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Creating a Clever Home? 116

Posted by Cliff
from the building-a-better-home-through-hardware dept.
eKto1 asks: "We've recently purchased an older, dated home which we are in the process of gutting and restructuring. While there are no walls, we are obviously running the standard Cat5, and speaker cable to each and every room, however we would also like to modernize the house even more by making it intelligent, as in 'Smart'. I'd like to install touch screens in the majority of the rooms, to control things such as media (separate audio and video to each wall unit), lighting, temperature, etc. For those of you on Slashdot who have done this, what has your experience been? Are there guides for doing this easily and effectively, without having to sell the farm? Is there a way to allow distributed content to head units while keeping servers down to one or 2 units?"
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Creating a Clever Home?

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    • To elaborate on this post and add my opinion. Figure out how much you can afford to spend, Then SPEND ALL OF IT. 5 years down the road, you will either want upgrades or not, and it may be cheaper for components or not, but don't cut corners. If you can afford to put cat5/6 x 4 in each room, do it because adding wiring later won't be any cheaper. and having the wiring already in means you can upgrade the wall plugable components. Don't cut corners on connectivity within the house. As others have sugges
  • Conduit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by andreMA (643885) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @03:52PM (#13332853)
    A vertical run of conduit (hopefully through closets) from basement to attic will likely save you headaches later.
    • Re:Conduit (Score:4, Insightful)

      by stefanlasiewski (63134) * <slashdot@REDHATstefanco.com minus distro> on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:12PM (#13333085) Homepage Journal
      And put strings in the conduit. When you want to install new wire, just tie the string to the wire, and use the strong to pull the wire through the conduit. I've known people to lay multiple strings in the conduit, so you can pull new wires in, old wires out, etc.

      Shoving wire through a conduit will drive you crazy.

      I usually use a file to smooth out any jagged metal on the ends of any freshly-cut pipes. If you don't do that, the wire may get damaged as you pull/push the wire through the pipe.

      Some baby powder can help make the wires slide easier.
      • Re:Conduit (Score:4, Informative)

        by wowbagger (69688) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:33PM (#13333302) Homepage Journal
        You forgot to tie another string onto the first, so that when you are done, you have both the new cable, and a string in the conduit.

        ALWAYS pull a second string.
      • Re:Conduit (Score:4, Insightful)

        by liquidpele (663430) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @05:05PM (#13333682) Journal
        And most importantly, don't put "string" in there.
        use a strong metal wire, or a really strong cord that won't weaken over time.

        Also, the most important thing is to PLAN IT ALL OUT AHEAD OF TIME.
        For instance, lighting is simple, but changing from normal to specially controlled lighting could cause a total rewiring if you don't do it to begin with.
      • Re:Conduit (Score:2, Informative)

        by nytes (231372)
        I've never heard of using baby powder to make wires slide easier.

        When I used to work for my dad (an electrical contractor) we used to keep a chunk of parafin (wax) in the truck for pulling wire.
      • And put strings in the conduit.

        I bet that (putting a flamable material in a conduit) breaks almost every fire code known to man.

        That's why there's expensive plenum-rated cat5 that's designed for running thru, well, plenums (air-return conduits).
        • Conduit and plenums are very different. Conduit is usually only 1 or 2 inches in diameter (sometimes bigger in commercial buildings), and there's no air flow through one -- they're full of wires. A plenum is an open area used for ventilation, either supply or return. (I've never seen supply plenums, though.) For example, the space above a suspended ceiling, or under a raised floor.

          But if all the air goes in ducts to the rooms, and in ducts from the rooms, then the area above the ceiling isn't a plenum,
        • You finish with the conduit by putting fire stop caulk in the big hole that's left.

          As the other posters have also mentioned, 'conduit' != 'plenum.'

    • You're on the right track with this. If this was my house, I'd be running conduit everywhere, even places I wasn't planning on pulling cable.

      The one fundemental law of cabling is that you can never plan for enough. In 5 years you'll end up with more cable than you'll ever use in every room of your house, except for where you really need it.

      If you have a well designed conduit system, at least you can easily add it later.
    • Re:Conduit (Score:5, Informative)

      by austad (22163) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @07:27PM (#13334875) Homepage
      Note that this is illegal according to most building codes in the US. This is because it can allow a fire to spread through the home faster either because of increased oxygen supply or because it offers a pathway for hot gases to travel to other portions of the house.

      I looked into doing this, and the building inspector said no way in hell would he approve it.
      • Re:Conduit (Score:2, Interesting)

        by BiAthlon (91360)
        That's kind of funny. In Chicago (which has one of the most strict electric and fire codes) you are REQUIRED to run all wires in conduit.

        Maybe they need to fire your building inspector.
      • When I was doing data-comm cable installation for a school district we had to install conduits (for long runs) or sleeves (for short runs) between walls to keep in compliance with commercial electrical code. There also couldn't be air flow between rooms because of commercial fire code, so we ended up sticking Hilti fire caulk into all the conduits after we pulled cable. This turned into a PITA when we had to rip it out to lay more cable after our contract changed though.
      • Re:Conduit (Score:2, Informative)

        by grimarr (223895)
        That's hard to understand. Conduit between walls,
        especially through fire walls, is common, almost universal. Even if you wanted to use a big 4 inch conduit, and only have a couple Cat 5s in it, it should be OK. The important thing is to seal it, to prevent the flow of flame/smoke/hot air through the tube. My inspector recommended packing it tightly with fiberglass insulation (after the wires were pulled), but putty and other things work, too. Fiberglass is easy to remove and replace, handly when you're
      • I think the illegality that the poster is referring to is that to install conduit as suggested can cause fire/gases to be conducted from one area of the building to another, spreading the fire or poisonous gases thereby reducing the occupants' safety.

