Low Voltage Home Pre-Wire Guide:

Finishing the Installation

In this section:

We haven't finished installing everything we wired for; we might never get there! However, here are the products we used and the installation methods we used for what we have installed so far.


As I mentioned before, some in-wall speakers use mounting guides or brackets (usually extra cost) that are installed at the time drywall goes up. However, we used Polk speakers that had the mounting brackets included with the frame of the speaker, and did not require pre-installed guides. From the photographs and measurements taken before drywall went up, I then measured the completed walls, adjusted slightly for the looks of the finished room, used the templates included with the speakers to mark the hole size and location, and cut out holes for the speakers with a drywall saw. After all the time that the wires had been hidden by drywall, it was really a relief to see those speaker wires behind the wall, right where I expected them to be! With the Polk speakers I used, connecting the speakers was a simple matter of stripping the wires and inserting them into the 5-way bindings of the speaker (just like a floor-standing speaker). I set the speaker frames into the drywall and tightened the screws, which swung the mounting clips over the back of the drywall and clamped the speaker frame tight against the drywall for a secure mount. I have also been able to easily remove the speakers when necessary.

(photo) In-Wall Speaker (Polk AB705), front & rear

We used the smaller 705 speakers (shown above) for smaller rooms like bedrooms and the office (and even above the jetted tub in the bathroom!). For larger rooms where more bass might be needed, we used the Polk AB805 speakers, which are similar to the 705 except they have an extra woofer, making them the same width but longer (woofer, tweeter, woofer in a line). We stayed with the same manufacturer and model series to try to keep tonal qualities of the sound similar as people walk through the house.

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Though it is not really recommended that speakers be mounted on outside walls, I had to do so in one room. I mounted them on the slope of a cathedral ceiling where there was quite a bit of depth, but I had to displace some insulation for the back of the speaker. The vapor barrier was the biggest issue, since I wanted to make sure the back of the speaker never got damp. I had to cut the existing vapor barrier plastic (on the room side of the insulation) to make room for the speaker, but taped a larger piece behind the cut hole to ensure that any moisture between the insulation and the plastic would run on the other side of the speaker. Thus I still have insulation on the outside (but some pushed back to make room for the back of the speaker), the patched plastic barrier, then the speaker. No problems so far.

Another tricky place was ceiling mounted speakers where the attic was above the ceiling. Here I built insulated "boxes" above the speaker locations after drywall installation and before the blown insulation was put into the attic space. I built the boxes between ceiling joists using 2" foam insulation panels, or "blue board", left over from the insulation used under the foundation. I just cut end panels 3.5" high (the thickness of the ceiling joists) and ran them between the joists, and nailed a top cover over the joists and end panels. I ran the speaker cables into this chamber and sealed all joints with caulk to make sure the blown insulation would never get into the speaker chamber. This gave me about a 15"Wx18"Lx3.5"D sealed chamber for each speaker without heat loss. After completion of the house, I went back and cut in the speaker holes just as for a wall mount location.

So, you ask, how does all this sound now with music running through? Great! (did you expect me to say otherwise?) It is interesting to note the differences in sound due to room acoustics. The above two locations have identical speakers (the Polk AB805s), but sound different. Though it is possible that the mounting differences cause some of the sound differences due to the sound chamber effects, I believe it is more the room acoustics. The speakers with the blue board chambers are in a very large room with an 18 foot high ceiling and one full glass wall. With all that glass, this room is very "live", especially with higher frequencies. The sound here is fantastic, and is great for parties! The other room with the smaller space behind the speakers is not as large, with wood paneled walls, and the sound is not so open. However, in this room the sound is probably more "accurate", without frequency shifts. This might be a better room for critical listening. Though I was hoping, by having the same speakers, to have consistent tonal qualities as you walk around the house, the room acoustics do make a noticeable difference. But having high-quality music throughout the house is really nice! Put the sound system in early!

Volume Controls and A/B Switches:

We used high-quality Niles volume controls for each set of speakers. These are 12-step transformer controls, not resistive loads, so there should be little efficiency loss. The 12 steps include full off (open), 10 steps of the transformer, and full on (direct connect). Each volume control connects back at the amplifier through a 6-speaker impedance matching switch (I used a Niles cabinet-mount unit). We use a large industrial amplifier that can easily handle the power required for six speakers at the volumes we use for ambient music. I bought a different brand of volume control from Home Automation Systems (HAS) to see the difference. See the photo below for a comparison of the Niles and the one from HAS. The Niles appears to be a little better made and has a wider dynamic range, but is much more expensive (about $65). You can also replace the trim plate and knob of the Niles easily, allowing more versatility with room color changes (it is available in white, almond, bone, and black).

