Cutting edge technology in new house
June 26, 2013 4:51 PM   Subscribe

I am about to build a new custom house, and the tech side of it is causing me anxiety. I want to have cutting edge stuff in it, at least so that in 5 years it is not missing some "must have" technology that will make it hard to resell or give me tech-jealousy. It seems a lot easier to put all the wiring/infrastructure in place during the framing stage now instead of wiring later after the walls are all up. I have several questions inside about wiring, what internet setup I should try to get, etc.

We are flexible budget wise, but I'd like to keep my a/v budget under $50k (not including TVs or computers which we already have) but could go up if there is something I Must Have. If it matters, the house will be 2 stories in Dallas, so we'll have a lot services available to us and expected in the house when we try to resell.

- I want to have flexibility so that my house isn't antiquated quickly and I can add something new and cool in a few years if I want.
- We want to be able to do the following:
  • Wifi access in all rooms
  • TV in most rooms, probably with DirecTV
  • Ability to stream Netflix/alternative to a couple primary tv rooms
  • Ability to watch Blueray/DVD player in those couple primary tv room
  • We will have speakers in most rooms using Sonos system to manage digital music options
  • Kids will probably want to play video games online in the near future
  • Control stuff with iphones/ipads

We aren't planning right now to have some big primary media theater/room or amazing CD/Record stereo thing (we pretty much just listen to mp3s and internet radio these days which is why Sonos is great for us)

So, to the questions to accomplish this setup:


What about Internet? What's the best option so that we will be set up with the fastest internet? Do I need to worry about running something to my house at the build stage or does the ISP do that later? I've heard about FIOS but it does not go to the area we are building in. What other options should I look at now or can this decision wait?

I feel like to do all the stuff streaming wise etc I will need some ridiculously fast internet, but I don't know what the best is. The same is true with the wifi thing: what wifi option will best broadcast a high end internet connection to the rest of the house?


So we are apparently running cat6 wiring to all rooms back to a structured panel in a closet. Is cat6 good for a bit or soon-to-be-antiquated? Is tech moving to all wireless to make this unnecessary? I am a real novice about this stuff, but I feel like way things are moving we might end up soon where there is just one router and everything in the house talks wirelessly with it. What other wiring should I consider?

Home Automation

I've been looking at some of the stuff that can be done on home automation and I like some of it but think other parts seems useless. For instance, I like the home security stuff where you can use your smartphone to make sure doors are locked, garage down and alarm is on (I have a horrible second-guessing issue where I cannot accept I have done those things when I leave and often double check). I also like the thermostat features. I also like some lighting timing. But other stuff like automatic shades seems overkill. I've looked at Crestron which seems like a catchall application, but I'm thinking maybe it wouldn't be necessary if the alarm system has an app and the thermostat does. Regardless, is this something that needs to be pre-wired or can this stuff be added later?

Sound System

Like I mentioned, we want to use the Sonos system and install ceiling speakers everywhere because we are big music people. I assume I need to prewire for all speakers, or will speakers be wireless soon?

I am probably going to ultimately hire some company to do most of this work, so they'll be able to answer some questions, but they'll also be selling me, so I would like to have some good thoughts before I go there.

Anything else I should think about?
posted by dios to Technology (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Run conduit through the walls to route your cables through. That way, if you need to upgrade your cabling or add/remove something, it's super easy.
posted by phunniemee at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think a lot of this stuff is not necessarily stuff that is going to matter in a future sale of the house, or that needs to be specific to the way the house is designed or built.

Most of the home automation stuff I've seen -- and I was doing a lot of research on that recently -- is services you subscribe through, or which are bundled with cable, internet, and/or home security. I suppose those systems will have specs your home will need to meet, but I doubt that a new house built to modern standards will have trouble meeting the standards, since they're trying to sell these services to the average joe living in whatever type of house.

Whichever company you go with for home automation, internet, security, media, etc. is going to want to send their own person out to install the system for you, so things like pre-wiring shouldn't really matter much.

One thing that really blew my mind recently on the home automation front, which would be something you'd construct into the house and probably/possibly isn't movable when you sell is all the stuff Lutron is doing with (extremely classy and normal looking) window treatments that can be adjusted by remote control, occupancy sensing light switches, and the like.

Another "smart home" thing you don't mention is appliances. I was just working on a project to install a state of the art Samsung washer and dryer that can do stuff like send you a push notification when your laundry is done, except the person's laundry room was awkwardly sized and the whole thing fell apart over appliance dimensions. So you may want to think about that as you figure out where to put and how to situate major appliances. If you want something top of the line or especially innovative, is it going to fit in your space?