        This can be resolved -- and in fact is generally required -- by sealing the conduit with some sort of firestopping material after cables are pulled. You may wish to use a material which may be removed to facilitate expansion.

        And this, I might point out, is the
  • Be CAREFUL! (Score:3, Funny)

    by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @03:55PM (#13332892)

    Before embarking on your project, I would highly recommend you watch this [imdb.com] compelling and informative docudrama.

    Forewarned is forearmed, after all...
  • Don't install CAT5 just do wireless. It's much cheaper. If you want a station for each level just put a crossover between floors and you're done.
    • Wireless is not as fast and reliable as wired, and it's doubtful it ever will be. The hardest part of wiring is snaking it through the walls, especially in an old house. If it's gutted now this is the perfect opportunity for future proofing.
      • And of course wireless is very nearly impossible to effectively secure from eavesdropping. Just ask anyone who showed up on the "wall of sheep" at defcon.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "For those of you on Slashdot who have done this, what has your experience been? "

    Good

    "Are there guides for doing this easily and effectively, without having to sell the farm?"

    Yes.

    "Is there a way to allow distributed content to head units while keeping servers down to one or 2 units?"

    Yes
  • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by duffbeer703 (177751) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:02PM (#13332976)
    You're going to end up with a "buggy" house that is unsellable.

    Do you really want to be dependent on a server for your thermostats & lights to work properly? Or have to rip out and replace video gear every few years when your OS or applications change?

    So you'll shell out thousands on computer & X10 equipment, then when you decide to move, you're left losing gobs of cash unless you find some dork who wants to take on a house full of aging computer & control equipment.

    I won't even get into having a TV in every room.
    • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JabberWokky (19442)
      Higher end houses (when you exceed a million dollars) already have all this equipment, and it is quite reliable. X10 is the dirt cheap knockoff end of the home automation market. The good stuff is very fault tolerant, ages well and is quite expensive. Rich people like their toys and don't tolerate things that don't work.

      Depending on how he's planning on doing it, it will be very stable and reliable. (But given the way he's worded things, I don't think he's planning on doing it with experts).

      --
      Evan

      • Re:Why? (Score:4, Funny)

        by ReverendLoki (663861) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @05:53PM (#13334133)
        (But given the way he's worded things, I don't think he's planning on doing it with experts).

        That's ok. Since he's a Slashdot user, he's already an expert. At least, that's what I gather by the posts here, where everyone seems to be an expert on every possible subject... Why, I can feel my level of expertise increasing right now, just by making snide remarks!

        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by JabberWokky (19442) <slashdot.com@timewarp.org> on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @07:59PM (#13335112) Homepage Journal
          Heh. You'd be surprised. Check out science.slashdot.org, and the level leaps up -- at least for the stories that *don't* get posted to the home page. In fact, if a story does not get posted to the home page, it's very likely people in the discussion are actual experts.

          I do note that most topics on Ask Slashdot (anything you'd either hire an expensive expert for, or can only be figured out by doing serious book reading research) get useless replies. Also anything with competition - if you say "What's a good way to do foo with Perl?", you'll get 50 answers on how to do it with PHP, 170 with Ruby, 7 in emacs, and 1 in either Intercal or Ada. And zero useful answers.

          Incidently, if you actually want to use Ask Slashdot as a resource, there is a way: bookmark the discussion, wait a week or two, and then go back through it looking for links or references. A few people have likely posted a link or three to really nicely complete sites or cited a (gasp!) book that is nice. Watch for names to pick out too; you can find actual experts on the subject that people mention in their post.

          --
          Evan

  • by bluGill (862) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:05PM (#13332993)

    Maybe you already are, but just in case (and for those who are considering this): consider energy costs first.

    Smart homes seems like a neat idea, but what is the gain over just putting a stereo in each room, and a wi-fi receiver for those rooms where you really want mp3s? (As long as you need to remove the inside walls anyway you may as well run CAT-5, but for most people wi-fi works well)

    Spend your budget first on low-E windows, and good insulation. Then put in a good heating/cooling system (preferably a ground source heat pump).

    Saving energy will make the world a better place, and in the long run is good for your wallet. Your 'smart home' is not very smart if it wastes energy, and at best won't make the world a better place.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the idea. I'm just urging you to take care of the important parts first, then the toys. I also encourage you to think about the toys. If you don't have a radio of some sort in your current bathroom, why put one in.

    • preferably a ground source heat pump

      Depends on what part of the country you live in. These things are a great idea in warmer climates, but if you live in the northern United States or Canada it will not produce nearly enough heat. Anywhere in the north pretty much requires the power of gas heat, which has become much more efficient in recent years.
      • False (Score:3, Informative)

        by bluGill (862)

        Not true. Ground source heat pumps work just fine in the far north. However you must go deeper. If you live in the south you can get by with pipes in a trench just a few feet below ground. In Canada you need to drill a well, as a shallow trench will freeze up and produce nothing. (A 24 foot deep trench might work, a 10 foot deep trench will not) If you have the land a shallow trench is much cheaper than a well.

