By Bob Catanzarite
Planning - Chapter 1
This is no doubt the most important part of the process - hence the 2 chapters on the subject.
You now have decided what types of wiring you want your structured wiring project to include. For mine I decided on:
I'll focus on these wiring types because I know them best from my research and from experience.
One just excellent source of information on the subject of Structured wiring in Levitons' publication titled 'Strategies'. You should check this out because it offers some excellent How To information along with some more thorough technical details of wiring types. I would encourage you to download this entire 2.1MB pdf document and look it over. Note: Leviton has a history of moving the URL of this document which causes my link to it to fail. If the link doesn't work use your favorite internet search engine to search for 'levitons strategies'
Locate the CWP
The CWP (Central Wiring Panel) will be the heart of your Structured Wiring System. It will be the 'Home" where all of your home runs run to.
Where do you want to locate the CWP (Central Wiring Panel)? How many rooms do you want these things to run to? What do want running to each room? How many stories will your house have? Basement, crawlspace or slab?
The location for the CWP is a good place to start. This doesn't necessarily have to be physically located in the center of your home as the name may suggest. Central is more of a virtual term here than a physical. An area that is considered non-living space would be an advantage such as a utility room, a large closet or the garage (attached of course). The CWP will likely be rather ugly despite how proud you'll be of yourself and your do-it-yourself accomplishment. Keep in mind to that, depending on the extent of you wiring system, you will have a LOT of cables all wanting to run into the CWP. If you have an extreme number of cables running to the CWP you may need to work with your builder to build in some type of wiring race or some means for passing such a large bundle of cables through the walls and between stories. You should keep your wiring a certain distance away from devices generating electrical and magnetic fields such as motors, fluorescent lamps, transformers, doorbells, etc. Avoid excessive heat or cold or moisture. See the reference page for guidelines on how far to keep ethernet wiring away from other electrical devices. I ended up putting my CWP in my utility room that also has a natural gas furnace (with a blower motor and an electronic or high voltage ignition), a washer and dryer, natural gas water heater and a water softener. Most of these things have motors and the high voltage gas igniters which the wiring should stay away from. That doesn't rule out a room like that as a location for the CWP. Just keep the recommended distance from these things and you'll be OK. And you'll need a significant amount of wall space to mount the CWP. Having the space available to expand the CWP in the future is important. Having a place that is easily accessible with lots of room for you to work on is important as well.
The CWP can be surface mounted or flush mounted. Flush mounted means the CWP in built IN TO the wall and only the front surface is accessible through an opening in the wall. With a surface mounted CWP the entire panel is on the outside of the wall. A flush mounted CWP really needs to be installed during the rough-in to allow you access to it before the drywall goes up limiting your access to it later on. A surface mounted CWP can easily be installed after the home is built when you are likely to have more time to work on it. I chose to surface mount my CWP.
Deciding which rooms will need which wiring types means you have to have some knowledge of what the room will be used for and by whom, now and in the future. Do you really need network wiring running to every bedroom? The baby's room won't need anything will it?. Well baby's grow up and bedrooms can change into dens or offices, and you know how things can change. I decided that ALL of my outlet plates will be the same and all of them will have the same cable types running to them.
This is my outlet plate (front view on the left - rear view on the right).
(Click for a larger image)
One common question I get is why did I run two video lines and two data lines to every outlet plate. I did it because it was easy and relatively inexpensive to do. I do make use of the two video line by using one of the lines to feed a video signal from a room BACK TO the CWP. For example, I can allow a Digital CATV in one room to feed TV's in a different room. The 2nd data line gets used mainly when I have visitors. I also included wiring to support 4 phone lines. This is because one CATx will support 4 phone lines so I just went ahead and installed enough RJ11 jacks to support those 4 lines.
I would recommend using a wallplate with openings for anywhere from one to six inserts. See the photo below for Levitons' QuickPort Wallplates. Several other suppliers make a similar line of this type of product. I found the Leviton to be an excellent product, easy to work with and easy to buy.
