New House Input/Ideas

snmhanson

Member
Hi all,
 
I am new to this site.  Years ago I was fairly active on the Worthingon Distribution forum until they made it accessible to only people in the trade, so glad to find this site.  We are building a new house and nearing the end of the wiring phase.  The house is 3500 sf with 4 bedrooms, great room, rec/media room and home office.  I am pre-wiring for basic security/automation/technology.  Unlike our previous house (which had miles and miles of LV wire in it - a significant amount never used) I am trying to hard-wire only the more critical components and will rely on wireless technology for non-vital systems.  My current plans/infrastructure are as follows:
 
  • Radio Ra II lighting control (will start with it in the great room, master suite and certain paths, and expand from there over time)
  • HAI Omni or OmniPro II controller
  • Water shutoff valve (Elk?) - which will be hardwired to the Omni
  • 22-4 to laundry room, behind built-in fridge/freezer and behind dishwasher for water sensors hard-wired to Omni
  • 22-2 to garage doors for contact sensors - all other doors and windows will be wireless
  • Cat6 to potential keypad locations to accommodate Omnitouch panels (main entry, garage entries (mudrooms) and master bedroom)
  • 22-4 to outdoor temp sensor location (since it's an easy integration to the Omni)
  • Cat6 to soffits where exterior IP camera will be located
  • Cat6 to doorbell location for video doorbell
  • Cat6, 22-4 and Lutron specific wire to two locations at roughly each end of the house to accommodate WAPs, wireless security expansion and Radio RAII repeaters
  • 16-2 to the header of all windows where shades will be desired (going with Somfy RTS as Lutron is too expensive)
  • RG6/Cat6 drops at each television location as well as to the home office and possibly one in each of the bedrooms
  • Home theater room wired for 9.1 surround sound and for potential future projector and drop down screen
  • All wires except home theater are home run to a nice sized mechanical room where there is plenty of space to place the equipment and work on the systems
I'm sure some will notice and possibly object to not wiring for whole home audio, but our joist structure makes in-ceiling speaker placement difficult and we don't like the aesthetics of in-wall speakers.  We will use a Sonos or other IP-based system with both portable speakers as well as tie into free-standing speakers located in various rooms.  I may throw in a couple speaker wire runs to just a few areas if I have time, but probably not. 
 
So, that's where I'm at right now.  I'm hoping some of you might want to chime in with some input on what I might be missing, what might be overkill, and any mistakes I may be making.  A couple things I will need to figure out sooner rather than later are which wired water sensors work best to trigger a zone in the Omni and which POE IP cameras will work best as both stand-alone camera as well as integrating with the Omni, so any advice on those two questions in particular would be greatly appreciated.
 
Thanks,
 
Matt
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
My advice, don't do the lighting piecemeal.  Do it once.  Roll it into the construction costs.  You really do not want to be going back into the wall boxes over time.  We bit the bullet on Ra2 in the new house and it's been great.  It's a 2-repeater setup (more than 100 devices) and has been totally reliable. 
 
Especially with the introduction of voice control via Amazon Echo devices.  It's quite handy being able to use voice control instead of keypads most of the time for lighting control.  There's still benefits to having keypads, mainly for big lighting changes (like an all-off or significant zone/scene changes).  But for daily stuff, voice control is FANTASTIC.
 
For networking, bring a CAT6 or CAT5E to anywhere that could ever have a TV, desk or laptop.  For anywhere with a TV bring at least 2.  Because a TV cabinet also makes a good place to stuff a wireless access point or other bridge.  That and a hard-wired connection beats wifi hands-down for reliability and throughput.  You'd be surprised how many network connections a family room setup might need.  One Ethernet port each for TV, DVR, AVR, game console, along with a hard-wire link for network players (Chromecast, Amazon, Apple, Roku, etc).  You're then putting an 8-port network switch in there.  Or more, but getting a 16 port switch in a consumer-friendly form-factor is a hassle.  Thus more than one Ethernet uplink would let you use two 8-port switches.  Daisy-chaining switches should be avoided, and now is the perfect time to plan around that.  I pulled two CAT5E and two CAT6 to each TV location and it's worked out nicely.  

