Pre-Wire Your New Home: Plan For The Future
Chapter 3: The Absolute Minimum – and Why…
Author: David Feller,
This is the second installment of a multi-part series covering all aspects of low voltage wiring in the home: entertainment, security, automation, and future planning. A new section will be published every few weeks.
If you are building a new home or finishing a basement and want to make sure you are covered for the basics, this chapter is for you.
Table Of Contents:
- Chapter 1 - Seriously, Why bother?
- Chapter 2 - Can I actually get away with this?
- Chapter 3 - The Absolute Minimum – and Why…
- Chapter 4 - Future Proofing
- Chapter 5 - The Actual “Pull”
- Chapter 6 - Whole-Home Audio
- Chapter 7 - Proper Terminations
- Chapter 8 - Things to avoid
- Chapter 9 - Whole-Home Video
Chapter 3: The Absolute Minimum – and Why…
Even if you are a minimalist, every home needs phone, TV, doorbell, and at least support for internet. Forget about you having sworn off TV, you have to put in at least the basic services for resell value. I hear from realtors all the time that the lack of phone and cable outlets in each room is frequently a turnoff in older homes.
This section attempts to provide the future homeowner with the tradeoffs between keeping costs low and providing as much functionality and planning for future needs. We highly suggest that you read through the other chapters that go through other home systems and options before you complete your home plan, but please – at least put in what is in this chapter for the sake of the next owner of your home.
Key philosophy: If you are going to do it, do it right! Bottom line – the list first:
- 4 RG6 Sat: To the central media cabinet, run 4 RG6 outside to the south facing side of your home.
- 2 RG6, 1 Cat5e: 2 RG6 and 1 CAT5e to your cable TV demarc point.
- 2 Cat5e: 2 Cat5e to the phone demarc point.
Media Cabinet to Rooms:
- 2 RG6, 3 Cat5e: Homerun 2 RG6, 3 Cat5e to every room (kitchen, playroom, garage, den included).
- 16-2 for surround: Pre-wire for surround sound (2 rear, 2 side, 2 front, center, subwoofer) in the main TV location and at any home theater locations using at least 16-2 lamp cord.
Be sure to wire for doorbell and at least a couple of motion sensor locations for a future security system.
Where to get supplies:
While everything you will need should be available at your local Home Depot or Lowes, if you are doing any project that requires more than 1000’ of wire, you can usually save some money by ordering online. www.monoprice.com has a nice selection of wires, terminations, and media cabinets to choose from. If you plan ahead, you can even get different color wires so you can more easily keep things organized.
- 4RG6 for Satellite – These should all be RG6 Quad Shield coax. While any kind will work, if you have a choice get exterior grade, and if possible get coax screened to 3GHz.
- Dish network requires one wire from the dish (or from a switch) for every two tuners (that is two boxes or one DVR). Even if you run 8 tuners in your home, you will need at least two wires from the dish to feed the switch(es) in your media cabinet.
DirecTV has three predominant systems currently in use:
With a “Legacy” setup (More than one wire comes down from the Satellite dish)
- If you have only Standard Definition boxes, you need TWO wires in from the dish to a switch that will reside in your media cabinet.
- If you have ANY High Definition boxes you will need FOUR wires in from the dish to a switch.
With a SWM (Pronounced Swim) system (Only one coax comes down from the Satellite dish), that one wire comes down to your media cabinet, goes to a power inserter then into a splitter (looks much like a cable TV splitter) to feed all your TVs. The standard system, however, only will feed 5 tuners (again a standard box is 1 tuner and a DVR is two).
A Hybrid system combines
the two and gives extra benefits but you usually have to prearrange
this kind of installation as the pieces are not always on the
installer’s truck. This kind of system uses a “legacy
dish” a 5LNB dish, 4 wires out, and a stand alone SWM-8 switch
in your media cabinet. This more easily allows expansion to more
tuners and allows you to insert a locally generated set of channels
that all the TVs in the home can see. This is particularly good for
in-home A/V distribution, or adding security cameras to your home’s
TV system. If you already have a “legacy” system, the
stand alone SWM-8 switches are readily available on the internet for
around $120 including the needed power supply from sites like www.weaknees.com.
