Providing good quality audio, video and control for the exterior areas of homes poses some special challenges. With careful application of products and a little ingenuity, great results can be achieved.
We try not to install any components or devices outside that are not specifically designed for exterior applications. At best the performance might not be as good as possible, at worst early failure might occur. Not to mention, there are safety and liability issues that could become factors.
If it is absolutely necessary to install equipment not built for the purpose in an exterior location, then additional design and installation steps must be taken. For example, if control panels or keypads are to be installed outdoors, perhaps near a BBQ or spa, a watertight box with a weatherproof cover might make it work.
One thing that we do to help insure our clients’ long-term satisfaction is to warn them that anything installed outdoors will not last more than a few years, and may require early replacement. This way, any life over a few years is a bonus, rather than them being unhappy because they have to replace items so fast compared to items installed inside the house.
When it comes to speakers, we have the largest range of options. We install box speakers under eves, flush mounted behind custom grills, mounted to walls or attached to poles driven into the ground behind plants. We also use in-ground “mushroom” style speakers and even rock speakers from time to time. We like products from Sonance and Niles, and for special requirements we sometimes use products from Technomad. They make higher output speakers and subwoofers that are designed to withstand the elements.
Another key distinction that separates interior and exterior speaker installation design is that for the longer wire lengths, we implement commercial 70-volt constant-voltage designs. The advantages are both cost and performance when compared with extremely long runs of wire with low impedance speakers (4 or 8 ohms).
For anyone not experienced designing and installing 70-volt systems, you should know that true engineering abilities are required, and also 70-volt systems may be subject to Class 1 electrical code. This means that the same requirements for conduit and/or voltage-rated wiring as required for 110-volt electrical circuits may apply, as would state licensing requirements for the installing company.
As few companies make keypad controls that are specifically designed for exterior installations, we find that we often have to provide boxes and covers for standard keypads. Although we see it done by other companies all the time, we rarely specify touchpanels or keypads with LCD displays for exterior areas, because they are hard to see under sunlight, and they are even more susceptible to failure with exposure.
TVs and video displays are really not appropriate for exterior installations either, but sometimes we have to provide outdoor video solutions. Most common is a TV near an outside bar or pool cabana. A few times we have designed projection systems for exterior areas, but the only way we will do it is if the projector can be installed indoors with a window or in a watertight enclosure that provides adequate ventilation. We don’t know of any projection screens that offer the performance we expect from Stewart with construction that will withstand the elements. Therefore, we either specify a portable screen that can be stowed when not in use, or we warn our clients that they might only get a year out of their electric retractable screen, if installed outside.
More and more of our clients are asking for multiple security cameras, and in some cases, enough to cover their entire property. There are many camera enclosures and mounts for exterior applications, as well as complete exterior camera units that include pan, tilt, zoom and even infrared illumination. As with speakers, conventional wiring may not suffice for longer runs. We use twisted-pair copper with balancing devices or even fiber cable for runs over 1,000 feet.
We always prefer that the majority of our wiring be installed in conduits, but most of the time we end up with only a few conduits for main equipment locations. The exception is exterior locations, where we request that PVC conduits be provided for all exterior devices. Although many cables are available in direct-burial versions, we insist on conduits for both reasons of protection and future modifications and upgrades. We give special care to the design of outdoor pull boxes and termination boxes as it is easy to end up with future water problems.
It is not practical to expect the same performance and longevity of systems installed outdoors, but with care and expertise, very acceptable results can be achieved. There is nothing better to enhance the fun of the great outdoors than a good entertainment system.