A beginners guide to DIY structured cabling in a new house - Part I

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 4-Feb-2008 20:57

There has been quite a bit of discussion on Geekzone lately discussing structured cabling for voice, data & TV. There is a great thread here that talks about home wiring with GZ's resident expert cyril7 providing some great advice on the topic. As my family are currently building a new house (that is for sale if you're after a place in Lower Hutt!) I thought I'd give a quick DIY guide for anybody who's looking at options for a new house or renovating an existing one. 

Now I must confess that I am no expert when it comes to wiring and I don't do this for a day job! I'm sure there are probably a few others out there who can probably give me a few tips or advice and correct me on some things! :-)

So why install a structured cabling system? My answer? Why would you not install a structuctured cabling system! Telecom have recommended now for several years that all new houses be wired with a minimum of cat5e cable in a star configuration back to central point to replace the conventional method of running phone cabling in series between jackpoints. There are still a surprising number of "experts" in the trade who are still stuck in the dark ages and continue to stick to this but the reality is no new home should be wired like this any longer.
With multiple phones, multiple internet connected PC's and cable or satellite TV now the norm in many homes a structured cabling system is a logical approach and also doesn't need to cost the earth - for an average new house the cost of an entire fitout consisting of cable (cat 5e and RG6), patch panel, and all sockets shouldn't cost you more than $500. Right now wireless is still nowhere near as fast as Ethernet for computer networking and cat5e cable can also carry a myriad of signals ranging from phone, ethernet right through to component video and HDMI with appropiate baluns. With the VoIP era also about to approach you've got to be crazy to not be prepared while you have the opportunity!

This is a 3 bedroom house with open plan kitchen and lounge with a semi detached dining room which could easily be used as a study or kids play area or converted into a bedroom. My plan has been to use 12 cat5e jackpoints around the house and F connectors for RG6 for TV in all rooms. This is all run back to a 16 way patch panel in a hallway cupboard. The lounge has 3 RG6 sockets allowing for a terrestrial aerial, satellite dish and a return feed so the output from your STB can be viewed on any other TV in the house.

Master bedroom: TV + dual RJ45 + single RJ45 next to bed for a phone
Bedroom 1: TV + dual RJ45
Bedroom 2: TV + dual RJ45
Dining/Study: TV + dual RJ45
Kitchen: Single RJ45 for phone
Lounge: TV + dual RJ45

The choice of a 16 way patch panel allows 12 sockets wired back to jackpoints with the last 4 jumpered back to the incoming phoneline so they can be patched as required. The incoming phoneline is terminated in a standard jackpoint on the wall (which also serves as a test point as required by Telepermit regs) and this is then connected to port 16 on the patch panel and jumpered across to 15,14 and 13.

This house will have TelstraClear cable service provided to it so there is no provision for a central ADSL line splitter however this could obviously easily be retrofitted if needed. If you're like most of the country and rely on ADSL for your broadband this is something you will want to factor in as it's so much simpler and tidier than requiring filters on every jackpoint that will have a phone on it.

This layout is probably about the bare minimum you would want to install in a house, it's certainly much cheaper to run extra cable when a house is being built than later on wish that you had done it so! 

Choose a logical place to wire all your cable back to. A garage makes a great place but a hallway cupboard is really your only choice if you don't have an internal access garage. Remember to also install a power point nearby as you'll need this for your modem/switch and things such as a VoIP ATA. A wall mounted rack cabinet makes things look nice and tidy if you have space and remember that you may want to have your network running off a small UPS since they are so cheap these days so factor options such as this in when you're working out the dimensions.

So on with the pictures. First up is a quick view of the inside of the house with most of the electrical wiring now done.

Use 25mm drill bits for all wiring holes. Be wary of any structural walls if you're drilling multiple holes in the same beams - ask a builder for advice if you're unsure. Also remember that flush boxes need to be flush - if they stick out you'll have trouble attaching the jib to the wall. Also try and avoid running cable near power, if at all possible try and stay a minimum of 200mm away with the main cable runs. Running plugs on the opposite side of a stud is an easy way to keep cables seperate at the jackpoints. If you do need to cross power cables (and there are times where this can't easily be avoided) ensure the cables cross at right angles and do not run parallel to each other.

Use electrical tape to bundle cat5e cable together. While solid cable is fairly robust it is not invincible. Do not staple this cable or run it at extreme angles. Cable ties stapled to beams are a good way of attaching cable but again do not tighten these up fully as it could easily damage the cable.

Cable all running back to the hallway cupboard. RG6 coax and alarm cable is still to be run back to this same wall.