You'll want a Nest, of course, though that's something that can be retrofitted into just about any modern HVAC system. You may want to see if your contractor and/or HVAC person is familiar with installing these.
posted by Sara C. at 5:08 PM on June 26, 2013

Cat6 cable can be used for 10 gigabit Ethernet up to 55 meters, and for 10/100/1000 Ethernet up to 100 meters. The only "better" option is cat6a, which can be used for 10 gigabit up to 100 meters.

I have no idea whether cat6a cable is much more expensive than cat6. If it is, I would forget about it and let them run cat6, unless you are a computer enthusiast and plan to keep the house for 10+ years.

I second the conduit idea as being way more important than the cable category you run. As phunniemee said, with conduit throughout the house, you can upgrade to whatever the latest and greatest becomes, be that some new copper standard, fiber-optic cable, or really anything.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:31 PM on June 26, 2013

i would argue that "cat6/conduit to each room" is not very future-proof. what you really want is "cat6/conduit to each wall", or perhaps to every outlet. you just don't know where you're really going to want to put your net-aware devices of the future. every bedroom i've ever had put the cable coax on the wrong wall and i was stuck with wires under the carpet from the wrong wall to my tv.
posted by bruceo at 7:25 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am not an expert in tech stuff specifically, but I have some recent experience with home renovations. And this right here is a sign of house-construction craziness setting in:

I want to have cutting edge stuff in it, at least so that in 5 years it is not missing some "must have" technology that will make it hard to resell or give me tech-jealousy.

Trying to get the most cutting-edge tech is impossible. There will always be someone out there more cutting edge than you. The process of making house decisions is designed to freak you out because it's crazy expensive and it has to be perfect and it has to last forever because DREAM HOUSE OR GTFO. Going down that road is how people suddenly wind up with construction projects that cost 2-5 times what they thought they wanted to spend.

To get off this treadmill, I suggest taking the approach of looking at what your family's priorities are now, what you expect them to be in the near future, and how you can build flexibility into your plan to adapt to what your priorities are later. It sounds like the advice above is that if you have conduit you can easily tweak your wiring setup later - that sounds like a great thing to focus on to avoid the anxiety.

I also want to make one other comment because I've recently been in some houses with home automation systems and to me personally they seem horrible because they aren't reliable. Maybe you could find a better company, but the ones I've seen ALWAYS have something not working. The heat is on all the time regardless of what you do to the thermostat. The digital music streaming doesn't work. The server goes down and now the lights don't work. That one light in the bedroom doesn't go on and off and no one knows why. I am like you in the double checking things when I leave, and it would drive me crazy to think that the buggy system might turn the lights back on against orders. Having normal light switches that I can control with my hand seems way better.
posted by medusa at 7:28 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about a central vacuum system?
posted by Joleta at 7:34 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Totally agree with others that what you want is conduit to every room (or, even better, every wall). Put Cat6 (or Cat 6e) cable in it now and it should be great for at least 5 years.

For wireless, you generally get what you pay for. I have cheap wireless access points right now, which work fine, but I'm often impressed at how much better the pro access points are. I'd plan on spending a couple - a few hundred bucks each on the APs. Also, check out Radio Labs. I don't have direct experience with them, but they seem to know their stuff.

I would definitely make sure to keep the wired options, though. The "end of wired Networking" has been 2 years off for at least the last 10 years.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:14 PM on June 26, 2013

Independent of running conduit everywhere, if possible make sure you have a conduit riser with access on each floor which runs from basement to attic. There is probably already this kind of space in the plans for other uses, but make sure you get a conduit in this space for wiring. This will allow "future technology" to come into the basement and be routed independently to each floor.

If you really want to get high tech think about running a separate DC voltage system in the house. I know it might sound crazy but apparently you can build a very efficiency DC system. The voltage conversion happens just once at a centralized location and you save on AC/DC conversions throughout the house. It's also easy to attach a solar cell to the DC system alone - simplifying the installation and again upping the efficiency since it's a fully DC system...

Would not make sense for a single iphone, but if you have multiple devices to charge and strategically use some low voltage LED lighting - it might have a reasonable payback...
posted by NoDef at 8:23 PM on June 26, 2013

I am not an expert by any means, but I have looked into a lot of what you are asking about. I never did pull the trigger on my grand ideas, but here are the themes I was focusing on. One, I wanted to break things down by smaller categories than a zone like "Upstairs". I have three kids and had a wife and all five of us had different wants and needs when it came to cooling and heating, internet and phone access, ease of use concerns and privacy. I wanted everything to be configurable by the user on a room by room basis. THermostats, wired or wireless internet access, music (speakers), etc.

