If you're a reader of our blog, or if you are a new reader and look back through some of our posts, it is no secret that I am somewhat obsessive when it comes to the historically accurate details and character elements of our home. I obsess over the details, what might be period authentic or not, and what we can do to make our house just a little bit more historically "correct." 

That being said, there is something about me that only my friends really know. But I'm ready to share it for the whole internet world...

I'M A HUGE NERD!

This is not something I take lightly and is a badge I wear with pride. Though I try to present myself as a normal person, I've long been a major geek. I've been obsessed with things commonly associated with nerds since I was a small child. I love Star Wars and actually own several light sabers and a set life-sized Stormtrooper armor. (Yeah, I'm that guy. I just don't wear it out of the house). Just look at the cake Wendy made for me for my 33rd birthday.

I'm also totally into all things related to technology, and I don't mean just having a cool stereo or television. I mean I'm into how they work and how they're constructed. I started my first website back in 1995 when I was in high school, spend all of my free time screwing around on the computer, work as a software developer in my real life, and am so obsessed with DIY and computer programming that this whole blog is a DIY creation. Yep, no wordpress here, blogger...no thanks, this is a 100% custom built blog. That's how I roll, white and nerdy! Cue my anthem...

Quite honestly, I've not oversold how much I like to geek out, and owning a home has allowed me to take it to the next level.

While I was quite excited by the prospect of owning a 100+ year old home in an historic district, and at the potential of restoring its period details, I was just as excited about the modern technology I had long planned on incorporating into any house we own. I had visions of home theaters, computerized lighting, and home automation dancing in my head. But, with the purchase of an old home, the $64,000 question was "how could we do all of this while maintaining the historic fabric of our house?" The answer...VERY SLOWLY!

This is just the first post in what is sure to be a long line of home technology related items associated with our renovation, but I need to start with the basics of what has enabled us to turn our circa 1886 home into somewhat of a technological jewel in the rough.

Several years ago we had to open several walls and the ceiling in our kitchen and put a few holes in our ceiling in other parts of the house. This was due to a series of unfortunate events caused by a combination of ice damming, termite damage, broken plumbing pipes, and old fashioned bad luck. I was determined to turn this misfortune into an opportunity to begin my grand plan. 

Yep, that's our kitchen just after Christmas, 2004...Merry Christmas indeed! The demo was actually just beginning. About 1/2 of the floor and 1/2 of the ceiling still had to come out. But as I said, I viewed this as an opportunity to begin my journey of wiring the house for the future.

Note: This may seem confusing, overkill, ridiculous, tedious, totally geeky, and unnecessary. It is, in fact, all of that, but I think that's why I took on this project. In all honesty though, making technological advancements to your home isn't that difficult of a task. You just need the right tools to tackle it, and a lot of patience (both on your side and from your significant other). 

I began researching the various options in home wiring that would allow me to maximize my impact without totally destroying our non-existent budget. Today, there are so many options out there for bundled structured wiring, but back in 2004 there were only a mix of high end and low end. The high end contained a bundle of Cat-5e, Fiber, Speaker, and Quad Shield Coax, and the low end simply had Cat-5, Speaker and Coax. I felt like had I gone either of those routes, I would have been paying a lot of money for not a lot of wiring. I also knew the limitations of Cat-5 and Cat-5e for network cabling, and I knew I wanted the improved shielding of Cat-6.

If you're reading this page looking for info on wiring, do yourself a favor and get Cat-6. It will fill your short and long term needs. Cat-6 is actually what a lot of video and high end home theater devices will use to communicate in the future.

I came up with a plan to run Cat-6 for network cabling, speaker wire for whole house audio, and coax for general video. I also decided that every room had to have either two or three outlets, each of which needed at least two coax lines and four Cat-6 lines. I didn't know what I would use it all for, but I knew I could use it if it was there, and I didn't want a situation where I needed it and I hadn't installed it.

