Spring time is common for prewire phases to commence on open-frame projects. This spring, we have several jobs in the pipeline, which are a positive reflection of the rebounding real estate market. Since we are at the onset of our wire pulling season, this month is a great opportunity to discuss wiring products and how we commonly prewire a system.
I remember my first audio/video project during summer break at UCLA. One of my team mates on the UCLA cycling team discovered an interior designer in Westwood who was selling flush-mount speaker systems for various high-rise condominium projects along Wilshire Boulevard. We spent weeks crawling around ceilings with single strands of speaker wire that we purchased from the local electronics store. The volume of wire options since then has grown immensely. Now, we have wires that carry line-level audio, HDMI, control, phone, network, cable TV, satellite, and fiber-optical digital transmission.
With the growth of wire types, it is important to focus on labor efficiency. If a home requires five-hundred total feet of various wire types, conventional wisdom would say that we should have approximately that amount of wire on-hand for the prewire. Since wire normally ships in one-thousand-foot boxes, the quantity of delivered boxes would only accommodate a run of grouped wires to a single room. Passing five or six wires to bedroom 1 at the far end of a home, then returning to run another group of wires to bedroom 2 at the same far end of the home, makes little sense. At minimum, we run three rooms’ worth of wires together, consolidating labor time between three rooms on a single run.
This process starts with delivering at least three-times the quantity of wire to the jobsite than is actually necessary. On day one, we stack wire box after wire box at the system head end. The “head end” is the central location where most wires connect to various AV, control, network, and communications systems. Early on in the design process, we recommend placing as much equipment and associated wires in one common place. This is usually a utility area, closet, or cabinet. Since wires reside in one common head end, future modifications can take full advantage of all house-wide runs.
Haphazardly running wires from one room to another without a common head end closes future system growth and adaptability. Time after time, we have inherited jobs with poorly-planned wire runs, where one location was used for phone, another location was used for satellite or cable, and another location was used for audio/video. Massive waste of both money and time is spent for us to reconnect disparate wire locations for subsystem communications. Take our advice and make the most of your wire investment with a common head end.
Day one of our prewire involves drilling and creating chase ways for the upcoming wire runs. Taking a little extra time to map out the most efficient pathways for wire running pays huge dividends in overall labor time. Commonly, an entire day is devoted to drilling holes and prepping for the eventual prewire. It makes sense to get all drilling done. Break out the power tools, ladders, and extension cords and do the drilling at one time. The largest openings are at the common head end, since this is where we set up our pull stations of grouped wire boxes. Whether it is up to the attic or down to the sub floor, plenty of space is created for our wire “highway.”
We often get strange looks as we cart in box after box of wire to the system head end. It is not uncommon to see fifteen to twenty boxes of wire arranged in a wide semi-circle. Some integrators like to use what is called “structured wire,” where several cat-5 and coax wires are bundled together in the same jacket. We prefer to avoid these wires for a number of reasons. Firstly, since the wires are grouped together, the wire itself is extremely stiff and heavy. Secondly, since the wires are jacketed together, the jacket has to be eventually split when the wire lands in the destination room, costing additional time to unravel. Thirdly, the wire comes on large, heavy spools that require extra setup/breakdown time. Lastly, since other wires, such as cat-5, speaker, and shielded audio line level wires are run to most rooms, the grouping of four or less wires becomes self-defeating when the wire run contains double the quantity of wires than what the structured wire provides.
One person mans the main pull station and is responsible for labeling boxes of wire and taping the wires together for the destination room’s run. As the wires are run out to the far extremes, we address the longest runs first to ensure that any subsequent wire runs don’t unnecessarily rub against the previous run. When the wire reaches the destination room, we pull extra wire to cover any possible location within the room. The wire group is then coiled up and placed away before moving on to the next room. We focus on pulling all of the wires to all of the rooms first, simply to maintain an even flow of consistent work. Once all of the wires are run to the various locations, most of the wire boxes at the head end can then be removed.
The next step is to “loop” the wires within each room and land various audio, video, phone, network, and control wires in specific locations. Since we run a little extra wire into the room, we can take advantage of the extra length to “meander” the wires to various locations, should the wire be used for other purposes in the future. At this point, we also install flush-mount speaker rings and low-voltage outlet rings at appropriate locations. Each room is trimmed out one-by-one and given a double-check of wire locations against the contract before moving on to the next room.
At the head end, each room’s wire group has been taped at regular intervals by the person manning the pull station. Each of these wire groups extend well-beyond the utility area, closet, or cabinet to ensure adequate slack for eventual final installation. Normally, the job utilizes a system rack that can be pulled away and accessed from behind, where all of the various connections are made. By including a lengthy “umbilical,” the rack can be accessed for future servicing. Additionally, whenever possible, the mass of wires exit the head end wall at approximately four feet above fixed floor. This height allows the wires to droop down and slacken as the rack is moved up against the wall. The extra wire lengths are bagged within protective plastic bags and sealed to keep clean from drywall mud, dirt, and dust.
Lastly, we bring in a digital video camera to shoot the entire prewire for future reference. The video is then transferred and stored on our shop server for safe keeping. Later in the build process, the customer may want to relocate a product. The reference video helps to identify wire run locations where we may be able to intercept a wire for an additional purpose.
After several days’ labor, we step back and let the insulators and drywall installers do their work. We may drop by the jobsite from time-to-time as needed. Pre wire job complete.
We look forward to
hearing from you. Here are our contact links:
|Northern California Showroom
|Southern California Showroom
|17035 Calle Trevino, Unit 1
Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved, Sight And Sounds
Popular Pre Wire Months
The late spring and early summer months are the most popular time for system pre wires. (click image to view our portfolio)
If a home has multiple wire runs to various locations, it makes sense to have a common "head end." (click image to view our portfolio)
Wire Box Quantity
Delivering excess boxes and running wire groups to multiple rooms simultaneously provides an efficient work flow. (click image to view our portfolio)
Looping Within a Room
Pulling slightly more wire into a room allows for conductors to reach a number of locations. (click image to view our portfolio)
Capturing on Video
After prewire completion, it makes sense to film the entire job and back up the video on an archival system. (click image to view our portfolio)
The End Result
When complete, a well-planned and executed prewire provides a solid infrastructure. (click image to view our portfolio)
In the future, these network wires can be used for different purposes, since they all reside together at the system head end. (click image to view our portfolio)