        Maybe when you get to permafrost to very deep a ground source heat pump won't work eve

        • The parents have a heat pump in their new home. I'm told it doesn't have enough power to heat the house once the outside air goes below -20C or so.

          At that point they start up the good old woodstove to supplement the heat pump.

          • The important difference there being that you are talking about a heat pump, and the earlier post is referring to a ground source heat pump (sometimes referred to as a geothermal heat pump). The principle is the same, where the heat is pumped to/from is completely different.

            Google [google.com] is your friend [google.com]

          • As someone else stated, that's a plain air-source heat pump in all likelyhood (though even with ground-source, it may be more efficient/cost-effective to not size it for the coldest possible days of the winter, and use an auxilliary to supplement on the coldest 5% of days).

            Note that when a heat pump (air or ground source) can't keep up, it still produces a lot of heat, just not as much as the structure loses. The controller then calls for Aux heat, which can be electric (most common), propane/oil/nat.gas b
      • As stated in comments to other replies to this message, ground source heat pumps work fine even into the far north. Even air-source heat pumps (with appropriate auxilliaries) are efficient into the northern tier of states. And natural gas is no longer cheap.

        Geothermal cost comparisons: http://tristate.apogee.net/geo/minneap.asp [apogee.net]
        (NOTE: those are based on 6/ kWh; 60/ ccf gas; $1.00/gal oil). In most places, it's 8-10 cents/kWh, well over $1/ccf, and $1/gal oil? Ha! Try $2-2.50 at least. Even at the price
    • The insightfulness of the parent really depends on where you live and what your energy rates are.

      Good insulation and windows go hand in hand, but if you live in a temperate climate, or somewhere where the cost of energy is low, extra insulation and super-efficient windows are false economy. Also, you may want to check your energy costs before you decide on a heating/cooling system. Where I live (s/w Virgnina), the cost for electrtic resistance heat is only about 10% higher than natural gas, and is 30% less
      • Those are good suggestions, though ground-source heat pumps can have 5-10 year paybacks - depending on the type and situation and energy costs. Here (SE PA) we pay 14+ cents kWhr (16.5+ if you sign up for all wind power, 6.5 or 9 cents in the winter if you have the "electric heating" rate).

        It also depends on how much heat you need. Our old, sprawling, leaky 4100 sq. ft. house with ~80 windows (quite a few of them quite large) has 11.5 tons of heat pumps (5, 2.5 and 4 - 13, 15 and 10 SEER). (We've greatly
  • by Knights who say 'INT (708612) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:09PM (#13333042) Journal
    Use the Coolest door ever [gizmodo.com].
  • by bmwm3nut (556681) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:15PM (#13333120)
    this is a project that should be done it at least two steps. the only thing you really want to worry about now is getting the wires into the walls. so plan on things like (as you say) cat-5 (i suggest cat-6 incase gigabit become affordable in the future), speaker wire, and don't forget enough electrical sockets. i honestly don't think it's too much to ask for one electrical socket on each stud. make sure they're on different circuit breakers, and if possible maybe set up some of them to be uninterruptable. my ideal wall would have a socket on each stud. 2 out of every three would be regular sockets - but on different circuits, and 1 out of three would be on an uninterruptable circuit that's managed elsewhere in the house. you could even look into the new standard 12VDC power that's starting to be popular for some lightning. it wouldnt hurt to put a line of 12VDC in the wall too.

    once you have all the wires in the wall, then you can worry about hardware. the nice thing is that you don't need to worry about it now. you can just put in a cheap thermostat now and later when you say, "hey, i'd like to control the thermostat with my webserver" you can then put in a new thermostat and you'll already have the wires in the wall and you can set up the webserver to control the thermostat. likewise with anything else, you can add touch screens later. the benefit to going with normal stuff now and upgrading later is that it forces you to think modularly. if you put in touch screens now and set everything up with those screens, you'll probably be mad next year when newer less buggy hardware is out there and it's impossible for you to upgrade. if you think modularly, then you can upgrade the hardware however you want.

    the same goes for your server room. don't worry now about how many servers it's going to take to run your house. just make sure you have a room wired properly that you can put servers in. then when you start putting more services online and you need more computing power, it'll be easy to upgrade as necessary. for example after you get bored having the lights and heat controlled by the computers, you can later upgrade and write your own security system that monitors the windows and doors at night. if some one breaks in, it'll wake you up, auto dial 911, automatically unlock the gun cabinet and give you a lighted path from your bed to the gun cabinet (or at least that's my dream for my comptuer controlled house).
    • by BoomerSooner (308737) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:21PM (#13333191) Homepage Journal
      Are you kidding me? 1 socket on each stud? Do you realize studs are 18" apart which in a 10x10 room means you have around 26 plugs? WTF would someone need that for? Not to mention copper is f'ing expensive. Go to lowes or home depot and look at how much copper wiring costs.

      BTW I build homes for a living.
      • 26 plugs is just about right for a kid's bedroom if your kid is as geeky as most parents on slashdot become.
        • I'd kill for 1 extra outlet right now - seriously...