We took the plunge and put in our first order for 1000' of Cat-6 (blue wire), 500' of speaker wire (white wire), and 1000' of quad shielded coax (black wire). The day they arrived I tore the boxes open and started making a spider web of wires that we lived in for several weeks. (I love my wife, she puts up with this stuff, she's amazing.)

Since then the project has grown to us more than 5000' of Cat-6, 1000' of speaker wire, and 2000' of coax. Yep, I fear I may have gone I've happily gone overboard. One thing I've learned through all of these wiring orders, MonoPrice.com is my friend. They have some really awesome prices on wiring and connectors.

The other big thing you have to remember when doing network cabling in your house is to make sure you are using something called "home runs." Unlike a phone line or cable wire that can be split off at each need for a junction, a network wire needs to have a central or "home" point to run to. All wiring in the house should originate at this point and should not branch before its termination point. The home runs point houses a patch panel and is usually located in a closet or a basement. In our situation, we chose to run it to a central location in the basement, just under the basement stairs. The spider's web of wires continued down there.

I actually built a DIY server rack in the basement to house our patch panel and associated network gear. The photo above was from the day I was wiring everything up to it. It is the nerve center of our tech'd out house, and the whole thing was done on a super tight budget with hand me down equipment, mostly scrap lumber, and eBay finds (even the blue lights were a bargain).

You tell me...when is the last time you saw a 125 year old house with a server rack?

We've continued this process of running wiring throughout the house and stashing the wires in ceilings, walls, or the attic knowing that we will eventually renovate the room they will eventually live in, and when we do, the wires are all there waiting for us. I just make sure I color code both ends of each wire with a combination of color electrical tape so I can easily tell which wire is which once we actually get to attaching them to their outlets.

The above photos are from inside the closet in our master bedroom (yes, inside the closet). The outlet on the right has two coax connections for television and four Cat-6 connections for internet. The item on the left if a local source input for our whole house audio. If you saw yesterday's plaster patching post, the outlet we were patching around was one of the outlets in the guest bedroom, and it had a similar setup.

So you're probably wondering, "Ok, what does all of this wiring get you? And I've got WiFi at home, why not just use that? And why are you talking about this...what's the point?"

I've got the answers for you:

  1. What does it get us? It allows for a tremendous amount of integrated technology in our house. Whole house audio, streaming video, internet enabled devices like our TV or DVD player, integrated security, and extensive smart home automation.

  2. Why not just use WiFi? Well, we have that too, but with the bandwidth demands of the more intensive internet applications -- think Netflix Streaming and HD video downloads -- our house's construction and all of the interference from living so close to so many Wifi networks simply doesn't allow for a strong and consistent connection. The only way to ensure a reliable connection for our bandwidth hogging devices is to make sure they are hard wired.

  3. What's the Point? This is just the first post of many that we will include in the coming weeks that involve the hi-tech items we've integrated into our historic home and how to guides if you want to accomplish the same. I also want other people who are renovating older homes to know they can include the technology of the future while keeping with the original character of their home. 

There is a commercial currently running in our area that says "The average home now has over four internet connected devices." I counted it up and we currently have 20 devices in our house that have an active connection to the internet. This is just the tip of the iceberg for what we will have in a couple of years. I wanted to make sure that our house was ready for the future and what it would bring. So far I think we're doing a pretty good job. And remember, this is 100% DIY, we're not hiring anyone to run any of this stuff. If we were, we would never be able to afford it.

Do you have any high tech items in your house that make your friends shake their head at your technology overkill? I'm looking for cohorts here, someone who can let Wendy know that I'm not crazy! Let me know. I'll leave you with one other Weird Al song that I totally identify with. This post is admittedly pretty tech heavy, so thanks for sticking with me through it.

Comments 12

Comments

7/7/2011 at 1:54 PM
Ha! This is great. I'd noticed your Ethernet ports in the plaster patching article, but didn't expect to see you go into the details.

I, too, have discovered the marvel of Monoprice. While we had a key wall open in our kitchen renovation last year, I had the electrician do Ethernet home run pulls up to the 2nd floor bedrooms. (But no co-ax. We don't need a TV in our bedroom, and our twin girls will never have a TV in their room... Plus, everything is going IP as you pointed out, anyway.)

