Monday, October 09, 2006

Wiring my house

Pulled Wires in Basement

This weekend I re-wired my house. The house had some old CAT5 cable that connected up several of the rooms.

Old Wiring

Return air duct

There were a lot of problems with the old wires but here are the main ones:
#1- The old wiring was quick and dirty. There were no faceplates or jacks installed, the cables just hung out of the wall. This room used to be the computer room and all of that was behind a desk so it was fine. Now this room is the guest bedroom and it's NOT fine.
#2- Ironically the new computer room is not wired into this room so most of the other rooms are connected via wire but the computer room is connected using wireless. When one person is streaming video from TiVo or downloading from the internet, that wireless gateway gets saturated quickly!
#3- The guest bedroom (former computer room) is the only room with a live phone jack so the DSL modem is there and the base for the wireless phones. Not a good place for anything when guests are staying with you!
#4- The cables for the downstairs got there using the return air vent. For two or three cables that may be ok but I was going to pull a lot more than two or three.

The plan was to run 2" flexible conduit from the attic to the basement furnace room. The only place I could run the conduit was through the flume space. My house has a rectangle flume that runs from the attic to the basement and has the furnace vent, return air, and air ducts running through it. There is plenty of space there for a 2" conduit. The furnace vent is shielded and doesn't get hotter than what you can touch so the conduit will be safe there.

Location for 2" flexible conduit

The attic

Conduit location

Originally I had wanted to run the conduit through the walls. You can see in the picture above a spot where I cleared away the insulation. I drilled a hole through what I thought was the drywall nailer and it turned out to not be that! The top of the wall I wanted to use was under the support structure of the roof and I was not about to drill a 2" hole through that! I ended up cutting a hole in the tin covering the open ducting space in my house.

My son's bedroom

In order to feed the conduit through two floors, I was going to need access not only to feed it but to cut another hold in the tin plates that hold the ducts in place. I chose my son's bedroom because it was behind a door. My other choice would have been the dining room and I think my wife would not have liked that. Did I mention that my wife didn't know I was doing this because she was out of town?

Now that I knew where I was going to run everything I was ready to start cutting holes.

Finding a stud

Marking and starting the hole

Finished hole

There are two reasons that hole is that large. I needed room to pull the conduit and I wanted to cut clean between two studs to make the patch easier. To patch this I cut another 2x4 the width of the hole and screwed it to the two studs. That created a nice board to mount my drywall to when I was done. I forgot to take pictures of the 2x4 I installed but below you can see the patched wall. I also found an old Pepsi can that was left in there when the house was built.

Hole for conduit

Looking up space to the attic

The conduit was a pain to install. I actually had to do it twice. My brother stopped by and helped me pull it once and after he left I found that the conduit had looped in the flume space. Not only would it be a pain to pull wires through (if even possible), the conduit was resting against the flume. I didn't like either of those problems so I pulled it out. With the help of my 7 year old son (he helped quite a bit on this project) we re-installed the conduit.

Conduit installed from the attic to the basement

The next step was to pull the wire. The conduit came with some very nice pull string in it but it all fell out the first time we installed it. I had to use fishtape to get the first wire installed. A very wise man told me to pull a string with each cable I pull so I would be ready for the next pull. The first cable was easy to pull.

The first cable pulled from the basement to the new computer room

I also had to locate the wall in the computer room and drill a hole in the attic to fish the cables down the wall. I only used conduit for the big pull to the basement. Out of the conduit the cables run in the attic to the wall and down the wall to the hole I cut out. Because it's low voltage, I used these nice "mudder frames" rather than electrical boxes. They are much easier to work with and your cables don't get all bent up in a box.

I also ran one coax cable to each room. Pulling the coax was much more difficult. The cable is heavier and has to come off a spool rather than out of a box. I pulled 5 CAT5e cables and one coax cable to the computer room. I have two servers, my computer, and a switch that I wanted home runs for. The fifth CAT5e cable is for phone.

Finished job in the computer room

The old computer room had the only working phone line in the house. I ran new CAT5e cable to the source of the phone line and then ran a home run to the basement for phone. That allowed me to remove the old phone lines from the walls and replace the old jacks with a modular system that has phone, Ethernet, and cable all in one jack. I forgot to get a blank faceplate so I put the old phone jack faceplate over the old cable hole in the guest bedroom.

Wires pulled and jacks punched down

Finished guest bedroom

Finally the job is done. Eventually I will purchase a wall mount rack to hold punchdown blocks and a patch board to connect everything. For now I just put connectors on the cables and ran them to my switch. It feels good to have my house wired correctly with the ability to pull more cables any time I need.

The attic

The rough patched wall

This winter I'll paint my son's room and do some finish work on that patch. With some sanding, texture work, and paint, you won't be able to tell there was a hole there.


Brian said...

Lots of work. Good explanation. Deserves a crosslink someplace on a DIY page.

Ross said...

Great post - thanks!

I'm starting to think about a similar project and this was a great overview.

I take it drilling down from the attic was pretty simple? Were the tops of the bedroom wall frames easy to find?

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