Networking & Cables

Neat-O: Square Peg, Round Hole

Wires and blocks stuffed into an 18-inch structured wiring panel.

Low Volt Connections owner Ren Livingston wouldn't take on the project or put the company stamp on it unless the contractor allowed him "to do it right." See "Before and After" photo below.
Arlen Schweiger · May 3, 2010

Square peg, meet round hole.

That’s what happens when you try to stuff wires and blocks at the head end of a 3,000-square-foot home’s technology into an 18-inch structured wiring panel. Suffice it to say that when San Diego-based Low Volt Connections owner Ren Livingston took on this cleanup project, the first thing he swapped out was the panel, replacing it with a 40-inch model.

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As is often the case with cleanup work, this project led to referral work for Low Volt. The homeowner’s son-in-law had recently bought a home in the same neighborhood, and now has a nice family room A/V system controlled by an RTI remote.

Livingston stayed firm and said he wouldn’t take on the project or put the company stamp on it unless the contractor allowed him “to do it right.” The original installer may have cut corners, but Livingston didn’t want to “just label the wires and make it look pretty” so it could be done on the cheap.

“It was a custom home, and the homeowner was frustrated when he didn’t have a clue what all the wires were in his house,” Livingston says. “He called the low-voltage company that initially wired it, and he ‘fixed it’ but the owner was still frustrated. That messy panel was how it looked the day I got there, after the other guy ‘fixed it.’”

“Fix” would be quite an overstatement for what Livingston saw to be some zip ties and a few labels added to the original wiring - and incorrect labels at that, like the wiring labeled for the master bedroom actually running to the family room.

Livingston and Low Volt’s Nate Dunham did not replace the wiring that was already placed throughout the house, but they did retone, identify and verify every piece so they could figure out exactly what went where. That helped them rework the termination at both the head and tail ends for this installation, which included multiroom audio, phone network, broadband and cable TV distribution.

Livingston was surprised to find the original wiring contained phone and data signals over the same Cat 5 cabling, so he separated the signals in the structured wiring panel with an 8-port phone distribution block and another 8-port distribution block for the data network. The SnapAV panel box even comes with a sizable sticker to put on the inside of the door so you can mark - and the homeowner can read - which wires correspond with which rooms and systems. In the rooms, he added wall plates and dual jacks so the signals could be separated behind the walls and out of sight, rather than having “all those nasty patch jumpers” in the open.

Transforming the structured wiring enclosure turned out to be only part one of this cleanup job. It took Livingston and Dunham two full days. The happy homeowner had them return to work on audio next, which took another day and a half. To fix the distributed audio that had been routed from a multizone Yamaha receiver, Low Volt again could not retrofit the wiring but managed to implement impedance matching at the speaker level “so the amp wasn’t clipping every two minutes.”

Livingston came back a third time for a half-day job, as he upsold the homeowner on an RTI T2-Cs universal controller to replace a URC remote that hadn’t been properly programmed. It was the only piece of equipment the owner was willing to buy as part of this overhaul, but he was more than happy with the couple of thousand he wound up spending on labor, Livingston reports. “The homeowner was thrilled to death. He was joking that he should have us on a monthly payroll.”


Congratulations to Ren Livingston for a Neat-O! installation. We’re looking for over-the-top projects. Cool, unique, tidy or meticulous, share your best work with our readers. E-mail your submissions, with high-resolution images, to managing editor Arlen Schweiger at

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  About the Author

Arlen Schweiger is managing editor of CE Pro, Commercial Integrator and Security Sales & Integration magazines. Arlen contributes installation features, business profiles, manufacturer news and product reviews. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Arlen at

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  Article Topics

News · Neat-O · Structured Wiring · Wire and Cable · All Topics
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