In-wall Wiring Guide for Home A/V
Technology

In-wall Wiring Guide for Home A/V

This guide will help you save money doing your own small-scale inside wiring projects in finished and unfinished rooms. If you decide to hire a professional, the knowledge you gain will help you work through the process with your contractor.

can you do the wall wiring yourself?

is it legal?

In most places, the owner can install low-voltage wiring. however, each state has its own code, as do some cities and counties, so check with your local authorities to be sure.

Reading: How to connect home stereo wires

are you capable?

If you’re new to this type of work, try tackling a relatively small project, like hiding the wires going to the rear speakers on your home theater.

The easiest scenarios for a do-it-yourself installer are those where you might run cables in the attic, unfinished basement, or basement. use these spaces as much as possible, even if it means longer runs of cable.

consider wireless options first?

Before you start drilling holes in studs or cutting holes in walls, consider today’s wireless music solutions. There are a variety of wireless speakers, as well as some receiver/transmitter combos that work with regular speakers and amplifiers. Many people ask us about wireless surround sound systems. for years there was no good answer. now there are several.

request a system design

Before you begin, you’ll need a plan. do yourself a favor and submit a system design request to the crutchfield audiovisual design team. You can upload a floor plan and photos of your room, then chat with a designer about your goals. you will receive a system plan and a link to a shopping cart with all the items you need to complete your project.

things you’ll need

always use cable rated for wall installation. look for cl2 or cl3 rated speaker cable. Cable rating CL2P or CL3P is for placement in a plenum-rated air space above a false ceiling in a commercial building. you’ll want cable rated for direct burial if you’re running it through the ground to outside speakers.

speaker wire gauge and conductors

In-Wall Speaker Wire is identified by abbreviation, indicating its gauge (thickness) and number of strands (or conductors, as they are known in the trade):

  • 16/2 is 16 gauge wire with 2 conductors
  • 14/4 is 14 gauge wire with 4 conductors

The lower the gauge number, the thicker the wire. For runs less than 50 feet, 16-gauge wire will suffice. For longer runs, use heavier 14-gauge wire.

how much cable should i buy?

After planning where you will route your cable, you will need to calculate how much you will need. ask your system designer for help with this. he or she can provide you with a wiring “map,” a diagram that shows what you’re installing in each room, including all the speakers, wires, brackets, and other items you’ll be installing.

Your designer can look at your floor plan and give you a solid recommendation on how much cable to buy. if you’re laying out your own plan, think about where each wire will need to go. set the pace or measure each route. tips:

  1. allow additional cable for connections. for example, if you intend to install the ceiling speakers yourself, allow 2-3 feet of extra wire so you can run the speakers on the ladder while you connect them.
  2. Allow 10-10 Extra 15 percent: Your planned cable route could be thrown off course by an unexpected obstacle. to be safe, buy at least 10 percent more cable than you think you need.

audio/video cables

Most A/V patch cables are not suitable for wall installation. some hdmi cables rated for in-wall use do not support 4k or hdr video.

Fortunately, there are some clever solutions, like baluns, that use wall-mount rated network cable, coaxial cable (rg-6), or even fiber optic cable to pass audio and video signals over long distances.

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wall plates and brackets

Your system designer can also help you determine how many and what type of wall-mounted receptacles and wall-mounted volume controls you’ll need. you’ll also need mounting brackets to hold the receptacles and volume controls. your designer can add all these parts to your system plan and a pre-loaded shopping cart.

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“embedding” brackets or “saved holes”

These wall and ceiling speaker mounts are great time savers. the drywall installer will cut holes for the brackets before hanging the drywall (as they do for light switches and electrical outlets). you may have to order them separately; they may not be included with your speakers.

outboxes

Hardware used to mount volume controls, cable outlets, and other recessed devices to the wall are called junction boxes or “junction boxes.” look for a junction box that is deep enough to fit your in-wall devices (typically 2-3/4″).

