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I am working with a builder to build a two-story house with unfinished basement. The house was already deep into construction when we signed the contract (framing complete, HVAC complete, ready for plumbing/electric). The house is a spec house.

I wrongly assumed that since we're in the data age, data cables would be installed throughout the house. Instead, the builder ran a single run of cat5e cable to the master bedroom and called that good. Despite my pleading, the builder is not willing to install additional data cables citing various reasons that I won't go into here. Sadly, there are no conduit runs in the house and the builder won't allow me to install any for future use.

I plan to DIY this once we've closed on the house and moved in. My question is what can I do now while the house is still open to the studs to help make that project easier later? I took some pictures of the exposed walls in the house to document electric/plumbing/HVAC runs, but are there other things I could do?

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    Probably not much except to take pictures of where stuff you do not to drill into is. Non owners usually can't do much themselves til they own the house, except ask.
    – crip659
    Mar 23 at 22:08
  • I would urge you to strongly consider just covering the whole house with high-quality wifi signal. A handful of small mesh routers can give good coverage for way less than $500 (or maybe $1k for a large house). Way cheaper and way easier.
    – Rob
    Mar 24 at 16:56
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    @Rob I have strong Wi-Fi today, but it is inadequate in many circumstances even in the best case. Regardless of how good Wi-Fi gets, hardwired will always be the optimal path. But yes, I will absolutely use a mesh network for connecting to handhelds, laptops, certain IoT devices, etc. Just not for my entertainment systems or PCs.
    – ARich
    Mar 24 at 17:35

5 Answers 5

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Above all else figure out how you're going to get one or more large-diameter conduits installed from basement to attic, either at build time or as a planned retrofit. By large-diameter I'm meaning 1 to 2 inch diameter.

With an unfinished basement you can easily gain access into walls of the first story practically anywhere. You just cut a hole in the drywall on the first floor, drill downward with a long cable installer drill bit, and then go look into the basement ceiling to see where the bit emerged.

Accessing the interior walls of the second story is similarly easy from the attic. Estimate the right location, brush attic insulation aside until you find the top plate of the wall, drill downward into the wall. (There is a little more to it: determining where the wall studs are so you can avoid drilling into one, measuring your offset so that the drill goes into the same stud bay as the desired device hole on the first try, etc.)

  • Maybe you know some local vandals who, rather than steal construction materials from a job site, sneak into buildings and install one or two conduits under cover of darkness. (I'm joking.)
  • Maybe there is a chase that goes through the structure for an HVAC trunk, exhaust for combustion appliances, or a plumbing vent stack. Get good measurements and photos of it so that you can return with a hole saw when the house is yours, make a few holes, and slide the conduit through.
  • Maybe there is a spot where walls of the first and second story are stacked exactly one above the other. Measure and plan to insert conduit through there later.
  • Maybe the first floor has a closet for coats or linens, or a pantry, or other like place where a well-finished wall is not a big deal. You can plan to cut into the drywall of a wall and/or ceiling in that space to create a pathway.
  • Some architectures have attic space above a garage which communicates with attic space above the upper story of the house. If yours does, a conduit installed on the surface of the finished garage wall could possibly connect from basement ceiling into garage attic.
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  • It's your house... why do you have to do sneaky tricks? Don't you have the power to fire a contractor who won't do the thing you want (assuming it's reasonable)?
    – user253751
    Mar 24 at 10:14
  • 2" conduit for CAT6 cable? How many runs you planning??
    – FreeMan
    Mar 24 at 11:47
  • @FreeMan LOTS! :-) 2" allows generous room to pull pre-terminated cable assemblies even after a handful of cables are already in the pipe. Cables like HDMI, USB, etc. A future multi-room video distribution system might call for an HDMI splitter with cables going to screens in various places for example.
    – Greg Hill
    Mar 24 at 15:16
  • @user253751, firing a contractor in the middle of a house build is likely to cause serious delays, aggravations and costs. Mar 24 at 16:23
  • @whiskeychief it's the nuclear option and it's also the only threat stopping the contractor from just ignoring what you want...
    – user253751
    Mar 24 at 16:32
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The best thing, by far, would be to run conduit. It will cost now, but doing that while the walls are open is very easy compared to running wires or conduit after the walls are closed.

Builders are always looking at their bottom line. That's normal for any business. So if the minimum for "data ready" is a single CAT 5e to one room, that is all they are going to do.

However, most (not all) contractors like add-ons. The price can be negotiated so it is good for you (cheaper than adding later) and good for the contractor (profit). In a conduit-not-required area they are not going to run conduit for normal electric because it costs more than using NM cable. But for data it makes sense because then you get to decide later on CAT 5e vs. CAT 6 vs. fiber, etc. and to upgrade in the future as well.