The home runs go back to a rack located under the basement stairs. (I guess that's the place to put it, eh?) Here it is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/contrabass/5548283921 I keep thinking I'll get a low-power intel Atom-based server to do interesting things with (automation, file server, I dunno) but house projects keep coming up instead. ;-)

I went ahead and did it for all the same reasons you cite. Wifi is great, but anything that doesn't move is best hardwired.

Rolling your own blog software... Now that's hardcore! Regards from Philly.
Alex
7/7/2011
Thad, I noticed your airport, how is that working for you? I'm not a total Apply fanboy, but have a few iPhones and plan on ordering a MacBook Air next week when the new ones are released. I like the idea of streaming music with the airport and integrating it into the whole house audio.

I have seen so many structured wiring boxes that live under basement stairs, it must be a happy place for them.

Also, more than just everything going IP, it seems like you can get a converter to run just about any signal or combination of signals over Cat-6, and with pretty long lengths. It's amazing stuff.
7/8/2011 at 8:02 AM
The Airport Extreme works well for us. Dual-band N, plus B/G, is nice and works seamlessly. It's located under the stairs in the basement of a 2-story rowhouse with plaster and lath walls, but signal strength is plenty good everywhere in the house, as well as on the front porch. You lose a "bar" of signal with G on the i-devices at the extremes (eg, rear bedroom) but never any dropouts. I honestly don't know how it does so well without external antennae or anything, but it works for us.

Administering it from a Mac is easy. (I've never tried administering it from any other OS so I don't know how that goes.) It almost never needs any attention: I just set it and forget it. Once in a blue moon Apple releases a firmware update for it, which is easy to apply at your convenience. Certainly never have to reset the router, like some other products I've heard about. Has all the usual home router features like NAT, firewall, DHCP server, port forwarding, etc. (Also has the ability to NOT run any of that, if you already have a router doing all that for you.)

It has 3 free gigabit Ethernet ports, which I connected to a gigabit switch, for all the home runs. No trouble; as you'd expect, zero config required for that.

Based on our experience, I give the Airport Extreme a "strong recommend" for the home network.

My wife has the 2nd gen MacBook Air and it's been a good, solid machine.
Alex
8/11/2011
By the way, thanks for the input on the Airport Extreme. I went ahead and bought one and it is really working well. Much better coverage than the old one.
Marie G
12/19/2011 at 4:55 PM
Hi I am a single mom in the planning stages of renovating my 103 yr old twin home. I would like to start at the top (walk up attic) BUT I need to make the house a little more liveable first. In saying this I do want to plan for adding wires to my in the future converted walk up attic. What should I plan for? Cable, internet, and???
Alex
12/20/2011
Honestly, it's best to plan for what you can't plan for. We weren't able to do this in our house, but you may be able to with your house. If you can run a large PVC pipe from the top floor down to an access point in the basement, or perhaps even a couple of PVC pipes (I'm talking the 3" ones), you can future proof your house by allowing the opportunity to run new wires once the walls are closed up.

That being said, it isn't always the easiest thing to accomplish. If I were running wiring today for 5-10 years from now, I'd still run something similar to what we did. Cat-6 twisted pair wire is more or less the standard for the future. The technology is sufficient to carry even the widest bandwidth signals and it can be used for data, video, audio, or pretty much anything else. I would probably run a couple lengths of quad shielded coax too, primarily for antennas, cable, or satellite TV, or other video related items.

Just remember, home runs are necessary, so you need to run one line from the attic down to where the patch panel will reside for each data or video drop. As long as you do this, and run two times as many as you expect you actually need, you should be in good shape for the future.

Also remember, as time goes by wireless will become more prevalent in technology. Having an older home means some difficulty in the signal getting through walls. So if you have Cat-6 run to each floor and can use it to install a wireless repeater you will have an easier time running wireless throughout.