          In government housing overseas, you're stuck with 2 220 outlets and 1 110 in each room. I'm currently running my office with 4 computers, 1 router plus all my gadgets off 1 110 outlet (as in 1 plug, not the standard 2) and 3 power strips.

          I'm a safety commercial waiting to happen...
      • studs are 16" apart. i look at how many powerstrips i have in my rooms. particularlly my living room and computer room. since i'm not home right now, but here's what i can remember having plugged in in my living room: tv, vcr, dvd player, sterio, subwoofer, 2 lamps, 3 laptops, 1 hub, 1 vga -> ntsc converter, 2 cell phone chargers. that's 14 plugs that i can remember right now. plus what about transient items the the vacuum cleaner and stuff like that?

        i don't think the cost of the copper wire is
        • 26 plugs with 1 circuit is no better than the octopus plugs we learned about on the Brady Bunch. Danger Will Robinson!
          • 26 plugs with 1 circuit is no better than the octopus plugs

            Actually, 26 outlets on one circuit is safer. At least the circuit will be wired with 12 AWG. If you octopus a shitload of devices, your cord will melt, arc and then catch fire way before you draw enough amps to trip the circuit. The 12 AWG won't.
        • here's what i can remember having plugged in in my living room: tv, vcr, dvd player, sterio, subwoofer, 2 lamps, 3 laptops, 1 hub, 1 vga -> ntsc converter, 2 cell phone chargers. that's 14 plugs that i can remember right now.

          So lets say your tv, vcr, dvd player, stereo, sub, hub, vga converter, a laptop and a cell phone charger all together on a tv stand of some sort, while the rest of the stuff is around the rest of the room. That means you take up 5 sockets (2 plugs each), which is 80" of wall. Instea
        • Studs are measured center to center, not edge to edge. That's where the 18" comes from. 16" sounds about right for between 2x4s (a bit off, but probably the closest round number). You have to measure from the center though to account for different thicknesses and to be able to reliably find them for screwing/nailing things onto the wall (or fit standard drywall sheets or other things with standard sizes).
          • er, yea... I wasn't thinking residential walls. 16" center-to-center is right.
            • er, yea... I wasn't thinking residential walls. 16" center-to-center is right.

              Depends on the age of the house. Really old homes have large variablity in the stud spacing. In my house, built in 1909, the studs are spaced 18 inches center to center with a fair amount of variability. Even older homes can be spaced even further, up to 36 inches. Houses like this usually have real 2x4s as opposed to the wood saving modern 1.5x3.5s. Lots of houses built today are going 24 inches using 2x6 studs. I guess it
    • i honestly don't think it's too much to ask for one electrical socket on each stud. make sure they're on different circuit breakers, and if possible maybe set up some of them to be uninterruptable. my ideal wall would have a socket on each stud. 2 out of every three would be regular sockets - but on different circuits, and 1 out of three would be on an uninterruptable circuit

      One on each stud, huh? That means a 10x10 room will have more than 20 electrical sockets. And three different circuit breakers per r
      • how are three circuit per room more dangerous than one? you're splitting up the current draw over three circuits, so the over all load is lowered per circuit. if you're worried about knowing which circuit each socket is on, a simple color scheme could be developed to keep things straight - or just something simple like a small label under each socket that says "living room, circuit #1" and then in the circuit breaker box, you have a breaker labled "living room, circuit #1"
        • how are three circuit per room more dangerous than one?

          Aside from kitchens and dining rooms, you might have two in a room at most but they would be grouped and the second circuit would only be there because it is dedicated for a known purpose. Also, that circuit would most likely feed those specific outlets only and not any in other rooms. By dangerous, I meant having your recepticles round-robined on three different circuits so that three outlets within 36 inches of each other are going to be on three dif
          • For a truly un-qualified geek/nerd to be found on slashdot, the 1 socket per stud with a set of un-interuptable sockets per room sounds very reasonable. I would kill for enough sockets in my "computer" room to actually "use" all of my computers simultaneously. Now having that kind of service in every room may be extreme, but having 1 or 2 rooms wired that way sounds very rational.
    • Geez, wish I had your budget. As others have stated, an outlet on each stud is overkill, and incredibly expensive. Especially when you start talking about running more than one circuit through the wall. Also, I belive in most residential areas building permits restrict the number of plugins on a single circuit. 15 seems to ring a bell as the local limit, but I don't remember for sure.

      Wiring Cat (5,5e,6) when building/rebuilding is a good idea. 5e is relatively cheap. Run extra. Run your phone system

    • new standard 12VDC power that's starting to be popular for some lightning

      Um... even a 12W fixture chews a solid 1A... multiply this by 20 fixtures (not unthinkable to get a decent amount of light in a few rooms) and you have a nice solid 20A...

      Now add on the heat losses from the current (in the wire, alone). We can assume about 1/2 Ohm resistance in the wire if it's a long run back to a central transformer... I won't even get into the losses in the transformer (which only runs at ~85% efficiency).

