Wiring

We had the luxury of installing the wiring in the house while it was being built.  Even so, it was a huge job.  We made arrangements with our contractor to pull the wiring ourselves.  So after the electrician was finished, we went to work.  Even with help, it took three weeks working weekends and evenings.  We pulled about 14,000 feet (over 2.6 miles!) of cable (250+ runs).  See the TIPS page for lots of tips about pulling wire while building a house.

Planning

Long before the day came to do the wiring (like a year before) we did extensive planning and research about what wiring we needed, were to place terminations, how many runs, etc.  Our approach was to think carefully about the features we wanted in our home automation system.  We figured out exactly what we wanted in whole-house audio, whole-house video, security, control, etc.  Knowing this pretty much dictated what we needed for wiring.  We thought big and for the future knowing we only got one shot at wiring, but could add the other equipment over time.  For example, we put TV and speaker connections in almost every room though we certainly do not have speakers or TVs in all of them (yet.)

Once we knew what we needed, I did a detailed wiring plan.  I took a copy of the blueprints and drew every wiring run, noting in which walls the wire would travel up or down.  Of course when actual pulling time came, things changed because of how the house was built and how the electricians pulled their wire, but this allowed me to use the blueprint scale to estimate the length of wire needed.  I recorded on the blueprint the length and number of wires for each path through the house.   The number of wires helped me know how big a hole was needed in certain locations.  I used a special key to denote type of wire and type of termination on the plan.

I also did research into building codes and talked to both our contractor and electrician about things like how large and how close together holes could be in joists and studs.

Types of Wiring

CAT5e

We pulled at least one CAT5e run to almost every room except bathrooms.  Many rooms got more than one, like the computer room.  There were additional runs for wireless access point and telephone locations and each thermostat in the house.

This cable is mostly for home automation, the IR network, and phones, not data networking.  Data networking is done in the house using 802.11g wireless.  Only the Computer room has hardwired data network connections as it is Gigabit Ethernet.

RG6/RG6+power

We pulled one run of RG6 cable to each location where we thought there might be a TV one day.  We pulled two to the Great Room TV location.  We also pulled four runs to the Satellite dish location and one run to each end of the house for possible aerial antennae.  We also pulled special coax+power cable to some locations where video cameras will be mounted.  At the last minute I added more cameras to the plan.  The combination cable was expensive so rather than buy more, we just pulled both an RG6 cable and 18/2 cable for power to those locations.

Speaker cable

Sixteen-gauge speaker cable was pulled to in-wall or in-ceiling locations in most major rooms including the garage.  We also pulled runs for outdoor speakers for audio on the deck.  We did not install the speakers while the house as being built; that was done later.  So, we left the cable in the ceiling or wall and carefully documented its location both with pictures and with measurements from known locations in the room (typically from the hinge side of the door).  So far we have found every one exactly were we expected.

22/4

We pulled runs of 22/4 (22 gauge, 4 conductor) cable to all security locations.  These are for window and door sensors and motion detectors.  We also pulled runs for other sensors like temperature sensors for the refrigerator and freezer and water sensors near the washer and water heaters.  Unfortunately we forgot a run for a water sensor near the dishwasher.  But, luckily it sits over the basement so it can be run later.  We pulled extra of these to the mechanicals area and the theater just in case.

18/2

We pulled some runs of 18/2 (18 gauge, 2 conductor) cable to certain locations where a heavier gauge wire might be needed for automation, for example, the door bell.  As noted in the coax section, we also pulled this to video camera locations for power.  Extra runs were pulled to the mechanicals area and theater just in case.

Pulling Cable

As I mentioned before, this was a big job – bigger than I expected.  Would I do it over again myself? Yes!  It was worth the effort to make sure it was done the way I wanted it done, and it is a job were you can definitely save money rather than have a subcontractor do it    The basic process we went through was:

We got the plan done and ordered the cable, supplies and tools needed well in advance to make sure we were ready when the contractor was.  It was better for the stuff to sit around a while than for us to delay the house construction.  When we finally got the green light from the contractor we went to work:

  1. We went through the entire house and marked on the studs and joists the location of all termination points.  We recorded the following on the stud near each termination point for each run:  a notation for the type of cable going to the box, the ID for each run (every run had a unique ID), an arrow to clearly indicate which side of the stud the box was on the exact height of the box from the floor, and a notation to indicated if it was a double or single box.
  2. We installed all the J-boxes.
  3. We spent some time verifying the path each run would take to get to the boxes.  We definitely had changes from what was originally planned on the blueprints due to how the house was actually built and the location of electrical runs.  One of the biggest changes was a large number of runs moved from attic to running through the floor joists which greatly shortened them.  (The original plan called for about 16,000 feet of cable, but we ended up pulling about 14,000.)
  4. We drilled holes for the major run paths.  Many runs come together and follow the same path to the control location (which we call the media room) so drilling these paths first made sense.  This was one of the biggest jobs.  Drilling 2” holes through engineered wooden I-beam joists is not fun and we had a lot of them to drill!  We originally tried a right-angle attachment to a regular drill, but this did not work at all.  So I splurged and purchased a heavy duty right-angle drill.  (You could also rent one.)
  5. From this point we worked from the longest run to the shortest run using this process:
  6.  

