Structured Wiring

2010 February 11
by Otto
The stereo/data closet

The stereo/data closet: smurf tubes in the back, blue data bundles on the right, green stereo wires

I have a confession: There’s a good chance I over-wired the house. But I succumbed to the now’s-the-time pressure of realizing that if I ever wanted to put in more wires for either sound, video, or data, then the easiest and cheapest moment is before the drywall goes up. It’s called “structured wiring” because all of the wiring runs back to a central location, as you can see in the photo on the left. (Each one of the wires that goes back to a central location is called a “home run.”)

Here’s what I wired in: data and tv wiring to ten locations and stereo wiring to six locations. Each data/tv wiring location has two RG6 (standard cable video wire) and two Cat5e (ie ethernet internet wire) wires. In addition, to each data/tv location I put in 3/4″ so-called Smurf tubes, which is flexible hose empty except for a pull string. The idea is that in ten years, when we’re all using fiber optics or whatever, you can then pull new wiring through the walls without opening anything up. Just tie the new wire to one end of the string and pull it through the hose.

Read on to see why I went this way.

Why 4 cables to every location? The short answer here is why not (the 4 cables come bundled and cost less than $1/foot). The slightly longer answer is that it provides flexibility for anything you’d like to do. For example, the only place I put in a traditional wired telephone is in the stereo closet. I plan on simply using cordless, Internet-based phones throughout the house. But if I do want to wire in a phone later, I can simply use one of the ethernet wires. Or let’s say I want to have one DVD player in the house feeding several television screens. I could then use the second RG6 to feed the signal back to the central closet and distribute it from there.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the stereo system. If you start looking online for “whole-house stereo systems” you can get quickly bogged down in the options. The big vision manufacturers try to sell you on is that your system should be able to simultaneously handle different music in every room and that everything is controlled by wireless controllers. (And also sell you silly visions of controlling all of your blinds etc via remote control.)

Probably the best value/money proposition in the whole-house music department is the Sonos (www.sonos.com) system. For people whose houses are already built, it’s also wireless.

There are also incredibly expensive whole-house systems that involve fancy in-wall touch-screen controls. They are both way too expensive and also not very future-proof: right now those touch screens seem really fancy, but I guarantee that in ten years they’ll seem horribly outdated.

I decided that building in so much flexibility and hardware was overkill. (And if I did go wireless then I would need to have a separate amplifier in each room, which is clutter I wanted to avoid.) So we chose to put in one central stereo with a six-speaker selector. In each speaker zone we’re installing an in-wall volume control. We hope that this will be a good combination of flexibility and cost efficiency.

I’m a little worried that our in-wall volume controls will seem outdated in ten years too. The other option would have been to go with a 6-speaker selector that is remote controllable. The Aton DLA-6, for example, would have allowed us to control the speaker selections and individual zone volumes from an RF remote. The reason we didn’t go with it is that I was afraid we’d always be losing the stupid remote. The in-wall volume controls might have certain limitations, but at least you always know where they are.

For music control you have to walk to the closet. But since most of our music will be coming off the laptop in the closet (MP3s, Pandora, Internet radio etc) we will be also able to control that from our mobile phones.

Of course, there are always those that say that the world will be wireless within 5 years, so why waste money on any of this stuff? It’s a good question. I ultimately decided to go wired for two reasons: 1) I think that wires will always offer higher speeds, greater security, and better reliability than wireless. 2) As long as you put in the wires as the house is being built, it just doesn’t cost that much. Of course, I’ll still put in a wireless router. Who knows? Maybe all of those data ports will primarily just collect dust.

Three last things I wired into the closet: 1. I put in a pair of wires from the master bedroom to the stereo closet so that we can watch movies in bed but run the sound through the in-ceiling speakers. 2. I also put in two ethernet cables from the mechanical room up to the closet, so that I can monitor electrical and energy consumption rates. 3. And I wired in USB cables so that we can connect two little webcams to keep an eye on the house (and our cats!) when we’re gone.

Here are the stereo closet design specs:

Stereo Closet Specs

Stereo Closet Specs

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