Be sure to check that all your receivers are SWM capable – most
will be marked with SWM near the satellite connection on the box, or
check with the folks at weaknees for more information.
If you live in a particularly cold/snowy climate, consider wiring for a dish heater.
2RG6, 1Cat5e to the Cable TV Demarc point – These should be RG6 Quad shield and exterior grade Cat5e if possible. The absolute minimum here is one RG6 coax, but the extra coax and cat5e are good safety precautions in case you need to add:
- an amplifier at the demarc point, the extra coax can carry power to the amp.
- a legacy voip system – older units have the voip modem on the outside of the home and/or at the demarc point
- a cellular repeater
- Satellite Radio, FM antenna etc.
2 Cat5e to the phone demarc point – A single Cat5e can carry up to 4 individual phone lines so one is usually enough, but as wires corrode and have trouble over time exposed to the elements, it is recommended installing a second just as a backup.
Details Inside the Home:
2-RG6, 3-Cat5e: From the media cabinet to each room in the home forms the core of the communications and entertainment system in your home. Let’s run through them one at a time, and point out the versatility this setup gives you.
Dedicated line to Cable Modem: Be sure to run a dedicated line directly from the demarc point to the location where you plan to put your cable modem. The cable company will install a tap off the main line that runs to the modem.
2 RG6: Video. Whether cable or satellite using a SWM or legacy system, having 2 RG6s to each room will allow you to have a DVR in any room. If you only end up using one of the two coax wires, the other can be used for a security camera backfeed, as an extra audio or video distribution point, or even running spdif audio as part of an audio distribution system.
One is for Ethernet. Yes, wireless is a great thing, but wired will always be faster and more secure. Keep in mind that in the future your whole-home entertainment system might very well be IP delivered over Ethernet.
One is for Audio/Video. By adding a low cost balun (a device that lets you connect audio and video wires to an Ethernet cable) you can transfer high definition component as well as full digital Spdif audio from your media cabinet to any room. For more details, see the Home Distribution Systems chapter.
NOTE: Keep in mind this is an “absolute minimum so you can sleep at night” chapter. If you think you might want whole-home HDMI upgrade this to TWO Cat6 wires.
Surround Sound at your main TV watching location.
You will need to make a few decisions – where you’re A/V receiver will be located, whether you will use standing, hanging, or in-wall speakers, and how many speakers. Regarding the last, the most common today is a 5.1 system, which means 2 “front” Left and Right main speakers, two “rear” Left and Right speakers, one “center” speaker usually located just above or below the main TV, and one subwoofer. If standing or hanging speakers, you will terminate the wire using low voltage boxes (basically just orange “frames” readily available at your local home improvement store, if in-wall, you can coil the end of the wire around a nail so that the hole can be cut later for speaker installation.
While there are plenty of specialized wires available, the absolute minimum would be to use 16-2 zip cord. For a more professional installation, a two conductor red/white speaker wire in a common grey outer wrap is a nice upgrade 16 or 14 Ga wire can be used (CL-2 or CL-3 normally). 16Ga is usually good up to about 50’. That would allow you to make sure you get the polarity right on each speaker so you do not get strange phasing effects.
Note that the subwoofer commonly takes a different wire. A COAX makes a good choice for that connection instead of the lamp cord, and keep in mind that the subwoofer will need power so make sure it is located near an outlet.
Good general rules for speaker locations:
Center channel: right above or below the main screen. Main front: Left and right of the main screen at the midpoint screen height or slightly above. Optimal placement is in a box or rectangle around the main seating location (usually 8 to 20’ from the main screen directly in front of it). Imagine that seat in the center of a box/rectangle, the two front and two back speakers should be at the corners of that box. It is ok if the rear speakers are closer to you than the front as their volume can be adjusted to “virtually center” you in the box by the receiver. Ideally rear speakers are at about head height when seated, but as that is not always possible, mounting standing head height on a wall is also common. Your receiver should come with good instructions for balancing your system, and some, using a microphone, will do it themselves.