Pull both regular 2-conductor wire AND a CAT5 to the doorbell location (or near enough to get to it without undue hassle).  Because doorbell tech is still evolving and having fallback to a plain old 24v doorbell is handy.
 
You're probably correct re whole home audio.  With the advent of speaker units (Sonos, Echo, etc) there's a lot more flexibility to be had.  There's pros/cons to each.  Whole home audio is great if you've had it and gotten used to it.  But these days it's really hard to beat the flexibility and convenience of modular devices.
 
Two places where it's handy to have pre-wired for speakers are patios and porches.  Because dealing with fishing wire to them later is a lot more trouble than interior walls. 
 
A home theater adds zero to the appraisal of a new home.  It's a room, that's it.  So if your project doesn't include extra money to really build a theater, don't bother pre-wiring or even doing anything more than bare-bones prep.  Because if you're going to build a proper theater with de-coupled walls and soundproofing you'll rip down any basic drywall anyway.  Which will free up access to install proper speaker wires for the intended layout.  So if you don't have the theater already planned it would probably be a waste to pre-wire for it. 

WITH ONE EXCEPTION-- at that's spray foam insulation in exterior walls.  If that's a factor then pre-planning for conduits it important.  It's a huge hassle to run anything later if the walls are foamed.  A few strategic PVC conduits could be helpful to avoid digging into the foam later.
 
 

BraveSirRobbin

Moderator
Why are you going wireless with the windows when you can easily run wiring during construction? Also, don't forget about the exterior for power/camera placements, possible weather station, etc...

Also, don't forget about keypads for your security system, touchscreen integration, motion sensors, and glass break detectors. Would you like an intercom system? Water leak detectors under sink and washer room? Washer and dryer detection?

Even if you 'think' you may want this, run the wires and just blank a junction box off so its there in the future.

Bill gives excellent advice on a camera placement for the front door and wiring to the doorbell.

Don't forget about keypads for music deployment if desired

Also consider smoke and CO alarms, sirens in the house, all kinds of wiring by the garage door and opener/button, driveway detectors, mailbox detector, sprinkler controls/rain sensor/moisture sensor.

In my old house I ran power and cat5 to the rear block walls in the back of my property for low voltage lighting control, fountain power and control, and cameras that can point towards the house (rather than cameras mounted 'on' the house, this gave a more useable view).

Doghouse? Motion sensor, pet detector, heater?

Exterior music/intercom?

Panic buttons in the house?

Wiring to your air filter locations so you can detect the last time the filters were changed

Automate your thermostats with something using networking cable in the future?

Do you have 'deep' plastic junction boxes with the neutral wiring in each box (lighting control options)?

Lighting in your stairways, under your cabinets?

Wiring to monitor freezer/fridge temp?

Do you have a water softener, wiring to detect salt level?

Heat detectors in the attic and garage?

Wiring and power near the water loop source in case you want to place a shut off valve to work with your leak detectors

20 amp outlet in the garage for welder and ??? Do you need 220 in the garage? Laundry room?

Do you have a shed? Lighting power runs for that?
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
Oh, and tangentially, get in there during construction and TAKE PICTURES OF EVERYTHING.  Especially if it's a 'complicated' section of framing.
 
It really helps later to have pictures of all the framing behind the drywall.  Knowing "what's where" can help if you decide something needs changing later. 

I used ours to help the plumber when we had a drain clog.  Knowing it went over here, across there, down there with bends here, here and here... really helped him find the problem.  
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
Wire up the driveway or garage to accommodate electric vehicle charging.  If not the wire itself, then at least some conduit to allow pulling heavy gauge stuff later.  
 

snmhanson

Member
Thanks for the replies and advice.  It gave me lots to think about and I'll take it all under consideration.  I only have a few days before the drywall starts going up so I need to work quickly though.
 
Concerning RadioRa, I'd love to install the entire system up front, but just not sure the budget is going to be there.  We are already way over budget on the project so not sure I can swing the extra allocation to lighting control at this time.  I will talk with my electrician though to double check what the incremental cost would be since I believe he was planning on installing dimmers on all loads anyway.  He also said he's fine with my supplying the switches, which I can get RadioRa dimmers for around $100-120 each.  Maybe the premium won't be as large as I think it will.  In any case, I love the idea of having it all from the start, but we'll see...
 
