Structured Cabling in This Old House

One of my lat­est projects for our near­ly 70 year-old home is to rewire all the low-volt­age cabling into a mod­ern, struc­tured sys­tem for our con­ve­nience and for home improve­ment val­ue. It’s going well, albeit very slowly.

As a lot of you know, what was once our home office is now a nurs­ery for our soon-to-be daugh­ter. It’s a very wor­thy sac­ri­fice, although it’s tak­en a heck of a lot more work than we’d ever expect­ed. Both in mov­ing all (and it is a lot) of our office stuff else­where as well as cre­at­ing a prop­er room for the baby.

Our Home OfficeThe Nursery

Before and after pic­tures of the clos­et sized room that has received so much atten­tion over the past few years in our home. Who would ever think we’d get so much use out of a 9′ x 12′ room?

Well, after we got our book­shelves, fil­ing, and com­put­er desk moved to an adja­cent guest room, we still had all our com­put­er and phone net­work­ing gear still sit­ting on the floor of the nurs­ery. Well, I don’t pre­scribe to the half-baked idea that WiFi can harm humans (and even if I did, I’d say it’s worth it) but a baby’s room just isn’t the place for hot, noisy net­work­ing equip­ment. I have had grand dreams of rewiring all the low-volt­age stuff in our house in a neat, mod­ern wiring sys­tem of struc­tured cabling but in case you were not aware, old homes weren’t built with that sort of thing in mind. Our house was lucky to have been built with elec­tric­i­ty in mind. Tele­pho­ny and coax cabling were an after­thought, much like the air-con­di­tion­ing and stor­age (we still don’t have latter).

I decid­ed I’d move all the net­work gear down to the base­ment1. This first meant adding anoth­er out­let as net­work­ing gear has an affin­i­ty for elec­tric­i­ty. My friend Chris helped me with the wiring of that dur­ing his fam­i­ly’s recent vis­it. The next step was to place a pan­el on the wall for mount­ing the struc­tured cabling equip­ment to. I also added a shelf for the net­work­ing gear, as it need­ed a high (and dry), out-of-the way spot to live in.

Network Hub

Next comes the actu­al struc­tured wiring part. My project includes tele­pho­ny, coax cable for tele­vi­sion, and eth­er­net. The plan is to place a wall jack with one of each in most rooms. Ini­tial­ly, this will only be three rooms on the first floor: liv­ing room, sun room, and side room. Even­tu­al­ly, I plan to include the kitchen and three sec­ond floor bed­rooms, as well as a sec­ond jack set for the liv­ing room. The first phase is rough­ly 100′ of cable for each type and the sec­ond phase will con­sist sev­er­al hun­dred feet more, with like­ly some sort of con­duit sys­tem to the attic.

I’m attempt­ing to do this as cheap­ly as pos­si­ble. Main­ly because I’m cheap and also because I need pur­chase some spe­cial­ty tools in addi­tion to all the hard­ware. Even the cheap wiring tools are fair­ly pricey. Here’s rough­ly what the major mate­ri­als cost (note: pret­ty much every­thing came from var­i­ous big-box hard­ware stores unless oth­er­wise indicated):

  • Elec­tri­cal Out­let in base­ment (wired off of junc­tion box I installed last year): $5 for new wall box­es and cov­ers. I had some extra Romex cable and the out­let itself already lying around.
  • Wall pan­el and shelf: $4.50 for a 24″ square piece of 1/2″ ply­wood. I already had the scrap 2“x4” to mount to the walls, brick screws for mount­ing, exte­ri­or deck screws for attach­ing the ply­wood, two cold-formed shelf brack­ets, and 1“x12” for the shelf from var­i­ous old­er projects.
  • Net­work gear: Linksys cable modem, Linksys/Vonage phone router, Linksys WRT45G router w/ 3rd par­ty Svea­soft soft­ware, Linksys NAS con­troller, sal­vaged 250GB SATA hard dri­ve in a bud­get USB exter­nal con­troller, a cheap 10-min. UPS, and a old­er surge pro­tec­tor. All of this was old office stuff we just moved, but prob­a­bly worth men­tion­ing for completeness.
  • Block 66 pan­el for tele­phone: $3.50, stand-off for cable con­trol: $3, 100′ of Cat 3 cable for phones: $16
  • Nine-way Coax split­ter: $18, 100′ of Coax w/ F‑type con­nec­tors ea. end: $20
  • Cat. 5e Patch Pan­el at Ama­zon: $28, hinged 2U wall rack-mount: $36 (ridicu­lous, but the cheap­est one I found), 100′ of Cat 5e cable: $28
  • Punch tool for 66 and 110 blocks: $25 (and absolute­ly worth it as it makes the tedious process very quick).
  • Three wall plates with three mod­u­lar holes: $1.50 ea., RJ-45 mod­u­lar plug: $5.50 ea., RJ-11 mod­u­lar plug: $4 ea., F‑type con­nec­tor mod­u­lar plug; $4 ea.
  • Wall pan­el jack box­es for exist­ing struc­tures and low-volt­age wiring (i.e. — open back box with clips that attach to drywall/plaster in place): $8 for pack of six.

