Do I Need To Upgrade?

There are other amenities that can be added or controlled with structured wiring. Security networks, air conditioning, lighting, music, intercoms, closed-circuit TV cameras - the opportunities are endless. You can even control the temperature of your fish tank!

Recognizing the need to upgrade our data-carrying capacity in this fast-paced computer age, the Federal Communications Commission only recently raised the wiring standard for all home and business installations. However, this new minimum standard, Category 3, has already been surpassed by even-better-performing Category 5 and 5e (for enhanced) wiring. For homes and home offices, Category 5e is recommended.

You've Got to Have the Right Connections

Using technology and equipment developed in just the last five years, you can now turn your home into a communications center that allows your computers and peripheral equipment to talk to, and interact with, one another. You can integrate high-speed Internet access with voice, fax, audio/visual entertainment, and environmental and lighting controls.

But buying new gadgets and subscribing to newly minted communications services may not be enough to get you onto the Information Superhighway. You also need to upgrade the telephone wiring and other communications infrastructure in your home to keep up with the traffic.

Why Upgrade Wiring?

Installing the right types of wiring, cables and outlets throughout a home enhances home communications by making each piece of equipment function faster, more reliably and more conveniently for the user. Among the benefits you can enjoy today are:

Faster, more flexible Internet and e-mail access. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service is currently one of the most exciting technologies for upgrading Internet access, but to use it to its fullest potential, your home should have Category 5 or better wiring installed throughout. With a home network, you can link up with your high-speed DSL connection anywhere in your home for access to e-mail and the Internet. Multiple, simultaneous users can share the Internet - on one line - without tying up the same phone line needed for voice service. Wire your home for high-speed Internet access and enjoy multiple e-mail accounts while maintaining a single service provider.

Home computer networking.

Multiple computers, printers, fax machines and other devices anywhere throughout the home can be connected to create a cost-effective home area network that enables users to share files, printers, and games.

Professional communications capacity for working at home.

Work at home as conveniently as at the office with a wiring system that enables the computer, modem, fax and telephone to operate simultaneously, while providing high-speed Internet access.

Full-function home entertainment systems.

Wire your home so it can readily accept all entertainment systems and distribution services, including direct broadcast satellite, DVD and cable. Give yourself the flexibility to direct audio and video on demand to any rooms where they're likely to be used.

Enhanced security.

Advanced wiring can contribute to numerous security applications, including programmed lighting controls, alarm and monitoring systems. Security systems can be linked with PCs, intercoms and lights to give you optimum control and flexibility.

Environmental control and energy management.

Advanced wiring combined with sophisticated heating/cooling controls can help you gain maximum comfort and convenience at reduced cost. Systems are available to monitor energy-consuming appliances, provide for remote-control operation, or automatically turn appliances on, off or adjust them as needed.

Wiring for Today - and Tomorrow

While technology developers and equipment makers are putting so much communications power within reach today - and promising further advances tomorrow - the wiring infrastructure of the typical American home hasn't changed much in the last 50 years. Old-style telephone wiring and electrical systems can't fully support the communications technology available now and in the foreseeable future.

If your home isn't equipped with adequate wiring, you won't be able to use home computers and peripherals, telephone and audio equipment or cable and satellite receivers to their fullest capacities.

Alternatives such as wireless systems, systems that use old phone wiring and systems that piggyback on existing power wiring are available but don't provide the full capacity reliability that a "structured wiring" package with Category 5 or better telephone cable and RG6 coaxial cable for TV signals can.

And, just as important, your home should have a service panel or central hub where telephone, cable TV, DSS and other services are distributed to various rooms, and through which your home network is routed. Appropriate outlets, such as phone jacks and cable hookups, are also necessary.

Packaged systems that include the cables you need for advanced communications, along with service panels and special outlets, are available under many brand names. Some equipment providers also provide qualified installers, or installation can be carried out by qualified electricians, security system installers and telephone technicians. The installed cost for advanced communication and control wiring may range from $750 to $2,000 according to Wiring Americas' Homes, a trade group formed to promote the benefits of emerging wiring technologies.

While many people believe that upgraded communications wiring is practical only for new construction, it's not especially difficult or expensive to have it installed in an existing home. Electricians, computer network technicians and many security installers are familiar with the installation practice. Whomever you select to do a retrofit installation, make sure he has experience and familiarity with the best practices.

Where can I find Wiring Help?

Wiring Americas' Homes offers an informative consumer-information pamphlet entitled "Get Connected for Living." For more information on the benefits of advanced communications wiring, visit the Wiring Americas' Homes site.

10 Questions to Ask Yourself About Communications Wiring

1. Are you an active Internet user?
If the Internet is important to your home lifestyle, or if you rely on the Internet for a home business, your need for data-transmission speed will only increase in the future. Be aware, however, that computers connected to old-fashioned communications wiring often experience poor Internet performance.

2. Does your computer operate in slow motion when interacting with the Internet?
If you have to wait every time your computer dials up your Internet provider or downloads programs, you're probably using an "old-fashioned" slow-speed modem rather than modern high-speed technology. Obsolete communications wiring only makes this problem worse.

3. Are poor connections ruining your calls and Internet sessions?
Although "party lines" are a thing of the past, virtually all telephone lines today share voice and data calls simultaneously. Cross talk, static interference, inaudible signals and interrupted service are common problems with outdated wiring.

4. Do you have old-style phone wiring in your home now?
If you don't know the answer to this one, you probably have obsolete wiring. Structured wiring is a general term for today's high-capacity telephone, video, data-transmission, security, control and entertainment wiring systems. Installations usually include a central distribution panel where all connections are made, as well as outlets with dedicated connections for phone, data, TV and audio jacks.

5. Is structured wiring superior to wireless communications systems?
The problems described above are typical with old-style communications wiring, but are not necessarily improved upon by the new wireless systems. Certain geographic areas and some buildings are simply unsuitable for wireless systems, forcing you to choose among them. Now and for the foreseeable future, structured wiring will be the best system.

6. Do you own more than one computer, and are they networked?
A structured wiring system can help link computers in a home network and is critical to error-free, high-speed connections between them. Structured wiring can also connect your computers with printers, scanners, telephones, fax machines and even home-security systems and home-entertainment systems. Networked computers can also share a high-speed Internet connection simultaneously.

7. Do you have, or have you applied for, a high-speed Internet connection, such as DSL, cable modem or satellite?
These services are, or soon will be, available in most residential areas. They provide a high-speed data highway into and out of your home. If you don't have structured wiring for it to connect to, this highway could become a cow path when it reaches you.

8. Is structured wiring needed when adding new computer or phone lines?
The law now requires that all new or replacement copper telecom wiring be "Category 3" or better. Today Category 5 or 5e wiring, properly installed, is the foundation of most structured wiring systems, along with RG-6 coaxial cable. You'd be smart to use it to replace all of the phone lines in your home, so you'll be ready for all future communications needs.

9. Do you think rewiring an existing home is too difficult or expensive?
This job can be done quickly and affordably in most cases, and homes with attic and basement space make it even easier. To an installer with the proper tools and training, no obstacle is insurmountable. A new video, Infrastructure Wiring for Existing Homes, shows how (it can be ordered online from the Copper Development Association at

10. Will you be selling your home anytime soon?
Even if you're not an Internet or computer user, chances are your potential buyers will be. As more new homes are built with structured wiring, these systems will be required in existing homes as well. Without such a system you could be at a competitive disadvantage at resale.

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