Window and door wiring - I've gone back and forth on this one a bit.  The manufacturer of both our windows and doors indicates their warranty will be void if we drill into any part of them.  From what I'm seeing in wireless contact sensors we should get a few years from the batteries in them.  Plus, we don't have many operating windows and only a few doors at ground level.  In terms of electronic deadbolts, I wanted to do them but our doors are either aluminum sliding doors with their own locking system or our main entry door which is actually an 8' tall Marvin patio door with a multi-point lock system which I can't find an electronic solution for currently.
 
I've already run wiring for security keypads (Omnitouch) and water sensors as well as the cameras and doorbell.  For whole house music, I installed a Russound system in our old house which we liked, but it became a bit antiquated over time.  I probably would have upgraded if we had stayed in that home, but I would have moved to a system that is controlled by a phone app versus an in-wall keypad.  I felt that the Russound keypads cluttered the walls and looked like old tech after a few years.  They also didn't offer much practical control of the system aside from on/off, volume and source selection.  Hopefully between the Omnitouch panels and phone apps we will have plenty of control over the audio system without dedicated audio keypads.  In terms of the speakers, there are several issues that I won't get into here that convinced me to ditch pre-wiring for them.  My wife also doesn't like seeing them in the ceiling or walls.  Like I said, I may see about wiring speakers in a few specific rooms, but overall I think wireless systems and freestanding speakers will give us what we need.
 
Our main electrical panel is located in one of our garages (which would be the one I would do work in) so I should be able to expand the electrical in there pretty easy for car charging, 220v and other needs in that room - though I am having the electrician put in a couple 220v drops for my table saw and other tools that require it.  The electrical service entry is located on the wall of the other garage so I could probably figure something out there if I needed to.
 
I am taking pictures, video and notes for all of the framing, wire paths and hidden wire locations.
 
Thanks again for the advice.
 
Matt
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
I hear ya, but I'm telling you... dig deep for the lighting... as much as you can possibly swing.  It's one of those things that really needs to be there at the get-go AND planned that way.  You need power to the boxes (neutral in ALL wall boxes) and extra positions for keypads here and there.  Don't put those in now and you'll never get around to it later... or have a lot more work.  Adding wall box positions later is do-able, but much simpler done the 1st time.  If anything spec out an extra position in the wall gang box and use a blank Decora plate in it.
 
I designed ours as if it was going to be traditionally wired and then added a few keypads in key locations.  Along with using a hybrid keypad (is also a dimmer) for a few other places instead of a dimmer.  Like for a guest room, it has a keypad (dimming the ceiling fan's light), a dimmer (dimming the recessed cans) and a fan control (3 gang box).   The keypad offers a way to do a good 'all off' for the room along with control over the adjacent hallway lighting.  Fan light, Hall Light, Table Light (via a table module), Guest Bath and All Off.  
 
You can mock it up in the Ra2 software, available online.  If you build a model I'd be willing to load it up and give you some thoughts on it.

I have the Marvin doors.  Nothing electronic exists for them, especially not with the multi-point (top & bottom) mortises.  Those work well to keep the doors from warping.  I have a 8' french door pair and a 9' door and half-light.  The 9' door sees a ton of afternoon sun and WILL warp if the multi-point isn't locked.  This requires a tug upwards on the handle and no electronic lock setup I've seen can accommodate that.  That and the rod running inside the door effectively prevents any other sort of lock from being drilled through the door.  So, yeah, great doors... just not for automating/adding locks.

As for electric vehicles, think about where they're going to get parked most often.  Have a way to get wire to those locations now, before any overlaying concrete gets poured.

If you have any concrete outside walkways being poured consider running a pair of 2" conduits under them at strategic locations.  This to make it easier to run wire under them later.  Just plain old PVC is fine, with just caps taped onto the ends (not glued, of course!).  Works great to add lawn sprinklers, and holiday lighting later.

