“Garbage in, garbage out” goes the saying that applies to virtually anything related to technology. If you skimp on the equipment working behind the scenes, then the end result will suffer.
This, as custom installers know, especially applies to wire and cable. The task of explaining this to the homeowner, however, isn’t always easy, especially because wire and cable is usually hidden from sight.
“Wire isn’t an afterthought or just wire. It is part of the infrastructure for your home, and it is very important,” said Frank Koditek, market manager for residential markets at Belden in Richmond, Indiana. “As you are installing your electrical infrastructure and other infrastructure into the house–whether it is for plumbing, heating or air conditioning–you want to make sure that it is as good as it can be. The perception that ‘it’s only wire, don’t worry about it,’ isn’t good. People should understand that there is a difference, and they need to recognize that.”
This may be true, but the onus is on the custom installer to educate the homeowner about what needs to be done. Homeowners may not want to launch into a discussion on the intricacies of wire and cable technology, but they will, however, appreciate a package that readies the home not only for the current installation project, but also for technologies they may wish to install down the road.
“The installer, at that point, can give them the best infrastructure, not only for what they have now, but also for the future,” Koditek said. “When you are pre-wiring a house, you want to make sure that what you are installing will handle the current technology, as well as future technologies as advancements are made in entertainment systems.”
Bill Shafer, residential national sales manager for Crestron Electronics, Inc., points out that specifying wire and cable these days requires, well, some specificity. “One of the biggest issues is the fact that too many people view wire and cable as a commodity,” he said. “We have gotten to the state where we are very Cat-5 or network-fluent as the audio/video and computer industries converge, and one of the biggest downfalls is that too many people think that Cat-5 is the end-all solution to everything. It has its place and its applications, but it has to be used appropriately.”
Inevitably, problems arise when Category 5 wiring is pulled on the assumption that it will be functional with everything. “We have seen problems where people have pulled strictly Cat-5 cable for products that need a much heavier gauge wire, or specialty cable,” he relayed. “It catches them off guard, because they didn’t realize that they had to do things differently. Dealers must pay attention to what the manufacturers require for their specific products.”
Shafer emphasizes that some technologies require specific cabling as a result of the demands that the systems place on the infrastructure. “When it comes to cable and wiring, it’s not so much that the manufacturer is trying to capitalize on the marketplace by saying that they must use proprietary wire,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the technologies that are available and what is required to run it.”
Such is the case for a number of Crestron’s touchpanels, Shafer illustrates. “In our case, a lot of our large touchpanels require a lot of power. The laws of mathematics and physics dictate that you can’t get that power to travel down a Cat-5 cable,” he said. “You must use a heavier gauge wire to be able to accommodate for those types of installations. As we keep creating more new products, and changing things and making them better, there are some special applications.”
Gideon Elfassy, owner of The Sound Specialist, a custom installation firm based in Chicago, Illinois, acknowledges the challenge of selling wire and cable to a clientele that is becoming increasingly aware of wireless technologies. “Many of our clients don’t understand why it costs so much, and why they need specific cables. Many know that things are leaning toward wireless, and they think that it’s a waste of money to do extra wiring, although we always tell them that wiring is the most important thing in our business, because with the right wires we can do anything that we want to, later,” he said. “In fact, in many cases we do extra pre-wiring because we know that our clients will want to upgrade, and we want to make sure that we have the infrastructure to do that.”
At the same time, the actual task of running wire has become easier, Elfassy notes, even when specialty wire is required. “Before, we used to run lots of video cables to every room so that we could provide different sources,” he said. “In many cases, we were running 10 to 12 video cables to each room. Now, we can run everything on one single Cat-5, which makes a big difference. It’s a huge improvement.”
Regardless, the profit potential on installing wire and cable remains. “Wire and cable does provide for a nice profit center because you are running the wires at relatively low cost, so most of your profit comes from labor, and labor is always profitable, as long as you price it right,” Elfassy said.
As entertainment technologies continue to advance, the demand on the system backbone will continue to increase. “Entertainment is going to be the big driver. Many telecom companies are talking about fiber that is going into the home,” Koditek noted. “Bringing that type of technology and bandwidth right to the home is going to allow for all kinds of things, as far as video and entertainment options, that probably aren’t available today. Once that comes to the home, your cabling needs to be adequate to take care of those particular options that are available.”
While homeowners may not wish to wax poetic on the technical details related to wire and cable, most would want to know that is being installed is not only appropriate for the system, but of a high quality as well.
“The customer wants to know that you are using the right wire that the manufacturer recommends for this product. They are not going to spend a large sum of money on their equipment and then patch it together with inexpensive cable,” Shafer said. “It’s appropriate, with a custom installation, to include it as a line item to show the customer that you are using good quality products. As a dealer, I would use it as a selling tool, to show that this specific quality of cable is being used, and that it’s recommended by the manufacturer.”
With that in mind, the strongest selling tool custom installers can use boils down to plain, old-fashioned logic. “When you are building a new home, when those walls are open, the incremental cost of putting in the best infrastructure is relatively minor when you compare it to the cost of the home,” Koditek said. “It’s a wise investment to install that good infrastructure.”
Carolyn Heinze ([email protected]) is a freelance writer/editor.