technology profile: infrastructure
Building the Foundation
Though wireless technologies can be great, a wired backbone infrastructure provides better performance, and an increase in product options.
BY JAMIE BRIESEMEISTER and AMANDA WILDMAN
WE MEET OR SPEAK WITH DESIGNERS, BUILDERS AND HOMEOWNERS about connected home technologies almost every day. At the same time, our teams design and provide connected home technology solutions that enhance one’s quality of life. The unfortunate reality is that across the country, while these types of spaces are very well designed, technology is often poorly implemented.
With the amount of possibilities in the modern performance home, technology enhances and supports design while also bringing convenience and connection between people and devices. From automated window treatments to advances in lighting designs, from clean air strategies to indoor/outdoor living spaces; the perfect project happens when the design takes center stage, with technology residing in the shadows, behind the walls and simply supporting a beautiful life. As technology infiltrates other categories like wellness and living in place, health can be a driver for understanding the importance of infrastructure. Consider how technology is changing lighting fixtures and wiring topography, blending high and low-voltage wiring with the need for network expertise.
Speaking of the network, this is where infrastructure is critical. Too many design-build professionals are under the illusion that technology can be an afterthought; that wireless technologies will suffice, performing well while also being design-friendly. While this can be true, wireless technologies are best used as problem solvers AFTER a project has been completed because the design did not consider a better approach during the design build that would have yielded much better, cohesive results.
Let’s dive into what’s really important when it comes to laying the proper foundation for technology to support performance, life experiences and your design goals.
"Essentially, wiring matters. It mattered 15 years ago and it still matters today. That said, we would be remiss not to acknowledge what wireless can do and what it is capable of."
CEO and Cofounder
We are both Owners of technology design firms that also install and service projects after we sell them. We are both currently on the Board for the Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association (CEDIA). We have been involved with CEU-accredited outreach to the design-build community for over a decade, educating those who are interested in learning about technology trends and best practices.
Interestingly, while technology does advance rapidly, one consistent theme has remained constant through our outreach tenure: the need to collaborate and provide an adequate infrastructure early in the project. Essentially, wiring matters. It mattered 15 years ago and it still matters today. That said, we would be remiss not to acknowledge what wireless can do and what it is capable of.
Let’s first start off by what ‘wireless’ means. Power? Communication? A design without visible wires? A wireless experience? Or, when you think of ‘wireless’, are you thinking in terms of Wi-Fi, RF, IR, Zigbee, Z-wave or something else? As you can see, ‘wireless’ can mean a number of things, which is why we cannot assume that it means the same thing from one person to another, project to project.
Here’s the paradox: wireless technologies can be amazing! They are great for mobile devices, allowing wireless Wi-Fi connectivity with battery power so you aren’t tethered to a wall. Wireless technologies are good for problem solving —when a wire has become damaged, an addition is brought into an existing home, or to extend signals over long distance when wires are impossible or cost-prohibitive. Yet, when technology is ignored during the design or build phase due to the assumption that wireless technologies will suffice, the project and client experience suffer. Unseen to the casual eye, a great wired backbone infrastructure provides better performance, an increase in product options and enhances overall design appeal.
One of the most important functions a physical connection to a wire (or fiber cable) provides is that of speed and security – full bandwidth from the core of the network, without any interference, the most secure way possible. With more devices requiring the network for video and audio streaming, a physical connection provides the best results, especially as advances such as 8K video and high-resolution audio become a reality. Your clients want more than a buffering signal when they sit down to watch a movie in the new room you just designed and built. By considering the infrastructure early in your project, you can provide for such an experience when the time comes: movie-night in a beautiful space that works just as your clients anticipate it will.
"Wired systems work better, more securely, more reliably and often have more design options. By ignoring the wired infrastructure, you are providing less – not more. And dare we say, delivering an obsolete design to the client."
We often discuss the wiring of the home as the home’s ‘infrastructure.’ It provides the power and communications highway that allows for a technology’s presence and operability in a room without seeing wires. From lighting designs that accentuate fabrics, textures and wood grains to sensors that deliver clean air analytics, there are thousands of devices that have an Internet connection or control interface in one’s home. Acknowledging this fact creates an environment for your project where your client can add additional experiences and subsequent technology required over the years to simplify and enrich life.
Need a great example to drive home our point? Let’s talk about window treatments. If these treatments are southern-facing, large, in large numbers, or difficult-to-reach, automation and motorization should be an automatic recommendation and wiring a consideration. Why? Because after the client moves in and decides they in fact do want to automate their window treatments, it may be impossible to integrate a motorized solution. They would then be limited to wireless options that are typically noisy, require charging (or a change of batteries) and are limited in aesthetic style.
Wired systems work better, more securely, more reliably and often have more design options. By ignoring the wired infrastructure, you are providing less – not more. And dare we say, delivering an obsolete design to the client.
Just as you have a ‘go-to’ for the products you specify, finding a trusted advisor and collaborative partner that is a systems integrator (low-voltage contractor, smart home designer, technologist, etc.), will only enhance your end result. Not only should they be passionate, but willing and able to educate you and your clients in a way that resonates across the board. They shouldn’t speak too ‘techie’ for you to understand, or in a superior manner, and they should understand that the best projects occur because of partnerships, collaboration, communication and working together for a better end result. CEDIA.net is a great place to find a company (or two) you would like to work with in your area.
You already know more about technology than you think you do. Instead of focusing on the technology itself, look to understand the overall experience your client is looking for in their project. Embed your initial client interviews with questions that evoke responses to how they entertain and enjoy time at home, alone or with guests, to get a sense of their audio/visual needs. Through your design process, you will likely know what brings your project the perfect ambiance and provides comfort to your clients.
Understanding that lighting technologies, automated window treatments, and ‘invisible’ speakers or sensors provide such an experience will benefit the final result of your initial design. If you can get a sense of your client’s peace of mind, you can then recommend technologies that manipulate lighting, the alarm system, electronic locks, cameras, garage door controls and much, much more.
Collaborating with a technology designer ensures a tighter solution, will likely expand the scope of your project, and will be able to produce an end result better than what you envisioned from the onset of the project. You will also build a relationship with a technology designer that becomes a part of your professional repertoire, allowing design possibilities enhanced by home technology, instead of becoming hindered by it. Your technology design partner should be an extension of your brand!