One room often overlooked is the bathroom. I would include the master bath, and any full bath used by the kids when it comes to access for music, TV and internet.

I was prepared to set up separate networks for personal use versus internet connected appliances.

The placement of power sources in relation to any hard wired connection to your network is important. I run two pc's, 8 monitors, and assorted peripherals all near the point of the FiOS modem. I would love to not have multiple power strips all along the floor.

I would also try to account for back up power sources in the design whether that be just UPCs or as I have, an outside generator hard wired into my panel to run certain rooms in the event of a power outage. I had a 10 day outage during Sandy and learned that lesson the hard way.

Conduit is a great idea. I would consider a few runs of fiber from you panel to the main tv room and if you have any at home work computers or gamers. Agree 100% ith NoDef that having a large pipe to get from floor to floor is really important.

Not sure about cell service in your area, but consider ways to boost it yourself if it is spotty. I put in a few inside repeater type things that have really helped.

I also looked into putting an antennae on my roof to broadcast my wifi long distances. Like a half mile long. Certainly, if you have a large yard and/or a pool or spend a lot of time outdoors, having access to wifi outside is important. I have friends who added cable and internet access to their outdoor pool area retroactively and it was a pain. Had to run conduit under the bricks surrounding the pool.

Your garage. Consider how much power might be needed there. Will you have a rechargable battery car that needs to plug in? Do you anticipate having compressors or outside refrigerator/freezer?

Also, I am sort of a freak about it, but the simple placement of light switches and thermostats is really important. There is nothing more frustrating than a switch not being accessible as you walk into a room.

I would also contact your local energy provider and discuss what sort of incentives they have for getting certain energy efficient devices.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:35 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would do the cat 6 with conduit. in every wall. even if it all goes to the basement or a closet and only one wall in every room is punched down.

You can get 1000ft of cat 6 cable at monoprice for $100

You can use foscam ip security cameras for security. they rock on price/performance.
posted by majortom1981 at 8:42 PM on June 26, 2013

A few points. Indeed almost a lot of your services (internet, TV) will run over Ethernet (hence the advice for cat6 cable). Do no split your network physically, but for example create VLANs. There will be some computer running all the gadgets in your house. This computer needs to be highly available, so dual everything, battery backup etc. Have a seperate (independent) security system. Also seperate system for music streaming. This is a lot of stuff to get right, so assume some major tinkering.
posted by Eltulipan at 11:01 PM on June 26, 2013

Add a simple low voltage wiring scheme to go solar?
posted by Freedomboy at 12:04 AM on June 27, 2013

I don't really have anything to add to what you should get but I have some simple and specific thoughts on how you should get it in the future.

Basically it boils down to leave the services accessible.

Put in what you want to use now and what you are absolutely sure you want to use soon. Don't bother trying to put in what you might use in five years, you're trying to predict the future, you'll get it wrong 90% of the time and just waste a lot of money.

Broaden your thinking from straight tech, particularly if you want to change things about your home automation later. Think about electrics, HVAC and plumbing as well. Keep all of that accessible and changeable. Put everything in oversized conduit and leave a couple of spare drawlines in them. Make sure you can get new power runs to anywhere you might want them. Don't put your plumbing in concrete. If it's a multistorey house use service risers and make them a lot bigger than what you need now. If you can, make the internal walls non-structural so you can easily knock them out and rebuild them in a different configuration. You get the idea.

Taking this approach to everything will keep your house a lot easier to renovate and make its inevitable changes much easier and less painful. You'll like living in it more as a result. That's a lot bigger than just technology and electronics.

I've been a site manager on interior redevelopments and temporary fit-outs (mostly commercial/arts industry but some domestic) for most of the last five years. Before that I was a technician for ten years and had to do a lot of these changes. I wish more people would think about this stuff when they are first building, my life would be easier.
posted by deadwax at 1:08 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

> If you really want to get high tech think about running a separate DC voltage system in the house.

Check with your insurer before considering an extensive DC system. If you get an arc fault on DC wiring, the arcs don't extinguish like AC tends to. The fault gets hotter until something melts, something burns … you get the idea.
posted by scruss at 5:12 AM on June 27, 2013

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