Aah, the first step to a useful living room: create more dust and mayhem! Why? Because it’s fun! And because all those nifty comfortable things we’ve gotten used to so badly don’t work for themselves: they need electricity. But we don’t want that to be visible, do we?
Of course we don’t. Even back when they originally built our house, wires were placed to be barely visible. Add another 80 year of evolution and nowadays there are plenty of tricks up our sleeves to make wires go invisible!
Side note: usually people run their cables to the outlets and switches over the floor, attaching them to the concrete deck and then up in the wall. In our case this wasn’t possible, as we wanted to preserve the old travertine floor. The next best option was available though: run them across the old ceiling, since we were going to need a new, slightly lower ceiling anyway to hide the beams. If working on the floor is an option, do it! Working against a ceiling is crazy annoying and iritating!
I started with one of those thing your parents always tell you not to do: drawing on the wall. I marked all the locations for the future outlets, switches and other stuff. By the time I was done, the walls were covered in rectangles of the appropriate size, spaced according to the code required (even though it’s not required for built-in outlets). I then grabbed my level and drew more lines, this time from each box all the way up to the ceiling (or close enough). These served as a guide for my wall chaser.
For the electrical boxes I used a regular grinder to cut the shape, and then the hammer drill to clear out everything. I’ll just let the pictures do the talking for the end result of this phase:
On the photo above you can also see the holes I made to get the cables to the electrical breaker panel, just below the ceiling. That extra wide and extra deep slit you see will house a cable tray, so we can run cables to and from the tv without them being visible.
The outlets above are going to be inside the custom closet and are that height for a reason: they’ll provide electricity to my turntable setup!
With the dusty work done, I could start measuring and cuting the cables.
When laying out the cables for the home automation bus, I realised I forgot to have one from the switch at the back sliding door to the switch between kitchen and dining room. Luckily I still had access to the space above the ceiling. It did need some creative thinking to get the tube all the way across, over all the metal studs from the kitchen ceiling. I slid a stu all the way to the wall (just above the shutter), so I could guide the cable. It took some fiddling, but I managed to solve the situation.
After that time came to get them into the wall. For this I used plaster to first fill the slit, then push the tube in the plaster. However, don’t use plaster if your cable comes up from below the floor! Use mortar or cement instead, as the plaster will suck up any moisture, eventually resulting in wallpaper and plaster letting loose, or mold, or worse… Just don’t do it!
Across the ceiling I used band iron with plugs and screws again (never change a winning team), but this time it was a lot harder to get them to hold. Piece of advice: if you want to hang something on a partly hollow concrete ceiling vault, make sure your plug is big enough and fits tight into the hole.
End result for this step:
I also had to provide all cables for the lighting we want. If you look closely you can see two of them hanging down on the photo below, for three spots.
And finally I closed up the holes again, with mortar.
Congrats if you’ve made it this far and still reading! For you, I have a…
If you, like us, want to get every outlet to the breaker board, you can roughly halve the number of cable arriving there. All you need is cable with 5 wires (earth plus 4) instead of 3 wires (earth plus two) to get to your first outlet. There you’ll only use two of the 4 wires ( and the earth of course), leaving you with two wires you can simply patch through (with the earth patched through as well) to a next outlet, with a 3 wire cable.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can even patch through to 2 other outlets, by combining the neutral wire. However, this has the drawback that those outlets now need to be on the same circuit, so you loose some flexibility. Also, in our specific case I have another reason not to want this: we have a 3X230V connection. In other words, our connection to the grid has 3 wires, having 230V between each pair. Without going too technical, if you want to get the maximum out of a connection like this, you need to do some balancing: the consumption needs to be roughly the same across all wire pairs. I really want that flexibility, and I want to be able to cut both wires when switched off. I have first hand experience that with a connection like this, you can only be sure it’s safe if both wires are switched off…