Future-proofing your home for gadgetry

In 2003 when we renovated the Bishan flat, I thought long and hard about how to wire up the house for all my gadgets. Well, I didn’t think hard enough because till today there are some things I wish I did or didn’t do. Then again, it takes experience to figure out how to future-proof your house for gadgets that haven’t even been invented yet.

Anyway, cutting the crap, here are some tips I’d like to share.

NEVER DO BUILT-IN CABINETS

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An IKEA TV solution to fit HDTVs up to approximately 37” (by my guess). What happens when 100” HDTVs drop to $1000 and won’t fit inside the hole? 

Be it a fridge or a HDTV, you don’t want to build/purchase a wall or cabinet around your purchase. Because appliance sizes always change over time, and usually go bigger. I recently saw a house where the hole in the wall was built for a 32” HDTV a few years ago when those LCDs were still cream of the crop.

Today, 46” is the norm and guess what, it’ll be hard to upgrade your HDTV without shifting it to another location or filling up the hole in the wall. Same for fridges, ovens and washing machines – they just keep getting bigger for the same price. Either build a really big hole to last a decade or two, or leave the space alone. For HDTVs, I’d recommend a simple standing TV cabinet where the HDTV can rest on top and is not sheltered by any furniture parts.

CREATE POWER SOCKETS EVERYWHERE

This is a fundamental principle which seems to be ignored by or unknown to most people. We shift furniture around all the time, and you’d never know when you might need a power socket nearby for your appliance, laptop, TV or gadget charger.

And while you’re at it, you might as well place Ethernet sockets next to each power socket for an extensive home data network. Ethernet technology has been around for a long time and broadband speeds don’t seem anywhere near to busting the speed limits the good old copper wires can provide. Or you could just use HomePlugs, which in turn require well-placed power sockets too.

SURROUND SOUND REQUIRES PROPER CABLING

Why go surround? As we move towards a HD era of broadcasting, you’ll also realise the audio is going 5.1 too. And if you like DVDs and HD console gaming (Xbox 360 lah), why miss out on the full audio experience?

There’s been quite a far bit of innovation to create the concept of virtual surround sound without all the hassles of multiple speakers and endless cables – QSound, Aureal sound cards, Sound bars, and so on.

400x400 A proper surround sound system from Klipsch

Well, as a pseudo-audiophile, I’ll say here virtual surround is…well, virtual. The laws of aural physics demand that sound requires a proper source, and if you want great surround sound, you need a proper set of surround speakers blasting at you from different corners of the room.

There are heaps of great 5.1 speakers on the market (no, no, not the sub-S$8000 ones you get for free with your new TV or sold at IT superstores, but real 5.1 systems like the one in the picture here), and they’re waiting to be unleashed on your unsuspecting spouse and kids.

Now unfortunately, the only way to do this is to cable your living room or bedroom properly. That means running wires either through cable covers or building them into the wall during a major renovation. If I could re-do my house reno again, I’d wire it for full 7.1 audio. You don’t need expensive cables for the surround speakers (it’ll cost a bomb for the 10m or more run you’ll need to do for each speaker), but do get good ones for the front stereo pair and subwoofer unit. EVEN if you don’t intend to do full surround, just lay the cables and hide the unused ones at a side, you’ll be happy you did one of these days.

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