A man has strange thoughts when his head is poked through a suspended ceiling, up among the dust and the bugs.
It's better to have your head in the clouds, but lately my head has been up in the space above the ceiling, disturbing the spiders and amusing my family. I'm in a new home and - as is usual - I have various gadgets that need to be connected. If I lived alone, I think I would just let the wires run where they will, across floors, draped across furniture and tucked under doorways. After all, wires are beautiful to a guy like me.
But I'm not alone, and the wires must be run out of sight. And there are a lot of them. There's the home theater, the stereo system, the ham radio with its coaxial cable as thick as a young rattlesnake and the various networking wires for the computers.
For me, hiding the wires can be more difficult than hooking up the gadgets. Over the years, I've learned some tricks that may help. Some of them seem obvious to me, but then I've hidden a lot of wires over the years.
The first bit of advice is that if you are building a home, have the builder make things easy by wiring every room for telephone, cable, speakers and Internet access. You'll spend less time annoying the bugs. I'd also ask the builder to include some empty conduit with a nylon string inside to make it easy to pull wiring if your future requirements call for a type of wire that you can't anticipate today.
Most of us will have to live with the house we're in. So let's talk about some ways to run wiring without making a mess. (Remember, we're not talking about electrical wiring. Unless you want to end up a crispy critter, leave that to the professionals.)
The easiest way I know to run wires is along the edge of a floor, where the carpet meets the wall. In some houses you can use a screwdriver (carefully, so as not to nick the wires) to push the wires into that space. If that doesn't work and there's molding along that area, you can remove the molding and run the wire behind it (carefully avoiding the small finishing nails used to fasten the molding).
If you have a suspended ceiling, it's easy to run wires in that area. Lots of basements and add-on rooms - especially in older homes - have that kind of ceiling. One nifty trick (OK, I admit it, my wife taught this one to me) is to extend a flexible steel carpenter's tape measure across the space. Then tape the wire to the end of the tape measure and pull it across.
The flexible steel is stiff enough to push past most obstacles and yet flexible enough to bend around stuff.
If there is exposed wiring, you shouldn't use the steel tape. Instead, use a long piece of flexible plastic or piece of wooden molding, to avoid shock hazards.
One nifty trick, if you can't run wires above a suspended ceiling or around the floor molding, applies to homes with basements. If your wires need to be run on the first floor, consider boring a small hole in the corner of the first-floor room and then running the wires along the basement ceiling and - using another small hole - out into the first-floor room again.
Another way to go is under a carpet. Loosen the edges of the carpet, and then snake a flexible piece of metal under the carpet. Once it's in place, use it to pull the wire under the carpet.
The key ingredients to any installation are safety (make sure that you don't come in contact with electrical wires or bore a hole into a wall that may have wiring or pipes) and neatness.
Also check for easy shortcuts. For instance, in my current home, here's what I was doing up with the bugs and the dust that I mentioned earlier.
I needed to run wire from the outside of the house to an interior room. At first glance there was no good way, other than drilling through the brick. But I took a walk around the house and found a professionally created entrance for the cable TV line. The installer had done a great job and run the wire up through the hollow area of the concrete blocks behind the bricks.
I was able to remove the ceiling panels in the finished daylight basement and drop a weighted line down through that same area. Then I tied the new wire to the weighted line and pulled it up. Once the wire was inside the house, I simply ran it along the top of the suspended ceiling.
Running wire is easy if you take the time to plan. And it provides much-needed entertainment for the spiders.