Oh what a tangled web we weave….

I’ve learned a lot of things since I moved into this house 20 years ago.

One of the things I’ve learned is that the person I learned to do low-voltage wiring from (network wiring, phone wiring, etc.) is crazy.

Let me back up and start over.

When we moved into the house, one of the first things to do was get the hi-fi set up. Looking around the living room, there were two corners where logically the speakers should go. And lo! We were not the first to think so: There were 1/4″ holes drilled down to the basement in those two corners. So that’s where the speakers went. I drilled another hole in the baseboard where the actual stereo rig was to go, and strung wires through the basement to the speakers. I ran these wires direct: from the middle of the west wall to the northeast and southeast corners—diagonally across the basement ceiling.

Soon more speaker wires joined them, headed from the spot where they came down from the stereo directly to where they went up into the walls of the newly-remodeled bedroom, office, and bathroom to the speakers I built into the walls in those rooms. And phone and network wires to those rooms (not the bathroom, although I had since wished for an Ethernet jack in there, before wifi became a real thing) and other rooms throughout the house.  The dining room has a box on the baseboard with two phone and two network jacks, for instance.

See, the crazy person who showed me how to do network wiring apparently believed that wire is a precious, precious thing. And he instilled this belief in me. So the best way was always the shortest way. Saving a few feet of cable was always worth doing. And I’m not the only one; a lot of the other low-voltage and some of the line-voltage wiring in this house is the same way.

I know better now. Network and phone wiring is what I do for a living, and maintaining, upgrading, even just tracing wires run that way is a huge pain, and makes the space through which those wires run (usually the space above your office’s drop ceiling) a hazard to work in. Leave some slack. Run the wire mostly along the structure. But I learned all of that after I’d done all this wiring in my basement.

Anyway a couple of months ago I went down into the basement to assess the wiring for the thermostats, because I want to move them to different locations, upgrade that wiring, and so on to enable me to have intelligent, wifi-connected thermostats in the near future. And I looked up at the ceiling of the basement. At the criss-crossed web of phone, data, audio, alarm, doorbell, thermostat, clotheslines…and I wept bitter tears of regret.

Then I started pulling wires down.

I haven’t had the stereo turned on this century: I never listened to the radio much except in the car, and tape is dead, vinyl is dead (although I do still have all my albums, and I haven’t gotten rid of the turntable yet…someday I’ll probably undertake ripping all those albums that I own that never made it to CD or MP3), CDs are mostly dead, and what I do play I play on the computer…I just never use it. So all those speaker wires came down.  I’m formulating a plan to rehabilitate that system, but in the meantime the wiring can come out; when I start over I can do it again, the right way.

I pulled down all the clothesline.  As far as I can recall it’s never been used in the 20 years I’ve lived here.

Next I ran a line of bridle rings down the steel beam that makes up the spine of the house, and a row of drive rings down a joist from the spine to the furnace. The new cable for the new thermostats is now in these new structured-wiring supports.

The next piece to be redone will be the doorbell wiring. It should just run straight from the back of the house (where the doorbell transformer is) to the front (where the part that makes noise and the button are). But it takes an excursion up to under the attic stairs. The wiring for the back door button (long derelict) leads there, and there’s an old disused chime with a discreet and pleasant “bing bong!” sound installed there. That chime was working when we moved in, but we could never hear it because it’s in the basement, under the carpeted stairs, far from the parts of the house that usually contain people. Good luck. Now I have a fire alarm gong. It is also in the basement, but it’s loud enough to wake the dead, so you can pretty much hear it anywhere on the main floor of the house. Anyway the doorbell wiring isn’t actually attached to anything much; it just sort of twists its way from here to there and supports itself by being stiff and going up over this and down around that. I will replace it with a multi-conductor low-voltage cable (2 for 24VAC power, one for front button, one for back button=4 wires) running through the bridle rings, and move the gong to the center of the basement for maximum sound penetration. I may extend the cable up into the attic so I could theoretically add a second sounder up there if that becomes a need.

Next is going to be phone. A lot has changed in the telephone world since I did all this phone wiring. Back then we had three phone lines: hers, mine, and the modem/fax line. I pulled cable so you could plug in a phone most anywhere you might want to, and misused the terminal blocks (because I didn’t know the right way: Even the crazy training I had had was for network, not phone wiring) to make every line available at every jack. Now there’s one line, and it almost never gets used. All this wiring can mostly come out. I need a couple of phone jacks (in my office and bedroom) so when I work from home and need to connect to the modem on a remote system I can do that.

Which just leaves the network wiring. Here again I need less than I have, now that wifi is a thing. But I still do need some network jacks; I have a few devices that don’t do wifi.

But the phone and network wiring will all come out and be redone anyway. The right way. With some order. And a little bit of slack. And new jacks: the brand I chose back in the early 90s is gone; swallowed by another company, who still technically makes them, but they’re not available anywhere I’ve seen. So good luck actually buying them if you need to upgrade, repair, or replace anything. For now though, it’s enough that there is a structure in place, and all new wiring will be part of that structure in the future, and I’ll deal with the legacy mess as I go. The new cables for the new thermostats is in place; when I actually put in the new thermostats, the wiring for the old thermostats will be removed.

And this all started because I just wanted to replace two short cables.


A guy in his early 50s, living more or less alone in a 90-year-old house, trying to keep it all together.

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Posted in Wires
2 comments on “Oh what a tangled web we weave….
  1. Star Straf says:

    Low on my ‘todo’ list at our place is replace the RG59 cabeling with whatever is needed to support whole house DVR

  2. […] As I said, There are speakers built into the walls of my bedroom, office, and bathroom. I’ve been contemplating what to do about them for quite a while. […]

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