My cal­cu­la­tions put the cost of each wall jack, adding up wall pan­el, mod­u­lar plugs, and cable to reach it, at around $25. The cost of the cen­tral cabling point is around $85. All things con­sid­ered, not a ter­ri­bly expen­sive project. It is how­ev­er, labor and plan­ning inten­sive. Each wall jack is a dif­fer­ent ani­mal. Giv­en our homes plas­ter and lathe walls, none of them are par­tic­u­lar­ly easy to tame.

The first step of the wiring was to install the cen­tral dis­tri­b­u­tion pan­els on the wall pan­el. The old­er-style 66 block used for the the phone pan­el is the most tedious to do, in my opin­ion. Par­tic­u­lar­ly in my project as the method of dis­tri­b­u­tion I am using requires many short jumpers across punch-down points. Hav­ing a mul­ti-tool for punch­ing down wires (mine switch­es between 66 and 110 blades) is crit­i­cal in my opin­ion for doing any sig­nifi­gant amount of this style of work. The 66 block is sim­ply more cum­ber­some than the more mod­ern 110 block used on the Cat. 5 eth­er­net punch panel.

The co-axi­al cable is about as sim­ple as it gets giv­en I used a spe­cial­ized cable strip­ping and crimp­ing tool for plac­ing the f‑type ends on the cable. Gen­er­al­ly the only method of cable tele­vi­sion dis­tri­b­u­tion is sin­gle-point hub, there are no jumpers or any­thing to wor­ry about. There are some sig­nal-boost split­ters avail­able for home struc­ture wiring but I found it was eas­i­er (and cheap­er) to sim­ply use the pow­er sig­nal boost wall block pro­vid­ed by my cable com­pa­ny. The hard­est part about work­ing with co-ax is the thick­ness and stiff­ness of the cable itself, par­tic­u­lar­ly when try­ing to pull it through some tight spots in walls.

The eth­er­net punch-down block, as I’ve said, seems to be a much eas­i­er and faster method of tying togeth­er a wiring sys­tem (of course, the equip­ment is near­ly ten times the cost). I don’t yet have a method of ensur­ing I’m meet­ing the Cat. 5 stan­dard, and such, trans­fer speed. How­ev­er, cur­rent­ly for our house­hold, it’s com­pet­ing against old­er pow­er­line and 802.11g speeds, so even if I can reach half of a 100MB trans­fer speed, it’s as good or bet­ter than before.

Phone Voice & Data Wiring in the Wall

Cut­away view of wall jack wiring.

So far, for the actu­al home wiring, I’ve only got­ten one jack installed. Every­thing went very eas­i­ly, although not par­tic­u­lar­ly fast. If you’re going to attempt to cut any holes in a plas­ter and lathe wall, though; use a high-speed rotary cut­ting tool (i.e. a RotoZip). You’ll have a much bet­ter time of it.

  1. We have a wet base­ment; that is, one which sim­ply allows ground­wa­ter to seep through the walls and then out through a big drain in the mid­dle of a slopped floor. It’s not as bad as it might sound, just not what most peo­ple (includ­ing us) are used to today. It remains to be seen if this is going to affect the elec­tri­cal equip­ment. How­ev­er, it’s yet seem affect the alarm sys­tem or less sen­si­tive elec­tri­cal items. []

Five Fun Things Friday — Mid-June Edition

Okay, so this is turn­ing out to be more of a bi-week­ly thing than any­thing else. I don’t recall ever promis­ing any­thing — as who would I promise it to?

