General Wiring

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DIY Alarm Systems / DIY Security Systems

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General Wiring Practices


Can I install an Alarm/Security system myself?

I believe that most everyone can install their own DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system. The ease with which this can be accomplished depends on your skills and how comfortable you are in using basic hand and power tools. Ask yourself these questions?

• Am I the type of person who thinks ahead about and plans what is the best way to do a task?

• Do I know my skill and level of expertise and, where needed, am I willing to grow and improve?

• If you answered yes, you can do this! Now, here are the more technical decisions you need to make before moving forward:

• How will I be running the wires (Through the attic, under the baseboards or crown molding, or is there a basement where I can run the wires under the house and up through the floor)?

• If I want to run the wires through the walls, am I relatively familiar with the locations of house wiring, telephone, computer networks, plumbing, or gas lines? If not, buy or rent a quality stud finder and map these. Yes, you are right. Technically a stud finder is intended to use in locating wooden studs in the wall, but they can be helpful here too. Because the wall studs are used to channel and support many features such as wiring, pipes, etc, knowing where they are is helpful. Stud finders operate magnetically or use microwave technology, and they will find the wooden studs, metal screws, fasteners, etc, associated with these items. Also, where there is a receptacle, there is a line! If your household wiring runs up from the basement, the feeder line is generally below the receptacle. If they run from the attic, they will generally be above. Power lines can run horizontally through walls. Never assume an area is free of anything until you know for certain.

• Are you aware of the location of insulation or fire breaks in these walls? Insulation has a tendency to want to wrap around drill bits making holes difficult to drill. Firebreaks, just as the name implies, are intended to stop the movement of fire up the walls. They can present a challenge while installing a DIY home security system / DIY home alarm system. These are all things you must constantly consider if you are installing a hardwired system and drilling holes in an existing structure. No doubt, installing a hardwired system is much easier in a house under construction, rather than in a pre-built structure, but none of these problems are insurmountable or cannot be overcome.

• Now, if you are feeling uneasy right now, don't give up and call the nearest, alarm installer. You can always "surface mount" the wires. If you are picturing a tangled mess of wires in your head right now, erase it. Because these wires are small, they can be tucked under and behind moldings such as chair rails, base boards and crown moldings. Worse case, they can be run in the groove where the molding meets the wall. A little caulk and paint can hide them altogether. Remember the carpenter's motto, "Caulk and paint will make it what it ain't."

• If you live in an apartment or you rent a house, chances are you will not be able to drill holes and mount hidden contacts. A wireless system may be just perfect for you if these conditions exist or you just don't want to go through a hardwire install. With the different types of systems available, hardwired and wireless, you should be able to pick a system that you will feel comfortable installing. I will layout some of the methods for accomplishing a hardwire install and then move on to wireless installations. In reality you will probably incorporate both methods because most alarm panels will allow for both hardwire and wireless installation.

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The Best Route is the Direct Route

Although detailed instructions follow, we will begin with some general guidelines and instructions. Think of it as getting your feet wet before jumping in.

In most structures, the simplest and most direct wiring route is through an attic or basement. We will start by running the cable(s) through the attic or basement to a location directly above or below where we wish to install the DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system control panel. From there we will branch out to the individual zones and alarm components.

A WORD ABOUT running lines in attics. Because attics are often used for storage (you know, the place where you keep those ten-thousand, assorted Christmas lights--the ones with the chipped paint--and that vintage, door wreath with the moth eaten ribbon that belonged to your great-great something or other), you want to protect the cables from foot traffic or boxes being slid across them. The easiest way to do this to lay two boards, parallel to each other and approximately 1" apart. (You can use boards as small as a 1" x1" or 1" x 2".) This creates a channel between the boards in which to lay the cables. Use a wiring staple gun with domed staples to secure cable(s) along the exposed joists. Later, you can cap these boards with a third board (creating essentially a shallow, upside down "U") and your wires are protected.

Next, we will make the short vertical run through the inside of a wall from the attic or basement room to the alarm device. Remember to think about what you might run into such as house wiring, telephone, plumbing or gas lines. Some tools you will require for this procedure include springy fiberglass or steel fish tapes and a long string. These items are used for pulling cable through walls. This is a procedure known as fishing the wires. Also, you will need a long electrician’s extension bit for your drill. Most of these extension bits have a small hole in each end to attach wires to and serve a dual purpose, drilling the hole and then fishing the wire. Also, most drill bits 18" or less have rigid shafts, but the longer ones, 44" and 60", have flexible spring steel shafts. You may be thinking that you are going to have to buy a lot of specialized equipment, and for those of you who have experienced the "You bought that dang thing and only used it once" dilemma, consider this. Yes, it is true that you probably aren't going to be using a 60", flexible shaft drill bit for your everyday drilling tasks, but even so, do you really want to pay some other guy to do what you are capable of doing yourself. A few hours of a "specialists" time and you have paid for your drill bit.

Just so you know, not all of your equipment has to be fancy or even store bought. For example, a straightened piece of wire from a coat hanger or similar object may come in handy for pushing or pulling insulation out of the way in an exterior wall.

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Cable Routing Schemes and Tips

Most of the time, wiring of a DIY home alarm system / DIY home security system will require at least one long vertical run of wire between the attic and basement. Since every house has at least one plumbing stack or vent running from the basement to the roof, the excess space along this stack or vent offers an ideal cable route. Look also at furnace or air conditioning closets as possible routes. All of these can provide great cable routes between the basement and attic.

Closets on different levels of a house can provide a handy vertical cable route. If the closets are located directly over one another, drill through the floor of one closet and into the ceiling of the next. If they are staggered or offset, drill into the shared joist spaces and fish a cable a short distance between the two closets. Also, you can run cable out of the top of a lower closet to the crown molding, then drill into the bottom of an upper closet.

When running cable through closets or unfinished rooms is impossible, look for other ways to avoid long, tricky fishes through walls. You can hide it behind baseboards, chair rails, moldings, or door and window casings. You can also hide cables under rugs or carpeting, but be sure to avoid places where the insulation could be damaged or the wires broken by foot traffic or furniture.

There are surface mount contacts available for doors and windows that do not require drilling holes and recessing contacts.

Safety Tips: Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes when stapling, drilling, and chiseling. When using an electric drill in a cramped space, reduce the noise with earplugs.

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