Rewire your old house to make it tech savvy
Make your home of yesterday ready for the gadgets of tomorrow
With smart planning, you can bring similar digital delights into your 1970s ranch home or 1920s bungalow sooner than you might think.
No matter how grand or modest your plans, make sure your home wiring can handle the load.
The home of the future — no matter how old — will have what electricians call structured or advanced wiring. The idea is to make the home ready for 21st century technology from the inside out. Search the Web and Yellow Pages for a licensed, insured electrician, and ask for and check references.
If money is no object: It's difficult to estimate the cost of rewiring an older home. A ballpark figure is $5 per square foot, but that depends on your region of the country, the size of a house and the ease of access to wiring. For instance, it costs more to rewire and patch up a home that has plaster walls than a home with drywall. The number of fittings you'll want in each room also will affect the final price. Today's digital home would add connections for an HDTV, HD DVR, high-definition audio and a couple more plugs for gear we can only guess about.
Advantages: TVs that connect to YouTube, Flickr and other Internet destinations generally can't use wireless broadband connections. With structured wiring, every room in the house could run your Internet-connected TV. Also, wired hookups are faster and more secure than wireless connections.
If your eye is on the bottom line: Several products — from Netgear, Belkin and others — use your home's electrical wiring to connect the gadgets in your house in a network. This so-called gigabit Ethernet power line technology moves data around your house faster than the specially wired Ethernet networks that tech geeks were installing in their homes just five years ago. If you can't remember the fancy terms, remember this: If you plug one power line adapter into your bedroom's electrical outlet and another into your living room outlet, you can send HD audio from your high-end system in your living room to the receiver and speakers in your bedroom. For less than $200 (high-end audio system, receiver and speakers are extra), a fraction of rewiring a house.
Disadvantages: Gigabit Ethernet technology is better at carrying music than video.
Here are some gadgets that will be in tomorrow's advanced or retrofitted homes. Whatever your project, make it the best it can be, says Murray Kunis, president of Future Home custom installers of Los Angeles: "Do a killer family room system or do a killer theater," Kunis tells show biz clients and average Joe customers alike. "Make it a room where you want to be."
The Microsoft Kinect for the Xbox 360: This motion-detecting add-on for a video game system has game-changing potential. When it comes out in November, it will make specially created games respond to your movements and voice. More intriguing is its potential to interpret a wave of the hand as a signal to some day change your TV's channel or in other ways turn your body into a remote control.
3-D televisions and 3-D Blu-ray players: Samsung and Panasonic were out of the gate first, but Sony and others are following. The trickle of programming looks great, but now that DirecTV is beaming three 3-D channels to HD subscribers, the trickle is on its way to becoming a flood.
NuVo Renovia: Use your home's wiring to send music from your collection to as many as eight rooms of your house. Starting at $5,000 for a four-room system, it can deliver throughout your house the sound of a custom system for much cheaper than a total home rewiring.
Home controls: Whether in new or old homes, more people will buy systems to remotely control their home's temperature, adjust the music and lights, monitor security cameras at the front door or in the baby's room, or switch appliances off to manage energy use, according to market researcher Parks Associates.
That will include 20 percent of U.S. homes by 2014, compared with 6 percent today, predicts Bill Ablondi of Dallas-based Parks Associates.
"If people plan to stay in their homes," Ablondi says, "then they will be able to recoup their investments in water heater timers and load control modules — not as exciting as audio systems, but they may help pay for (audio systems) through savings."