is RG6 coaxial cabling, we tend to use WF100 as it is a better performing alternative and represents very little difference in terms of cost.
Integration of Other Systems
Integration of many systems can fall within network infrastructure, however as previously mentioned, it is important to choose systems that have suitable divers and communications for the best results. We work with a number of reputable industry suppliers to offer systems design and integration of lighting, heating, AC, ventilation, window coverings, and security systems, as well as offering some exciting simulation solutions. We are happy to work alongside any specialist providers you may already be in contact with to find the best way of integrating the desired product into your smart home. This can sometimes require special software to be written so it’s best to get the ball rolling as early as possible.
Are There Any Other Considerations With Cabling?
As cabling infrastructure is built into the fabric of the building, it is something that needs to be right first time. This is why we only use quality cabling and carry out stringent tests before walls are closed on all of our smart home projects. In terms of category cabling, there are clear guidelines as to the performance they should provide, however these are all self certified by manufacturers, placing an importance on the use of reputable brands over cheap alternatives. Within each category there are a variety of options specifying measures taken to negate issues such as cross talk or external interference. We generally find a good all round category cable is F/UTP, this indicates that it carries a foil wrap underneath the outer jacket to provide some protection from EMI (Electromagnetic Interference). However if the cable is to be routed through a high EMI area, such as close to motors or transformers an F/FTP cable should be used for the extra protection it offers.
A further consideration is the materials that are used in the cable jackets and the fire risk they present. It has long been understood that cable jackets can help to spread fire throughout a building, with some emitting noxious smoke and fumes. Halogens present in some cable jackets present a particular risk, as when fumes come into contact with moisture, hydrochloric acid is produced acidifying the air.
The CPR (Construction Products Regulator) tests all cabling sold into the european market, rating it on a number of factors including combustibility, smoke production and acidity of smoke. Though it is not illegal to sell cabling that produces excessive amounts of toxic fumes, the responsibility is left to system designers to specify suitable cabling, an area we always try to over specify as safety is always the top consideration.
We are audio visual specialists who have been delivering luxury technology solutions for residential spaces in the UK since 2010.