Well that's about it for part 1 - I'll update this as the work proceeds.

Unlimited Potential New Year Party

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 22-Jan-2008 09:44

If you're in Wellington on the 30th January how about popping along to the Unlimited Potential event that is on? You'll get the chance to hear Mauricio along with several other bloggers talk about their predictions for 2008!

To finish the night off there is always fre beer and pizza. What more can you ask for? :-)


Get your free copy of Norton 2008 Anti Virus

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 15-Jan-2008 16:06

Back in November Mauricio did a quick roundup of Anti Virus solutions and came out liking Norton 2008. Despite being a great product several years ago many people have criticised NAV over the past few years for being bloated and slowing down fast PC's to a crawl. My experience with Norton Anti Virus has been very similair but when it comes to virus protection Norton has cosistantly rated at the top. There are plenty of reviews out there now saying that 2008 is a brilliant product and many of the issues such as speed seem to be resolved!

I couldn't help but notice when I was in DSE today that they are selling Norton AV2007 for $40 with a $40 cashback by redeption from Symantec and a FREE upgrade to Norton AV 2008.

That's a deal that's hard to beat! I'm sure stocks won't last long :-)

UPDATED: 6.8 Earthquake hits East Coast /Gisborne New Zealand

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 20-Dec-2007 21:11

An earthquake measuring 6.8 on the richter scale and centered 50 km South East of Gisborne occured at 8:55pm this evening. Initial reports indicate that some damage may have occured in the area.

More details as they come to hand.

2115 : Reports of loss of power in some parts of Gisborne and broken windows in some houses

2145: A civil defence emergency has been declared. Reports indicate there have been some buildings collapse. No word on injuries.

2230: USAR Task Forces 1 & 3 have been activated and being deployed to Gisborne.

Further details available here


Why are the media picking on ACC?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 20-Dec-2007 07:44

From reading the newspapers and listening to the radio today the latest beatup campaign launched by our media seems to be targeting ACC who have today announced increases in the levies paid for motor vehicle registration (approximately 25%) and fuel (2c per litre) to cover the increased costs of providing healthcare and rehabilitation to those people injured in motor vehicle accidents.

NZ is unique anywhere in the world in that everybody in this country has automatic no fault accident insurance no matter whay they're doing. If you have a car accident then ACC will pay the bulk of your costs. If you get in a fight when you're drunk and end up needing an ambulance and spending time in hospital you're also covered. Rather than needing to insure ourselves privately as is the case in every other country in the world we are lucky enough to have this accident insurance provided to us automatically.

So why pick on motorists?

The reality is that motor vehicle accidents are one of the biggest costs to ACC. If you look back 15 years ago our road toll was far greater because it was far more common to die in a motor vehicle accident. Due to increased safety features in late model vehicles it is now common to survive accidents that would have killed you in the past. The result is a significant increase in the costs of rehabilitation which in some cases can easily cost $10 million or more over the life of an individual if continual care is required. Cross subsidising care costs from other other parts of ACC simply isn't fair either, why should somebody who doesn't drive a car have to pay increased ACC levies?

Rather than trying to pick faults with ACC questions should really be asked about the future of ACC. Do we need automatic no fault accident cover for every individual in this country? Many would argue that we should have and that nothing should change. Should ACC be privatised again and competitors be allowed to provide policies to companies and individuals who may choose to take cover from another insurance company? There are plenty of things that should be discussed in an open forum rather than critisising ACC for doing nothing other than what they are tasked to do.

NZ's cheapest price on 4GB iPod Nano's

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 16-Dec-2007 14:06

If you're after one of these for Xmas then today is your lucky day!

Right now on Ferrit these are available from Hill & Stewart for $218 incl free shipping. That's a deal that's hard to beat! I have no idea how long this price will last for so it would pay to get in now!


Vista's annoying DRM

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 5-Dec-2007 09:56

I've been using Vista Ultimate as my PVR/HTPC machine for several months now after upgrading it from XP Pro. I run GB-PVR as my main PVR application and use this for all my TV recordings.

One thing I had been meaning to do for some time however was hook my PC up to my amp for 5.1 audio, I had this hooked up previously but when I changed motherboards I had not got around to making a SDDIF output cable to hook up to the motherboard pinout as my motherboard had no external connector.

My aim was to have both 5.1 and 2ch PCM stereo output via SPDIF and stereo audio simultaneously output via the 3.5mm line out which is hooked up to my TV. This means I can hear the audio my TV without running it through the amp but also allows me to turn on my amp for full 5.1 or 2ch stereo audio when I'm playing a DVD. This is easily done under XP but Vista is another story.

