We’re often asked what sort of wiring should be run for various applications, for a new home build, or a renovation in order to have a smart home or to future proof. While building or during a renovation, you’re best to put in more wire than you think. Why? Labour is going to cost a whole lot less before the walls go up so now is the time to wire to the max! An entire book could be written on wiring up a new home but here are some thoughts.
Edit for 2016: Check out our new Smart Home Wiring Guide by clicking the image below:
There are those that would advise to put in CAT6 or Fiber but for the best bang for your buck you can’t beat CAT5E as it’s less expensive to buy and terminate and easy to work with. CAT5E can be used for networking computers, TV’s, BluRay and media players, and IP network cameras. In the case of cameras it can also be used to carry both network and power using a technology called POE or Power Over Ethernet. CAT5E can run network speeds up to 1000 mpbs or ‘gigabit’ which is more than adequate for most home networks. If you plan to run a datacenter or want 10 Gigabit speeds… that’s where CAT6E comes in but for 99% of people, CAT5E is where it’s at for residential installations.
More creatively, CAT5E can be used to distribute infrared… or with something called a Balun to send HDMI for audio/video applications (sometimes requiring 2 CAT5E cables for one HDMI run).
CAT5E is also used for Abus audio. What’s this? In a nutshell, ABus allows multi room audio to be sent from the ‘head end’ to each destination room/location over CAT5E. They keypads themselves have small amplifiers in them so that the speaker wiring goes from the keypad to the speakers.
All low voltage wiring typically terminates, or runs back to , a central location in the basement, preferably not too close to the electrical panel, or to a wiring closet. In this location a structured wiring enclosure (special metal box) is installed that can accomodate modules to distribute audio, video, TV and networking. Depending on the size of the job, one can use a 28″, 40″ or possibly multiple enclosures to neatly accomodate all the modules needed. For large installations there may be a 19″ rack used for networking and AV gear, similar to what you’d see in a computer room or datacenter.
With some background out of the way, here are some thoughts on potential cabling.
NETWORK, TELEPHONE, TV, INTERCOM
- At least 2 x CAT5E to all TV or media locations for network connections.
- Another CAT5E if you think you’ll want remote IR control of anything in this location.
- CAT5E and 22/4 to any potential intercom locations including outside front door
- 18/2 for traditional doorbell and chime
- CAT5E and 18/2 or 22/4 to any potential touch screen control locations
- CAT5E to any potential telephone outlets. You can also use telephone wire (CAT3)
- 2 x RG6 to any TV locations
- CAT5E and power for a projector?
- Outdoor TV? Power, 4 x CAT5E for network, HDMI, infrared. 1 Coax.
Wired security is cheaper and doesn’t need batteries.. so plan for this during installation. You can always add wireless options later. Cameras are becoming more common. Potential camera locations include front driveway, front porch/door, back yard, work shop/garage. Possibly something inside covering the front entrance.
- Power outlet near the security system panel (brains)
- CAT5E from your security panel to your network
- Telephone connection to the security panel
- CAT5E to any potential security keypad locations
- 22/4 (AKA station wire or quad) to any door/window sensors, motion sensors, glass break sensors, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, photo beam detectors
- CAT5E to any potential camera locations.
CAT5E and 2 sets of 18/2 or better speaker wire, to any potential in wall volume control. From there, loop the speaker wire (do not terminate), and run one of each 18/2 out to the final speaker locations. This gives flexibility to run either CAT5 based systems like ABus where the brains and amp is in the keypad, or you can use the style where it’s just a keypad in the room, with the amp in the equipment closet. Don’t forget outdoor speakers and volume control!
Most of the lighting automation we use can be used in retrofit or new construction. That means no special wiring is needed other than following the guidance below. These technologies include but are not limited to Insteon, Zwave, UPB and Zigbee.
- Nice deep junction boxes, prefer plastic in case you use an RF technology for lighting controls
- Must have neutral wire in each switch location, no switch leg drops (your electrician knows what we mean) or you won’t be able to use automated switches/dimmers
Hard wired lighting solutions do exist but in that case you’ll likely be working with a specialist who will be guiding you through this option. If you want to be extra careful you could consider running CAT5 to wall switch locations.
HEATING AND COOLING (HVAC)
- Use at least 5 conductor wire to thermostats. You’ll need a common wire for power with most automation thermostats
- CAT5E to the thermostat just in case (can be used for RS485 or IP thermostat)
- Temperature sensors for additional rooms?
- Dampers in air ducts, see your HVAC pro for what is needed
You may be also considering automated blinds or window coverings. Check with the manufacturer to see what might be needed, but perhaps a CAT5E to a control location and to the blind itself and some sort of power.
If you want to ‘future proof’ you could also put some conduit in the walls, to each major room and level. Or at least one big one from attic to basement. This would let you pull extra wires that (oops) you didn’t think about earlier. Or that didn’t exist at the time. It’s infinitely harder to fish wires than to pull them through a straight conduit run.
- Wire is cheap and labour is much cheaper when the walls are open.
- Get creative with colours to identify different applications or rooms
- Run the low voltage wiring and conduit AFTER other trades are done or they will use your conduit, run electrical wiring alongside your speaker wires (bad news),or use your holes in the floor joists as high voltage electrical runs with your low voltage cabling (more bad news).
- Be careful when pulling wiring.. don’t pull too hard, use tight turns or let it kink, or it won’t work well or at all. Especially CAT5E or better network cable.
- Label both ends of every wire with at least a number and/or letter so you can identify it later. It will save you a TONNE of time and frustration
- Make sure to put metal covers on studs or anywhere you think a nail or screw could find its way to your cable.
- Take LOTS OF PICTURES with some frame of reference like distances, before the walls go up, so you know where everything is later. You will forget.
- Don’t be afraid to buy and use some decent tools. The cost will more than make up for itself
- Ask your drywall crew how they want you to make spots to cut holes for speakers or things that aren’t as obvious as a wall box
No doubt this is not a complete or perfect list but it should at least give you some general guidance.