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by Rich Binsacca

Whoever thought a home’s wiring could make or break a sale? That was before computers and the Internet, before telecommuting and home offices. Today, tech-savvy home buyers are educated about what goes on behind the wall, and they’re willing to pay for the fastest, most capable wiring scheme they can find.

In fact, the speed with which you are able to call up this web site and download this story has as much to do with your telephone and data wiring as it does your hard drive . That’s because the so-called "plain old telephone service" linking a home’s PC to the outside world simply can’t handle the workload. Smart builders are instead installing upgraded, or advanced, low-voltage wiring systems using Category 5 twisted pair telephone/data wires strung directly from each outlet that needs it to a central hub — a design called "star wiring" that allows home owners to alter each dedicated line, add new ones, and create an in-house network.

Advanced wiring systems have been called "future proofed" against the dynamic changes going on in the communications industry. Properly designed and installed, the wires’ capability is far beyond what home PCs demand or likely will, even for a home-based network. And, some builders are installing hollow PVC pipes from the basement to the attic to serve as conduits for additional lines in the future.

The basic advanced wiring system includes Cat. 5 telephone/data wires, an in-out loop of upgraded RG-6 video cable (capable of handling incoming digital and satellite signals and transmitting them house-wide), and a central hub similar to the electrical subpanel for high-voltage service (or basic electricity). In addition, wiring and cable suppliers can provide multi-port outlets and jacks to accommodate multiple electronics equipment — like a fax, phone, cable TV, and computer in the same room — each using a dedicated line. All told, about a $1,000 - $2,000 investment per house by the builder, which has typically earned those who’ve installed an advanced wiring scheme a 50 percent profit.

Unlike whiz-bang home automation systems, advanced (also called "structured") wiring is the basic pipeline providing the service to run security systems, closed-circuit television, intercoms, and other electronic and home control devices. It allows the home buyer to select or add, at their option and budget, products to enhance the comfort and convenience of their homes — items that, if sold at closing, can reap a tidy profit for the home seller.

Advanced wiring systems are most easily installed in new homes during the rough mechanical stage (typically just before drywall to protect some of the more sensitive components), thus giving new homes a distinct advantage over resales (it’s much harder, if not impossible, to properly install a similar system in an existing home). Not only will new buyers enjoy the benefits of an advanced pipeline to the latest and greatest electronic services, they’ll be able to make a return on their investment when or if they have to sell the house.

To date, fewer than five percent of all new homes are built with advanced wiring systems, yet in California alone, 86 percent of new home buyers surveyed said they have at least one computer, and 33 percent have two or more. Moreover, 26 percent said high-speed Internet wiring had a strong impact on their decision to buy a home, while extra phone jacks and outlets in secondary bedrooms (read: home offices) was the highest-rated upgrade among new-home buyers. Nationally, 90 percent of households will have a home office within a decade — and you know most (if not all) of them will have a PC and other office electronics.

For cutting-edge builders, the time to act is now. Already, some home builders install a version of structured wiring in their new homes, and word is getting out. As prices come down for the components and more new homes have advanced wiring, the advantage (and margins) those and other builders enjoy today will soon wash away. #

Rich Binsacca is a freelance writer living in Boise, Idaho. He has been on the staff of BUILDER magazine and The Practical Homeowner magazine, and co-wrote "About Your House with Bob Yapp," a companion book to the syndicated PBS television series. He is a regular contributor to several national real estate, business, and architecture publications.

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