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Tips and Techniques for Home A/V Cable Management
Combine cable management accessories with the techniques in this article for a clean-looking setup.
Want to enjoy 5.1 surround sound, but don't want unsightly wires running across your floor to the back of the room?
Just hung a flat-panel TV on the wall, and unhappy with the not-so-tidy look of cables dangling down?
Installing a multi-room audio system, and want to conceal the speaker cables?
Love the way your home theater system performs — but not the nest of wires behind your audio/video cabinet?
In this article, you'll find tips and tricks to tackle these and other common home A/V wire management problems. We'll tell you how to —
- use wire ties, tacks, and raceways to bundle and anchor your cable
- run wire along the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting
- run wire on your wall or baseboard
- organize the cables behind your A/V cabinet
- run wire behind baseboards, crown molding, and door jambs
- run wire under carpeting
- run wire through cabinetry or a closet
Running cables — the basics
First, let's take a quick look at some general do's and don'ts to ensure that you'll get great performance out of your cables, wherever and however you route them.
- Don't run A/V cables too close to power cables, since this can negatively affect the picture or sound. Granted, it's near-impossible to keep your receiver's power cable completely separate from the mass of A/V cables sprouting out the back, but there are a couple of things you can do to minimize the potential for interference. For example, when you run them out of your component cabinet, keep them a few inches apart from each other. If they do meet, try to cross them at right angles.
- It can be tempting to choose the shortest workable lengths of wire to save money, and to avoid excess cabling puddled on your floor. Keep in mind though that pulling cables too tight can actually stretch the center conductor or dielectric, which may damage the wire, and negatively affect its performance. Also, if you have a little extra wire, it'll be easier to route it neatly around corners, over doors, and other obstacles.
- Don't do anything that pinches the cable jacket, or otherwise changes the nice, typically round shape of the cable. For example, if you wrench your cables tightly around a corner, or create any other sharp bends in the cable, you may impair its performance. Similarly, don't cinch your cables down too tightly with wire ties or tacks.
- Make sure you have enough wire. After you've planned your route, measure it, taking into account any obstacles the cables may have to go around. Remember that it's better to have a bit too much than too little. Here's an example:
|Running wire from the receiver, down cabinet, to the wall||4 feet|
|Running wire horizontally along a baseboard to TV location||6 feet|
|Running wire up wall to TV||3 feet|
|+ 15% fudge factor||15 feet total|
The Wiring Solution is a great way to hide the portion of your cable run between the bottom of your wall-mounted TV and the top of your A/V cabinet.
Wire ties, wire tacks, and raceways
One of the easiest ways to tidy up your A/V cable runs is to take advantage of accessories like wire ties, tacks, and raceways. They'll help you bundle the cables together and keep them in place, so that wherever your wires are visible, they look orderly and neat. Here are some tips for each of these solutions:
- Look for sturdy plastic wire ties or wire clamps made specifically for cable management — the flimsier ties often packaged with garbage bags won't be up to the task.
- After you've routed your cables and made all of the necessary connections, start bundling your cables at one end of your run. Move down the run, keeping them smooth and well-grouped, and add a tie every 3-4 feet.
- Be careful not to cinch the ties too tight.
- Once you've bundled cables along the length of your run, snip the excess plastic off of the wire ties for a groomed look.
- Look for wire tacks that match the shape and size of the cable you wish to anchor, so that you don't accidentally pinch the cable and impair performance. For example, wire tacks designed for flat speaker wire would be ill-suited for a rounder, bulkier subwoofer cable.
- Be careful not to nick or pierce the cable when hammering tacks.
- Cable management raceways attach to your wall or baseboard, and most are paintable to match your décor. They're a great solution for hiding speaker cable running to a wall-mounted speaker, for example, or power and A/V cables under a wall-mounted TV.
- Make sure that the raceway offers enough space to comfortably accommodate all of the cable you wish to route through it.
Run wire along the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting, below the baseboard
Another quick option is to tuck your cables along the edge of your wall-to-wall carpeting. While this isn't a good option for large cables or bundles of cables, it's great when you're just trying to hide an unsightly wire or two — for example, if you're running wire to surround speakers in the back of your room.
- Check that there's enough space for your wires. Keep in mind that you don't want the wire to get pinched, so make sure there's some breathing room. Since the amount of space between your carpet and baseboard can vary at different spots in your room, check numerous points along your intended wire route.
- Don't jam your wires all the way into corners — those sharp right angles can pinch the conductor and impede performance. Instead, allow your wires to surface briefly and make a more gradual curve.
- Minimize the amount of visible cable by exiting the baseboard/carpet hiding place at strategic spots — for example, behind furniture, or directly below an on-wall speaker.
- Camouflage your wire when it is visible. For example, you could use flat, paintable speaker wire and paint it the color of your walls, baseboard, or even carpet.
Looking for low-profile cables? Consider flat, paintable speaker wire.
Run wire along your wall or baseboard
This is a common solution, and often the most practical for lots of folks. Tacking wire to your wall may seem self-explanatory, but the tips below can help you get great performance, as well as less intrusive wiring.