      P =

      • i didn't say the 12VDC lighting was smart, i just said it was getting popular. the reason it's getting popular is because most places have regulation on who can lay high-voltage (110V) wire, but if you only have 12V going through the wire, you don't need an electrician, and you don't have regulations about how close the wires can be to other things, or GFCI circuits, or anything that goes with 110V. it's a stupid energy wasting way around stupid arbitrary housing codes.
        • but if you only have 12V going through the wire, you don't need an electrician

          Which is interesting, because 110/240V carries much lower current and uses enormous fat wire compared to your average 12V configuration. Not having regulation is a real problem because people associate low voltage -> low power, when that is not true.

          The average unlicensed schmuck doesn't understand that 12V at 10A is only enough for 4x30W fixtures (and they don't even understand what 10A is). This leads to them installin

    • Several other qualified people have pointed out that having so many outlets in a room, just in case, is a bad idea. But this juxtaposition struck me as incredible.

      > "and if possible maybe set up some of them to be uninterruptable"

      Where, pray tell, would you keep the diesel generator and fuel tank that will power some of your house on demand?

      > "you can just put in a cheap thermostat now"

      It seems that you would be willing to spend thousands of dollars beyond what is standard on the electrical system ma
      • > "and if possible maybe set up some of them to be uninterruptable"

        Where, pray tell, would you keep the diesel generator and fuel tank that will power some of your house on demand?


        i was thinking of something like having UPS battery backups in the basement that would be hooked up to the UPS outlets in the rooms. it would be awesome to have a generator or something like that, but unless you live on a farm, you proabably can't get away with that. i'm not saying that getting enough UPS batteries wou
    • Gotta say I agree with the others on this... A socket every 16" is ridiculous. Think about it-- you're right that I have more devices then outlets in my office, but most of the devices are concentrated in two locations-- my desk & entertainment center. Why would I want to drag cords all over the room when a carefully placed power strip does the job even better (and adds surge suppression to boot)?

      But where you are correct is that you do want more outlets then are usually provided. My dream room would ha
  • Set up a main house fileserver, make it SCSI and RAID. Then, setup a tftp/nfs server on it and use PXE to boot all of your clients from this main server. This way instead of having to do an OS install on each machine and worry about drives dying you have one server handling everything. It's easier to make backups this way too.

    Plus the lack of a grinding hard drive is quite welcome.
  • CAT6e (Score:3, Informative)

    by Omega1045 (584264) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:35PM (#13333318)
    Someone if going to tell you to go wireless, someone is going to say fiber. With more and more WEPs going up in my neighborhood, I am having problems with my setup now and really wish I had wall jacks everywhere. And fiber is just overkill, but this is Slashdot and someone will mention it.

    I say make sure to run CAT6e, which will nicely handle Gigabit over Copper. You may want to stream some sort of HD video or other high bandwidth signal in the future over the network, so go with a cabling that will work. I would also run at least two RJ45 ports into each room, more in the large rooms. Don't worry about phone lines, you can always wire up from the patch panel a traditional line into one of your feeds, and RJ11 (phone) plugs into RJ45.

    Power! People overlook this. Make sure to put in enough outlets. I don't even know how many extension cords and power strips I am running now. I wish my house had twice as many outlets, and it was built in 1999!

    • Re:CAT6e (Score:5, Interesting)

      by renehollan (138013) <rhollan.clearwire@net> on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @05:19PM (#13333827) Homepage Journal
      The general rule is to run 2xCAT5e (or Cat6) and 2xRG6/U coax (quad shielded) to every "drop" and home run back to a distribution panel. Each drop is terminated in a modular Leviton (or similar) wall plate module. You put a "drop" wherever you might want telephone, data, or TV. One can even get "Speedwrap" cable that combines the aforementioned cables (with and without 2xfiber as well) -- it adds a bit to the cost over individual cables but is easier and neater to pull.

      The reasoning is as follows:

      One Cat5e is for telephone (some PBXs do require all four pairs, though this is getting rarer). You don't need Cat5e for phone, but it's pennies over Cat3.

      One Cat5e is for 100 Mb/s ethernet. 'nuff said.

      One RG6/U is for RF (cable, local modulated channels, satellite, etc) to TVs.

      The other RG6/U cable is for a "back feed" from a local video source modulated on some TV channel that is not in use -- at the headend you can combine them with the incomming cable/satellite feed, and broadcast through the house.

      Anyway, that's the "recommendation". There are a few areas where it falls short, and a few other problem with it:

      1. Satellite feeds can require two coax cables to each drop (so, forget about the "backfeed"), if you have a multi-satellite dish: if you have a dual satellite tuner, and want to tune different polarizations on the same satellite, or different satellites, you need two cables (at least for DirecTV). Dish Network "stacks" the horizontal and vertical polarizations on one cable, but you still need two cables if you want to watch programs on two different satellites (or watch one and record the other). So, say goodbuy to your video backfeed unless you run extra coax.

      If you want to combine an OTA signal from a TV antenna (including OTA HD), you can diplex it onto and off of one of the satellite feeds, though a separate cable is better. It is generally a bad idea to try to duplex a cable feed with an internal satellite distribution network. So, add another RG6/u cable. That adds two extra coax cables (and quad-shielded ones are thick and somewhat inflexible), to each drop where you might have serious video equipment, i.e. anywhere you have a TV or computer that processes video, or video recording gear intended to archive programs. This will probably be the media/family room, computer room, and perhaps master bedroom. For good measure, you might want to add a second (or even third) such drop in such rooms, if you decide to move the furniture around. To racap: that's one Cat5e for telephone (your satellite and cable box or TiVo might need it), one Cat5e for data network (everything needs a data network port sooner or later), two coax for satellite, one for a backfeed, one for cable TV, and you can diplex the OTA signal on one of the satellite cables if you use both the backfeed and the cable feed.

