We all know the “right” way to run cables. Do it before the walls go up, and run every conceivable type of wire from each room to a central location. However, what if you have an older house, and can’t afford to have professionals fish wires through you home? Well, wireless can solve some of your problems, but for the rest, you’re on your own. Still, if you’re thoughtful and creative, you may be able to run more wires, with less effort than you think.
First, what wires do you want to run? For audio, there are speaker wires, and line-level stereo audio cable for source distribution (this is cable with two “hot” leads and a common-shield). Room-to-room video may use coax. Use CAT-6 for Ethernet (unless you prefer wireless). Add in some phone and intercom cable, and you have quite a bundle, perhaps more than an inch thick. Hiding this without tearing up your walls could be quite a trick.
Know Your House
The secret is getting to know your house, and thinking carefully about how much is already hidden. If your basement isn’t finished (or even if it is, but has a drop ceiling), it gives you access to the entire first floor. In a like manner, an accessible attic may give you access to your entire second floor. If not, think about your closets. Are they stacked on top of each other? A closet that you can access from the bottom (or top), and is adjacent to two or three rooms, is an excellent “hidden” route to those rooms. Another possibility is so-called “wet” walls. Many homes are laid out so that all the sinks, toilets, and tubs are very close to the same wall, where all the plumbing is run. Like stacked closets, this wall might give you an easy path from attic to basement. Admittedly, all of these paths require some drilling, and navigating the wet wall may require some fish tape, but all should be within the abilities of a DIYer.
The first step is to map out your house. Mark where you want wires to go (point-to-point), and connect all the points with a “runway.” This would be a single long path through your house that passes every wiring point. This isn’t as elegant as a “home run” solution (where wires are run from all rooms to a central point), but it will get the job done.
Think about how you can route the runway to best hide it. In some cases this will be easy (like along the ceiling of a basement, or through a closet), but you will no doubt find some challenges (doorways, heating vents, etc). This is where your creativity comes into play. Consider longer routes with fewer obstructions. Think about how you might hide the conduit in plain sight by building something that blends with the surroundings, temporarily removing some trim, or even shifting a piece of furniture. Consider entering a room at a different point, and running wire under carpet or behind furniture to finish the local route.
Never underestimate the usefulness of molding (L-shaped, baseboard or crown). This is an almost-invisible way of creating a large conduit for the wires. Wiretracks has an interlocking channel and cover that replaces your existing baseboard or crown molding. The wire is completely hidden and it looks like any other decorative molding.
Choose the wires you want to run, including some for future needs (you need not be exhaustive, as you will always have access to your chosen path). However, don’t include any power cables, not only will they add hum to your other cables, but power cables must be installed to code.
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Jeff Winston has been writing about home electronics since 1998. An electrical engineer, Jeff has contributed to the development of products in the computer, consumer electronics, and wireless industries. He spends his spare time with his wife, kids, and many PCs, sometimes in that order.