Speaking of holiday lighting, we have outlets on the front porch and driveway area all tied into a single switched circuit.  This being a Ra2 8ANS switch.  Actually, it's the top outlet in a single gang that's controlled.  The bottom one is live.  I'd loved to have found a dual-color electrical socket, but just used some red Sharpie marker instead.  I have one outlet on the ceiling too.  This to accommodate winter icicle style lights.  It's much nicer to have the lighting going straight into plugs than having extension cords running around.
 

snmhanson

Member
Thanks again for the replies - and your suggestions on the RadioRa system wkearney.  I chatted with my electrician today about the lighting plans.  He has worked with other Lutron systems such as Homeworks and GraphicEye, but I don't think he has done a Radio Ra system yet.  As such, he did have a couple of questions that might impact how far down the RadioRa hole we want to go.
 
First, will the RadioRa switches control loads prior to being programmed?  In other words, can the electrician wire them in and then immediately test the loads with them?  If that is possible then I could have them install the units and do the testing, then I could program everything once they are done.  Otherwise, he is concerned about the time and increased cost that will be involved in programming.
 
Also, would there be any other potential pitfalls that could create headaches for them.  Once thing I can see is that I don't think he used extra deep boxes.  However, he did comment that about the only thing that wouldn't fit in the boxes is a GraphicEye unit so I think they are ok there.
 
Finally, I am a bit confused as to when a neutral is required with the Lutron dimmers.  When I asked him about if a neutral is required for dimming he stated that one isn't required on any of switches.  I should clarify that his basic bid and plan thus far was to just supply regular paddle switches without dimming, but I did ask him about dimming the loads specifically and he said no neutral required.  As far as our lights, the large majority are conventional 4" Halo cans that will have LED adapters in them.  We will also have other fixtures such as sconces, chandeliers and ceiling lights which will all be LED as well.  I get conflicting information about when a neutral is needed and when onc isn't.  I would love it if I could just order a bunch of RRD6 units, but of course I don't want to end up with a bunch of dimmers that aren't right for the job.
 
A couple other notes: I did have the electrician provide spaces for keypads in the main areas that we'd want them so we have that covered.  And, all of the boxes have neutrals running through them. 
 
I'll add that I did start taking the online Lutron training a couple months ago but got too busy and didn't get too far.  I'll try to get started on that again and maybe I'll find some of my answers there.  But, any additional info you can give me concerning the above here would be great.
 
Thanks again!
 
Matt
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
Yep, without programming they're just plain old switches, readily test-able as if they were just regular devices.  Now, keypads get complicated, but the top button will default to controlling the dimmer load on it.  So no programming required for basic functionality/testing.

I have regular depth boxes.  Ra2 fits fine.  Deeper helps, of course, but they'll fit as long as there's not a ton of spare wire jammed in there.  If a regular Lutron Maestro dimmer fits... so will any Ra2 devices.

There's not many situations where a Grafik Eye is necessary.  They do offer some nice features, but for a 'normal' house you wouldn't be missing much by not using them.
 

NEUTRAL IN WALL SWITCH BOXES.  ALL OF THEM.  No exceptions!  But this has been code for ages.  Unfortunately a lot of old-school (or cheap) electricians trying to skimp on this.

Going without a neutral requires running a trickle load through the lighting elements and that's a disaster for LEDs.  

Lutron's website has an online database of LED elements they've tested.  Check what's on there and match it up to the right dimmers.
 

snmhanson

Member
That's great news about the devices not requiring programming and the box depths.  He did run fair amount of wire through the boxes, but hopefully it can all just be shoved to the back and out of the way.
 
Just one clarifications - when you say "neutral in all switch boxes" are you saying to make sure neutral is simply available in the box?  Or to always use a dimmer that requires a neutral?  Seems that the dimmers that require a neutral is about $20 more, plus our electrician will have to add a pigtail to his bundle of neutral wires.  But, if that's the way it has to be...
 
Thanks again!

