RHT How To:
Whole House Audio How-To: A Homeowners Guide to Planning a Whole-House Audio Distribution System
By Joe Hageman
In Part 1 of this How-To adventure, I discussed the various types of audio distribution systems available. But which one is right for you? Do you have to spend upwards of $50K and rewire your entire house to accommodate dozens of pairs of speakers and LCD touch screens?
Of course not, but as is the case with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Choosing the right audio distribution system for you depends on many different factors from the size of your house to how long you plan on living there. More important, it depends on your lifestyle and how often you plan on using the system. If you never entertain or lead such a busy work life that youre rarely at home, spending a small fortune on a distributed audio system may not make sense for you. However, if youre a social butterfly who likes to throw dinner parties and spends a lot of time at home, a distributed audio system is a must.
Another thing to consider is the value of your home. If you live in a nice neighborhood where the median price of a home is above the national average, then adding an audio distribution system may add significantly to the value of your residence when it comes time to refinance or sell. Conversely, if you live in a more depressed area or a neighborhood that is full of summer houses, you may never see the return on your investment in your audio distribution system if you do decide to sell. Buyers on a budget or those looking to buy a summer house might not see the value in a state-of-the-art audio distribution system and are less likely to pay a premium for it. Also, most banks dont take into account the value of electronics when appraising a home. So what you perceive as an added amenity, the bank only sees as gadgetry that doesnt add to the homes value. This is slowly changing, though. Banks and mortgage lenders are starting to place a value on structured wiring and differing types of distribution systems, albeit they are not placing as much value on them as the homeowner would necessarily like.
Now that youve decided you want an audio distribution system, which one should you pick? As I explained above, there are many different factors to consider when choosing a system. Lets start with the physical size of your home. The size of an audio distribution system is typically referred to in terms of zones. 2-4 zones is a pretty small system that one could easily address with an affordable, one-box solution. 6-8 zones are more typical and require a more robust system with several sources and access points. What constitutes a zone? That depends on where you want music. Common areas, such as sitting rooms and the kitchen, are a must, as well as outside porches and decks. Guest rooms and bathrooms are optional and depend on how many guests you entertain and whether or not you feel it necessary to listen to music while doing business. I would recommend making guest room(s) an independent zone. I had a friend of mine stay in my guest room, which features two in-ceiling speakers and a volume control but is a sub-zone of the first floor. He commented that he couldnt access music from his room unless he went to the touch screen in the kitchen and turned the entire first floor zone on. This was a major oversight on my part and one I plan on correcting.
Some systems offer a fixed number of zones, while others are based on an expandable platform where zones can be added as needed. Why would you ever add more zones, you ask? Well, a perfect example is my little guest room dilemma. As it stands now, my system is set up for four zones, but I can easily add more zones with the addition of some hardware and extra amplifiers to drive the speakers in those zones. If you are quite certain youll never put an addition on your house, then expandability might not be a priority for you, or one youre willing to pay extra for. Then again, you may not want to expand, but you might sell your house to someone who does and the audio distribution system they are about to inherit might not be as useful to them if they cannot expand upon it. It is my recommendation to buy a system that has at least two more zones than you currently need; go ahead and install enough amplification for those two extra zones as well. This way, should you decide to expand, you wont need to tear apart your equipment rack and install new hardware.