Structured Home Wiring

Future Wire your Smart Home:
From planning to installation for
audio, home theater, security,
surveillance & home automation.

Structured Home Wiring Plan

You should plan out the wiring before you begin. You will probably end up needing more wire than you think, and you need to plan in advance if you are going to purchase the wire over the Internet. This page will start with some of the basic concepts that everyone should do and then move on to some specialty applications.

As you create your wiring plan, be sure to record everything. Builders usually have simple versions of the floor plan either on paper or on their web site. For my projects, I use this as the starting point and then mark everywhere I have a wire. You can see from my first sample wiring project than in my first attempt I drew lines to indicate each wire. This quickly became a mess. For my second wiring project I simply used unique letter/number combinations to identify both ends of each wire. The letter indicates which box the wire is connected to, and the number is unique for each wire in that box.

Basic Wiring Plan

For starters, I like to run 2 Coax Cables and 2 Cat5e or better Network cables to every room. One of the network cables will be used for Internet and the other will be used for phone with the option to upgrade in the future. The first coax cable can be used for Television (cable or satellite). The second coax has a variety of uses. There are some examples below and also some on the Wire Conversions page. Since I always want to have the option of moving around the furniture (especially in the kid's bedrooms) I like to have 2 sets of the 2 network/2 coax wall plates in each bedroom, setup in opposite corners. You never know where you will want to place a phone, TV, or computer and it is far easier to run all the wires ahead of time.

Once you know what you want in each room, the next decision is where the other end of those wires should be. In a structured wiring plan, this will be the Wiring Panel. If you have a basement, the wiring panel should be down there in a central location, preferably in a part that you don't plan on finishing later. If you don't have a basement, then you will need to use a laundry room, utility closet, or something similar. Remember that you must be able to get the wires from the street (phone, Internet, cable) and your roof (satellite, antenna) to this location. This is easy if you have a basement. If not, you may need to work with your builder in determining where they will run the wires from the street.

