Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Part 3 (End Spool)

So here we were, having run three 7-wire structured cables from the basement windows to the main cabinets. Things were working out. "This is going so well, I should run cable to the bedroom windows", I thought. "But is it enough cable?", I thought again.
"sure it is! Just look at that cable, there's like a billion feet!"

So we went for it.

Using precise measurements from our special measurement team we figured we could do at least two windows and maybe all three.

Because the wall with the windows was a load-bearing wall, we'd have to be extra sensitive to what might make the city inspector cranky. The bigger the windows, the bigger the load that has to be displaced around them. The top headers divert the compression forces down the sides of their supports instead of onto the window. This is good for the window, bad for guys drilling holes.

There was probably a good chance that the city inspector wouldn't have had a problem with us drilling through the top and we did have the cool auger bit, but either I was going to get my Project Manager in a little trouble (and get yelled at) or I was going to get him in big trouble when the framing failed inspection, get yelled at, pay a penalty, and then sent to Taiwan to be caned. I couldn't take that chance and so we drilled holes at an angle in the corners to run the cable from the side wall to the window wall. I know that sounds like a lot of fun. It's not.

After getting the cable to the window wall we routed it to the top of the side windows without much trouble, but the middle window had no place to route through. It was solid wood framed all around. It was either come up from the bottom through the cripples or drill through each of the supports on top and then down through the header.
This was going to make the middle window shade install challenging because the cable was going to end up at the bottom left corner and I’ll have to pull the cable up from the bottom and find a way to hide it along the side.

Window frame considerations aside, this pull back to the cabinet was a lot easier as it was just straight along the side of the house. We thought we might go along the same run as the other wiring but it seemed like too much trouble for these runs. In hindsight this might have saved enough cable to complete all three window pulls but this was somewhat impromptu anyway and we were “planning” on the fly.

So, back to the comment on high quality, sharp tools. I was drilling the hole for the right most shade and the drill got stuck. It wouldn't have if it were more powerful or if I had a better bit. As I reversed the motor to pull free it, it drove the drill (and my hand holding it) backwards. This is where an exposed nail jammed straight into my knuckle and I became more attached to my house than I thought I ever would be. After a moment of trying to wiggle free I realized the only option was to change the motor direction on the drill and drill forward so I could pull my hand free of the nail. Once I was free, my knuckle immediately swelled up and bled like a stuck knuckle. So I figured I’d smear blood along the studs remincent of an ancient marking ritual.

We had been working all day, I’d have to come back anyway to finish the third window, and I was bleeding. Sounded like time to go and we started the to pick up our supplies.

The best idea of the day was Barb’s when she realized that it was going to be a pain to be opening or closing shades on main window over the stairs to the basement. She suggested we run cable there so someday we could install an automated shade there.
Did I marry the right girl or what?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Shades (part 2 "The Pull")

So here we were ready to start pre-wiring the house for automated shades.
The wire arrived on a spool. This was good (easy to pull). It was wooden. This was less good (splinters). It was not true along its radial axis. This was much less good (wobbly retarded spinning cable of headache).

We wanted to use something as an axle for the cable spool to spin around as we uncoiled it. A piece of rebar, mounted on the ladder steps worked pretty well and were off and running.

We started at the northern-most basement window, then ran the middle, and finally the window by the wet-bar. The framing in the basement had enough of a gap between the concrete and the studs to allow us to place the cable behind the studs and avoid most of the drilling. It turned out later that the framers had to cover those gaps by the windows with particle board for the drywall so we had to drill anyway. But at this point we were blissfully unaware.

Pulling the wire off the spool, cutting, and loosely draping the wire was easy. Drilling the holes through the headers or the wall studs wasn't really difficult either and was actually pretty interesting. The tricky part was where we needed to turn a blind corner through studs or drill from the top or bottom where there might be nails.

The greatest contributor to our problems was the tools we had to use. All of my tools are in storage and I borrowed a cordless drill from a friend. It was a 14 volt drill which is good for small or medium jobs but really wasn’t meant for the drilling we needed to do. It did have two batteries, which helped a little with the power drain but the dulled drill bits would drain each battery quickly. We could do many single studs as this allowed the battery to rest. If there were two or more to get through we'd use up a full charge. We found we had to time the holes with the battery charges, keeping one battery charging as long as possible while drilling single stud holes, then having to go back with a full battery to drill the deeper holes.

It says here "Not recommended without Y chromosome."

I had stopped at the Home Depot to pick up some things I figured we’d need. Cable staples, zip-ties, cable lubricant and stuff like that. I also picked up a 20” long ½” auger bit with a nail cutting edge and general kick-ass capabilities. Trust me on this one people, spend the extra money for high quality tools. You’ll save time, make less mistakes, and avoid injury. It took the old drill bit about 20 seconds (with fresh batteries) to gnaw through a single stud. The paddle bit took a little bit longer and if it hit a nail, you might as well go to the DMV, and renew your license.