      Other locations where there might be a TV (kitchen, bedrooms) can probably get by without the extra two coax cables.

      Next, consider the location of wired telephones. You want at least some wired telephones, that use a landline, at least one on each floor, that you can dial real 911 from. You probably want these locations at opposite ends of the room where the TV drops are, if any. Even if you go wireless for phones, you will probably want data network drops on the opposite end of the room to plug in your laptop, etc. Run 2xCat5e for phone and data.

      "But why not wireless phone and/or data or MythTV over the LAN (or wireless), or VoIP over the LAN (or wireless), etc. and avoid all that cable?" I hear you cry.

      Three reasons.

      1. Security.

      2. Bandwidth.

      3. Expense.

      You may have wireless phone (and VoIP, and data), to be sure, but keep it in the DMZ on your network. You definately want some real hardwired landline phones for emergencies. Wireless bandwidth is never going to be as good as what you can get on a wired network, and wired networks are easier to segment

  • by Fished (574624) <amphigory@ g m ail.com> on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:36PM (#13333325)
    We were doing much the same thing until we discovered that our infant child had high blood lead levels. I had always thought that the issue was kids eating paint chips--well, that's bad, but what's worse is kids (and adults) breathing the dust kicked up by renovations in homes with lead paint. It is very difficult to avoid kicking up dust from plaster walls and paint, so you need to make sure that you are taking steps to protect yourself and your children! I mean it! This is double-plus-un-good.

    The older the home, the more dangerous it may be, as paint manufacturers steadily cut the lead content of their paints from the turn of the century on. Don't guess, get it checked. And, if you have children, walk away and bleed money if you have to rather than expose them to lead.

    That's what we did, and I now own a home built in 2003, and am very grateful that I don't need to worry about my kids' being poisoned by it.

    • Add to this: If you are having a contractor do this work for you, and they don't mention asbestos (could be in old tiles or linoleum buried under carpet or plywood subfloor, taping on your heating ducts as well as insulation) and lead paint, get a different contractor. If they don't mention the possibility of your house having both, they probably cut serious corners in their work.

      Asbestos and lead paint were still used in housing until the mid 70s.
  • I've been into this for close to 30 years now. I've been in my current house for 17 years, and I've rewired FOUR TIMES as the technology has changed.

    I can absolutely tell you that the most important thing you can provide is ACCESS. Several others have mentioned conduits and wiring channels, and I can't overemphasize how much I agree with that. The only thing that's saved me is the suspended ceiling downstairs, and the clear opening between there and the attic. You don't want to be opening walls a year o
  • Dumb Terminals (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shads (4567) <shadus@shMENCKENadus.org minus author> on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @04:44PM (#13333409) Homepage Journal
    Using NX/VNC/etc type things to a terminal server should lower your cost substantially.
  • Reliable or cheap. That's your major choice here. If you want reliable, what you want is an extra run of CAT 5e to every outlet and switch in the house, so that you can choose from a variety of hardwired remote control switches. If you want cheap- you'll want to go with X10, A10, or one of it's variants, in which case you'll want 3-wire power to every switch, including ground, and while you're rewiring all the electric anyway you'll want to install a signal bridge in the switch panel, so that the electirical phases are linked.

    For software, well, that depends on your favorite operating system and programming language: HAL or HomeSeer for Windows, Mr. House for Linux, all three of these choices have a variety of dynamic libraries that allow them to control most whole-house controllers.

    I personally went cheap- but still ran out of money about $1200 into my system. So I've got PLC, in a house that doesn't have 3 wire to every outlet, with only the incandescents and only 2 flourescents actually computer controlled. I also never got my infrared breakout boxes done to control my A/V equipment- and PLC turned out to be rather non-secure in my neighborhood for controling garage door opener and the like (in that it would leave my garage door open and illegal immigrant meth adicts would steal from me in the middle of the night). So if you have the money, you're much better off with a hardwired system. And go for a discount wholesaler like http://www.worthdist.com/ [worthdist.com] as opposed to somebody like http://www.smarthouse.com/>.
  • What would you guys suggest in my case. My house has NO attic (vaulted ceilings) and NO basement (split level). Without ripping up the floors and walls, how the hell do I run cables with it being ugly?
    • How are the air vents run? If possible, see if you can follow the same route. If not, then run the cable inside the air vents, but if you do this, make sure the cable is rated for that. The vents can get quite warm in the winter when the heater's running, and condensation can collect on it in the summer from the AC.
      • If you're thinking of running anything inside of your ducts check your local building codes first as it may not be legal in your area.
    • Start with wireless as much as you can.

      Where you must have cables you are in for a lot of work. Easiest is to pull off baseboards, run cables behind, and replace; done right this works and looks fine, but it only allows a few cables. Harder is to drill access holes where needed (get long drill bits so you can drill from your future box where possible), and then patch as needed. Remember to plan everything so minimize pain.