For a wall-mounted volume control, you need the structural strength and protection offered by a standard junction box (available at home improvement stores). when you’re simply terminating the wires at a wall plate, backless brackets will do.

mount your outlets at the same height as your ac outlets for a clean, consistent look. in-wall controls look best if the height of the light switches is the same (typically located 44-48″ from the floor). do not connect low voltage boxes to light switch boxes.

nail plates

Whenever you drill a hole 1-1/4″ or less from the surface of any wood part of your house (a joist, joist, plate, block, or brace) or notch any wood part, you must protect the cable with a nail plate the nail plate prevents a nail from going through the cable.

wire labels

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Label both ends of the cable before you start pulling or before cutting another cable. you can use crutchfield cablelabels™, or just use tape and a marker.

cable ties and accessories

cable must be supported every 4-1/2 feet and within 1 foot of a junction box. use cable ties and cable tie clamps. Staples used by electricians for normal AC wiring can damage low-voltage cables if driven in too hard.

component racks

If you’re going to hide your speakers in the ceiling or wall, why not hide the components as well? We offer a variety of equipment racks designed for installation in a utility room or closet.

tools

wire cutters/wire strippers

A good wire stripper is a must if you are going to install many speakers. we also offer a variety of tools for connecting connectors to coaxial and network cable.

an alternative method of stripping wire requires nothing more than a razor knife. this is how norm hawes from crutchfield, an experienced installer, does it:

search engine

You’ll want to invest in a good stud finder before beginning an installation in a finished room. Some stud detectors, like this one, can differentiate between metal pipes, AC wires, and other obstacles hidden behind walls. here’s a link to some great video tips on how to use a stud finder.

cable duct tape or fish sticks

A cable tie is a tool that helps you pull cable behind finished walls, floors, and ceilings. think of it like a fishing reel wound with a semi-rigid “ribbon”. the idea is to push or “fish” the tape from one end of the cable path to the other end. then you connect the cord to the hook at the end of the ribbon and pull it back.

norma likes to use fish sticks:

various tools

  • laser level or chalk line
  • 1/2″ or larger power drill. you may want to purchase or rent a right angle drill if you are doing a lot of work in one area unfinished rooms.
  • a set of 1/4″ to 1-1/2″ spade bits. (Professional installers use more expensive auger and hole saw bits because they make the job easier.)
  • drywall saw
  • stepladder
  • eye protection, work gloves, and dust masks
  • tape insulator

see how an expert handles the cable

In this video, norma shows you how to run the cable and “trim” it for a safe and tidy installation.

installation tips and techniques

new construction

Be careful not to bite into more work than you can chew. Most do-it-yourselfers don’t have the tools, skills, or time to wire an entirely new home while it’s being built. But let’s say you have an unfinished room that you’re turning into a home theater. that’s a project you can have fun with. here are some guidelines:

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Never use the same holes for AC cable and low voltage cable. try to avoid running your cables next to ac power lines for more than 5 feet. As much as possible, keep them 1 foot away from power lines during their runs.

can safely run audio and video in the same package as security, phone, data, and other low-voltage cables.

rules for drilling holes in studs and joists

drill holes in the center of each stud. the diameter of the holes must not exceed 40% of the width of the stud. a standard 2″ x 4″ stud is actually about 3.5″ wide, which means the holes can’t be more than 1-3/8″ in diameter.

keep all holes vertically centered in the joist. don’t drill closer than 2″ from the top or bottom of the joist. the ends and middle third of the joist span are load bearing, so avoid drilling holes there if possible.

is limited to a hole that is one-third the measured depth of the joist. a 2″ x 6″ joist is actually 5-1/2″ deep, so you can drill a 1-3/4″ hole. you can drill multiple holes instead of one very large hole when many wires need to go in one direction.

You may not drill holes in laminated support beams (adhesive sheets) or headers (brackets over doors, windows, or arches).

tips for pulling cables

For cables to pull easily, the diameter of a hole should be approximately twice the total diameter of all the cables you plan to pass through it. Since hole sizes are limited, you may need to use multiple holes. for example, a 1-3/8″ hole will accommodate a cable bundle just under 3/4″ in diameter.

bandage wires

Once a cable or cable bundle has been pulled to its exit location, you must dress it. that means properly preparing it for the final step (making the connections), which won’t happen until you’re almost ready to move in. will carefully coil the excess cable and temporarily secure it to the junction box.

