This is the final floorplan. The structured cabling closet was a work in progress up until the end and isnt 100% accurate on this plan as far as size goes, but the location is accurate. The closet is in the media room which is opposite the front door (bottom centerish of the picture). The bottom right of the media room is the structured cabling closet. The final dimensions wound up being 3 feet deep and 4 feet wide with a 24/70 opening for the rack (again, not ideal for a stationary media rack). I do like where this wound up because it was very close the center of the house. I didnt have any super long runs, and the two most important runs (media room and living room) were sharing a wall with the closet which makes things easy down the road.
And just for clarity, the closet has a twin on the opposite side of the media room. This frames the space and gave us media storage in the same room. Both closets have hidden doors on each side; media room and living room. For the media storage closet its great because you dont have to walk all the way around and into the media room to find a DVD. For the structured cabling closet it allows me access to the back of the rack without having to pull it out. The living room side hides the doors behind shallow curio cabinets that are hidden doors. The media room hidden doors are still a work in progress (cabinet guy!
On to lessons learned. To recap some background info this is a single story, sealed envelope home. Sealed envelope means there is a continuous insulated barrier from the ground to the top of the roof. Any exterior spaces that arent climate controlled (garage, patio roofing, etc) have an interior wall built in the attic space to provide a seal that is insulated with foam. Lastly, the ceiling space isnt insulated, the bottom of the roof is. My attic space will stay within 8 degrees of my internal house temperature. The downside to all of that is once is your prewire has to be nailed. Anything you can possibly think of has to be accounted for because you do NOT want to penetrate that foam later. That was the rationale behind putting in the amount of wire and conduit that I did.
Step one was the plan. I pulled the floor plan into Visio and plotted out my cable runs to get measurements, which included full floor to ceiling heights. This was done for each type of cable and drop; TV, phone/ethernet, Nuvo, Nuvo speaker, and 5:1 speaker. This gave me my bulk cable needs, I added a healthy 15% to cover any gotchas. I also used this to figure out the ancillary stuff I would need, LV gang boxes, speaker mud rings, LV conduit, etc. D-rings and other items for cable routing and securing were just swags. I splurged on a Dymo heat shrink label maker, but its something I can make use of at work too.
I did lots of research on where to buy all of this stuff. I was dissapointed in the electrical supply places locally, and even as far away as Austin. Prices were high, and selection was weak. I wanted unique colors for each cable to expedite the wiring process (I refused to be the person holding up my own house!). Cat-6 wound up being impossible to find at any decent price and in any colors besides grey and blue. I purchased the RG-6 locally, but all other cabling (cat-6 in 6 colors, 16/4, and 14/2) came from monoprice. I went through an assortment of places to buy the rest of my gang boxes, mud rings, etc. The only local purchases in that department was the LV snap on single gang boxes, Home Depot carried them and I saved shipping. The goal was to have everything on hand and inventoried prior to the electricians finishing.
This is where things go off the rails a bit. All of this planning was done before they had even broken ground on the house. As the framing started I realized that the plans didnt show things that were going to cause problems. As stated before this is a single story house with some pretty big open areas. Those open areas required the use of laminated beams. Super strong, but also a super problem for a carefully built plan for routing cables. You cant punch any holes in them, and the attic decking goes right up to them. With time I could have reworked my plan and found my cable lengths again. Unfortunately I didnt have time, I was saddled with business trips before and after my window for prewire. I had roughly two weeks (and one weekend) to complete this project, I had zero room for shortages to come in without incurring massive shipping costs (overnighting a 40 pound spool of cable costs way more than the spool). Without any options I doubled my entire cable estimate and placed the order. I achieved platinum status on Monoprice on one order.
Armed with an obscene amount of wiring I was ready when the electricians were finishing up their install. I paid close attention when Mike (head electrician) started his rough-in. He walked around with the electrical plan and a magic marker and marked the studs for each box, switch, light, can, etc. When his guys came in behind him the first thing they did was mount all the boxes and drill their routing holes before even looking at any wire. Smart way to work, so I copied it. Thats why you can see the word snap in some of the previous pictures. I was able to do this in the evenings after the electricians left for the day and get my plan laid in before they had even finished. I punched 1" holes for the bulk of my runs, with double holes at the video drops (MISTAKE). I had to alter some box locations due to access and marked them on my printout to keep things in synch.
Speaking of my printout, it was a vital part of the process from planning to pulling cable. Each room had an identifier, and each drop had a further identifier to keep things organized. No room had more than one video zone so that was pretty straight forward. Eth/Phone drops ranged from 1-4 to a room so they each got marked on the printout with the corrected location and a number. Sub drops were another that had multiples in a room, they got numbers as well. Speaker drops (5:1) got marked by location (FL, FR, C, RL, RR) facing the TV drop. This allowed us to create a system to label the drops quickly and without confusion. When I finish out the house the printout is going to get redrawn in Visio with all the final labels and added into a sleeve on the rack. Zero questions for anyone working on the system.
So now Im ready to pull wire. With a big long single story house our attic is pretty big, and my builder wanted to give us as much usable storage space as possible so he decked the hell out of it. Great for us long term, but a pita to route cables. As stated before, there are laminated beams all over the place, and the decking butts right up to the beams. This forced me to make some harder cable routes than I had anticipated on paper, especially since the HVAC rough in was complete. They had followed my builder's guidance and routed all their ducting around the edges of the house to keep the attic space uncluttered. Again, great for us long term but another hurdle to prewire around. The bulk of my runs ran directly under their ducting along the outer edges of the house.
My wife stayed with the pull boxes and ensured the cables kept flowing (pull boxes love to snag). I pulled the longest runs first and worked back from there on each side of the house. This gave me a master chase first that I would spider the remaining runs off of as I worked. I popped in a couple of 3" D-rings at my cabling closet and got to pulling. As I got to a turn I would pop in another D-ring. This slowed down the initial pull but after that the follow on pulls got faster and faster because of the network of rings in place. As I completed each run I would pull 18-24" of excess out of the box, and my wife would pull the cables to the floor in the closet and back up to a mark we made on a stud. She would cut the cables, add a heat shrink label to the bundle, then roll it and zip tie it as a bundle so we knew what went together. We worked each pull type seperately, eth/phone first (always the longest runs), then Nuvo, then video. This two person system worked out great and we were able to pull all the wire in the above pics in 2 days (Nuvo speaker runs from the plates were handled later).
I hit my original cable estimates almost exactly (with the 15% margin added) and wound up with quite a lot of excess that Ill find a use for or sell on craigslist. More importantly we completed this in our alloted time and didnt impact the build schedule at all. We spent the remainder of that week's evenings completing the Nuvo speaker runs and taping boxes that would get foamed, securing cables to studs so they wouldnt get pulled with the foam, etc. Im sure theres plenty Im forgetting, but if you have questions Ill do my best to answer them.
For the TL; DR crowd.
- research your LV goals to death on AVS, cocoon, etc
- make a plan
- revise your plan based on the realities the construction gives you
- planning and organization (color coordination, order of work, etc) up front can expedite things immensely
And there is a ripe market for LV stuff that works with spray foam. Im amazed that there arent more products out there for this type of insulation. Such a pain to have to tape all those boxes and lose all that space!