    • Go to home depot and buy a fish tape, and one of those 5 foot long flexible drill bits. Cut the holes for your outlet in the wall where you want it, use the flex bit to drill through the base of the wall into the level below. Stick your fishtape down it. If it lines up with another wall, or goes into an unfinished basement, you're golden.

      Otherwise, you might end up having to cut access holes to pull the cable through. Cut them outlet size, and when you're done, just put a blank plate over it. I had to
      • That's the problem I am having. I got to replace some crappy tv cable. I have no basement (the lower level of the house is where a basement would be), and no attic (vaulted ceilings). I think the cables were stapled down, so I cannot snake them. There is a space between the upper floor and the lower ceiling, but it seems inexcessable and the lower level floor is concrete. For right now, I have a cat5 cable going straight through the walls of two rooms to get internet to my daughters room. It ugly, but

    • What's wrong with the cyberpunk/borg look? Screw 3-5 inch diameter hooks about a foot or so down from the ceiling. Put one into every other stud. When you encounter a door, drill a hole and install chrome computer grommets on both sides of the wall, if you must.

      You can easily add any wiring you need. Removing wiring might get more difficult after a while, but I say just leave it there even if you don't need it as it adds to the look.

      Don't be paranoid about electrical wiring. Run dollar store extension cords
  • And by research, I don't mean asking Slashdot.

    Write down what you want to have in each room. Go wild, put down everything. Touch screen, ethernet, remote control, whatever.

    Then see what's out on the market that will do what you want. What kind of remote control options are there? Is there an alternative?

    Then start trimming back. Do you REALLY need to control the thermostat from EVERY room? Do you REALLY need remote-controlled lighting in EVERY room? Chances are, you can cut back quite a bit.

    If I had
  • Account for time (Score:3, Informative)

    by knightPhlight (173012) <[nate] [at] [nottingham-tech.com]> on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @05:48PM (#13334082) Homepage
    I do high end low voltage installations for a living. And while most of the hardware is insanely expensive, the same results can be achieved with commondity equipment and open source solutions.

    That being said, pre-wiring is the most important aspect of what you will be doing. Depending on your budget you will want to wire CAT5 (or 6e) into all light switch and telephone locations. At a minimum you will need CAT5 to every video location.

    Wireless technology is too dependant on outside factors to be reliable. Good old copper gets the 1s and 0s to the correct place much more efficently. Plus, if it's called for, power over ethernet doesn't work very well wirelessly :) CAT5 isn't just for bits and bytes any more. It works great for remote thermostat sensors, infrared transmission, etc..

    While we install touch panels by AMX Corp. [amx.com] the same thing can be done with a cheap touch overlay'ed display, PXE, and VNC. I would recommend staying away from X10 products. If you don't want to spend the time to write your own control software, the NetLinx programming language (used on AMX products) is easier than learning QBasic. Some of their controllers show up on Ebay for reasonable amounts.

    The single most preventative aspect of this project is the amount of time involved. We will spend months in design, prewire, install, and programming on even relatively small systems. But if your wiring is not in place, no amount of time spent will be as productive.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    But you could save yourself a lot of time by checking out Pluto [plutohome.com]
  • by lizrd (69275) <adam.bump@us> on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @06:04PM (#13334237) Homepage
    http://homephonewiring.com/ [homephonewiring.com] is a really good website for understanding the whats and whys about installing proper cabling in your house. The site was a big help to me when I redid all the phone/data cable in my house last year. The guy does sell some stuff on the website, but the information is excellent whether you decide to buy from him or elsewhere. I did end up buying a punchdown block from him and it was a fair price and shipped quickly. Other stuff I got either locally or on Ebay.
  • Central Cooling! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SharpFang (651121) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @06:12PM (#13334304) Homepage Journal
    Put a water outlet/inlet by each socket, and a central cooling/pumping station outside. Install water cooling in each computer in the house, and have them quiet, fast and cool :D
  • Is there a way to allow distributed content to head units while keeping servers down to one or 2 units?"

    Sounds like a job for SunRay Server! [sun.com] You can even run the server software on Linux....

    For those without a sense of humor: this may actually work--if it were me I'd be looking into it more than casually--but I'm mostly joking.

  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Tuesday August 16, 2005 @10:16PM (#13335963) Homepage
    While having lots of cables to run all kinds of signals everywhere is a really cool idea, don't forget that while you have the drywall off it's a really good time to think about efficiency. Heating oil could be really expensive in the near future and the electricity to run your a/c isn't exactly going to get cheaper. A clever house is one that doesn't waste energy.
    • insulate like crazy. additional stud thickness, vapor barrier, expanding foam around every box or hole in the wall, insulate the hot water pipes (and cold depending on climate), insulate an attached garage even
    • shorten the runs of ductwork as much as possible, avoid running them through uninsulated attic or basement space (i have this problem)
    • upgrade to high SEER a/c compressors and high rated burners. climate may indicate heat pump.
    • use electric dampers or a zone system to turn off HVAC to unused rooms. i have my zones on individual timer/thermostats.
    • whole house fans are pretty cheap and can save a lot of money on a/c. swamp coolers are kind of white trash but work okay in some areas.
    • not sure about attic fans. usually if you have good attic insulation and gable vents and soffet vents you're fine, but if you have a large uninsulated attic with a lot of floor area in contact with living space it might help
    • thermo pane windows! not just double glazed, but the kind with an e-coating to cut down IR transmission through the glass, and no wood frames, they warp and leak within 3 years.
    • awnings don't last very long, but roof-like overhangs over south-facing windows are a good alternative.
    • find a good location for a wireless outdoor thermometer so you can monitor temperature and humidity well enough to intelligently choose whether to use the whole house fan/attic fan/swamp cooler/heat pump or a/c that day. or just leave the windows open if it's going to be 70 that day.
    • swap out electric range, oven, water heater, dryer, for natural gas or propane. swap out electric heat (baseboard or cental) for whatever fuel is cheapest in your area.