Five things that have been on my radar ‘o fun over the past cou­ple of weeks:

  1. This is a great music video by a for­mer­ly-not-known-to-me Brit indie Bats for Lash­es. I like the kind of creepy, haunt­ing sound of the song which match­es per­fect­ly the Don­nie Darko inspired video imagery (via Boing­Bo­ing).
  2. Angela and I have been watch­ing Judd Apa­tow’s “Unde­clared” via Net­flix. It’s not near­ly as good as “Freaks and Geeks” but still bet­ter than your aver­age com­e­dy. Most of this, by Apa­tow’s descrip­tion is due to the fact that the real­ly good stuff that goes on at col­lege can’t be shown on net­work tele­vi­sion. True, that. Any­one want­i­ng to go see Knocked Up, please give me a call.
  3. Last night, we went to see Son Volt at Lewis Gin­ter Botan­i­cal Gar­dens. Last week was Big Head Todd & the Mon­sters. Two real­ly good bands. Frankly, I did­n’t have too high of hopes for the Son Volt show as the “reunion” of that band feels a lot like Jay Far­rar cash­ing in on the rel­a­tive suc­cess of the band as com­pared to his solo career (espe­cial­ly last mon­th’s new album, which I found dis­ap­point­ing). How­ev­er, I real­ly like Far­rar’s songs, be they Son Volt, solo career, or Uncle Tupe­lo – all of which got some play-time last night. 
    Uncle Tupelo Cover
  4. Per every­one-I-know’s rec­om­men­da­tions, I read the late Kurt Von­negut, Jr.‘s “Slaugh­ter­house Five” recent­ly. Well, after hav­ing read the book, of course the next thing to do is see the movie (no, not real­ly – I think it’s a shame that the gen­er­al notion seems to be that the high­est sta­tus a nov­el can have is to be made into a film). So last week­end, I watched the 1972 movie based on the book. I was fair­ly pleased with how it got por­trayed and appar­ent­ly, Von­negut was, too.
  5. Last, but prob­a­bly the most impor­tant, Angela and I real­ly enjoyed the baby show­er our friends Hol­ly and Meg threw for us at also-friend Jes­si­ca’s house. It was great and we were sim­ply amazed at how gen­er­ous our friends are. We clear­ly have no idea what we’re doing with this whole baby thing (appar­ent­ly just like every­one else, knowl­edge that has kept us going). How­ev­er, in addi­tion to the real­ly great gifts that every­one went out of their way to get us (and mail us, too!), hav­ing peo­ple to count on is a big deal. Thanks, everyone.

Five Fun Things Friday — June 1st Edition

Well, it’s been two weeks since I last did this, so I should have plen­ty of fun things, right? I’ve been soon busy with work and house stuff, I’m not sure…

  1. Watch­ing “Wait­ing for Godot.” After being pub­licly shamed, I fig­ured I’d bet­ter see what all the fuss is about. I tried to watch a taped ver­sion of the play on Google Video, but it was real­ly poor qual­i­ty (in all the ways it can be). How­ev­er, the ”
    Beck­ett on Film
    ” ver­sion I rent­ed from Net­flix was very enjoy­able. I found myself actu­al­ly laugh­ing allowed at some of the very dry humor (at least it was dry in this interpretation).
  2. Big bud­get, sum­mer block­buster movies. Pirates 3 did­n’t make any sense plot-wise, but was fun. It seems like every­body’s favorite part was the sur­re­al­ist Davy-Jones’ Lock­er scene. A lot of that comes from John­ny Dep­p’s charm in the films but direc­tor Gore Verbin­s­ki deserves a lot of cred­it for putting a very odd scene in a block­buster film. Here’s hop­ing Trans­form­ers is equal­ly entertaining.
  3. Angela and I fin­ished up watch­ing “Freaks And Geeks,” the short-lived 1999 tele­vi­sion show by Paul Feig and Judd Apa­tow. The show’s 18 episodes are con­sis­tent­ly good both in writ­ing and act­ing. We just got the first disc of Apa­tow’s fol­low-up show “Unde­clared” and are look­ing for­ward to see­ing Knocked Up soon.
  4. Speak­ing of tele­vi­sion, I’ve been watch­ing some episodes of ABC’s “Notes From the Under­bel­ly” at their web­site. Appar­ent­ly loose­ly based on a nov­el of the same name, the pilot episode was ter­rif­ic and sub­se­quent episodes have been fair­ly good, although not great. The humor hits home, though, as it does it’s best when mak­ing fun of neu­rot­ic first-time par­ents-to-be like Angela and I. Sur­pris­ing­ly (main­ly just because I like it), the show will be back next season.
  5. And final­ly, some­thing not relat­ed to film or tele­vi­sion, we’ve been real­ly enjoy­ing get­ting baby stuff togeth­er. We fin­ished up most of the nurs­ery for our lit­tle girl and on top of that, peo­ple have been send­ing us all sorts of cool baby stuff. We real­ly appre­ci­ate all the kind­ness and help (keep it com­ing, good peo­ple!). It’d be sil­ly to say I was enjoy­ing that a lot. We’re hav­ing our first baby show­er tomor­row and it should be a hoot.