  • Support the cable within 1 foot of a junction box or p-ring. At each bracket, junction box, or p-ring, cover at least 2 feet of cable, leaving it coiled just inside.
  • The drywall will cover your cable, so photograph or measure the location so you can find the wire after putting in the drywall.
  • wrap the ends of each wire with plastic bags and tape to keep moisture out of the wires. wire can rot from moisture from paint and plaster. make sure the tags are protected.

run cables through existing walls

always inspect as much as possible before drilling a hole. explore your crawl space or roof in an unfinished segment of your basement. try to spot which way the joists run and where the empty wall space between the studs might be.

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By surveying from your basement or attic, you can identify which wall locations do not carry water pipes or electrical wires. A high-quality stud finder will help you distinguish between different types of obstacles behind your walls, including studs, AC cables, and pipes.

Of course, you can’t know what’s behind the wall with absolute certainty. you must be prepared to cut and patch exploration holes.

To minimize that work, use a stud finder that can locate wood, metal, and AC wiring. you can also drill small “pilot holes” to explore behind your walls. use a piece of sturdy wire, like a bent coat hanger, to find nearby obstacles.

Be sure to turn off the power in the area where you will be drilling the pilot hole and be careful not to sink the bit into a pipe or electrical conduit. make sure you know where the main water shutoff valve is located, in case you puncture a water pipe.

cut drywall

After you’ve confirmed that all of your component locations will work, laid out your templates, and done any other preparation recommended in the owner’s manual for your speakers or brackets, you can begin cutting drywall.

if you’re creating a rectangular hole, start by drilling two small holes at opposite corners; if it’s round, drill two small holes on opposite sides. then using your drywall saw, start from one hole and work your way around the outline to the next. Cut the drywall in one piece, sloping inward, to make it easier to repair later if needed. if you don’t need to patch the hole, simply remove any excess material before installing the speaker.

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For more information on choosing and confirming locations for your in-wall kit, check out our in-wall speaker installation guide.

plaster and lath walls

If your home has plaster and lath walls or ceilings, it will be more difficult to run your own wiring into the wall. plaster tends to crack and crumble easily, so be prepared to do some touch-up work. we recommend running the cable out of the wall and using rugs, cabinets, etc. to hide it. check out our article on home a/v cable management for more ideas.

wiring tips and tricks

You will probably encounter some obstacles in the wall while routing the cables, such as additional bracing or a fire block. if that happens:

  • Remove a rectangular piece of drywall around the obstacle. cut it with an inward slant to make it easier to patch the drywall when you’re done.
  • notch the block or drill a small hole for the wire. if you gouge the block, don’t forget to cover it with a nail plate.

cable routing through an unfinished basement

In the example shown here, you cut two holes in the wall: one for a wall plate and one for a wall speaker. then drill two holes in the bottom plate of the wall, which is accessible from the unfinished basement ceiling. one hole goes under the wall plate and the other goes under the wall speaker.

how do you know where to drill the bottom plate holes? You can measure the distance to the wall plate and speaker from an adjoining wall, referencing a copy of your blueprints, or measure the distance from a visible reference point through the wall to the floor below, such as a plumbing pipe. plumbing.

once you’ve made the holes, you can run the cable from the wall plate hole into the basement and then up through the other hole to the speaker location.

cable routing along a plinth

Pry up the baseboard with a small pry bar. remove a thin strip of drywall to expose studs. Cut a wire channel by scoring and chiselling the studs. pass the tape from one hole to the other and pass the cable. Feed the cable into the channel and install nail plates on each stud. reinstall the socket.

cable routing around a door frame

Split the molding away from the doorway with a chisel, small pry bar, or putty knife. Route cable between frame and jamb. chisel cable channels into frame, if needed. replace the trim.

how to connect a cable to a cable gland

To route the cable from one place to another, you will need to connect the cable to the cable gland, as shown here:

tip: how to pass wire through insulation

Insulation is most commonly found on exterior walls, but you may also find it when fishing wire through interior walls. the key here is not to run the wire through the insulation, but around it.

many types of insulation will have a paper or plastic covering. try to fish your cable between that deck and the drywall. Alternatively, fish the cable along a stud, using the stud as a guide. in this case, if you have grommet tape wound on a reel, keep the tape curved toward the surface of the stud, so it’s less likely to stray into the insulation.

You can also look at your local hardware store for different types of grommets designed to be more effective with difficult runs like these.

drywall repair and cleaning

If you cut holes that didn’t work, you’ll need to repair them. watch this video to see how it’s done.

For more installation techniques, check out our outdoor speaker installation tips.

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