Matt
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
If you run a neutral the wall switch boxes you're guaranteed of anything being able to work there.  There are some switches & dimmers that claim to be able to work with just a switch-leg in the wall box.  That is, power goes to the ceiling fixture first and then only a pair goes to the wall box.  You DO NOT want that and it doesn't sound like what's planned (that's good!).

Yes, you DO want all dimmers to be wired to need AND use their neutral.  There's some that can be wired with or without.. wire them WITH the neutral attached to the dimmer.
 
This to avoid any potential problems with LEDs.  It will be a problem if you don't.  Even if you pair the right LEDs with the right no-neutral-required dimmer.. what about in the future when you can't get that same LED unit?  Best to avoid the problem entirely and wire all dimmers up using their own neutral.  This is money that spent now will save you hassles over and over again later.

Any electrician that says it's not necessary with LED is not installing many LEDs.  Because they're a clusterf*ck of incompatibilities.  

I say this not out of being a perfectionist.  These things are pricey, that I know.  I have over 130 in this house, so yeah, I'd have been glad to make it less expensive.  It's shocking how quickly the number of devices adds up. 
 
With the advent of voice control via Alexa I probably could have cut back on a few keypads.  But in the event of network failure it's nice to have a fallback closer at hand than the dimmer that might be controlling the circuit.  "Alexa, turn on breakfast table" is quite convenient.  Likewise turning on/off the kitchen task lighting (sink, cabinets, etc) when you've got your hands wet/dirty/full. 
 
Motion controls are fantastically convenient for pantry, powder room and closet spaces.  I've even got one strategically aimed near my desk to detect when I'm working.  Keeps the lights on when I'm there and off otherwise (and is bracketed by offsets before/after sunrise/sunset).  
 
We have a large, open, floorplan and some stuff has the dimmer load placed up a fair bit away from were you might actually be using it.  N-way accessory dimmers help, but a keypad helps more.  I say N-way not 3-way because I've got a few places where there's 4 controls for a light circuit.  Some outdoor lighting where the dimmer is actually upstairs in the master bedroom and there's accessory switches down at 3 other entry doors downstairs.  Same thing with some dining lighting and kitchen controls.

If you're looking for a good supplier of Ra2 devices I could recommend a source.
 

RAL

Senior Member
@wkearney99 is mostly correct when he says that a neutral is required in all switch boxes.  That actual electrical code states that if a switch controls a lighting load, a neutral is required.  If it controls a wall outlet where you might plug in a light or perhaps something else, a neutral is not required.  Still, even though the code doesn't require it, I would recommend having a neutral there anyway.  The NEC just sets minimum standards.
 
Refer your electrician to NEC section 404.2( C ).  Local codes may vary, and some places have adopted different standards.
 
You don't have to always use a dimmer that requires a neutral if it is just a dimmer.  But any kind of timer or smart switch that needs some current to operate will otherwise have to get a trickle current through the lighting that is connected, and that can cause problems with LEDs and CFLs.
 

wkearney99

Senior Member
Always good to have clarifications.
 
As for LEDs, neutrals and trickle... quite a lot of entry level (aka chinese cheap crap) use terrible power supplies and will often mistakenly see that trickle as an 'on' signal and attempt to illuminate the light.  There's not enough current and the attempt fails, flickering the light in the process and the cycle repeats.  The added downside here is a terrible amount of RF noise (which I'm familiar with as I have a boat and RF noise from bad LEDs is a huge problem for VHF radio).  LEDs and CFLs with "decent" on-board power supplies shouldn't have this problem.  But there's no standard way to tell if a light has that or not.  There's no standards or required documents that cover this.
 
Tangentially, this is also a problem with ceiling fans.  A fair number are now using DC motors in them instead of AC.  These can't be controlled by most on-wall fan controls (as in, the Ra2 2ANF control).  If you want to have Ra2 integrated ceiling fan control you'll need to make sure the fan DOES NOT use a DC motor.  Likewise the on-board lights in many of these fans also cannot be controlled by a wall dimmer.  For these it's a little easier to tell, if it mentions DC fan then you can't use 3rd party wall controls with it.
 
There's lots of us here that have been guinea pigs for a lot of home automation gear.  We're glad to share our horror stories, if just to save someone else from the nightmares.
 
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