How to wire your house for low-voltage signals.

Last updated: December 21st, 2004

Copied from an email.

So the thing about wiring houses..

1. always do home runs, you never know how you'll want to connect things
in the future.  Home runs means that all data (low voltage) wiring
terminates in one place.  Halted is a great place to find rack mountable
termination blocks.  

2. pick a cool, dry, centralized, accessible place for your wiring closet.
In my house I first picked a difficult-to-access place and it was a pain
in the arse.. plus it helps you show it off to people.  Obviously cool and
dry for the electronics.  Centralized for the wireless box.  Oh and away
from EM fields like fans.  My current wiring closet is right next to the
furnace which probably doesn't help 802.11b/g.

3. CAT-5 everywhere, baby.  You can run ethernet, s-video, audio,
firewire, SVGA (shielded CAT5 required) all over a CAT-5 wire.  So my
current theory is use CAT5 everywhere, and make dongles to convert to the
proper connector.  So for example in Tom's room, we're going to run two
separate home-runs from his entertainment center and from the location of
the projector.  This allows me to bridge those two circuits in the wiring
closet and make two dongles for his room.  The dongles will adapt a
standard ethernet connector to a female sVideo connector.  If someday I
want to use that run for ethernet, it's as easy as unplugging the dongles
and patching the CAT-5 patch panel to the gig-E switch.

4. Labels.. label everything.  All wall plates get a unique number and
each CAT-5 in a wall plate gets a letter.  Back at the patch panel, they
get the same designation and there's a printout of what numbers go to what
rooms.  This way when the 'study' turns in to Troy Jr's room, you don't
have to re-label anything.  Use light grey or white cables, so that you
can write on them with a sharpie.

5. Use RG-6 for Satellite/Cable coax, but you already knew that.  Use 
Double-shield RG-6 only, not Quad-shield.  In tests, quad shield actually
performs slightly worse than double-shield unless you're running along
side lots of power lines.  Run two coax per location for multiple satellite
or cable feeds.  Consider using the 4-in-1 cable systems that include 2 RG-6
and 2 CAT5s all in one bundle.  This makes wiring easier.

6. signal level (not speaker level) audio goes over twisted pair.  
Composite video or RGB video goes over coax.  Satellite goes over coax,
duh.  DVI.. your guess is as good as mine.  There's no good way to do DVI
yet.

7. Leviton plates and jacks are great from Home Depot.  For more
interesting options (like 6 and 8-port plates) go to Gray Bar or
Smarthome.com. partsexpress.com is a good source for audio/video patch
cables.
  
8. Tools.  It's worth the money to buy the ratcheting coax crimper and
cat-5 crimper from Home Depot.  They are $50 each, but worth the money.
Also I'm adding a 66 and 110 punch down tool.  Also expensive, but worth
it to have around.

9. Phones.  Leviton sells 6-conductor phone jacks also at home depot.  Use
Cat-5 to wire phone and terminate at a standard 66-block in the wiring
closet.  Each phone jack gets 3 pairs (lines).  Terminate your incoming
phone line from the MPOE (minimum point of entry) to your wiring closet
using the highest quality CAT-5 you can find.. terminate to a standard
phone company type block, then run patches of twisted pair to the 66-block
just for the rooms that need them.  Doing it this way, it's easy to
reconfigure.

10. Audio distribution.  Home runs always for reconfiguration later and you
can use standard 14-16 guage zip cord (lamp power cord).  Nuvo makes a really
nice audio system but it's expensive.  http://www.smarthome.com/8270CE.html

11. Surround Sound.  You can wire directly within a room if you're sure of
where the boob-tube and speakers will go forever.  Otherwise install some
more conduit and make note of where it is in the walls.

As for the physical part of drilling up into your wall...

Most modern construction (post 70's) has no fire breaks.  Instead they
rely on the idea that the top and bottom of a stud-cavity are sealed and
drywall won't burn, so any fire (electrical or otherwise) will run out of
oxygen once the oxygen trapped in the stud-cavity runs out.  This is why
when you build a soffit in the ceiling, you're also supposed to drywall
the _inside_ of the soffit.

So since your house is newish, you shouldn't have many fire breaks to deal
with.  So assuming you have a crawl space and not a concrete slab, you'll
be under there with an auger bit in your drill and CAREFULLY calculating
where the walls are above.  It's definitely a scary proposition until you
learn more about how far the foundation sticks out from the wall, etc.

My 14.4 Makita drill in torque mode and a 6" or so auger bit does just fine.
Once you're in the wall cavity (you were careful not to drill up into a
stud), it's a game of find the wire.  Once I get one wire pulled to a
location, I usually tie 50-pound fishing line to the wall plate attachment
device and to a screw down below, this way you can send more wire up
easily in the future.  Remember to run 2x the distance of fishing line.

Ahh, here's a big tip.  Use a tent pole to run wire up a long distance
(like to the 2nd floor).  The modern dome tent poles collapse and so you
can get it down with you under the house or up in the attic, then put it
together slowly as you run the wire down(up) the wall.

Other than that, put a hook in the end of a clothes hanger and go fishing.
Sometimes a small flashlight pushed up into a hole can illuminate the
situation.

If you encounter fire breaks, I think you're out of luck.  How would you
keep a long auger bit centered in the wall?  And watch out for 110/220
wire!!  Best bet with fire breaks is to learn to patch drywall.

As a safety precaution, any holes you cut into the base or top of a wall,
you should probably try to plug to keep oxygen from electrical fires.  I
haven't done this and I'll probably die a horrible death when my house
goes up in flames.

I've found that a feed wire in conduit doesn't help very much because it gets
tangled in the wires.  Probably better to use a proper metal snake.

Some more wise words from DaveW:

My two cents is to be extra generous with your outlets.  I totally
regret the way I had my house wired for outlets.  I can't tell you how
often I beat myself up for not requesting an outlet in certain places.
 In fact, don't bother with dry wall.  Just put outlets EVERYWHERE.

1)  If you plan on putting x-mas lights up, then put an exterior
outlet up near the eves.  Then put a toggle switch in a closet or
somewhere that is discrete but convenient.  This way your not running
a silly extension cord up the side of the house.  If you're not
putting up lights, then no problem . . . SCROOGE!!!!!

2) Think about where your X-mas tree is gonna go.  Is there an outlet
for light for that.  But again, if you're Scroogin, then no problem.

3) Also during x-mas, if you plan on putting decorative lights along
your stairway railing, put an outlet at the top or bottom of the
stairs.  If you Scrooge-fest . . . ignore.

4)  Rechargable battery station.  If you have a bunch tools/toys that
require a rechargeable docking station, think about where that will go
and put some outlets there.  If you opt to Scrooge . . . oh wait . . .
nevermind.

5)  Exterior landscape lighting usually has a timer box to control the
on/off.  I luckly ran some romax underground to the corner of the yard
where the timer boxes are.  You don't have to do this now, but have a
place where you can tap into if/when you do decide to do this.


Having kids will change how you use your house.  And unfortunately it
is only after you have them is when you discover what you should have
done.

1)  While you may not watch TV very much now, it will get more use
from your family after you have kids.  I'm not suggesting that the TV
will become a baby sitter.  However it will become more a part of you
life when kids come.

2)  When the kids arrive, you will be vacuuming everyday.  Make sure
your outlets are in strategic places for vacuuming.  If you are
installing a central vacuum system, then no worries.  (I highly
recommend a central vac.)  While your have exposed walls, a central
vac system is easy to install.  Or just install the piping and buy the
vacuum and accessories later.  Makes a nice selling feature (pre
plumbed for central vac).