Owner Builder: Low Voltage
What is Low Voltage?
Many owner builders are unfamiliar with the term "low voltage". It is electrical wiring and trim that does not carry the same current as the power outlets, fixtures and switches in a home.
Items that are considered low voltage fall under less scrutiny during inspections because the open wire does not pose the same electrocution threat that a standard wire would.
When is Low Voltage installed?
In most cases, the majority of the low volt installation will occur at the same time as the basic electrical. Other times, it will follow just after basic electrical. It can be done by a different crew of the same electrical company or a separate outfit that specializes in low voltage work. The low voltage electrician will sometimes come late and leave unsealed penetratations in the toplate. This may lead to a failed rough inspection.
What Items are Considered "Low Volt"?
Telephone wire and outlets are low voltage. Surround sound wiring and speakers, Television cable, and security pre-wires are as well.
The number and location of telephone outlets is not as critical today as it once was. Many of us use plug-in cordless phones. It is still advisable to install wall outlets in any area where you might want a computer terminal, in your bathroom, in the kitchen and also where you have cable outlets.
Running cable is different than it used to be. With technological changes have come more uses for cable. Consider whether or not you will be using Satellite TV or internet services. If so, be sure that the cable pre-wire includes the placement of a box where the Dish should be set.
Because Cable and Satellite companies offer high speed internet services, it is a good idea to set cable outlets where you may be placing your computer.
Wall hung, flat screen televisions are becoming popular as well. Set a cable, telephone and power outlet mid wall in your media or TV room. This way, you won't have to run cable and cords up your wall.
A security system is almost automatic for many home buyers today. Low volt wiring is run to sensors at window and doors and sometimes to motion sensors on the exterior of the home. Once the pre-wire is complete, any reputable alarm company can come in and present systems and programs to implement. Most are fairly inexpensive to start.
Whether or not you install a system, the prewire adds value to your home.
An intercom can be a great convenience. Most intercoms today also have a music player and radio as well. It is easy to use and each zone of the house can be controlled by the individual.
We realize that sometimes luxuries like this are not in the owner builder budget. However, whether you plan to install a system or not, the time and expense required to pre-wire the low voltage for a base operating sound system and speakers is inexpensive.
If you do proceed with a simple pre-wire, make note of where those wires are. Blank covers are a good measure when doing this but are by no means a requirement.