Low voltage wiring is the wiring for Audio, Video, Telephone, Intercom, Data, Alarm System, Weather Station, HVAC, and generally any wiring for things using less than 24 volts. When we built our house, we tried to do all of the low voltage wiring so that it could easily be reconfigured in the future. This is a bunch of notes, tips and links about how I wired my house with low voltage wiring. Hopefully this will give you some ideas on how to wire your house.
The first thing to do is go to the real Low Voltage Home Pre-Wire Guide and look at all of the information there. You can also download a complete booklet (~100 pages) of all of the information contained in that site. This should be your wiring bible and is where I got many of my ideas for wiring my house. This is by far the single most informative site about Low Voltage Wiring that you will find.
Another useful site related to Whole House Audio is located at HomeTech Solutions. It was written by a company that sells and installs Audio Equipment.
My house was a bit over 4000 sq ft in size with a full basement. Here is a partial bill of material of the wire that was used:
As is recommended by most professionals, I used a Home Run method of wiring. That is, every wire goes back to a central location, mine being the wiring closet. The wires are cross connected or terminated at the wiring closet. Although this uses much more wire than the traditional looping method, it allows for maximum flexibility in the future.
Drops. Each location on a wall that a wire goes to is called a drop. This is where you can connect a telephone jack, TV connection, etc. I used a modular type plate made by AMP that allows up to 6 different connections in a normal single gang box or 12 in a double gang box. I put a 6 port plate at most locations. I then put the needed connections in, like telephone, TV F-Connector, data connector and them put blank covers in the unused ports. This will allow for future expansion.
The Plan. The most important thing that you can do to get ready to do low voltage wiring is to plan. My planning started out by making several reduced copies (8-1/2 x 11) of the floor plans. I then marked the copies for Phone, DATA, Video, Alarm, Audio, Weather and other. I then started marking where I needed wiring drops for specific equipment. You must know where your main equipment such as Televisions, Telephones, etc will go. I then went back and added drops about evey 4-5 feet on every wall (for future expansion). I have a low voltage drop between every AC outlet in the house. It might be a bit excessive, but it don't look bad and makes it really easy to add for future items.
After I had each set of copies with the drops that I wanted, I made one consolidated copy. I then made an Excel spreadsheet and added all of the information about every drop to it. I numbered every individual drop on the spreadsheet and then numbered them on the drawings. This number is used to identify the cable at the wiring closet and at the drop point. You should have unique numbers for each drop point or box, not each wire. In other words, a drop location might have 3 wires going to it and all three will be labeled with the same number. As long a each wire is different (color or type) you will be fine. If two of the same type wire goes to the same location, just add a color stripe to each end. I had enough different color wire that this was not a real problem.
Wiring Closet. My wiring closet (4' x 8') is split into 4 separate areas. Security, Phone & Data, Video, and Audio. It is located in as central location as possible. Keep in mind that every wire from every drop comes back here so make sure the wiring closet is as centrally located as possible. It will save on wiring costs.
Telephone. I used items from Mod-Tap RCS Molex (Residential Cabling System) for the Phone & Data and Video. This included the actual 2' x 4' x 6" deep enclosure. I used several 110 type punch down blocks and many of their other components. At the top of the box, I mounted 4 of their CO Cells that provides connection points for incoming phone lines. Next I mounted 4 of their InfoPanel 110 patch blocks. These are used to connect every Cat5 drop cable to. I connected all 8 wires to the patch block even if it was not needed just to be ready for future changes. I just cross-connected between the CO cells and the patch blocks to put dial tone at any of the drops that needed it.
Phone & Data Cabinet
Data Network. At the bottom of the box I have a 24 port Mod-Tap RJ-45 patching cell. This has 24 RJ-45 jacks and 110 connections of the back that the cross-connect wires go to. For any locations that need an Ethernet Network port, I just cross -connected between the RJ-45 Patching cell and the 110 patch blocks.
Video. I used equipment from Channel Plus for video distribution. I used a model 3212A Video Distribution Unit. This unit has outputs for up to 12 televisions and inputs for CATV plus 4 modulated local channels. I used Channel Vision modulators at each video source. This allows any television in the house to see what is on any other television or what is playing on a TiVo, VCR, DVD, or DSS unit. For example, if you have a TiVo playing in the Den, you can go to the bedroom and turn the television to channel 80 and see what is playing on it. I also have several indoor and outdoor cameras that are modulated to local channels so that if I want to see someone at the front door, I just turn the television to channel 82 and there is the picture looking at the front door.
I use cable and DSS for our programming sources. I only have cable for the local channels. I mounted the Dual LNB DSS Dish on the eave at the side of the house. I then run both cables back to the wiring closet. I have a Channel Vision V904 4-port Multi-Switch that splits the 2 DSS signals into 4 outputs. I can have up to four DSS receivers anywhere in the house. Since all coax cables are RG6-U, they will work for CATV or DSS satellite signals.
Security. Remember one thing about most all security systems. It does not cost much to add additional zones to the system so that each sensor is its own zone. That way, you will not only know there is a problem in the living room but know exactly which window is open.
Weather Station. I used a Peet Brothers weather station. I have the outdoor unit mounted on the roof in the back of the house. It is wired, as everything else is, to the wiring closet. I hardwired to two of their weather pictures and have several wireless remote units.
Audio. I used a Nutone intercom with 12 remote units. I wired and installed speakers for whole house stereo in most rooms in the ceiling but have not hooked those up yet.
Central Vacuum System. Well, it might not normally be considered low voltage, but you better think about it too. I used the M&S brand. I installed it myself. You can sctually get the fittings and parts from many lighting stores. Home Depot even has parts. The key is to plan for it.
HVAC. We used a California Economizer Zone control system with a Reem Heat Pump with Natural Gas emergency heat. We have 6 independent zones. We also have a gas fireplace called Fireplace Xtrordinair which is great. It puts out the most heat I have ever seen. The one thing we did not do that I wish we would have done is put heat under the tile floor in the master bathroom. Man, it can be cold! I am looking at putting a hot water circulating system under the floor to warm it up.
Although this is not directly related to Low Voltage Wiring, it is nice to have a software program to layout your floor plan. You can do this even if you already have a finalized floor plan. I used Sierra Visual Home to lay out our floor plan. With this software, after the floor plan is done, you can then see a 3-D rendering of the house. You can even walk around in the house and see how things will look. You can then place furniture, televisions, etc so that you can see where your drops should be.
Helpful Low Voltage Wiring Links:
www.smarthome.com has a great catalog of all sorts of home automation items. They have a bunch of X10 stuff and hard wire items too. Get their catalog. It can give you many ideas.
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