The Attic Renovation: Wiring for the Future
Once the second floor was finished, it would be virtually impossible to run any additional wiring without damaging the finished walls. For this reason, I wanted to be sure that all the electrical, telephone and cabling would be sufficient for many years in the future.
Early in the construction, I suggested that I could contribute some sweat equity by roughing in the wiring myself. After the contractor had finished framing and insulating (he insisted on insulating before wiring to reduce heat loss, since it was the middle of winter), he left me to do the wiring and told me to call him when I was ready for him to come back.
Previously, there were a number of different circuits that branched off to supply power to the second floor. Now, the second floor is serviced by three dedicated circuits:. 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 the rest of the chimney was removed and the kitchen was renovated, we were able to enclose the conduits in the wall.
All device boxes in the ceiling and exterior walls are required to have vapour 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. (It should be pointed out here that the insulation in the picture was a work in progress and was fixed up after all the wiring was done.)
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 being 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.
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 the same outlet was not likely to be used for both telephone and television. 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. 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.
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.
In the basement, the wiring was temporarily coiled and taped. Installation of the distribution panel and splitters would come later.
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.
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 is not 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 if the walls are opened up, I would still run the cables wherever I could. Even if they never get used, they are there as a reliable backup.
Other wiring challenges
I was forced to run much of the wiring through the ceiling because of a lot of the framing created dead-ends that would not allow me to run wiring through walls. This was more time consuming and required me to move much of the insulation.
- Problems with the attic
- Installing collar ties
- Adding the dormer
- Removing the chimney
- Wiring for the future
- Lighting and heating
- The finished product