This thing, however, chewed through six studs in a row in about 20 seconds. It would have been less but I was being extra careful. We had to lay it down when we weren't using it so we wouldn't injure anyone.

You can see the opening behind Mark where we pulled the cable up from the basement. From here it was up and then across the living/dining area and then down to the cabinets. In order to keep from confusing the Guardian people we had to run this cable between the cabinets where it would be buried in drywall and I’d have to cut through the drywall later. This whole secret wiring thing was getting irritating but I was going to get yelled at by the Project Manager later so I figured I'd want to build my case of "No Harm" as much as possible.

Making the work neat and clean was time consuming but pretty satisfying. Our work had to be better than Fulton's low voltage work and I think it was. (Although they did do good work.) There were a couple of times that we realized we had routed the cable through a weird loop that would have made it impossible for the drywall to be hung but in general we had no re-routing issues. For the many recluse that frequent this blog let me tell you, I highly recommend having friends. It makes a job like this a pretty good time.

While running the cable for the basement I started thinking that it really made a lot of sense to have automated shades in the master bedroom. "Made a lot of sense" here means "would be really cool".

I wasn't sure if we'd have enough cable but I knew there would be something left over. Would it be enough to put shades in the master bedroom? At this point we don't know.

If we were going to do this it was important to get this done now before the drywal went up. If we had to do these runs after the house was finished it would require some cuts in the drywall and Barbara would kill me.

Tune in next time for "As The Spool Uncoils"

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Shades Part 1 (planning-prep)

This was the day.

I'd been planning it for weeks.

I wanted to install a significant amount of technology in the house. Partly because it will be a good learning experience but mostly as a way to have a technology showcase. Plus, it is really cool....

The idea started as just having Ethernet wiring in every room and some surround wiring in the basement and the great room. Then we thought we should have wiring for some speakers outside on the patio. Then that turned into the idea of wiring speaker runs in most rooms which quickly turned into making sure we could add a whole-house distributed audio system. What about distributed HD video to each room? We'll want lighting control and while we're at it, we should automate the shades in the basement so when we watch movies we could control the light and it would be way cool.

Guardian was the low voltage source for Fulton Homes and I thought I would have them do all of the work. I began to hesitate as their offerings were mostly lower end and when I started asking them about HDMI distribution they started talking to me about their “plasma pre-wire” offering. "uhm.... no, it's an interface... no, like a plug... a cable that carries HD and surround signals all by itself... Yes, really."

The real fun started when I specified a second subwoofer connection for the basement. This seemed really strange to them and I had to assure them that “Yes, I really really do want more than one subwoofer in the basement.” They still made me Pinky Swear.

But they looked at me like I had just shown them my Kuato when I started asking them about automated shades.


So we ordered what we could and I figured that I'd have to do the shades myself. The problem with doing this was twofold:

  • We didn't own the house yet
  • Guardian would normally be very unhappy that they weren't paid to run low voltage wiring.

I had a couple of things going for me on this last point but the best was that they had no "auto shade pre-wire" offering and got kind of scared when I asked them about it. There was no way they would do it and thus they couldn't complain about any revenue loss by me doing it myself.

We have three windows in the basement that were going to get shades. The other two were in enclosed rooms and light from there wasn't going to be a problem. The Lutron QED (quiet electronic drive) shades were the product we had settled on (really, what other product is there) and the shades require a seven-wire bundle to work properly. (Three wires for power and four wires for control.)

We could have just picked up seven wire-spools and run them all together to make a bundle but why do that when Lutron has partnered with manufacturers to make a bundle (Lutron Red) specifically for these shades? I'll tell you why, because that wire is freaking expensive, that's why.

In the end we decided that the Lutron Red was the best way to go as each wire has a different color, the power and control wires are separated and shielded from each other and it would be a lot easier to pull a single jacketed bundle instead of seven separate wires or even two different bundles. Wire was ordered arrived on time and today was the day.

Mark had agreed to help, which was good because he had ladders and tools. Hands + Brain were also a prerequisite but fortunately there were no issues there.

We figured we would follow the low voltage runs that were already there. Each window shade was to have a controller point at the window and be controllable remotely. This way, if you were near a window and wanted to just adjust a shade “old school”, you could do that as well as call up different “scene” settings via the master control boxes. We can have buttons labeled “Movie” or “Entertaining” or “Poker” to adjust the shades (and lights) accordingly.

Hole Rule
Guardian drilled a hole into the main floor to run their wire. Remarkably, (and I know this is hard to believe) the distance from this hole to the wiring cabinets stayed the same no matter how many wires we pulled through it. 40’ every time. How lucky is that? Once we figured that out we decided to pull wire in the basement from the hole to each window’s shade control box, and then add 40’ to the distance. Yes, we are geniuses. That's why we're in the biz kids, don’t try this advanced math at home.
next part 2 (Installation)