Special Wiring Applications

  • You main source of video (Satellite, Cable, or Antenna) should run to your wiring panel, and then from there to each TV. If you are using a satellite and your satellite company doesn't provide local channels in your area, then you will need to use an antenna to get the local channels. Sometimes, the satellite receiver takes in 2 coax connections: one from the satellite dish and one from your antenna. When the satellite receiver is powered off you can see the local channels.
  • Some DVR (Digital Video Recorder) / Tivo units can record two shows at once. For a Satellite DVR this requires 2 separate coax connections to the satellite (and a 3rd for local channels).
  • Coax can be used to share a video signal in two rooms. Say you want to split the feed from a cable/satellite receiver or a Tivo so that you can watch it in two rooms without paying for a second receiver. You can split the output from the receiver, send it back down to your junction box and then send it back to one or more other rooms. To do this, you will need one or more splitters. For these cases, you need to determine where the signal is coming from and where it is going to. Each of these rooms will need one extra coaxial wire.
  • An RF Modulator can also be used to convert the audio/video output of a DVD player or any other device that outputs a Composite or S-Video signal so that it can be sent to other rooms.
  • Many people now get their TV from Streaming services like Netflix instead of the cable company. Wired is always better than wireless so you will want a network jack for the Smart TV or other streaming device.
  • Blu-Ray players, Game systems, and other devices also now require Internet connectivity.
  • Other people download videos (legally or illegally) on their computer. To watch these shows in the family room you can either copy the video to something that can be played in the family room, or network the computer to the TV or other device that can play the video on the TV.
  • Coax cable can be used for surveillance systems. Some video cameras output coax cable. Others output composite cable which can be converted to coax using a RF Modulator. There is also special CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) wire that combines a coaxial cable and 2 additional wires for power.
  • A composite based surveillance security system can be directly connected to a television instead of using a RF Modulator. The disadvantage here is that only one camera can be connected to one television. If you attempt to split the composite wires and run long lengths to multiple televisions, there will be too much signal loss. Most televisions have connectors for only one composite input, so they can only handle one camera. You could get a device that takes multiple camera inputs and displays them in a 2x2 grid.
  • There are now Cat-5 networked cameras that have their own IP Addresses. These tend to cost more, but they can easily be viewed by any computer on the network. Most come with software that will allow you to record using your computer and to view the cameras remotely over the Internet. Note: You can technically do this with any type of camera, but you will need special hardware and software to get the video signal into the computer and to then record it or broadcast it on the Internet.
  • In-wall/In-ceiling speakers can be used in most rooms. Plan on four to six wall speakers for a home theater system. Other rooms only need 2 speakers. In-wall speakers are best, but ceiling speakers can be used in bathrooms or other rooms where wall speakers are not possible.
  • Even if you do not use in-wall speakers, you will still want to run the speaker wires through the walls to hide them. Determine where the speakers will be and put a wall plate behind that location. Wall plates for floor standing speakers should be at the standard 12" height. Wall plates for speakers mounted to the wall should be directly behind the speaker. Just make sure that your wall plate doesn't interfere with the speaker's mounting bracket.
  • Some speaker distribution systems can support volume controls in each room. These are usually a Cat-5 wire (check manufacturer specs to confirm) that runs from the amplifier to an in-wall volume control. These volume controls look a lot like lighting dimmers. These types of sound distribution systems can be expensive and there are cheaper alternatives. The advantage of these systems is that the control panel will let you can control the volume of all speakers throughout the house, change the input source, skip through songs, or even act as an IR receiver so that you can use your remote controls from any room.
  • A cheaper method of controlling volume in each room is to use an impedance matching volume control. This is a volume knob that is run in-line with the speaker. This means that you run both the left and right speaker wire from the amp to the knob and then from the knob to each speaker. These systems don't let you do anything but control volume, but they are a lot cheaper and can be used with any type of amplifier/receiver.
  • There are also impedance matching volume controls that are meant to be located with the receiver. These are speaker selectors that take in 1 or 2 pair of speaker wires and then split it up into 2, 4, or 8 different sets of speaker outputs. Some speaker selectors simply turn each pair of speakers on & off. Others let you select from 2 different inputs. Others have separate volume knobs for each speaker output. These are the cheapest and easiest solution to implement. You just need to run speaker wires from the speaker selector to each speaker.
  • Speaker wire comes in 2 and 4 conductor wire. Sometimes, using the 4 conductor wire can be cheaper and easier. Instead of running separate wires to each speaker, you run the 4 conductor wire from the amplifier to the first speaker and then to the second speaker. You use less wire, and 4 conductor wire isn't that much more expensive than 2 conductor wire.
Alarm / Security System
  • Most alarm components are wired with 4 conductor alarm wire. The only special cases I know of are some DSC keypads that have a 5th wire that can be used as an extra zone input. Using this 5th wire isn't necessary unless you want the extra input. You should determine what system you will be installing and do some research before installation so that you know what wires will be required.
