March 08, 2010
| by Lisa Montgomery
You might know that your house needs plenty of Ethernet cabling and speaker wire, but what about five years from now? We’ve already experienced the transition from component to HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface), so chances are a wiring upgrade is in your future.
To fish new cabling behind the walls of your finished house can be a real pain. A lot of cutting, drilling, and marring will occur, and for every hour your custom electronics (CE) pro spends snaking cabling around ducts, studs and other obstructions, your wallet takes a hit.
You can minimize the time and effort it takes to pull in new wire by having your CE pro install plastic conduit behind the walls. Naturally, it’s better to do this while a home is being constructed.
Conduit is basically a hollow plastic tube through which wiring can be channeled. It installs inside the walls much like plumbing, and comes in various lengths and diameters to suit your needs.
“We’ll usually put in conduit that’s at least 3/4-inch in diameter, and go with something larger, like a 1-1/2-inch tube when we need to run a bundle of various different wires, like to a home theater,” says Jeff Cooper of Simply Sight & Sound in Menifee, Calif.
Make no mistake, conduit isn’t meant to hold every piece of wire that goes into your house. In fact, it may hold no wire at all. Its main purpose is to provide an open avenue for additional cabling once your house is finished. In a matter of a few minutes, instead of hours, your CE pro will be able to route fiber from the attic all the way down to the theater in the basement, for example.
How much conduit your home needs and where it should be installed depends a lot on the preferences of your pro. Cooper, for example, installs anywhere from 500 to 1,000 feet of conduit on most jobs, and relies on it as his main future proofing tool. “We’ll run conduit from a central equipment rack to all TV locations and from the satellite dish to the main distribution hub. We’ll even put it in rooms, like guest bedrooms and bonus rooms, where we think the homeowners might someday add a theater or a home office.”
Mark Lynch of Quality Sound & Video in Fayetteville, N.C., takes a more minimalist approach. “We’ll typically put run conduit from the attic to the crawlspace and between equipment racks,” he says, “and that’s about it.” With Lynch’s plan, you’ll spend a couple hundred of dollars; Cooper’s will run closer to a couple of thousand.
Cooper and Lynch both agree, however, that running conduit from the house to outbuildings, swimming pools and other popular outdoor destinations is a great idea. Buried in the ground, the conduit protects wiring from damage and lets you wire up new equipment, like a weatherproof TV, rock speakers or an intercom at the front gate, without having to trench into the lawn to lay additional cabling.
Pull strings: Lynch puts a few “pull strings” inside each piece of conduit that’s installed. It makes fishing new cabling though the conduit a snap. Just attach the wire to one end of the string and carefully tug on the other end of the string to bring the cabling though.
Color coded: Conduit from manufacturers including Carlon and Homepath Products are orange in color to make it easy to locate and discern from other pipes in the wall.
A real stud: The eXpath system from Homepath Products looks and installs like a wall stud, making it a nice addition to your home building plans.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.