During the construction of a new home is the time to
pre-wire the home
for (at a minimum) telephone, an alarm system, and cable TV. You might also consider Cat 5
wiring if your anticipated computer usage requirements will grow with time. Increasingly popular also, are whole house wiring arrangements with cross connection boxes
and switchable option points which give you the future ability to make any changes you
might wish. Currently these arrangements can run into the thousands of dollars, but will
decrease substantially in cost over the next few years.
Pre-wiring is typically done in those few days after
the doors and windows are installed, but before the drywall is put up.
Many commercial builders have an exclusivity
contract with alarm companies who are given sole rights to do the
pre-wiring, in exchange
for low or no charges to do the job. While the telephone wiring is usually included as
part of the cost of the home construction, the home owner is often charged $250
to $500 extra for the alarm system pre-wire option, even when it is provided for "free"
or at low cost to the builder by the
alarm company. Many alarm companies will set up these
"sweetheart" arrangements with the builder
to do it at no cost, hoping to win the end user's alarm business and monitoring, thereby
recouping their costs and more.
Some of the larger builders will not allow a
homeowner to hire his own pre-wire company in spite of what the buyer might wish, but most
smaller contractors are more flexible. If you can, try to hire a private
contractor to do the job. Since this will not involve the builder, there
will be no further markup on the work done. If you wish to save some
money, simply have the pre-wire company do the ground floor windows and
anything upstairs (ie: smoke detectors and upstairs keypads). Everything
else can be done easily by your alarm company assuming the basement
ceiling is either unfinished, or finished with removeable ceiling tiles.
Or, simply don't bother wiring for ground floor windows (since modern
double pane windows that crank to open are so secure in their own right
that they are rarely if ever attacked).
There are some things to watch out for !! Some
pre-wire companies simply leave a loose end hanging free in the basement below each window
and door above. This is not acceptable
practice !! All wiring should
be "home run" from every door, each side of a double sided opening
window ,and motion detector location on the main
floor back down to a spot either near the hydro panel, or preferably to another area where
the panel can eventually be hidden from view. In addition, have the company put in
loops up to just outside the master bedroom on the second floor for an additional keypad if you should
ever wish this (run two quads to the keypad, or a Cat 5, to allow the
use of the zone that is on the keypads of most modern systems). Run a minimum of two additional loops up to the attic both
telephone quad and perhaps Cat 5 cable, tied off on one of
the rafters, for smoke detectors, or an extra attic mounted horn (do NOT
leave them laying loose - staple to the rafters above the level of
insulation if you ever wish to find them in the future). Ideally, all loops should be
number tagged at both the panel location and the attic end, and you are entitled to be given this numbering
scheme. However, don't worry if the firm doesn't leave this for you, since any alarm
company can quickly tone them out during final installation.
One other thing to watch out for. A
pre wire that does not have the actual doors and windows drilled ie: where
the alarm company will have additional drilling of the wiring to the exact
spot where the contact is to go, is clearly deficient. This happens if the
doors and windows are not in place when the actual pre wiring is done, and
the wiring is left hanging close to the window or door. Sometimes this can
almost negate the advantage of having the pre wiring done at all. All the
alarm company should have to do is simply mount the contact if the pre
wiring is done correctly. Watch out for this shoddy way of operating !
One other idea that can be worth
doing, is to run a length of plastic pipe from basement to attic, fitted
with a pull rope - handy for future unforeseen requirements !! If you do
this, make sure it is located in the middle of the house and comes up into
the attic near the attic access vent. This will make it MUCH easier and
more convenient to access the wiring than if the vent comes up along the
side of the house near an outside wall.
Remember, it is almost impossible to
put too much wire up in the attic. At some point in the future you will
likely use it all.
OK, now the other side of the issue.....
Question: Should I bother to have my
new home pre-wired at all ?
A good question to ask, since the cost of having your
home professionally pre-wired can cost upwards of $500 - almost the total
price of your alarm system installation itself !! Some might justifiably
question the wisdom of having it done at all. The bottom line is as I said
previously, you only need to pay to have this done in advance if...1- you
require the windows on the ground floor to be on the system....or 2- you
wish things like keypads or a smoke detector on a second floor
level. And in many cases, wiring for these are optional extras
anyway at extra cost over and above the basic pre-wire !
Question: Why can't you do the ground
floor windows after the home is built ?
Good question ! Many companies will do so, but at an
extra cost. However, it has been my experience that the risk of cutting
the vapour barrier with the extended bit used to do this is extreme.
Cutting the vapour barrier will result in drywall rot over the longer
term. This can only be repaired by totally replacing the drywall.
If your basement ceiling is not going to be
finished with drywall or non removeable tiles, AND you don't want the
ground floor windows on the system,AND you don't require any alarm
components above the ground floor level, then save your money. Any
alarm company can and will do the doors, motions, smoke and basement
windows as part of their regular installation price. For example, I
install a basic system for $600 or $550 if pre-wired. Your cost to have it
wired is only $50, a substantial savings over the cost of any pre-wire !
Plus if you really need keypad control in an upstairs bedroom, a wireless
keyfob will do the trick perfectly for a cost of $40. Even a wireless
smoke detector is only $150. And modern, double pane, crank windows are so
solidly built, that they are virtually never attacked in any fashion in a
residential application (the biggest advantage to having them on the
system is that you can see on the keypad when you have left a window
open...!!) Strategic placement of the motions on the ground floor should
cover these windows anyway.
In Ottawa, this push to have homes pre-wired for an
alarm system is fast approaching "scam" proportions. It's easy
and big money for alarm companies, and gives them an inside track on
getting the client's long term monitoring contract !! One more reason to
shop around !!