  • The Control Panel is the heart of the alarm system. It should be located in the same spot as your wiring panel. A typical control panel consists of a single circuit board mounted inside a locked box. The control panel requires a power supply plus a battery backup that should also be locked up in the box. More complicated systems may require secondary circuit boards for extra zone monitoring or additional features.
  • Every alarm system requires at least one keypad. The keypad is where you activate and deactivate and also program the alarm system. Typically, keypads are located at the primary entrance to the home and in the master bedroom for activation at night.
  • Window/Door Sensors are contact sensors that tell you if a door or window has been opened. Some types of sensors require drilling directly into the door. I do not suggest doing this while the home is under construction. It can void the warranty on the door and that wont make the builder happy if you make a mistake.
  • Motion Detectors are the easiest way to secure your home. 3 or 4 motion detectors can protect an entire floor which is a lot easier than installing a contact sensor on every door or window. The problem with cheap motion detectors is that they can be set off by pets. Motion detectors can also be activated by children wandering around in the middle of the night.
  • Glass Break Sensors are another way of securing many windows with one device. A glass sensor will activate any time it hears glass breaking. Sometimes other noises can set off a glass sensor, but they will usually have a sensitivity adjustment to alleviate this.
Garage Door Opener
  • Prewiring a garage door opener isn't something a lot of people think of, but it can hide unsightly wiring. If your builder will be drywalling the garage you may want to run the wires ahead of time. Your builder will probably not let you run power, but you can run the other wires. Note: Wiring directions and wire types vary by manufacturer. The necessary wiring is usually included with the garage door opener itself, so you may want to purchase the opener before wiring so that you have the instructions and the correct wire.
  • There should be a power outlet right above where you will be mounting the garage door opener.
  • A button to open/close the garage door should be mounted at light switch height next to the entrance to the garage.
  • You may also want an coded keypad opener mounted outside the house. These units are usually battery operated and wireless but you should verify ahead of time.
  • Finally, you will need to mount sensors at the garage door itself. These sensors will open the door if child walks through the opening as the garage door is closing. The wire for the sensors typically runs from the control unit to one of the sensors, then from that sensor to the second sensor. The instructions for the garage door opener will indicate that one of the sensors should not be exposed to direct sunlight.
  • You may also want to install a sensor that tells you if the garage door is open or closed. These devices (sold independently of the garage door opener) are usually a simple light that tells you if the door is open. They offer peace of mind and can prevent a trip downstairs to check the garage door right before you go to bed.
Remote Computer Control
  • It is possible to operate a computer from a remote location or from multiple locations. With the right hardware a computer can double as a TV, DVD/video, CD/music player... You might want to read email from your kitchen, or play movies and music off of your computer using your TV. A typical system will have video, mouse, and keyboard. You can have more than one mouse and keyboard if you are using USB. Long USB wires aren't recommended, but if you are only using it for a mouse and keyboard then you can get away with it. I have used a 50' USB cable for a keyboard in the past.
  • There are several options for a video monitor. The first decision is to split the video signal (so that you have the same video at the computer and remotely) or to have multiple monitors. Many computers have 2 VGA/DVI outputs or an S-Video output that you can use as a second monitor. If not, you can still get a second video card for a second monitor. A lot depends on what you will be doing with the second monitor. If you are using a small low resolution computer monitor or a TV, then you might want to use the S-Video output. You may even want to convert the S-Video (plus the audio from the computer) into to coaxial cable using an RF Modulator. If you want a high resolution signal at both computer monitors, then you will have to use a long VGA or DVI cable.
  • You may want to forgo a mouse and get a touch screen computer monitor instead. You can perform basic operations with a touch screen but you can't do everything that you can do with a mouse.
  • If you are using your computer as a music server, then you may want to send the audio to another room. Most computers output audio as a mini-RCA plug. This can be split (so that you can keep the audio at the computer) and then converted into standard RCA jacks that most stereo equipment will accept. For long runs, I use coaxial cable for audio and then solder on RCA/Composite jacks to the ends.
Home automation
  • A lot of home automation products are remote operated or they use the house's power wiring and do not require any special wiring. Some very advanced systems will have in-wall touch screen control panels to operate speakers, lighting, security, drape control... from a central location. If you are considering any home automation product, research the wiring requirements ahead of time. You should also view the Home Automation page for more information.
Remote Control
  • Infrared repeaters can be used to transmit remote control signals from one room to another. If your stereo components are in a separate room, then you will need an IR repeater to transmit the infrared signals from one room to another. The wiring requirements vary between manufacturers, so research before you run the wire.
Fiber Optics
  • Running fiber optics is not required today, but the next generation of TV / computer networks may require it. Some all-in-one structured wire products include a fiber optic wire.