After spending numerous hours playing with my system configuration I did a quick Google search to find that this can't be done under Vista with a Realtek audio chipset. Infact it can't be done with most soundcards. Microsoft have changed Vista so that it's only possible to output via SPDIF and analogue simultaneously if you want stereo PCM from both. It is not possible to have a 5.1 feed via SPDIF and 2ch PCM stereo via analogue. This is one of the great new DRM "features" built into Vista that MS didn't tell is about!

So now I'm stuck unable to do what I want to do which I don't believe is an unreasonable configuration for anybody who uses a Vista machine as a HTPC/PVR. I don't always want to turn my amp on to watch a simple TV show and am happy with my TV's audio for many shows.

My only option is to find a cheap SPDIF->analogue converter so I can split the SPDIF feed both into my amp and adapter which will give me a stereo analogue feed. Unfortunately these aren't cheap. Even better would be for MS to fix this "bug" and restore the configuration that has worked for years but I don't see this happening. They dropped their pants for the motion picture and music industries to impose tough DRM and don't seem to care how these can affect end users.

Oh no it's the return of the Christmas Carol

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 1-Dec-2007 08:50

If you're a a retail outlet and want my business in the leadup to xmas then steer clear of the carols.

I guarantee I'll be walking out of your shop at the hint of away in a manger and will support stores who are interested in keeping their customers and not scaring them away! :-)

NZ Government announced analogue TV shutoff date

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 29-Nov-2007 17:35

Broadcasting minister Trevor Mallard today announced that analogue TV broadcasts in NZ will end within the next 6 to 10 years and expects a switch off date to be announced by 2012. This means that your existing TV will need either a DVB-T (terrestrial) or DVB-S (satellite) set top box to continue watching TV broadcasts after this date.

There has already been misguided comments by the media today that your current TV will become worthless which is not the case. Any existing TV will still continue to function after the analogue shut off however you will not be able to receive TV broadcasts without a STB that's compatible with Freeview, Sky or TelstraClear (or whoever else is around in 10 years time!) Within the next couple of years expect virtually every flat screen TV that launches in the market to have a built in DVB-T tuner that will receive the Freeview service using a standard UHF aerial so an additional STB will not be required.

Is Tone Magazine impartial?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 24-Nov-2007 07:00

I find Tone Magazine an interesting read. It's the only magazine of it's type in NZ focussing on home theatre, audio and other g33ky toys and I've found the quality of their articles to generally be very good over the years.

That was until this this month.

Tone have apparently done their homework and asked a few techy audiophile people to talk about cheap vs expensive HDMI cables. If you've ever read Gizmodo or done a Google search  on the topic you'll realise this is a very hot topic with varying opinions on the matter. Typically however there are numerous tests available online that do show that there is no real difference in the quality of a signal transmitted over cheap or expensive HDMI cable unless you're talking about cable lengths in excess of probably 10 metres. HDMI is a digital signal and the quality of cable is nowhere near as relevant as with an analogue signal such as component.

So why then did Tone get a whole pile of "experts" to write on the topic and all write about how essential an expensive HDMI cable is and that buying a cheap one is a waste of money? There were a couple of people who said that picture degredation was very obvious with the cheap cables, how about providing us some proof or some research?

The whole issue of expensive cables has been a hot topic with years, lead by Monster who sell very expensive cables, give great commission to stores to sell their products, and use deceptive marketing* to sell their products. There is a little more about Monster here on Gizmodo.

If you're in the market for a HDMI cable I suggest following some basic advice. Buy a $20 cable. Buy a $200 cable. Keep your receipts and try them both. If you can't tell the difference then take the $200 one back for a refund. It's as simple as that. Don't get sucked into wasting your money on a piece of wire that's supposed to have magical properties.

*Monster have a stand that is typically on display at various Harvey Norman stores showing 2 LCD screens playing the same DVD. One shows a monster cable in bright crisp colours, the other shows the same picture looking quite pale on cheap cable. This display is used by salespeople to push people into buying $200 cables to hook their Sky box up to their new flat screen TV to ensure the best picture quality (completely ignoring the fact Sky TV have an extremely low bitrate and poor picture quality anyway). Look at the back of this display and you'll see the Monster screen uses the component output, the other screen uses a composite signal. Hardly a fair test is it?

sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
New Zealand

I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)

  -xDSL deployments

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.

+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.

You can contact me here or by email at stevenbiddle@gmail.com