Doorbell and Basic Security System Planning:
Your builder should take care of the doorbell, but you can always double check and upgrade just a little. For the doorbell, the common wire is an 18-2 solid “bell wire”. Somewhere there needs to be a transformer – it is usually mounted on a metal electrical box and fastened to a stud or ceiling joist either in the attic or the basement. From that location you need one run to the front door (and any other doors you want bells), and one run to each place you want the actual bell. If you are running more than one door and/or more than one bell, you should bump the wire guage up one (up means to a 16 guage).
A simple upgrade would be to add a CAT5e cable to the front door as well. One of the most common security additions people want is a front door camera. The Cat5 wire should go to your media cabinet.
For the Security system, the absolute minimum would be to run from the media cabinet (or right next to it for a future security cabinet) to at least one motion sensor location near each main open area, entrance, or location of valuables. Keep in mind you don’t have to cover every square foot of a home, just places that an intruder would have to walk through to get to your stuff. There is specialized security wire available both for sensors and for motion sensor locations, but a Cat5e to that motion sensor location will also work just fine.
Future Proof – at least a little. See the section on future proofing. Consider putting conduit in some places to let you expand later.
The Official Standard TIA-570
The latest version released in 2004 states that at a minimum, one RG6 and one data (they actually say cat 3) should be taken to each of the following rooms and placed every 25 feet on a wall:
- Each bedroom
- Living Room
Obviously the “minimum” stated in the document is significantly more.
Wire Types, Uses and Substitutions:
A later chapter will go through wires types by systems used in detail, but by way of general overview the following wires are preferred:
RG6QS: RG6 Quad Shield should be used anywhere coax is needed. It is generally good up to and including satellite frequencies. Most places sell RG59 but it generally only is good up to 700MHz or so and will not carry the higher cable channels or satellite frequencies. Coax generally can be had in red, blue, black and white; color coding is a huge help for identifying wires for trim out work. If you have a LOT of camera runs, then RG59 can be used, but if you are buying 1000’ rolls anyway, just stick with RG6QS everywhere. What about RG6 (no quad shield)? Yes it is cheaper, but will be more susceptible to interference and noise – you get what you pay for.
Ethernet, Phone, Keypads: For almost every residential application, Cat5e is sufficient and will work up to 1GB/s. Cat6 is better, but unless you terminate it properly, use the right ends and techniques, and have equipment capable of using the advanced wiring, you might as well stick with Cat5e.
Solid or Stranded? It Depends: Cat5e and Cat6 comes in both solid and stranded formats. Solid means for each individual conductor (8 in a Cat5/6 cable) there is only one solid round conductor. Stranded means that for each conductor there are actually multiple wires wrapped around each other – typically 7.
Solid Conductor Cable: Turns out that solid wire theoretically has better conduction characteristics although the difference is negligible and most likely unnoticeable in a typical installation. Solid conductor wire works much better for punch down blocks and keystone jacks since it tends to hold its shape better when punched between the knives of a terminal. Solid wire, however, kinks and breaks easier than stranded wire so extra care must be taken when pulling to insure that it comes off the roll smoothly and does not kink. If it gets kinked it should be replaced. Solid conductor wire also does not work as well with typical RJ45 connectors – although most will accept either stranded or solid. The little teeth that get pressed into the wire can break solid wire. Special triple tooth connectors work best for solid cable if you need to go that way.
Stranded Conductor Cable: Is more flexible and much better for patch cords. It is better for crimp style connections, and much easier to roll.
Bottom line, use solid for in-wall and connections to patch/punch panels and use stranded for patch cords. The best advice, however, is to buy all solid bulk wire and buy pre-made patch cords. They will be better performance and last longer than anything you create yourself due to the molded ends.
Cat5e, Cat6, Cat7/ClassF??? Help
It is actually more complex than choosing a speed and putting in the right cable.
