Because much of your electrical infrastructure is hidden behind the walls, it can be easy to overlook when planning a remodel. Consider home electrical wiring upgrades alongside all the other items on your list. (See Renovation Planning Checklist to help you create your complete list.) When completing a remodel that involves opening walls and ceilings for other reasons, you have a great opportunity to make upgrades. Make sure you plan for both current needs and what you might need in the future.
|What it’s for:||Wiring supports several critical functions:
|Who does it:||Licensed Electrician, Home Theater Installer, Networking Installer|
|What’s involved:||Most electical wiring is within your walls and often involves opening up sections of the walls, which will need to be patched and repainted.|
|What you shouldn’t do:||Some types of wiring are becoming less useful – for example telephone wiring is often being replaced by wireless phones and cell phones.|
|What you should do:||Review your current wiring and your wiring needs. If you have an older home it’s likely that your electrical wiring is un-grounded and potentially unsafe given the increasing electrical demands.|
- Most older homes will need upgrades to the electrical system at some point. The appliances and technology we have now demand a certain level of reliable power.
- If not already the case, you will want to upgrade your service to 100 amps or more to support modern power usage.
- Most homes have 120V electrical circuits. Some major appliances might require a 220V current.
- You may want to add, or you may be required to add additional outlets if the existing number is below code.
Electrical – Safety
- Older homes may not have proper grounding on the electrical outlets. Grounding provides protection from electrocution by channeling current into the ground instead of into the body. Electricians can install grounding on all outlets.
- Power outlets located in bathrooms, kitchens, home offices or outdoors should be protected with a GFCI circuit breaker. This kind of grounding shuts off power to the outlet if it detects irregular current in the power flow.
- State and city codes often impose guidelines in this area. Improper electrical wiring can result in electrical shock, circuit shorts, appliance failures or electrical fires.
- As part of your electrical wiring home review, inspect all light switches and make sure they work properly.
- You may find that some older homes are not wired for ceiling lights in every room. You may choose to use floor lamps plugged into an outlet that is controlled by a light switch. Or if you are already opening a ceiling in such a room, you might take advantage of it to wire for ceiling lights instead. Think carefully about where new light switches should be placed.
- Room additions will obviously require ceiling wiring as well.
- Consider if you want to install additional outdoor lighting for safety or visibility.
- Keep in mind that lighting plans must be reviewed as part of the city design review and permitting process.
- There are many light mounting options, including recessed lighting, flush and semi-flush mounts, track lighting, pendant lighting, chandeliers and wall mounted lights. Each option offers its own aesthetic. You will want to select the type of lighting mount for each location when deciding on the wiring plan.
- Finally, if you are interested in automation you can explore the possibilities of lighting automation with programmable light settings.
TV and Data (Internet)
Data and TV connections come in many forms. The most common are: coaxial cable, telephone wire and ethernet cable (CAT-5 / CAT-6). Many Internet and TV service providers are delivering multiple services to your home, including TV, telephone and Internet on the same line. Planning your data in advance is good to consider for several reasons:
- Different services require different types of wiring (e.g. cable service providers like Comcast use coaxial cable, while DSL providers tend to use telephone or ethernet cable).
- Where the service reaches your house can differ depending on the type of service (e.g. Satellite TV providers are often mounted to your roof).
- TV and data can reach into many rooms in your home.
- It’s a good idea to plan out in advance how you want to be accessing your TV and Internet.
Data / Internet
Data refers to the wired or wireless transmission of IP (internet protocol) information. No house today is complete without high-speed internet service. You will likely get your connection through one of several options:
- DSL through your data ready phone wiring – call your cable company.
- A cable modem through a coaxial cable connection.
- Once inside the home you will have LAN cabling or wireless LAN to connect your networked devices.
- You should test the wireless signal strength in your home to find the optimum location for your wireless hub.
What about wireless internet?
Wireless internet is a great way to avoid having to update your wiring. Unfortunately, wireless internet is generally not as effective as wired, and is less reliable for data intensive needs like distributing HD TV signals.
TV used to be simple – plug it in and adjust the antennas. Then it became – plug it in and plug in your cable or cable box. Now your TV is likely to be mounted on the wall with hidden wires and the cable or satellite box in a different location. There are many choices for how to get the signal to your TV with devices like DVD players, Apple TV and gaming systems, all with different wiring needs to consider.
