New home construction and remodeling projects, from a multimedia wiring angle, have the advantage of incorporating cable management at the design stage. That design is structured into the build.
Unfortunately, existing homes don’t have this luxury — tearing into walls is disruptive and expensive.
An Ideal World
The ideal wiring plan for a home consists of Cat 5e or higher specification cables home run from multimedia devices — like smart TVs, for example — to a single terminating point within the home, usually at a garage or utility closet.
A home run means that the cable has no joins.
The cables coming into the utility closet from the house, roof and street terminate at a patch panel in a standard 19-inch wide rack. The patch panel functions like an antique telephone switchboard. This arrangement allows for flexibility because the Cat 5e runs can be repurposed as necessary — phone switch or Internet switch, and so on.
Multiple permutations can be configured at the panel, and cable runs can be redundant — not all need to be used at any one time.
Future-Proofing the Installation
Coaxial cable, used for classic TV signals, can be treated like this too — terminating from the rooms and roof or from the street at a coax patch panel in the rack. There are ways to use a TV coax cable to carry Internet, so this method has the added advantage of future-proofing the installation if you believe you will need more Internet runs to rooms later.
However, this is dreamland for many of us, and we need to bootstrap solutions that take into account landlords, money, disruption and so on. There are ways to do the job, though.
Replace wired routers with the latest wireless standards. Wired cabling is better for multimedia, but it’s a tradeoff with spaghetti. The latest WiFi routers that operate at both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz will suffice in many installations — in particular, apartments or non-brick buildings.
Look for the adjectives “N+” on Belkin boxes or “300” on others. “N” refers to the 802.11N standard, and “+” means it will operate at 300 Mbps, the highest commercially available WiFi speed. Verifying these adjectives will ensure you’re getting the best wireless performance when junking cabled solutions.
Tip: The 802.11G wireless router gear supplied by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a poor choice for high-speed multimedia streaming. If you’re seeing hiccups using the ISP’s 802.11G provided router, replace it with a 802.11N+ device and configure the 5 GHz option. The 300 Mbps routers are five times faster than “G.”
Search for hidden cavities and voids that you can use to run cabling if your home’s multimedia wiring looks out-of-control. Check on top of kitchen cabinets, in closets, behind baseboards — all provide suitable space for Cat 5e.
Examine the routes plumbers have used for pipes. There’s often enough room to stuff a cable. Central vacuum systems often have space between structure and vacuum pipe.
If your home has a retroactively installed central vacuum system, the designer will have already done the planning for you, because he will have run his system to the basement or garage via available voids. You can use those voids too.
Tip: Don’t bend cables excessively. Cat 5e requires turns of no more than four times the diameter of the cable. Reckon on bending it no more than the size of a quarter.
Don’t strip the cable to make it fit small spaces. The copper wire’s twist within the outer jacket is part of the wire design.
Cable Management Solutions
Check out your local home improvement big box store. It sells cheap and simple cabling management solutions. Simple corrugated plastic pipe found in the electrical department can be used for low voltage cables of the kind used with multimedia devices.
More-expensive solutions include floor strips that hold cables, which are a safe alternative to running cables under rugs. Use one to get cables neatly from a coffee table to TV unit.
Tip: Avoid cable ties. Despite being an apparent no-brainer, they damage cables if you tie them too tight, which you need to do to get a clean look. Use cleanly cut, plain plastic electrical tape instead. Experts do this. Although it will leave a residue on removal over time, the chances are the cable will be bad — or redundant — by then anyway.
Specialist cable management solutions designed for office environments can be adapted for home if your budget is mid-range. A Web-based search for cable management will bring up neat cable-containing caps designed to cover routed holes in tabletops; pop-up power strips; and simple cable baskets that you can mount under desks.
Tip: Allow breathing room for ventilation of power supplies. Open mesh, under-desk cable baskets are good for this.
A True Pro
Provide plenty of slack in cables. The mark of a pro electrician is copious excess cable at the ends of a run for future adapting work.
Loop like-cables there uniformly, and the install will still look elegant.
Want to Ask a Tech Question?
Is there a piece of tech you’d like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that’s got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I’ll try to answer as many as possible in this column.
And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!