Cat5e is the most common installed cable at the moment and with good install techniques will support 1Gb/s speeds and will even support 10Gb/s speeds up to 15 or 20 meters. Since that is not long enough for many installations and existing installations are almost certainly longer than that, cat5e was written out of the 10Gb standard. So the standard now includes cat6 up to 55 meters, augmented cat6 as well as cat7/ClassF supporting up to 100 meters at 10Gb/s. Generally a cat6 installation will run 30% more than a cat5e installation, and a full classF installation will run triple.
- Cat5 – some installations capable of supporting Gigabit Ethernet – see TIA/EIA-568-B-2 annex D for more information
- Cat5e is good to 100MHz – upgrades NEXT loss, return loss, and ELFEXT loss, 1Gb-T
- Cat6 is good to 250MHz – doubles S/N ratio – 1Gb-TX, some can support 10Gb
- Cat7 is good to 600MHz
Gigabit Ethernet uses full bi-directional and 4 pair schemes.
That said, it is absolutely as critical to install your chosen cable properly. The system is only as good as its weakest link. If you choose Cat6, install Cat6 keystones, patch panels and patch cords. Keep the twist tight all the way up to the punch. Cut ends very close. Use gradual bends in the cable, support it properly, and stay away from electrical lines.
Station wire: Generally, 22-2 or 22-4 works for about any security application. Things needing power need 4 wires, otherwise 2 is sufficient, but check on pricing. The price difference may be small enough to just run 4 wires everywhere. Note that Cat5e can be easily substituted.
Speaker/Audio: 16Ga speaker wire home wide is preferred – to walls and ceilings, with Cat5e run to keypad locations for future upgrading. The easiest is usually to run 4 wire cable to each room for stereo, then run the two wire variety to each individual speaker. If you cheap out and use zip cord, give it a twist – at least one twist per foot, preferably two. Long story short, twisted wires reject noise better than long runs of parallel wire. Theoretically, noise picked up on one is nullified by noise picked up on the other. Either way, it can’t hurt.
- Plenum wire can be used in “air duct spaces” , specifically it is used in commercial applications in suspended ceilings where air returns are common. It helps keep burning insulation, in the event of a fire, from contaminating the air system.
- Riser wire is preferred when making vertical runs between floors (it supports itself better
- U/V wire should be used where exposed to sunlight
- Booger wire should be used for direct burial
Appendix A: Links to sources, references, and products:
- http://www.crutchfield.com/learn/learningcenter/home/mrintro.html Crutchfield on multiroom systems
- http://www.smarthomeusa.com/info/prewire/#pre Prewiring basics from smarthome
- http://www.crutchfield.com/Learn/learningcenter/home/multiroom_remote.html remote control systems from crutchfield
- http://www.hometech.com/learn/audio1.htm home tech solutions whole home audio intro. There are some more detailed speaker placement guidelines and some good ideas for combining home theater and whole-home audio/video room/plans.
- http://www.xantech.com/Downloads/Training/ Xantech IR training powerpoints
Products referenced in this guide:
- http://www.audioauthority.com/product_details/scp-11 Baluns – single Cat5 for component plus digital audio
- http://www.cepro.com/article/review_russound_c_series_multiroom_audio_system A review of the Russound C5 by CEPro
- http://www.russound.com/cseries_system.htm The Russound C-series (Search on internet for good direct pricing)
- http://www.nilesaudio.com/products_niles.php Niles audio products - multizone systems, multizone amps, wall controls etc.
- http://www.nuvotechnologies.com/ The main nuvo website with a nice selection of systems
- http://www.provantage.com/tripp-lite-p568-050-ez~7TRPA1T6.htm HDMI cable specifically made for pulling through conduit – circular pull off ends.
- http://www.bocsco.com BOCS Whole-Home Audio/Video distribution over COAX
With 20 years in the Consumer Electronics space, David pioneered wireless LAN for home use in partnership with Linksys, rotating storage for portable electronics at Cornice, and is most recently a founder and chief marketing officer of BOCS Inc, the manufacturer of a new whole home A/V distribution system for retrofit applications.