The nice thing about these wallplates is that you can buy several types of inserts that are a standard size and you can snap any type of insert into any of the wallplate openings. You can customize each of your wallplate to suite your own needs. Some of the Leviton insert types available are shown below.
These are, from left to right, RJ45 (CAT5) for Data, RJ11 for telephone, Type-F coax for video and a blank insert. These inserts are also available in CAT5e, CAT6, 5-Way Binding Post for speakers, Banana Jacks for speakers, Fiber Optics ST inserts and S-Video among others.
My wallplate was built using the pieces shown above. It contains two RJ45 (CAT5) ethernet jacks (or a better term - ports), two RJ11 phone ports with each port carrying two phone lines and two F-Type video ports.
This outlet plate has three CAT5 and two RG6 quad shield cables running from behind it into the walls. These should all be treated as a bundle and kept together until they get to the CWP. FYI - this bundle of cables measures just under 3/4" diameter using the cable types that I selected. Your diameter may vary.
Which wall to mount the outlet plate to is important. But it may be difficult to predict which wall the TV or the phone or the PC will be near in a lot of the rooms. You just have to either take your best guess or install outlets on multiple walls. I took the best guess route except in the large living room and the master bedroom. In these two rooms I installed outlet plates on two separate walls.
Inside walls are easier to run wiring through than outside walls because of the minor complication caused by insulation in the outside walls. Additionally, outlet boxes displacing some of the insulation and the additional openings cut into the walls are not good for energy efficiency considerations. Outside walls have their disadvantages but I didn't rule them out in my home. You can usually deal with them the pretty well.
If you will have vaulted or cathedral ceilings keep in mind that you will have little to zero attic space to work in should you decide you need to run wiring in these spaces after your home is built. In addition tall ceilings obviously mean tall walls. Builders will often make use of additional 2x4 run horizontally somewhere between the floor and ceiling to add support for the tall vertical wall studs. These addition horizontal 2x4 running somewhere in the middle of these tall walls can make it very difficult to run wire through the wall later on. Plan ahead where you have types of walls and ceilings.
Routes to Run Your Wiring
How will all these cable get from your outlets to the CWP? Will you have multiple stories in your home? Attic or crawlspace? Take a hint from the way electricians approach this. On upper stories run the cables from the outlets upwards into the attic. On lower stories if you have a crawlspace or basement, run the cables from the outlets downward into whatever you have down there. If you have a slab foundation you have little choice but to run all your cables upward. Now you have to get what are are now rather large bundles of cables from the attic to where your CWP is located. When you combine several of the 3/4" diameter bundles of cable from each outlet together you can end up with one fat bundle that needs to get through the walls . My home is a is a single story home on a slab so running from one story to another wasn't a problem. With a multiple story house a 4" to 5" bundle of cables can be difficult to deal with. You want to keep the cables together as one bundle whenever possible. But you can't very well drill a 5" or 6" hole in a 2x4 wall plate. This is where you need to plan ahead and work with your builder so they can build in some provisions for you to run a large bundle. If for whatever reason you aren't able to do that then you can split up the large bundle into smaller bundles and drill smaller holes. It would make sense here to run cable bundles down from the attic or up from the basement so they come out right near your CWP.
Look at a photo and a drawing of my CWP to get an idea of how I surface mounted my CWP and how I divided the wiring types up into the various types and ran each wiring type through several smaller holes.
I'll include a comment here and expand on it in the Rough-In section later. Even though I refer to treating and running cables in bundles I firmly believe you are better off NOT tightly binding these bundles together with cable ties or cable clamps. You'd be better of to loosely tie the bundles together. I used loosely tied 'foot long pipe cleaners' to keep my cable bundles somewhat organized into a bundle.
And another important point to make here is - Don't use staples - Don't use any kind of staples. Don't use the kind of staples that you shoot with a staple gun. Don't use the kind that you hammer in with a hammer. The reasons are that low voltage cables don't need to be anchored down, they aren't going anywhere. And if you were to use staples and years later needed to replace a cable you will really be pissed off to find the cable stapled down making it IMPOSSIBLE to work with.