Parallel To All

I’ve been using Par­al­lels on my iMac ever since I got that machine back in Jan­u­ary. Like most every­one else I’ve read on the pro­gram, I’ve been very impressed with it’s abil­i­ty to run dif­fer­ent OS’s with­in the OS X environment.

I’ve been run­ning Ubun­tu (Lin­ux) 6.06, Win­dows XP Pro SP2, and Win­dows Vista Ulti­mate with­out too much trou­ble. All are snap­py and respon­sive, espe­cial­ly Win­dows XP. I’m not sure about this, but I sus­pect that Par­al­lels 2.x has some extra fea­tures under the hood to par­tic­u­lar­ly improve the Win­dows expe­ri­ence in terms of speed. It hon­est­ly feels like using a Win­dows machine when switched to full-screen mode. Ubun­tu is also nice, but it did­n’t have the easy-con­fig­u­ra­tion instal­la­tion fea­tures that Win­dows instal­la­tion has. I’m not kid­ding when I say this: it is eas­i­er to install Win­dows in Par­al­lels on a Mac than it is on a Intel or AMD pur­pose-built box.

Vista is a bit of a dif­fer­ent sto­ry when it comes to per­for­mance (instal­la­tion was equal­ly easy, though). None of the fan­cy, 3D Aero affects are there. Even the 2D graph­ics are pret­ty slug­gish. After first load­ing, I decid­ed to test dri­ve the most impor­tant fea­ture of any Win­dows instal­la­tion: soli­taire1. The enhanced graph­ics of Win­dows soli­taire made the game dif­fi­cult to play – cards not drag­ging and drop­ping as they are sup­posed to. Even with the native Intel proces­sor and 1GB of RAM allot­ed to the vir­tu­al machine, the emu­lat­ed graph­ics could­n’t keep up. Need­less to say, Vista was a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment on Parallels.

Well, just yes­ter­day evening, the Par­al­lels team announced ver­sion 3 of the Mac Desk­top prod­uct. This ver­sion includes 3D graph­ics sup­port, which as you can guess is some­thing I was antic­i­pat­ing in this release. While they are tout­ing the abil­i­ty to play games (which is also great­ly missed, don’t get me wrong), being able to ful­ly expe­ri­ence Microsoft­’s newest OS in all it’s glassy glo­ry is going to help sell copies of Par­al­lels (as well as macs in general).

Now, if I can only con­vince my com­pa­ny to buy me a mac­book with Par­al­lels & Win­dows for work. I think my IT guy is on board with that (right, Scott?). The one thing I’d do dif­fer­ent with that, though, is to install Win­dows using Boot­Camp and then use Par­al­lels to access the Boot­Camp par­ti­tion (yeah, you can do that.). That way it can run as an entire­ly native Win­dows machine should the need arise, but oth­er­wise can have the Par­al­lels best-of-both-worlds goodness.

  1. Trey and I were dis­cussing how great it is that Win­dows includes games peo­ple actu­al­ly play in the OS. The inclu­sion of card games should­n’t be too big of a sur­prise to us, giv­en Bill Gates’ love of play­ing cards. []