What do I need to tell my contractor about networking my house?
April 28, 2014 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Piggybacking on/not hijacking betelguese's question, which is over my head, what do I need to tell my contractor about networking the house we are currently building? Please explain it like I am a 5-year old/your mother.

We are building our retirement house and are getting close to discussing wiring and networking. My answer was "wireless!" But, that does need to come into the house somewhere. Mr. jane would also like to run wiring for speakers. My answer to that was also "wireless!", but as he pointed out, the speakers need to be powered somehow... Clearly, I don't know what I am talking about. Bonus question: how soon will cabled components be obsolete?
posted by sarajane to Technology (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What are your needs in terms of A/V? Will you be listening to music in each room? How much? All the same or do you want to be able to have different content in each room?

Run network cable between where your cable modem / DSL router will be and every room. Have the contractor run the wires inside conduit (pipes) so that if you need to pull extra wires or cables, you can. Have two drops put in each room.

This will let you easily add a printer in a room and have it accessible by everything, a Roku, or a desktop computer, or whatever.

Additionally, it becomes easier to put wifi extenders if you need them.

For audio, get Sonos, which while wireless, is a lot more reliable than wifi in general. It's also really flexible. If you will want to have Sonos drive in ceiling speakers, plan out where the unit that will drive the speakers will be.

I'd stay away from more traditional audio distribution systems. They're expensive and less flexible. With Sonos, you can get as few or as many of them and the type you need.

What are you going to do for TVs in each room that you're going to put them? In my living room, my Sonos playbar is mounted above the tv and my boxes (Roku, Apple TV, etc) are all double sides taped to the back of the TV. So it looks pretty nice. I'd do that unless you really need a separate amp / home theater receiver and speakers.

I guess you could still also run phone cabling and coax to each room, although that seems less relevant each day. We haven't used either in 10 years.

More and more is going to move to networking and specialized cabling will eventually die out.
posted by reddot at 4:26 PM on April 28, 2014

"I need wiring for whatever it'll take for me to have (wireless, if you want that) internet connectivity in room A (as well as room B, C, etc, if you want that). I am going to get (cable internet/DSL/fiber/whatever you choose). We'd also like to run wiring for speakers and would like the speakers to be here, here, and here. We'd like the receiver to be here. (If you are open to suggestions, as it sounds you may be, you should probably mention that too)."

A lot of this stuff, we can't answer for you without knowing more about the house and what your needs are. I'd just try communicating my needs to the contractor, and if I really didn't know them, find someone who knows you who can act as a go-between. We can't. You're going to have to rely on a go-between's judgement, or the contractor's judgement, or a sprinkling of both.

To answer the bonus question: never. There are always compromises with wireless.
posted by destructive cactus at 4:32 PM on April 28, 2014

Particularly when you have the walls open, you really want to run wires. You will never have as good of an oppertunity again to run wire, so take this opportunity to do it right. I don't know if I agree with destructive cactus that wireless will never make wired networking obsolete, but it certainly isn't going to happen soon.

As reddot says, the fundamental thing that you really want is conduit (pipes) everywhere where you put wires. The other alternative is the wires just running in the walls and stapled to the support beams. This is bad because, if you decide that you want different wires there at some point, it is a real pain to run them. With the conduit, you just tie the new wire to one end of the previous wire, go to the end of the previous wire, and pull. I'm being annoyed by the fact that the previous owners of our house didn't do this, so that if I want to pull new wire, I have to fish it through the walls (and even that isn't very effective).

OK. Now that you have conduit, what should you run in that conduit today? I would run at least two Cat5e wires (the blue network cables you see) to every place where you think you will every want a phone, computer, printer, wireless access point, etc. I would have two of these wires in at least every room. In rooms that are expected to have computers, TVs, etc, I would have at least four of these wires; two on each side of the room. The nice thing about Cat5e is that they have flexible uses: you can use one of them for phone and one of them for network connections, both of them for phone, both of them for network connections, etc. Most electricians just run Cat5e for phone nowadays anyway, since it gives people more flexibility. If it were me, I would also run coax to every place where you ran your Cat5e cables, but reddot is right that this is probably overkill. Certainly run coax to every place where you have a TV, but also make sure that you run network (Cat5e) there, too.

