Rack or No Rack for your Smart Home?

As integrators and smart home systems installers we are responsible for educating and advising our clients. Some of our competitors can do things for less and it is sometimes difficult for clients to understand why. It really does come down to attention to detail and why every contractor out there is going to do things differently. It doesn’t matter if you are hiring a tiling, HVAC or AV company…each trade does things a certain way based on experience, craftsmanship or requirements. As a customer, you need to ask the right questions so there are no surprises and expectations are clear.

The topic for today is whether or not we should install a systems rack in your home. It is a bit of a loaded question because at Cloud 9 AV we have learned the hard way and early on in my career I was just trying to get the jobs and I felt saving clients money was really important to them. At the end of the day, saving money by cutting corners never helped and it always came back to the wrong advice. We have all made mistakes in any business and lessons learned. For the past 10-12 years (we’ve been in business over 17 years) we’ve really focussed on what makes sense and having a proper systems environment using structured racks and media cabinets designed for technology is critical for us to deliver reliable solutions. Without it, you will find yourself looking at this kind of mess…

Not our work!!!!

Spaghetti is best served on a plate…not as your systems head end.

No matter what the intensions, it is important to have a way to organize systems, label them, strap down the wiring and let people know what the support process is. You can “touch” this, but stay away from these…

In reality, our clients don’t want to touch anything but it is also important to let other trades like the service providers know what they can touch and access. They don’t have the experience in dealing with structured cabling in a custom home. They are usually the ones dealing with setting up an all-in-one modem with wifi but they can get messed up by any environment with whole home WiFi and dedicated routers. BTW every home we do is recommended to have a dedicated network so they aren’t relying on the service provider equipment which can’t handle the requirements and coverage typically expected. Do yourself a favour and budget $2,500 – $10,000 on your network! If you don’t your going to be disappointed…but I’m getting off track here. Let’s get back to Racks and Cabinets.

Purpose of a systems rack.

  • organized space dedicated for equipment to be installed
  • provides adequate wiring management
  • proper ventilation and cooling
  • protects equipment
  • secures equipment from walking away easily (screwed into the rack)
  • predictable labour expected
  • should be beautiful when finished
  • Uses less space

These are just my top criteria for using a systems rack. Some architects and designers understand this but many forget or didn’t get a list of systems requirements from their clients except where they wanted TVs or speakers and didn’t realize we would need to keep equipment in the rack. I have some basic recommendations for every job and you should always have at least a basic wall mounted rack for your network and then it grows from there based on the systems and generally the size of the house.

Size of Rack

For your space planning, it is safe to plan for a ~25″x 25″ square somewhere with easy access to the front and back (yes we need full access to front and back and usually sides as well). That’s the floor space. The height is usually measured in “U”s which are universal rack space measurements. Our typical floor models are 21U for a small rack, 35U or 36U for a mid-sized rack and 42U for a full size rack. It also depends on the manufacturer what sizes are available.

A well designed rack has a plan. You should absolutely expect a properly organized rack that functions well for you and your home.

Your equipment can also be more easily managed remotely if connected to smart power bars and a platform like our OvrC devices which allow us to remotely connect to them, update firmware, make changes and be notified when devices go offline saving you time and headaches.

Customization

Racks will also be customized with accessories like shelving, blank plates for proper ventilation and concealment of wiring, lacer bars for strapping down wires so they look neat and don’t get accidentally disconnected.

27U AV rack in a small closet – Mont Tremblant
One of our standard sized racks for a medium sized home in Toronto’s Rosedale

The customization is where prices will increase quickly but if you want a beautiful rack with absolutely silent fans, we can make that happen. The photo above for example shows the SONY AV receiver sitting on a shelf. Middle Atlantic (www.middleatlantic.com) makes custom faceplates for any device so if you want a faceplate to surround your equipment, everything can be customized.

Drawers

I’m a huge fan of adding slide out drawers in the racks. They are a great place to hide documentation, tools required for accessing certain equipment for your house (like the custom key for Control4 Touch panels), extra remote controls for TVs, etc)

Control4 touchscreen removal tool

Best Practices

If you have the space, use it and make our jobs easier and faster which in the end will save you money and a few grey hairs.

How it all comes together

Here’s a job we did where we worked closely with the contractor to design a platform and space for the enclosure (structured wiring can) in a basement mechanical room. This made our work easy and has kept the equipment well organized for several years including a sale of the house to new owners.

pre-wire stage
Pre-wire stage
framing completed for rack area
Trim out phase of cabling in back of rack
Systems Programming and Commissioning
Structured wiring enclosure for service provider equipment
Almost finished front of the rack with glass door open
Back of the rack with locking door
Our finished rack and enclosure nicely fits into the mechanical and storage area of this custom house

Media Cabinets

Similar to AV racks is the use of media cabinets which are purpose built for AV equipment. In many of our projects, the architects or designers help the clients choose custom cabinets and millwork which is customized to the space but in some projects, we can supply the media cabinets. We really love the solutions as they help us keep things well organized and clean.

On another post, I will share some photos and videos of a recent project we completed in Mont Tremblant which uses racks and media cabinets.

More information

Contact us for more information by using the form on our contact page. We’d love to discuss how we can help with your projects.

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