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How to Wire Your Home for Modern Entertainment and Control Systems

We live in great times. You can listen to virtually any music at the touch of a button. Your
favorite music can fill your entire home. You can see fantastic video on a screen hanging
on the wall. Security, lighting, HVAC, motorized blinds; they’re all just a button touch
away. In many cases you need not take any action at all. Your home will adjust itself. One
system can take action based upon input from another. The security system turns on the
lights for example, or a sunlight sensor causes the blinds to lower, protecting your
valuable furniture and artwork from UV damage. Your computer in the kitchen prints to
your office laser printer and you watch photos stored on your office computer in your
media room.

The backbone of all this magic is your home’s wiring. If you take the correct steps now,
you will be ready for almost anything technology can throw at you in the future. Even if
you do not want to, or your budget won’t allow you to have every feature, you can just
wire for your dream system now. Over time, as your needs and budget evolve, you will
have the infrastructure to take advantage of your new requirements.

An additional reason to do a comprehensive pre-wire is resale value. As soon as the wire
is buried behind the walls, its value increases by a factor of four. In the future, it will be
more difficult to sell a home without a complete wiring package. Even now, homes in
many new developments are fitted with a structured wiring system. Structured wiring
usually consists of multiple runs of RG-6 coaxial cable and Category-5 unshielded,
twisted pair cable, known as CAT-5. CAT-5 is suitable for computer network or telephone
applications. CAT-5 is being supplanted by CAT-5E and CAT-6. These are similar to
CAT-5 but have greater bandwidth capability.

With a structured wiring system, instead of just a phone or TV cable, all desired locations
in the home receive a bundle of multiple cables. These cables run back to a central
communications panel. A centralized panel allows easy configuration of what location
receives what services. An additional advantage is that this configuration can be easily
changed in the future to accommodate changing requirements.

The first thing to do when deciding how to wire your home is develop a plan. What are
your needs? What about your wants? This is an area where it is sometimes beneficial to
consult a professional. Their experience can help you determine what you may need in
certain areas of your home. A good, professional custom installer will give you ideas for
things you hadn’t thought of while minimizing mistakes in other areas.

A great way to start is to list all the rooms in your home. How will you use each one? Try
to envision future uses as well. If you have children now, your needs will change as they
grow. If you don’t have kids now but are planning to, the same things apply. If your
children are older, how will you use the rooms when they leave home? Wiring is relatively
inexpensive and planning for the future is essential. A little planning now can save you
major headaches and expense in the future.

If a music system is part of your plans, wire any room you may want music in, even if you
don't plan on installing speakers yet. You can leave the wires buried in the walls and take
advantage of it when the time comes. If you never use it, the wiring will at least increase
the resale value of your home.


Phone/TV/Network
The current standard for residential structured wiring is to run 2 RG-6 quad shield coaxial
cables and 2 CAT-5 cables to each phone, TV or computer location. The CAT-5 cables
can be used for either computer network or telephone applications. There is a large
variety of adaptors available that will allow various types of audio and video to be carried
via CAT-5 as well. These adaptors are usually known as ‘Baluns’. The RG-6 quad shield
cable is able to support the bandwidths required by modern digital cable and satellite
systems.

Make sure you use RG-6 that is tested out to at least 2.2MHz. 2.4MHz is better still. Do
not use the basic screw on or crimp on ends you find at your local electronics store. It’s
amazing how many of these crimp on ends still show up in installations today. To
preserve the bandwidth and minimize video problems, use good compression ends such
as those from Digicon or Snap-N-Seal. The tools for these can be fairly expensive but are
essential. You can find them here:
It is not worth the troubleshooting time a bad end can cause to scrimp on the cable
fittings. One poor fitting can cause video problems such as ghosting. See what your local
cable company uses if you have any questions.

Use a good quality CAT-5. CAT-5 is usually rated to 100MHz. It is preferable to use
enhanced CAT-5, known as CAT-5E or newer CAT-6. CAT-6 is suitable for Gigabit
Ethernet applications. This is 10 times faster than the ubiquitous 100baseT networks
found in most homes and offices today. Because you are wiring for the future, it makes
sense to use cable rated for the highest bandwidth possible. Soon much of the audio and
video content you use may be delivered by your network so bandwidth will be priceless.

CAT-5 must be terminated using approved ends. These are easy to install but you
should use a telephone punch down tool to ensure a good connection. You can find
these here:

When pulling CAT-5 it is essential that certain standards be observed. This maintains the
integrity of the cable and ensures it is capable of meeting its bandwidth specification. Do
not pull it with any more than 25 pounds of tension. Keep away from tight bends that can
kink the cable. Do not pull it tightly around sharp corners such as when going through the
top plate (the top horizontal member) of a wall.

