Written by Admin in Structured Wiring
Jul 28 th, 2011
In this article we are going to tell you everything we know about structured wiring and how it relates to planning for, wiring and installing a structured wiring panel (pictured below) system in your home. We’ve posted videos and several diagrams throughout this article to help demonstrate certain processes from planning to finishing out the wiring.
Structured wiring is both a physical product and also a process. Often times it is also referred to as a Cable distribution box. In both definitions its typically localized in one room of a home and from it all the data, entertainment and communication services enter the home and terminate at the cable distribution box. And, from it all the low voltage wiring exits this central point and are distributed throughout the home to supply each room with its signals for phone service, tv service, computer service etc.
In plain words, structured wiring is an organized structured cable distribution panel centrally located which gives a home owner or servicers an easier, more intuitive manner from which to manage the low voltage communication services within a house.
The system can be thought of as the “brains” of the home. The cables originate at a central distribution panel (pictured left). From here, each cable branches to devices or outlet jacks throughout the home. Outlets typically have a combination of jacks, although sometimes are just single jacks, to allow maximum flexibility as future needs change and for connecting different devices in the home.
All of the outside services, the telephone company, cable company, Internet broadband services, any satellite, or off-air antennas, tie into this distribution panel allowing the homeowner the flexibility to select what services are available at each outlet. A jack used for a phone line today can be easily changed to a computer network jack tomorrow and with the proper module (Cat5 Anyline module pictured below) serve both functions simultenous.
A structured wiring system practically becomes a requirement in home construction increasingly more as the size of design of a home increases. The importance of having organized and structured wiring in a modern home, especially sizeable homes, might be considered by some home buyers as a small devaluation if such a system weren’t installed. These panel systems and plugin modules, similar in nature to electrical panels found in virtually all homes, allow for the organized distribution of low voltage signal wiring, access to future technologies, and more reliable over all performance in low voltage home control, security, communication, network and entertainment systems.
Can you get by without installing a cabling distribution system? Absolutely, just like people did without these and cell phones or microwaves or flat panel televisions in the recent past. That aside, if you are in the process of building or upgrading you might want to give serious consideration to, at the very least, home running the wiring to one central spot inside a cable distribution box large enough for future systems expansion. As time passes you’ll end up being glad you did.
The size of the enclosure you need depends on the modules you need to support your applications, bigger usually is better. Once the number and type of outlets you need and applications you need to support is determined, you work backwards and select modules and other support devices you’ll need. Then do a trial layout of the modules leaving enough space to route cables, place tie-downs within the enclosure. Many manufacturers use snap-in modules that can be easily moved around in the enclosure.
During a new home construction, the cost the of a structured wiring system does not significantly increase the cost of building a home and provides benefit of having access to all of the current and future technologies. For existing structures, the cost would go up significantly to account for the added labor to rewire a home.
Box – The Box contains a spool and usually allows for the smooth flow of wire as its pulled. Sometimes the wire does become caught up inside the spool but more often the box makes for a smooth pull from one end of the home to another
Spool – The spool requires a mounting system for the spool to spin upon. The spool can often let out too much wire if pulled with too much force or speed. And, the spool limits how many wires can be pulled at a time thus slowing the entire wiring job as opposed to boxes which allow for numerous wires to be pulled simultaneous.
Bag – Although seldom used its typically used with Burglar Alarm wiring. Some prefer solid core wire claiming it doesn’t break like stranded copper core wire does. But in either case, if careful during prewire and both types will yield an equal positive result.
Loose – If you purchase wire in custom lengths from a home improvement store or get some from a friend, loose wire tends to tangle frequently. Sometimes its best to lay this wire out across floor and hall space before beginning a pull.
3. Size of hole in top or bottom wall plate: Code, preference, and available drill bits all play a role when drilling holes. First, before you drill any holes make sure you aren’t going to hit a nail. If you don’t check you are nearly guaranteed to hit a nail and you will immediately ruin your drill bit and slow the job progress way down. Second, you do not want to run the risk that the construction trades following behind you don’t strike your wires with their nails or screws. Sheetrock crews will hit wires that aren’t in the center of the top or bottom plate or shallow wires not protected with a “nail plate” (available for 45 cents at home center stores). 3/8″ bits are commonly used for running small gauge wiring like burglar alarm or one strand of Cat5. If there is any chance you might want to run future wires then a larger hole in the top or bottom plate will make that future process a little bit easier, getting in a tight space after construction is 100% complete for the purpose of drilling new holes and pulling wires is often very challenging…do-able but challenging. If you are pulling multiple low voltage wires through one hole make the hole slightly larger then necessary so all the wires slip through without jamming up. Never run wires through high voltage AC electrical wiring holes, not only is it against code but “electrical noise” will be induced onto your low voltage wires and this will cause untold problems down the road (snow on tv screen, false alarms on burglar alarm, static on phone calls, poor performance of Cat5, etc). Lastly, never run wires immediately parallel to AC electrical wiring, allow 12 inches separation or a wooden stud as a separator and if you must cross AC electrical do so at a 90 degree angle.
4. Manage your wires in the attic or basement well. This goes back to the first step of creating a plan. Its best to know how you will run your wires and keep them neat and out of the way of walkways, attic walking and crawl movement spaces. Its best to run low voltage wires after, and preferable right at the tail end of the electricians. If you do it before you will get AC wires tangled up into your low voltage wires and that’s not a good thing. Some of your wires might even be broken without your knowledge until its too late. If your wiring is pulled through and attic space then plan on creating a neat trunk line that’s out of the way of travel spaces but easily accessible enough for future work. Devices like J hooks are available special order that once fastened into place before wires are pulled help to create a neat organized trunk line. If you do not plan out the management of wiring in the attic, basement or crawl space you will get what’s called the, “spider web effect” and the more wires you pull this problem grows exponentially worse and quick. Take the time to walk your job and figure out how to pull wires to every room before you begin pulling.
5. Before you pull wires its a best practice to have your Cable distribution box roughed in, hung within the stud cavity you want. This allows the electrical contractor to rough-in an electrical whip inside your box. Your cable distribution box should be at least slightly bigger then you think you will need. Familiarize yourself with all the “knock outs in the box” before roughing it in and before the electrical AC whip is brought in (have your Electrician Ground or Bond the box !!!). But more importantly, you can drill “correct” holes in the top and or bottom wall plate. This process of drilling holes in the bottom and top wall plate needs to be done with care. Examine the top and bottom plate you will drill first. Look for the nails. Look at the size of the access holes in the structure wiring box, both top and bottom; and as it relates to this what we’ve found is this: “If possible” (assuming wall load bearing drill an equal number of similar size holes directly straight up above the holes in the structured wire box. Following this tip requires a pretty high powered drill and large costly bit but its well worth the time and cost because it helps to keep wiring properly managed.
Summary of wiring tips – These tips are a result of prewiring many jobs. Each tip is listed for a reason, its been found to be a “correct practice” that will help make your job go more smoothly. By taking time to understand each tip before you proceed with the job will help you have good success. And lastly, label your wires. You don’t need a fancy label maker but you should label the wires. When you label the wires use the exact same identification on both ends. A cheap method is blue painter’s tape and medium tip black marker. Once you completed labeling wires AS YOU PULL THEM make sure you protect your labels from: wall texture spray, paint spray and other high speed tools that are almost guaranteed to shread your wire ends and labels if you don’t follow this tip.
Components are available through some retailers and online retail.
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