    1. We would plot the exact path for a run.
    2. Drill any new holes needed or install cable holders.  (We used the u-shaped grey ones you can buy at most home improvement stores.)
    3. Label the beginning end of the cable with its ID.  (A very important step.)
    4. All the cable sat in the media room so we almost always pulled from the there to the J-box.  There were a few cases where, because of tight corners, we had to pull from the J-box back to the media room.
    5. Coil the remote end of the cable, wrap it in a plastic bag, put a rubber band on and stuff it way in the back of the J-box.  (See the Tips page)
    6. Secure the cable with cable nails as needed working back from the J-box to the media room.
    7. Label the media room end (Another very important step.)
    8. Cut the cable.
    9. Mark the run done on the plan.
    10. Do it all again, over and over and over and over....
    11.  

  7. When all the runs were done we wrapped the media room ends, which were hanging from the ceiling, in plastic wrap.
  8. After drywall and painting were done, we put on the faceplates.  At this time we did not have the time (or the energy) to actually terminate all the cables; we just put the plates on.  We have been terminating the cables at the J-box end as we need them.

 

Remote Terminations

Most of our wiring runs terminate in J-Boxes strategically placed around the house with the exception of the speaker cables which were left in the walls or ceiling and some cables to the outside that were left in the soffits.  We purchased Leviton face plates with the snap-in connectors for the J-Box terminations. 

 

Wiring Central

All of our wiring is home-run to a room in the basement we call the “media room.”  This room is control central for the house.  It contains all the home automation, audio, video, and other equipment.

Media Room Terminations

After we moved in we terminated all the cables in the media room.  We purchased a decent grade 4’x4’ sheet of plywood and used lag bolts to secure it to the wall.   All the CAT5e, 24/4, and 18/2 cables were punched down on 110 blocks.  For the coax, we bought lots of grounding couplers and attached them to the board.  This has worked great and was inexpensive.    For the speaker cable we got isolation blocks.    These termination methods have made it very easy to cross-connect cables or run jumpers to the equipment in the media room.  In all cases we wrote the run ID on the plywood beside where it was terminated.

From the media room terminations we can jumper to any of the home automation, A/V equipment, or even between terminations.  In some cases running these jumpers to equipment calls for a little creativity – our cable bridge for example.  We definitely wanted the equipment shelf sitting so you could easily get to the backs of the equipment, but since that wiring board takes all of the back wall, the home controller had to be located opposite the shelf.  Now how to get the cables from the equipment to the controller?  Some vinyl gutter ends, gutter leaf guard, some screws and voila!  A cable bridge.

 

Mishaps

We had a few mishaps in our wiring:

The biggest mishap was with our labels.  We were diligent about labeling our cables as they were pulled.  We bought a reasonably inexpensive label maker for this.  Unfortunately, we had a lot of rain during construction.  Even though the roof was on, the shingles were not and water got in the basement.  We discovered the labels we used were not completely waterproof.  Luckily, the bundles were wrapped in plastic.  But even so, the humidity caused some of the labels to come loose on maybe 30 cables, mostly the speaker cable.  We simply left these un-terminated in the media room.  As we have put in speakers we use a multi-meter to check continuity to find the correct cable and terminate it.  We are down to about five that are not terminated.

We had one of our 24/4 security cables cut.  When the HVAC sub was installing the dryer vent, they cut from the outside of the house without checking inside first.  Luckily this was early on and the path was still open to re-pull the cable.  We used the old cable to pull a new cable through the bundle.

Someone moved one of our cables just before drywall went up.  It was supposed to be in the same hole with one of the thermostats.  For some reason it was moved one foot over.  And, even stranger, they did it only for this one thermostat and not the other three in the house.  I guess we should be thankful for that.  We should also be thankful that we ended up not needing it for the thermostat, so we have a cable sticking out of the wall.  We have yet to do something with it.  Our plan is to put a temperature sensor on it and probably cover it will some type of decorative cover.

 

Afterthoughts

So far our wiring has worked well and has been sufficient.  There are a couple of locations where we are getting tight on CAT5e pairs.    It just goes to show that no matter how much cable you pull, you will always have places where you need more.  Fortunately, most of our house is accessible for pulling more cable either through the basement or attic.   We did not install any conduit.  Looking back, maybe we should have.  But there are chases (for HVAC) in the house, one of which is completely empty, though it is on the opposite end of the house from the media room.

We have added an exercise area to the unfinished side of our basement.  We thought about a phone for this area, but TV and speakers never occurred to us.  So, we have some cables to pull, which will be easy.

We almost forgot to pull a run from the media to the demarcation point for the telephone.  Luckily we remembered this at the last minute.

We did miss pulling a coax cable for the subwoofer in the theater.  For some reason I was thinking regular speaker wire for this.  Wrong! Subs use coax.  Fortunately, putting RCA plugs on the ends of the regular speaker wire worked just fine with no noise.

Something that never occurred to us was that cordless phones need power.  We didn't think to have AC outlets put near all the phone locations.  However Scott came up with a wonderful idea which is actually better than an outlet.  See the phone section.