- If possible, select paintable cables and match them to your wall or baseboard color.
- Use wire tacks or clips to secure the cable once every 1-2 feet. Make sure they match the shape and size of the cable you wish to anchor, so that you don't accidentally pinch the cable and impair performance. Also, be careful not to nick or pierce the cable when hammering tacks.
- Keep wire out of the main field of view when possible to prevent it from interfering with the things you want to look at, like paintings and photographs. For example, if you're running wire to surround speakers that are mounted relatively high up on your wall, you may not want to run the wire up the wall right below the speakers. Instead, it may make more sense to run the wire up the wall in a place that's less visible, like behind a tall piece of furniture, and then run it the rest of the way high up on the wall or along your crown molding. Then, run the wire down the wall to the speakers.
Our self-adhesive, color-coded labels keep your audio, video, speaker, and power cables clearly identified.
Organize the cables behind your A/V cabinet
Anyone with a couple of components knows how quickly those audio, video, and power cables can add up into a tangle of wires. Here are some tips to detangle the mess and get a clean-looking setup that performs well.
- Use Crutchfield's CableLabels™ to clearly identify your cables. That way, it'll be easier when you swap out your receiver down the road, or add a new component to the mix.
- Keep excess cabling in an "S" or figure-eight shape (not in a loop) to prevent electromagnetic interference.
- Drill screws, hooks or pegs into the back of your cabinet and wind your cables around them. To make sure you don't create any sharp bends in the cables, install multiple screws to create smooth, gradual curves.
- Use wire tacks or clips to anchor individual wires to the back of your cabinet. Make sure they match the shape and size of the cable you wish to anchor, so that you don't accidentally pinch the cable and impair performance. Also, be careful not to nick or pierce the cable when hammering tacks.
- Use plastic A/V wire ties to organize your cables into bundles. Be sure not to cinch the ties down too tightly and pinch the cables.
- Bundle A/V and power cables separately to avoid audio or video interference. Try to keep A/V and power cables a few inches apart; if they do intersect, keep them at right angles.
Routing cables behind baseboards and door jambs can give you a neat, custom-install look, without the hassle of drywall repair.
Run wire behind baseboards, crown molding, and door jambs
Fixtures like baseboards and door jambs offer great hiding places for your cables. Better yet, they don't require any drywall repair.
- Make sure to use UL-rated cables labeled CL2 or CL3. The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) looks at heat generated from current flowing through wire, how quickly the cable will catch and spread fire when exposed to flame, and the wire's susceptibility to damage from external stresses. Also, be sure to check your local building and fire code and buy wire accordingly.
If you'd like to route wire behind baseboard or molding:
- Carefully pry off the baseboard or molding with a small crowbar.
- Cut a channel for the wire into the wall using a drywall saw, then score and chisel the studs.
- Fish your wire through the channel.
- Install nail plates on each stud to protect the wire.
- Finally, re-install the baseboard or molding.
If you'd like to route wire behind a door jamb:
- Carefully pry off the framing using a chisel, small crowbar, or putty knife.
- Run the wire between the frame and the jamb. (You might need to chisel out channels for the wire in the frame, so that it doesn't get pinched or compressed when you replace the molding.)
- Reattach the framing, being careful not to damage any cables.
- For more information, see our guide to running wire inside your walls.
Run cables under your carpet
A large area rug or wall-to-wall carpeting can be effective ways to conceal A/V wiring, but there are some important considerations to keep in mind.
- Be careful not to route your wires in areas where they may be compressed or damaged — for example, under high-traffic areas, or under the legs of couches and tables.
- Keep in mind that unless your area rug is on top of plush, soft carpeting — or unless your carpet is on top of thick padding — your A/V cables may bulge and show through.
- Using flat or narrow cables will make them harder to see or feel through the carpet.
- Check to see if your carpet is tacked or glued down; if it's glued, you won't be able to route cables under it.
- Always run your wires between the carpet and the carpet pad. With the extra cushioning of the carpet pad, the wires are less likely to be pinched.
- Visit your local home improvement store for long, sturdy fish tape made to run wire under carpet. Make sure it's long enough to reach across your entire planned route.
Hiding wire in cabinetry or a closet
Existing cabinetry and closets can be handy places to conceal your A/V cables. Whether you plan to house your audio/video components inside a cabinet or closet, or just route your wires though it, the tips below can help.
- Drill holes large enough to comfortably pass your cables without pinching them.
- Use grommets to protect your cables from the rough edges of cabinetry, and to get a finished look. You can find them at your local hardware store.
- Use wire ties and tacks to bundle and anchor cables to the sides of the closet or cabinet. Be careful not to pinch or pierce any cables.
- If you're pulling more than one cable through multiple holes in a cabinet — for example, if you want to run wire from one end of a built-in bookshelf to the other — you can save time and effort by pulling your cables in a bundle. Don't bunch all of the connectors together, but tape one behind the other to keep the bundle as narrow as possible.
- If you plan to route wire for a short distance inside your wall — for example, to pass wire through the wall between your main room and an adjacent closet — check out our in-wall wiring guide.