    Next thing to do in the cleverness front is to actively protect the house. Some of this will indeed involve wiring:

    • central-station monitored alarm and sensors on all doors and windows, don't forget fire and smoke alarms (county inspector probably won't let you for get the last two)
    • if it's an unoccupied cabin/second house you'll also want flooding and freeze alarms
    • outdoor lighting. maybe the automatic IR sensor kind, maybe plain old switch kind.
    • go crazy and wire up some video cameras. these can feed into a server so you can check what's going on around the house even when you're away.
    • actual deadbolts with reinforced doors and frames on all doors. double cylinder if next to a window or window-in-the foor but for gosh sakes let everyone know where the key is.
    • 2 or more fire extinguishers on every floor (near the exits)
    • evacuation plan (esp for kids) very important if you have any rooms that require more than one turn to reach an external door. doors to wooden patios don't count! and rope ladders for 2nd floor bedrooms

    Anyway, I just want to express that there is more to a smart house than just internet and audio/video.

    • Your CO detector. They are just as important as your fire/smoke alarms, and in some areas (such as Toronto) they are now required by law. Particularly if you're going to be using a whole load of gas appliances. Carbon Monoxide is bad m'kay?
    • actual deadbolts with reinforced doors and frames on all doors. double cylinder if next to a window or window-in-the foor but for gosh sakes let everyone know where the key is.

      Don't do this. It violates the building code in practically every state. If you're concerned enough to do this, spend the money to buy a door without windows and/or change the swing of the door to get the lock away from the windows. Do not double cylinder any egress door for any reason.
      • I installed steel roll doors behind the normal doors of my house. It looks normal from ourside, but sure as hell no one is coming in that way without considerable time and surprise. Of course, home security is as safe as its weakest link. Do like me, and build a stud wall behind every window. I put curtains and lights in there so it looks normal from the outside. Everyone keeps mentioning using effecient windows, etc- why have windows at all? (other than code, fire escape yeah, yeah) Windows let criminals
  • I think that the wiring part got covered in another post. the other items that your talking about though are:

    home "control" is normally kind of customized to the home by the installer, but the last one that i helped put in was an elan system. (http://www.elanhomesystems.com/ [elanhomesystems.com])

    For lighting you really need to look into lutron (http://www.lutron.com/ [lutron.com]) and then hook them together.
  • Pluto [plutohome.com].

    Pluto is the only all-in-one solution for your home that seamlessly combines media & entertainment, home automation, security, telecom and computing. You can control your whole house with a mobile phone, a touch-screen tablet or a web-interface. A Pluto system is like an appliance - not a computer. It is self-configuring, maintaining and updating. No technical skills are required to use or install Pluto. Pluto is above all simple. The devices are all plug and play. Pluto is also an open platform

  • OK, this being Slashdot Everyone talks about the networking and forgets everything else. We've just had a quick brainstorming session here in the office and here's what we came up with:

    1) Thermostats in every room, if possible linked to the HVAC to regulate temperature on an individual room basis.

    2) Movement sensors and heat sensors in every room. Use these together and you can turn the lights on and off as someone enters and exits a room. They can also be used for burglar alarms and fire detection.

    3) Motor
    • 1) Thermostats in every room, if possible linked to the HVAC to regulate temperature on an individual room basis.

      Good for convenience, but be careful as most residential units are not really meant for zoning. It's not an electronic problme but a mechanical one - too many zones shut down and your fancoil unit will overheat and die prematurely due to the pressure in the system being too high.

      3) Motorized blinds on each window. You regulate the heat so why not regulate the light level?

      Nice idea, and very high
  • http://plutohome.com/ [plutohome.com] - Open Source, free as in beer and mostly free otherwise. If you want a roll-your-own Home automation package with media capabilities, this is the way to go.

  • We put automatic blinds in our house. They run on a remote or a timer and use 8 AA bats.

    Sometimes the bats last more than a year, but sometimes only 6 months.

    They sell a transformer you can use for the system, but you would need to run wires from a crawlspace / cabinet to the top of your windows. Security wires usually run only to the bottom.

    About $200 per window online for normal window.

    It is pretty sweet to show off to people all four windows in our great room going up / down.
  • A few ideas here:

    I run as my home servers a bunch of PC's based on VIA's epia motherboard. The max power consumption per unit is about 40W, and the heat output is negligable. My Nehemia built-in support for memory cards (great as a boot device, use a 1GB card, 1GB+ RAM for ramdisk/tempfiles) and a PCMCIA card, as well as integrated sound, ethernet, firewire, USB, DVD acceleration, basic GL acceleration (no Doom 3, but Neverball plays fine) and an onboard 1Ghz CPU. Between VIA and the Epia sites I've had l

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