Good luck.
Jim
2/15/2012 at 11:14 AM
Alex,
I've been wasting quite a few hours at work drooling over your setup and I'm still debating in my head what all you have setup, and basically the reasoning behind it.
I was an electronics tech in the Marines and do more electrical engineering these days and I'm just curious what you have all setup. In your setup (DIY rack which is quite impressive) I see what I think is two NAS, a home server on the right, your two NuVo setups for home audio, and the switching gear/HUB for the rest of hijinks you have setup. I was wondering if you could expand on some of it, basically for people like me who are in beginning/middle stages of research. I definitely haven't thought it out as much as you have, and basically just want to get a gist of what you decided you "needed" to have and why.
i.e. your techy setup list
Thanks!
Alex
2/17/2012
You're close on many of the items, but it's actually changed quite a bit since that photo. The two things that I think you think are NAS, are actually two Shuttle PCs that were acting as a web and database server. Those are both gone now, along with the large tower. I've been replacing stuff as I can with my ultimate plan. So today I have most everything rack mounted in 1U devices. Firewall, Switch, Web server, DB server, Whole House Audio, a shelf with my modem on it, and a "media" PC that is an older Shuttle box. I keep trying to downsize a little at a time. I have a few U open now and could see getting one of those 1U mac mini drawers that fit two minis, and then getting some older used minis for media servers. But that would be much further down the road.

As far as "need" and why, I really don't "need" any of it, but I like to do a fair amount of experimenting and the likes with technology, so I've justified a lot of it that way. Nothing is particularly expensive or specialized hardware, but it does what it needs to do for my purposes. Thanks for dropping in, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm working on a project right now that you might like, so you'll have to stay tuned. Here's a hint, it involves some basic robotics.
Scott
2/22/2013 at 1:11 PM
Hi Alex,

Looking at your rack I see your coax runs, do I also see you speaker runs? I was thinking of putting my speaker runs into my panel but my audio matrix takes bared wires. What are the pros and cons or any other advice you have.
Steve
2/5/2015 at 10:07 PM

Don't forget that if you run out of runs from the upper floor you could use a switch in the attic for less intensive connections and a single drop back to your rack, you would have a number of options then.

Tom
7/22/2016 at 2:45 PM

wow!, I wish you live near my home so I may get your help/service to wire my house!

Chris
3/31/2017 at 11:10 AM

Just stumbled upon your post. I recently purchased an 83 home and am working on almost the same project as you. I read about your PVC idea and was thinking about that just yesterday. Mine a a 2nd house for my kids to go to school, so I am free to tear up everything without disturbing my wife. I have Alexa, Google Home, SmartThings, and some Wemo. I planning on replacing all the switches with Leviton smart ones. I just had attic insulation vacuumed out and starting on replacing some old knob and tube wiring first. Next will be network and audio home runs. I too have a nice location in the basement under the stairs. I'm planning on detailing the entire project with photos and electronic schematics. Thanks again for you post, just the jump start I needed.
Chris

Since you've not signed in yet, you will need to fill in your name and email below. If you have a Facebook account, save yourself a step and use Connect to login.

Denotes a required field.

Please enter full URL, including http://

You can use Markdown syntax in your comment. And you can also use lots of Emoji!
  • Search

  • Login
  • Follow
  • Advertising

If you're looking for information on advertising and sponsorships, head on over to our sponsorships page. You can purchase site sponsorships in a few easy clicks. 

Toolbox Tuesday
Open Housing
  • We're Featured!

Old Town Home has been featured in the following places and publications:

The Washington Post
 
Washingtonian Magazine
 
Domino
 
Old House Journal
 
 
Apartment Therapy House Tour
 
Washington Post Express Feature
 
Home & Garden Blogs
 
© 2018 OldTownHome.com. - Privacy Policy
Login Below
or
Sign in with Facebook
Connect

Unexpected Error

Your submission caused an unexpected error. You can try your request again, but if you continue to experience problems, please contact the administrator.

Working...

Working...