(photo) Comparison of two volume controls

Some specs for the Niles VCS-2D volume control (See HAS's page for the specs on their controls):

I could not find much selection for in-wall speaker A/B switches, but again used Niles (model ABA-1D). These switches handle 350 watts/channel, are flat between 20 Hz and 20kHz, and also have isolated left/right channel grounds. See the schematic section for how I wired these switches in. I thought the prices for these switches were outrageous for such a simple device (about $40 each!), so I've only bought one and haven't installed it yet. Niles also has switches for selection of multiple speaker sets (set A, set B, or both from same audio source) and for speaker or headphone selection (headphone jack placed in A/B switch cover), models AB-2D and HS-1D, respectively.

(photo) Niles A/B Switch, model ABA-1D

Telephone Hub:

I used two 66 punch-down blocks for our central phone hub in the basement. These are blocks of 50 rows of connectors, 2 pairs on each row. Each pair consists of two terminal posts (or "clips") connected together internally, allowing connection of one phone wire to another wire. Thus you can terminate 100 wires on each block (50 rows x 2 pairs). A "punch-down" tool presses the unstripped wire onto the post, which cuts through the insulation to make solid connection between the wire and the connector's post. Depending on which end of the tool blade you use, you can either just punch down the wire onto the connector for chaining a wire between connectors, or you can punch and cut the end of the wire for termination of the in-wall wires all in one easy step. Select the closeup below to see how this works.

(photo) Use of punch-down tool on 66 block

The punch-down tool can either be a simple handle with a tip, or an impact (spring-loaded) tool. The simpler ones are cheaper (about $20-$30 or so), but the impact ones ($50-$70 - I paid $65 for mine at Graybar Electric in Denver) very nicely "stamp" the wire into place and (optionally) cleanly cut the wire end. You can usually get an additional tip for the 110 type punch-down blocks, which are also used in commercial phone installations and/or for data (LAN) type connections. Though the 66 blocks are now available in Cat 5 models (just shorter posts), the 110 blocks are usually preferred for high-speed data connections. I used the 66 blocks (mine are Cat 5) for phone connections because they seem sturdier and easier to undo/redo, and I will probably be making relatively frequent changes. I will use the 110 blocks for my LAN connections.

I bought my Siemon model S66M1-50 blocks from Graybar for $6.42 each, with additional mounting brackets for $1.22 each. These blocks contain just the connector posts without any jacks or connectors. I mounted the 66 block on a 3/4" painted plywood panel on studs in the basement. I ran all the house phone cables behind the panel, and brought them through holes drilled in the panel behind the 66 block mounting location. This hides and protects the cables. The mounting brackets raise the blocks, allowing room behind the block for routing the cables from the holes to the 66 block. I brought each cable to one side or the other of the block, and terminated each of the eight wires per cable to the outside post of a connector pair. I used the inside post for the connection to the incoming (CO, or Central Office) phone line, which will be the line from the PBX in the future.

We don't have a PBX system yet, so I just have all needed lines temporarily jumpered at the block, so all phones are connected in parallel, by daisy-chaining the incoming phone wires between phone jack cable connections. To do this, use the non-cutting end of the punch-down tool. You flip the tip over in the tool handle - one end has a rounded edge and a cutting edge, the other end has two rounded edges. When using the tip with the non-cutting end, the wire is not cut off; you can punch down the same wire on multiple posts to connect several wires. So, I daisy-chained the incoming line to all the phones I needed (blue/white to blue/white, white/blue to white/blue).

Select the close-up below to see how I connected house wires and CO wires to the block. Note that I labeled each cable with the cable number on the block itself, and the room designation on the plywood next to where the cable comes out of the panel. I kept the color pairs together, starting with the primary phone line (blue pairs) then the secondary (orange), etc. See the Wiring Phone Jacks section below for details on color codes at wall jacks.

(photo) Phone block installed and connected

After I wired my block, I found out that the standard for wire installation on these blocks is as follows:

White/Blue (white with blue stripe)
Blue/White (blue with white stripe)

White/Orange (white with orange stripe)
Orange/White (orange with white stripe)

White/Green (white with green stripe)
Green/White (green with white stripe)

White/Brown (white with brown stripe)
Brown/White (brown with white stripe)

As you can see from the photograph, I got the sets of pairs in the right order (blues, oranges, greens, browns), but I had swapped the order of each pair (blue/white instead of white/blue, etc.). Oh, well, as long as I keep it consistent it should work fine.

The block wiring scheme I used should work fine for making one connection to each house wire, which is probably all that is needed. However, if you need to connect more than one wire to any of the house wires, do not try to put two wires into one post; you may get flaky connections. Instead, plan on using another block or a different part of the block as a "patch panel", where you use multiple connectors for each destination wire. For example, you can daisy-chain a wire to one post of several connectors to act as a "bus", then use the second post of each connector to jumper to the needed connection.