DO NOT STAPLE your CAT-5 or RG-6 with your electrician’s Romex staples. Use nylon
ties or a special staple gun specifically for this type of cable. Using a hammer and big
metal staple can deform the cable and cause internal reflections. If this occurs, bandwidth
and video problems will manifest themselves. These problems will be next to impossible to
solve without locating the fault and replacing the cable. This type of troubleshooting in a
finished home is quite time consuming and expensive.

Even if you plan on using a wireless network it is still a good idea to run network cabling
as well. The next owner of your home may not use a wireless network. In addition, wired
networks have an edge in bandwidth, reliability and security over wireless networks.

It is extremely difficult to hack into a wired network. Someone would have to get into your
home. They are very secure. A wireless network on the other hand only requires
someone sit in down the street from your house with a high-gain antenna, laptop, and
easily available software. In a few hours they can be into your network if you use
standard WEP security. The newer WPA protocol is much better. Many wireless network
users do not even bother turning on the security features of their wireless system.

As content delivery over broadband increases, especially with the advent of HDTV,
bandwidth demands will skyrocket. Using a wired network will help ensure uninterrupted
delivery of your favorite programming. Wireless is affected by other wireless devices in
the 2.4GHz spectrum such as microwave ovens and cordless telephones.

Video
To distribute video such as from CCTV cameras or entertainment sources such as DVD
players you will need specifically designed cable. Composite video, as is used for CCTV
or standard VCRs is usually distributed using a type of coax called RG-59. This is similar
to the RG-6 used for RF applications like satellite and cable TV. It is optimized for what is
known as baseband video and does not have the shielding required for RF applications.
It is usually a good idea to run a CAT-5 along with the RG-59 for power or control
applications. For greater power requirements, such as pan and tilt camera mounts, use
an 18ga, 2 conductor cable.
To distribute component video from DVD players or satellite receivers, you will need
multiple runs of RG-59 or, alternatively, you can use CAT-5 combined with a Balun
adaptor at each end. These Baluns can be fairly expensive so it usually best to use video
cable instead of CAT-5 unless you are making runs of over 100'. Some of the baluns on
the market will go well over 500' with minimal signal degredation.

Keep in mind that in-wall cabling must be approved for in-wall applications. You cannot
just grab that really nice Monster Cable you have laying around and run it in the walls.
That is illegal and can be unsafe. Most specialty cable manufacturers such as Belden,
Canare Monster Cable and AudioQuest make high quality, bulk cable designed and
approved for in-wall applications.

For projectors, flat panel displays and other video display devices that require
component or RGB video, it is best to run at least 5 RG-59 cables or use one of the
special bundled cables made specifically for this purpose. Most of these use 5 mini RG-
59 cables encased in a common jacket. These require special ends and yes, another
special wire and cable tool. You can get the  tools here:
Modular RJ-45 & RJ-11 tool

To accommodate DVI, Firewire and HDMI cables, which are very difficult, if not
impossible, to field terminate, it is a good idea to run a 2” flexible conduit from the media
equipment location to the projector. Do not run the other cables inside this conduit. Save
the conduit for the digital cables. The other benefit of conduit is the accommodation of
future video standards. As DVI begat HDMI there will doubtlessly be some new cable
requirement to provide for.

When wiring for flat panels or projectors always run one or more CAT-5 cables for control
and possible network applications. Many projectors have network jacks for control. At
some point all displays may be network enabled for control and content delivery.

Installing the correct home theater and automation wiring is very important. Trying to go
back and add or reroute cables after the fact can be extremely expensive. You can also
get our news letter for more tips and answers to additional questions.

NOTE: In many locations the homeowner can do their own work. You may still need a
permit however. Some locales do not require a permit for low voltage wiring but others
do. Check with your local authorities to be sure. If you need a permit ant try to do the
work without one, the electrical inspector can halt construction until you receive approval
or make you remove the cabling. Very messy. Make sure you adhere to your local
building codes when running this or any cable. If you are unfamiliar with these, see your
local building department or state department of labor and industries. Your local
municipality can tell you if they have their own standards or follow the state codes. It is a
good idea to have a copy of the National Electric Code (NEC) or a guide to the code. You
can get it here:
2005 NEC
Krissy Rushing has a really nice book on media room design. It is a great book to help the
average, non-techie understand home theater. It is very interior design oriented. It is a
great help if you are trying to integrate your theater into an existing decor. It is well worth a
read. You can get a copy here:
Home Theater Design: Decorating and Planning Media-Savy Interiors
A variation of this article also appeared in the April, 2005 edition of Hometoys.com, here:
Home Theater and Control Systems Wiring Article
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