Structuring the Future

Structured wiring can offer homeowners technological flexibility and convenience, as well as set them up for future technology upgrades. At the same time, builders can gain profitability and marketability. But the first steps are to understand who should install it, and that the benefits to both builder and homeowner outweigh any costs.

Builders typically keep homeowners on track during construction, helping them sift through the many choices available while serving as a resource when tough decisions pop up. This is why builders should bring structured wiring into the first conversations they have with clients.

“Homeowners can be presented with options, but it requires the builder to promote [structured wiring] and offer an education process to get them to buy. During the first 15 minutes with a client, we’re talking about what’s behind the wall,” says Robert Lord, president of St. Charles, Ill.-based Robert Lord Builders.

Future Profit

Once structured wiring is in the walls, it allows a homeowner to come back to a builder years later and add a multitude of technologies, something which is much more difficult if the wiring isn’t there. “During the construction phase is the single cheapest time to wire a house. It makes sense to pay a little more upfront to get a proper infrastructure in place. Once the infrastructure is in place, there is tremendous flexibility,” says Peter Cook, president, Automation Design & Entertainment, Portage, Mich.

Structured wiring provides homeowners with endless amounts of upgrade opportunities, and builders with the chance to make more money on those upgrades. Sometimes, the homeowner initially will only use the wiring for television, phone and Internet, and come back years later for upgrades. “One of our clients planned to use only the wireless capabilities and after one year they wanted a whole-home automation system. Thank goodness we did the wiring when we did because it made it pretty simple to come in and do what we needed,” says Curtis Perlman, vice president, Empeco Custom Builders, Vernon Hills, Ill.

A builder’s job isn’t over once the wiring is installed. The next step is educating clients on how accessible upgrades will be once the structured wiring is in place. “Builders need to use a form of conduit so they have an easier way of doing [upgrades]. It helps the homeowner have peace of mind that [upgrades] will be easier to do,” says Kirk Horlbeck, senior vice president of marketing, Liberty Wire and Cable in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Upgrades also benefit the builder with the potential to increase the bottom line. “If a client has a sophisticated video system throughout their house, that’s where a builder can make some money,” Perlman adds. “For wiring itself, there isn’t much [profitability].”

Manufacturers offer wireless options but as most people are aware with the use of their cell phones, wireless isn’t always reliable. “Wired is faster, reliable and secure. [Wireless] creates safety issues because if it’s not a secure network, someone can log in and use private files,” Cook says.

The increased resale value of a home with structured wiring is one driving force behind the technology, something builders should keep in mind, according to Horlbeck. “Most appraisers have an area on their appraisal forms for prewire. Homeowners can mortgage prewires — it allows them to ‘future-proof’ their investment.”

Structured wiring also adds a competitive edge when selling a house in a tough market. “I wouldn’t want to be in the position where I’d be up against a home down the street and I didn’t have [structured wiring],” Lord says.

Builders who promote structured wiring in their projects and in general bring marketability to their business. “Clients like to see that we are staying on top of new technology,” says Dan Beal, owner of Craftsman Construction, Baraboo, Wis.

Electrician or Integrator?

Builders have a few options for pulling structured wiring, including: utilizing an electronic systems integrator; having an electrician manage it; or handling it themselves. Builders can give themselves an advantage if they collaborate with an integrator. “It’s not just pulling wire through the house — it’s focusing on future design and technology,” Perlman says. “Builders don’t walk in and put their own plumbing in the house.”

Lord uses electricians to do most basic wire pulling, unless the homeowner plans on utilizing structured wiring. “I’d rather have an electrician do it because they are licensed. When we deal with a client who’s going to do something with the wiring, then we have an AV person do it because they can program the systems on a computer,” he says.

The cost of pulling structured wiring affects how a builder chooses who will pull the wire. In some cases, an integrator will cost more than an electrician. “I’ve had many AVs charge too much for pulling. It’s cost-effective to use an electrician,” Lord says.

Even though an integrator might cost more, using one can add to the builder’s bottom line. “They can work together to come up with a package that is a win for everyone involved. The builder can make a percentage, the integrator can make a percentage, and the homeowner can get a good system,” Cook says. “Teaming up and collaborating with a good contractor is important.”

Preparing for the Future

Most homeowners are technologically savvy enough to know the importance of including structured wiring in their new homes, even if they don’t plan to use it at the time of installation. “Most of the homes we build are $1 million and up, and homeowners at that level expect [structured wiring]. They are asking for it, looking to the future,” Perlman says.

Most builders who promote structured wiring will include or suggest it in all of their projects. “Minimally, I try to have them at least include a pipe in the room for future use without having to remodel the whole house. There aren’t too many clients who don’t do something at least minimally,” Lord adds.

As the next generation of homeowners ages, the demand for technology will be even more important. “We want the conveniences that we’ve grown up with and are comfortable with,” Cook says. “The digital world has changed. Now video and audio can be sent anywhere in the world and houses need to be built with the infrastructure to support the digital revolution.”