For information on wiring for a LAN, see John Springer's Wiring Closet page, which includes a description of tools and his wiring closet setup and procedure (including color codes for RJ-11 and RJ-45). HAS has some info on their 66 blocks and punch-down tool. MicroWarehouse has a DataComm catalog with tools and panels, etc. (see their Central Site Wiring section).

Telephone and Cable Outlets:

A/V and Combination Wall Jacks

I am using outlets with wall plates that match the Decora style, since building supply houses around here and in the home automation catalogs seem to carry the best supply (variety) in the Decora style. For A/V connections in these styles, the standards seem to be four (or two) banana jacks in one plate, and two F connectors in a separate plate. Therefore, in my standard locations I used double-gang boxes here for these "standard" parts. The typical "hybrids" I've seen seem to only combine two or three RCA jacks (for signal-level connections) with a single coax F jack. See Wires, Cables, and Wall Plates from HAS for some photo examples and prices.

However, there are some (more expensive) versatile options. Leviton has a line of "mix and match" snap-in modular jacks for the decora style wall plates. A mounting plate holds two jacks of your choice. Available jacks include 6 or 8 conductor phone jacks, 8 conductor Cat 3 or 5 jacks, coax F connectors, BNC coax connectors, or even fiber optic couplers into two locations in the wall plate. Sets of two 4 or 6 terminal phone jacks, or one phone jack and one F-connector (cable TV), are available at home improvement warehouses like Home Depot. These include the mounting plate for two jacks, the two jacks, and the cover wall plate. I bought the double phone unit (Leviton catalog #801-41666) for $8.33, and the phone/cable unit (Leviton catalog #801-41658) for $7.33. Home Automation Systems has a wider range of these components (at least, they certainly look exactly the same - see their photos), which should be able to snap into these Leviton plates.

Another option for more versatile and condensed installations is a wall plate system from Leviton that allows mix-and-match of up to four jacks in a single-gang box. However, these use the standard oval-shaped electrical outlet format instead of the Decora, and I am sure they cost a lot more since they are for commercial applications (I have not checked prices). Also, I don't know if they had banana plug jacks, which would be used for the A/B input jacks.

Another possibility I thought of (but have not yet tried) for combining different types of wall plates was to use a phone plate and just drill two holes for the F-connector coax jacks, since all the wall plates I've seen for these just use a splice or feed-through type of F connector. These feed-through connectors can be purchased separately and cleanly installed in a simple hole in a wall plate. I was planning on using this as a back-up for some locations where I might need more than the double-gang box, but didn't want to go to a larger size box. This might work where you want two coax connections as well as a phone connection.

Wiring Telephone Jacks

The following chart and diagram are from Leviton's industry standard charts for telephone connections and colors. Note that this is not always the same as wiring standards for data communications lines, which depend on the LAN protocol used. See Jon Scheer's Telco Wiring Chart for details on different LAN wiring standards. The phone jack diagram below follows 6P6C (USOC), or RJ-11, guidelines for two and three pair phone jacks. Such diagrams usually represent the front view of the female wall jack, as you would see it from the outside after installation in the wall. I've only shown the two-pair color scheme, since this is usually all that is needed for home phones. In fact, only the first (blue) pair is really needed for most phones, but 2-line phones and special phones like the Panasonic PBX programming phone use two-pair wiring. At locations like our office where we may use two phone lines (one for voice, one for modem/fax), I will use the 3rd and 4th pair to wire a second phone jack in the same box, using the same jack wiring as below, but substituting the green pair and the brown pair for the blue pair and orange pair, respectively.

Graphic of phone jack and wire colors

In the chart below, the two-color stripe color scheme follows the standard designation where the primary wire color is listed first followed by the stripe color. For instance, "White/Blue" means "mainly white wire with a blue stripe", or "white with blue." This color scheme is used with standard 4-pair phone cables. The single color in parentheses represents the older solid-color phone wire colors, sometimes still marked or used on the in-wall phone connectors or in the wires of the external flat phone cables used to connect your phone to the wall jack. The slot numbers next to the Tip and Ring indicators are usually marked on the jack. Note that the slot numbers (and solid color cross references) are for the common 4 and 6 terminal telephone jacks only, and would not apply to 8 terminal data jacks; the PAIR 4 section is for color reference only.

PAIR 1 Tip (+), slot 4
Ring (-), slot 3
PAIR 2 Tip (+), slot 2
Ring (-), slot 5
PAIR 3 Tip (+), slot 1
Ring (-), slot 6
PAIR 4 Tip (+)
Ring (-)
NOTE: For 6-wire jacks use pair 1, 2 and 3 color codes. For 4-wire jacks use pair 1 and 2 color codes.

After wiring all the wall outlets I needed, I tested them at the jacks with an inexpensive phone jack tester, available at many of the home improvement centers for about $5. These testers are a small box with a phone plug on one end. An LED on the box glows green if the jack is wired correctly, or red if the polarity is wrong. The LED stays off if no connection is found.

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