What kind of wire should you run?
For wire that's going to be
in a wall the wire needs to be fire rated. This is how flammable the cable jacket
is and how toxic the smoke it releases when it burns is. In order of fire worthiness
from least to most you have:
The difference between CL2 and CL3 is negligible and relates more to it's voltage
carrying capacity than to the jackets fire worthiness. Both CL2 and CL3 are
allowed to be run through the walls or ceiling of a room. CL3R, or Riser rated,
is required when the cable goes between floors. In practice, it's very hard to
find riser rated coax, and most people just run regular CL3. Plenum rated wire
is rated for running in an air space, like an air duct or an elevator shaft. The
jacket is frequently made of Teflon and regardless what it's made of the jacket
generates very little smoke when it burns.
- CL3 Riser Rated
- Plenum Rated
I ran 2 Cat-5e's and 1 coax to a jack in just about every room. For rooms with
speakers, I also ran a pair of speaker wires from my equipment closet in the
basement to the location of the speakers, and a single Cat-5 from the equipment
closet to the location of the keypad to control the speakers.
- Speaker wire
I don't believe in voodoo magic ultra-expensive one-way speaker cable, and I
think monster products are horribly overpriced, so I went with 12 gauge CL3R rated
copper wire from Parts Express.
- Network cable
I used Cat-5e plenum rated cable from
ProVantage. Cat-5 is rated to 100 Mbits/s. Cat-5e is rated to
1000 Mbits/s (Gigabit Ethernet). 100 Mbit only uses two of the four pairs, Gigabit
uses all 4 pairs. For the small difference in cost, run Cat-5e.
- Phone cable
For my phone cable I just used the same plenum rated Cat-5e that I used for
my network cable. It's more than you need for phones, but this way if I ever
need a second network drop all I need to do is sacrifice a phone line in that
room, change the connector from phone to RJ45 and I'm good to go. Cat-3 would
be perfectly acceptable for normal phone service.
- Coax (Cable TV or Satellite)
There are many flavors of coax all of which relate to how much loss there is
in the cable and how immune it is to interference. RG-59 has the least shielding
but is the easiest to run since it's the most flexible. Then there is RG-6,
and RG-6QS (Quad Shield). RG-6 has less loss per foot than RG-59, and RG-6QS
adds a lot more shielding which specifically helps with interference from AC
power lines. I used RG6-QS.
Running the Wire
When you're running your low voltage wire, you should not run it right next to AC
power since that has the potential to cause interference from the AC in the
low voltage wire. You can run it parallel if you just run it a foot
or so away from the AC line. It is acceptable to cross AC power lines as long
as you do so at a 90 degree angle.
Running wire in already existing construction where the walls are not open can
be very challenging. Get an ultrasonic stud finder and a measuring tape and
start looking at the walls of your house. You want a wall that runs
continuously between the two places you need to go, preferably an interior
wall that doesn't have any insulation in it, or if you have an old house
you may find exterior walls that don't have any insulation in them. Use
your stud finder to figure out where the studs are. Measure on every floor
that wall is going through to make sure it doesn't hit a window or door
frame, and then, when you're really sure, you can start cutting out
a small section of drywall and drilling through your floors. Get someone
to help you shine a flashlight through your holes to see if you got it
right. If you did, then you can use fishtape, string with a weight on
it, coat hangers or whatever else your imagination can dream up to help
you pull the wire between floors. If you think of it like a puzzle, it's
kind of fun. On the negative side, if you screw up, you'll get to do a lot
of plaster patching.
New construction? Piece of cake. Run your wire. Drill holls through
studs if necessary to run your wire. Use nailing plates so the drywall
guys don't nail into your wire.