The idea of Sonos for audio sounds good to me, but I would also run speaker wires (again, within conduit) everywhere that you think you might want sound. I'll say it again: you will never have this good of an opportunity to do wiring again. Take advantage of it now. Just because you run wire doesn't mean that you have to have it poking out of the wall; you can always run the wire and then just put drywall over it (being careful to map out the locations of the wires, of course). If you never use it, you'll never see it, but at least you know it's there if you want it.

So, how do you route all of these wires? I would route them all to some central location. Ideally, this would be something like a closet in a finished basement. My wires come together in an unfinished basement, which makes me a little nervous about putting electrical equipment there, but I'll probably just deal. As someone said in the other thread, you want to make sure that you have all the wires coming to a central location; you do not want to daisy chain them together and connect one end to the next.
posted by Betelgeuse at 5:37 PM on April 28, 2014

I am an electrician. In Central Florida. I have built retirement homes from scratch, and discussed these issues with people. Your contractor and electrician will be glad you have thought about this ahead of time.

You want to run cable TV wire (RG-6), data wire (Cat-6), and speaker wire (18 gauge) to as many locations in the house as possible. All of these wires should be brought back to one central location, where they can be connected to the service providers (cable company). You might want to run some phone wire too, but phone wire is becoming increasing obsolete.

The wire is cheap. The labor to pull these extra wires might be an issue. Your electrician (or General Contractor) should be able to give you some idea of cost per run. Ideally, you want family room, bedrooms, offices, and bedrooms. The back patio can be good too.

The gold diamond package is conduit, as Betelgeuse suggested above. That is without question the best solution. Conduit to each room, all running back to one central connection point. But, that will not be cheap. Residential home construction does not require wire to be run in conduit. It will be the only electrical conduit in the house. It will be considerably cheap to just run bare wire, stapled to walls. The wires you run today will become obsolete some day, but not for a while. You will get a good many years just running the bare wire.

Even if you go wireless, you still will want to have as many broadcast points as possible. You could probably make due with one data point in the hall, for all the bedrooms to receive a wireless broadcast. That is what many hotels do. But, if you can afford, the wireless signal will be much better, and each room will have the option to plug-in, if you run it to each room. Which is what fancy hotels do.

All of this is to say, you have to weigh how much you want to spend on this. You might be better off coming up with a number in your mind that you are willing to spend, and then seeing how much that will get you.
posted by Flood at 6:07 PM on April 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would wager (using some envelope math that I did here, but my iPad ate) that you will mostly use the wired network to get stuff off the internet. And the internet to the home speed might be getting 10 times faster every 15 years in the US. So right now you might be signed up for 15 megabit service, but not much faster. In 15 years, you might have 150 megabit service, and in 30 years maybe 1500. If you are fancy, maybe even 10000 megabit internet.

Right now home networking equipment to move that internet connection around the house at 1000 megabits a second, and if you use a more expensive type of wire called Category 6, and keep the wires shorter than about 160 feet, the technology exists (but is more expensive) to move them at about 10000 megabits a second. So if technology doesn't improve and you are using the same sort of network equipment in 25 years, the wires might be obsolete. If you splurge a bit now, and upgrade your network equipment by then, you will may have room to grow in 30 years. If wires matter by then, I bet we've found a way to wring more life out of those wires.

Now this all depends on our connection to to the internet growing at the same speed it did to date, in spite of the greed and rapacity of the cable and phone companies. Or, if some new technology comes along that makes everyone demand faster connections, and we go twice as fast. But you've probably got 20 years at the inside, and 40 isn't out of the question.
posted by wotsac at 7:17 PM on April 28, 2014

Like others have said conduit is the way to go. If you happen to be building a slab on grade home PVC pipe installed under the slab is the cheapest conduit method though it requires preplanning of drop locations that are set in stone concrete. Even in a single story home with a basement you can use PVC in the basement under the floor and emt in the attic and the cost per drop isn't completely crazy. It's the only way to future proof your installation.
posted by Mitheral at 9:57 PM on April 28, 2014

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