Planning is key – here are some things to consider:
- What kind of service provider, if any, will you be using to get live TV programming? There are three common options depending on where you live, and they may require different connection types:
- Telephone / DSL provider (e.g. AT&T Uverse)
- Which rooms will you place your TV’s in?
- Will the TV’s be on a TV stand or wall mounted? (Make sure to note which wall the TV will be on.) Wall mounted TV’s can look great, but have special requirements for getting the electrical wiring into the wall.
- What devices will connect to each TV? What type of connection will they use and where will they be located relative to the TV?
Plan ahead and plan flexibly to give yourself the most options. We recommend at least 2 Ethernet (CAT-6 or better) and 1 Coax connection to each place where you plan on having a high definition television. This wiring should terminate in an electrical wiring closet or central location where your services can easily enter the house.
Why 2 ethernet connections for each TV? Three reasons:
- It’s cheap – if you’re already bringing one line in, why not 2?
- Flexibility – many devices, from DVD players to TV’s, now have Ethernet ports
- If you choose to keep your TV receivers in a hidden place and want to send the signal to your TV over some distance, your best bet is to convert the signal from HDMI to Ethernet. These devices are HDMI Extenders.
Wiring a home theater brings an additional set of considerations. Most home theater systems have several common components:
- Receiver – generally connected to your TV and its components
- Speakers – typically 5 speakers with front (front left, front right), center and rear (rear left and rear right) locations
- Sub woofer – typically one large box-like speaker that is located away from the TV and components
The basic electrical wiring requirements above will accommodate connecting the receiver to your TV and other components, but the speakers have an additional set of considerations. Most notably:
- Rear surround speaker locations and wiring – A smart home theater configuration will have the rear surround speakers wired into the wall where the speakers will be positioned. Rear surround speakers can be one of several types: self-standing, in wall or in ceiling. The wiring is typically traditional speaker wire.
- Sub woofer wiring – sub woofer wiring varies but is typically coaxial, speaker wire or RCA cabling. In any case you’ll need to consider how to get the wiring from the receiver to the sub woofer location.
What about wireless home theater speakers?
These have become more common in recent years and can have excellent sound quality, in some cases close to that of directly wired speakers. We recommend going to your preferred home audio electronics store and demoing the equipment. From there you can identify the proper wiring required.
Complete Home Distributed Audio Systems
If you want to able to hear music throughout your house and control what you hear in each room, take the opportunity during your remodel to wire appropriately. Unless you choose a wireless solution like Sonos, you will need to choose your equipment and speaker configuration ahead of time. In-ceiling or in-wall speakers are an excellent option but require you to plan ahead where your speaker wire will terminate and how you will control the distribution of your sound. An interesting and lower cost option to Sonos in this area is to look at Apple’s AirPlay compatible devices.
In-wall or in-ceiling speakers
For home theater or distributed audio or both, you can reduce the clutter by getting the speakers off the floor and into your walls or ceilings. Your electrician will need to know about this during the rough electrical phase.
Your house will already have phone wiring in place, but it may be an analog system that you are not able to integrate with your other technologies. Digital phone systems are now the norm. Phone service can also be bundled with cable and high-speed Internet by many different providers.
IP telephony is an emerging trend in home telephony. This is where you connect a device to your internet router that you also plug a telephone into. You can then receive phone calls through your internet connection at very low cost. One of the leading companies here is Ooma.
If you are interested in installing a digital, programmable thermostat that connects to your wireless network and is controllable from your smartphone like the NEST, you may want to double check that your current wiring is compatible.
Ceiling Fan wiring
If you are planning to install a ceiling fan where there isn’t one currently, be aware that a specific type of electrical wiring and switch might be necessary, as well as a mount in the ceiling to give the fan extra stability. Also check that you have adequate ventilation in your bathrooms and consider adding ventilation units as needed.
Home automation is where the various electronic systems in your home can be centrally or remotely controlled from a single device or system. Systems that can be controlled by home automation include virtually every system noted in this article. Control4 and Crestron make two popular systems.
Sweet Remodel Recommendation: These systems tend to be very expensive and less expensive alternatives are emerging. This article notes the Nest, for instance, which provides a way to remotely control your home heating and cooling. In addition, technologies like Belkin’s Wemo allows you to remotely control selected power outlets from your smartphone or based on predetermined conditions.
For those interested in installing security systems and cameras, numerous wireless options exist. There are trade offs and you should plan ahead to have this wiring integrated in your home as well.
Electrical Wiring Access Tip
Leveraging outside walls, attics and crawl spaces can minimize the number of openings you need to make and repair in your walls.