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The Attic Renovation: Wiring for the Future

I wanted to be sure that all the electrical, telephone and cabling would be sufficient for many years in the future. Running additional wiring at a later date would be virtually impossible without damaging finished walls.

Early in the construction, I suggested that I could contribute some sweat equity by roughing in the wiring myself. On February 11 (remember this date), the contractor told me he had finished as much as he could before the wiring rough-in. He told me to call him when I was ready for him to come back.

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Electrical

Three dedicated circuits service the second floor: one circuit for the plugs in the large bedroom, one circuit for the plugs in the other bedroom, and one circuit for the plugs in the hallway and all lighting upstairs.  A fourth circuit supplies power to all of the smoke detectors in the house. Three are located upstairs: one in each bedroom and one in the hallway.

To get the wiring up to the second floor, I used the existing chase beside the chimney. The wiring is protected by flexible conduit which extends up inside the newly framed closet wall in the bedroom. In 2009, when we renovated the kitchen, we removed the rest of the chimney and enclosed the conduits in the wall.

flexible conduit for wiring
Wiring in flexible conduit.

All device boxes in the ceiling and exterior walls require vapor barrier protection.  I chose to work with plastic vapour barrier boxes this time around.  These boxes have a flange to which polyethylene barrier can be adhered using acoustical sealer.  The entrance points of the wiring are also easily sealed for air-tightness. (I should point out that the insulation in the picture is a work in progress. I had to move and remove insulation when I ran the wires.)

vapor barrier junction box
Vapor barrier junction box

Structured Media

At one time, it would have been sufficient to run one telephone wire and one coax cable to each bedroom.  However, in this age of computers and home networking with DSL or cable internet connections, and with multiple televisions in the house hooked to either satellite, cable, or the lowly antenna (in some cases all three), it is necessary for wiring configurations to be flexible.  Hence the advent of structured wiring–  bundles of multiple Cat 5 (or better) and coax cables and sometimes even fiber optics run to multiple locations throughout the house.  Sure, wireless networking is a convenient and affordable option, a hard-wired solution offers safety, security and speed.

The best tutorial I could find on the subject is Bob Catanzarite’s  Structured Wiring How-To. The website has been around since 2001 and was last update in 2006 but it’s still a good foundation.

In my case, I wanted to run two Cat5 enhanced cables to each location (one for phone, one for computer) along with two RG6 Coax cables (one for satellite, one for antenna or cable).  I also wanted to keep the layouts of the bedrooms flexible, with the understanding that, for example, telephone and television were unlikely to use the same outlet .  Therefore, I have the wires running to three locations in the larger bedroom and two locations in the smaller bedroom.  That’s a total of 10 coax and 10 Cat 5 servicing the second floor. 

I chose to run separate cables rather than structured wiring because there was significant material cost savings.  Bundled cable in the configuration I wanted was $2.50 per foot. The cost of running individual cables was about a third of that cost.The greater expense of the bundled cables would be offset by the labor costs saved, but I was already saving on labor since I was running the cables myself.  In hindsight, though, the savings in time and effort would have been worth the added expense, and would have made for a much neater job.

This is one of the finished outlets:

phone, data, coax

All the coax and cat5 cables are fed through conduit running from the basement through a closet on the main floor into the closet of the smaller bedroom on the second floor.  It was very important to label the wires carefully and keep everything as organized as possible.

Cat5 and coax cables
Cat5 and Coax cables at their entry point on the second floor.

In the basement, I temporarily coiled and taped the wiring.  Installation of the distribution panel and splitters and other hardware was to come later.

cable home run
All cables were home-run to a central location in the basement.

Upstairs, the challenge was to maintain adequate clearances to avoid interference.  The coax and cat5 should only cross electrical cables at 90 degrees.  Otherwise, they should be kept several inches away.  And they should not come within 2 feet of fluorescent fixtures, something else I had to keep in mind since the lighting upstairs would be fluorescent.

Coax, cat5 and electrical wiring run through ceiling.
Avoiding interference by keeping the Cat5 and Coax cables away from electrical wiring.
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The slowest electrician in the world.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean, I must have saved a fortune by roughing in the wiring myself, right? And really, how long does it take to run a few wires.

Well….

I didn’t call the contractor to come back until July 23 or so.

So, why did it take me so long?

  • To run the wiring, I had to uninstall the insulation that the contractor had installed.
  • Framing dead ends: Because of the placement of some doorways and headers, determining a proper route for the wiring was often a challenge. As a result, I had to run much of the wiring through the ceiling.
  • Overhead wiring: Spent a LOT of time climbing up and down a ladder as well as juggling a drill, hammer, wiring staples, etc.
  • Avoiding interference: had to route the cat5 and coax far enough away from the electrical wiring.
  • Spaghetti: Keeping the wires neat and organized was very time consuming. Would have been a lot easier and neater with structured bundles. 5 bundles going to 5 locations vs 20 individual cables going to 5 locations.
  • Running the wiring to the basement involved numerous trips up and down the stairs between the second floor and the basement. Again,5 bundles vs. 20 cables would have reduced a lot of this.

Then there’s the more personal stuff:

  • Cold and flu season (it was a rough one, I tell ya).
  • Overtime at work. Less free time, and less willing to spend free time working. Besides, fatigue causes mistakes.
  • Family stuff. We took an extended road trip at Easter to visit a relative who had been in a serious accident. My dad also spent three weeks in the hospital for knee replacement surgery. Plus I have a three year old daughter, and spending time with her is a top priority.

Update:  2012

When we had a new wireless internet antenna installed, the technicians ran some of the cable directly next to electrical wires, contrary to the advice that I had read.  I questioned them about the possibility of interference and they replied that with higher voltages it would be a concern, but because we were dealing with standard household current there would be no noticeable loss of quality. Therefore, going to extraordinary lengths to keep the Cat5 wiring separate from the electrical as I did may not be necessary, though it is still good practice in my opinion.

Update:  2015:  Is hard wiring even necessary anymore?

Back when I tackled this project, wireless technology wasn’t as reliable as it is now.  Wi-Fi has indeed come a long way.   But even now, if the walls are open, I would still run the cables wherever I could. It’s better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.

The Attic Renovation

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