One of the most important parts of your home automation system is one that you may almost never see. We’re talking about the cable. Yes, systems are using more and more wireless components, but that doesn’t mean that cable is gone, and the ones that are still left in the system are vital to the performance of your technology.
The three main cables still found in most systems are speakers cable, Cat5e or Cat6 data cable and fibre optic cable. We’re going to take a look at what these cables do, why you need them and then some general tips on chosing the right kind for your home.
Speaker cable has been with us for almost a century, but it’s still the way sound is usually distributed around a house. A lot of people think that running speaker cable is an easy job, and they often do it themselves. Unfortunately, they often make mistakes that harm the performance of their system.
Here are some things you need to understand.
The first is that speaker cable comes in different thicknesses, which they call “gauges.” You may see the letters AWG and a number. That stands for American Wire Gauge, which means it meets industry standards. Most speakers on the market use somewhere between 12 and 16 gauge. You need to know the longer the cable, the greater the chance you will lose signal and quality. That’s why over long runs, you have to use the best cable. On a run under 50 feet, you might get away with 16 gauge, but over 50 you should use at least 14 gauge or even thicker. Using the best cable can also lighten the load on components like your amplifier, a good thing in the long term.
There are other things you can look for in wire. Some manufacturers use metal that is of a higher quality, or have better shielding to keep out interference. Cable that seems to cheap to be true usually is. It doesn’t cost much more to use the best, and that is always your best bet.
If you haven’t done cabling before, you may be surprised at how much cable it takes. If you need to do an estimate, do it first by running string to the place the speakers go and using it for your guide.
Matching the length of the cable run is also critical. If possible, the wires running to something like the front three speakers in a home theatre system should all be the same length. That way, the signal level to the speakers will match.
If you are running the wire yourself, you may not want to try going though walls. Your local hardware store can supply paintable wire covers that will make it look tidier. Finally, get some good wire strippers. They are easy to use and do a much better job than pliers or scissors. And get familiar with spade connectors. You can get them at the hardware store. They will make the ends of your cables neater and avoid short circuit.
A lot of the signals in your home will also be carried by Cat5e or Cat6 cable. The names refer to a standard that describes how much information the cable can carry. At one time, Cat5 would carry all the data people needed, but it has been replaced by Cat5e and Cat 6.
Wiring Cat5 and Cat6 data cable is not something we recommend for the home handyman. The delicate wires on the inside are tricky to terminate and should be handled by a professional with the right tools and experience. All it takes is one small mistake in crimping to make a whole system stop working. Leave this one to the pros.
As the demand for data in the home increases, even the best copper cables my not be enough. Many homeowners are choosing to add fibre optic cable. In these cables, information is sent over an optical fibre that is protected by a plastic jacket. Fibre optic cable can have up a thousand strands, and can transmit massive terabytes of information, but that isn’t needed in the home. In the coming years, things like 4k television will drive the need for this type of cable. Using this cable in houses is a process called FTTH (fibre to the home) in the industry. There are counties like Korea that are far ahead of us in this area, but we are showing signs of catching up. Once again, we do not recommend this for the home handyman. Specialized tools, training and experience are needed make sure this delicate cable is run properly and terminated correctly.
Finally, some general hints. If you are trying to run your own cable, become familiar with the fire code. Cable marked FT4 can’t be used in areas called “plenum spaces” (a special part of the heating and cooling system) and you can put your house in violation of the building code by using the wrong cable in the wrong place. It can also create fire hazards. When in doubt, consult a professional.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your home automator what kind of cable they use. They should be able to proudly tell you the brand and the rating of any cable they install. There is some very cheap and shoddy cable on the market, and you don’t want it in your home.
If you want to know more about this or any other home automation technology, talk to the pros at OneTouch. We have the expertise and experience to answer all your questions.