I'd go back to them and say:

  • We agree this was not in the contract. It is an add-on.
  • Quote me a price to run conduit (doesn't matter for this purpose whether it is rigid metal conduit, PVC or flexible non-metallic conduit) for 'x' locations (mark them up on a drawing, with all of them ending in one location).

If they say "we don't do that", ask for permission to hire a licensed electrician to do this before the walls are closed up. Note that you do not need a licensed electrician to do this because it is for low-voltage cabling. However, that is to assure the builder that you aren't going to get some idiot making a mess of the structure - an electrician will know how/where to cut holes for conduit, etc.

If they are simply not interested because they don't want to bother with changes and delays then they won't run the conduit for you (at least not at any reasonable price). But if that's the case then unless they are really nasty (which should never happen but it can happen and right now it is a seller's/builder's market in many areas), they should be OK with a licensed 3rd-party doing the work.

No matter who does the work, make sure they put a pull string in each conduit.

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    I approached the builder from the add-on angle and they weren't interested. They claim it's not about the money but about keeping their electricians happy (by not having them back out to a house they already wired...?). Regardless, they aren't being reasonable when it comes to the add-on notion. I also asked about a third party, but they rejected this for insurance reasons. I will ask about getting at least one run of conduit run from the basement to the attic and see what they say.
    – ARich
    Mar 24 at 17:05
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    In the builder's (limited) defense, he may be struggling to get electricians when he needs them and would rather be able to send them to wire another house than to do extra work on this house. The insurance part is why "licensed electrician" instead of "anybody". But yeah, basement to attic is likely most critical as it gives you an entry point to the upper floor rooms. Mar 24 at 17:14
  • The builder is definitely struggling to get electricians, but I made it clear to the builder that we are flexible from a timeline perspective, so IMO that removes any major staffing barriers. Regardless, the builder is adamant that they won't allow any changes, so it looks like I'll have to do 100 percent of the work after we move in.
    – ARich
    Mar 28 at 22:13
  • The flip side from a timeline is, the builder won't get final payment until everything is done. If it is so bad that waiting for an electrician to run extra cables/conduit delays the drywall->painting->etc. by a week, the builder thinks in terms of the entire project, not the one little piece. Easy solution is if they'd let in a licensed 3rd-party that you pay (and that provides insurance certification, etc.) but hard to force that. Mar 28 at 22:16
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    Yeah, that makes sense. Ultimately where there's a will there's a way, and this builder has no will, so there's no way.
    – ARich
    Mar 28 at 22:39
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I'd keep hounding him to do it... pay him the going rate. If he doesn't budge, start taking a bunch of pictures. Plan out a route and video tape the route with a measuring tape in the along the walls, ceilings, etc.. so you know where the obstructions are so you can drill through the floors, walls, etc. If you can hold off on painting until after you add your cable, that might help in case you have to open some walls.

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Wiring with the walls open takes almost no time compared to trying to fish wire with the walls closed. Conduit helps, but any 90 deg turns will make fishing it a nightmare. Maybe if all the conduit ran vertically up to the attic, then a straight line drop to the bottom of the wall wouldn't be too bad. Crawling around in insulation in the attic is no fun.

Plan out your wiring layout. Twisted pair category cabling uses a star configuration (a hub). All the wires should lead to a central data closet. The point where the wires congregate should have a much larger conduit (1.5-2" at least) otherwise you'll end up having to drill a second hole to fit additional wires.

IMHO you should try everything you can to run Cat6a now. That supports 10 GbE which will be sufficient for decades. What are your options for backing out of the house purchase?

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  • No options for backing out of this purchase. With the state of the housing market and the restrictive list of features we need/want in our house, we don't really see backing out as an option. Certainly not over this one issue.
    – ARich
    Mar 24 at 17:20
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Many, if not most, older contractors are unfamiliar with the correct layout of home network wiring, imho. Contactors still think "daisy chaining" is the way to go. It is not.

Electricians or network technicians with low voltage certifications (not all electricians have this) would be your go-to experts for this. Moreover, you do not need conduit for the low voltage wires although it could make running them later easier. I wired my own, older home with a variety of low voltage wires without conduit after reading books on the subject and getting a certification. You can run a lot of your wiring in basements or attics which can make the routing easier...it all depends on the layout of your home. So, my advice would be to determine where you will locate the hub of your wiring, somewhere central, perhaps in a closet or in the basement or attic.

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  • if that was the only problem surely it would be easy enough to direct them how to arrange the cables - or ask for conduit.
    – user253751
    Mar 24 at 17:29

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