Building an Open-Source House

Our Senior Editor puts years of home-renovating experience to work in planning computing, networking, RF, audio and video in his family's "ultimate" house.

We're building our last house. I hope.

By sometime in January or February of next year, we will have lived in seven different places, two on the Peninsula in the Bay Area and five in Santa Barbara. Our last is the first house we've built from the ground up. All the others were remodels or rentals we occupied while we were buying or remodeling our next home.

The purpose has been strategic. Buying, improving and reselling has been a way to improve our current abode, as well as a way to make money in a market that has only gone up.

This next place, however, should be our last. Enough moving, already.

It is, as you might expect, our Dream Home.

My fantasy here has been, from the start, to make it as Linux-y as possible. That is, open in architecture and welcoming to modifications and additions--especially in the technology department.

For me that's the following:

  • Computers and networking

  • Audio and video

  • Wireless, including RF from satellite TV and radio, terrestrial TV and radio and shortwave

  • Other stuff, such as a weather station on the roof

For my wife, it's simpler. She wants to see:

  • No exposed wires or cables

  • No antennas where anybody can see them

  • No speakers that stick out or call attention to themselves

Here are some limiting factors:

  • The whole roof is copper, so antennas for satellite radio as well as TV and FM all have to be outside. If we want to get anything.

  • Some antennas have to be outside in any case, because the house has line-of-sight to exactly zero TV and FM stations, in spite of sitting 500 feet up a hillside overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean.

  • The interior makes widespread use of rock on walls, especially in places where the Good Audio should go: living room, den, family room. Meaning there are no places to put speakers into the walls. Ceilings, yes; walls, no.

Here is what I've planned so far. Can you tell I'm looking for some last-minute advice here? That's right, I am. If you're game, read on.

  • We have a central patch panel where hubs and routers will go, in addition to connecting Cat5e and RG6 Quad Shield Coax, which fans out to locations in each room. In some cases, multiple runs of both Cat5e and Coax run to key locations, such as my office and the two places where we're likely to put wide video screens and surround sound.

  • My RF sources include FM, TV, satellite TV and satellite radio (probably Sirius). Satellite TV and radio will be picked up from a dish site hidden amidst shrubbery about 15 feet from the patch panel on the bottom floor, the back of which is subterranean, as the house is on a slope. Terrestrial TV and FM will come from directional antennas spun by a rotator at the far end of the garage, about 60 feet from the patch panel. The antennas will hide nicely in the canopy of a large live oak that droops over the garage. I don't know what kind of rotator I'll use yet but probably will start with a Radio Shack unit I already have, which needs three conductors. Better rotators require as many as six conductors. I'll need cable that will accommodate whatever I upgrade to.

  • A ventilated utility room will be our (Linux, of course) server room. I will also have computers in my wife's office, my office and probably elsewhere. I'll also want multiple Wi-Fi access points. The Cat5e running everywhere will help with that.

  • Right now Internet access is through two Cox Cable accounts: one for households, 3Mb down, 300Kb up, ports 80 and 25 blocked, for $49/month; and one for business, 1.5Mb down, 300Kb up, no ports blocked, five IP addresses, for $109/month. I will add a Verizon account; it's reportedly faster than Cox but has other unknown compromises, which I'll discover after I get them on the phone--not an easy thing--and get a test connection installed

  • In preparation for the Ultimate Dream of a fiber connection, we're installing blue "smurf" tubing from the utility entry point to the patch panel, and from there to my office, the den and the family room. We're also talking about putting together a neighborhood fiber network and connecting to...something, when it's ready.

I don't plan to put in a whole-house audio system. All of the ones I've seen are proprietary silos, including Linux-powered ones, such as the (quite nice) Sonus. Most of them also defy understanding by myself, much less by my non-technical wife. Instead, I prefer what I've been using at every house so far, which is a Ramsey FM-100 FM transmitter at the sound source (where satellite TV and radio come in), which distributes to local receivers in rooms where we want sound. The receivers are tuned to our household FM channel, currently 104.1, which we chose for absence of interference with or by real FM stations. The Ramsey sounds quite good, and my wife knows how to operate all the receivers, each of which were bought at garage sales or in thrift stores.

Old receivers, especially ones with dials, have much better FM tuners than new ones, by the way. That's because manufacturers no longer care about FM, and apparently all use the same lame FM (and AM) receiver chipsets.

Although we will install surround sound in the two video locations, the plan is to put front (left, right, center) speakers on the flat panel screen. The bass boost speaker will go in a wall somewhere and the rear speakers in the ceiling.

I'll be set up for shortwave only in my office and plan to run RG-59 coax out to the spot where I think I can hide more coax running up to a line antenna hidden in an oak tree. I'll also run wiring from my office up to a weather station on the roof. Wireless is out of the question there, thanks to the copper roof.

By the way, proprietary silos abound in home building. For example, we looked at and rejected lighting systems that would have given us far more control, and fewer controls, for every room and "lighting environment". All of them run on Windows-based central hardware or required Windows-only programming by professionals on which we would be no less dependent than we'd be on the manufacturers. And they were all expensive as well.

Unfortunately, satellite radio is siloed too. The two satellite services--Sirius and XM--are incompatible, each requiring its own proprietary hardware and service agreements, with separate agreements and fees for each additional receiver. Each even requires its own proprietary wiring. Terrestrial radio is still relatively open (until it goes digital, but that's a whole 'nuther rant), but it's providing a shrinking wedge of our radio consumption pie. Right now, it's down to NPR stations and little else. Still, we need that antenna. None of the NPR stations are nearby. The closest two are low-wattage repeater stations, and we're in a "terrain shadow" from their signals. Same goes for high-definition TV, which reportedly looks better on terrestrial signals than on satellite or cable. Alas, our best signals for TV come from San Diego, 140 miles away across the Pacific Ocean. But we've tested reception, and most of the time it's pretty good.

As for sound sources from files, we have a large CD collection, most of which we've ripped into MP3 files or file duplicates of the originals. We need some strategy for playing those, other than a little portable MP3 player we load up at a computer. I haven't figured that one out yet. One limiting factor is small cabinet space and limited ventilation capacity where the central sound and video gear will live. There are a lot of proprietary systems here, too. If you know of one that runs Linux and isn't a silo in some other way, let me know. I haven't found one yet.

So that's the plan.

We're in the short rows here. The walls are still open. No sheet rock is up yet. We can make some changes, but not too many.

If any of ya'll want to provide some advice, I'm wide open.

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal, for which he writes the Linux for Suits column. He also presides over Doc Searls' IT Garage, which is published by SSC, the publisher of Linux Journal.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Cody Ray's picture

Although I'm new to the field of Linux Home Automation, I'm surprised no one has mentioned LinuxMCE (Linux Media Center Edition). While I have no personal experience (yet), the project looks intriguing. From their homepage:

Media & Entertainment
• 3D alpha-blended GUI optimized for displaying on a TV and using a remote control
• Media browser presenting all content on all devices in the home on a 3D rotating cube
• Plug-and-play detection and aggregation of network storage and DMA's
• Built-in NAS providing centralized backup and whole-house media server
• "Follow Me" Media, each family member's media follows him/her through the house
• Automatically controls all existing av devices, like TV's, Stereo's, etc.)
• Many control options: mobile phone, webpad, pda, phone

Smart Home
• Home Automation: Control lighting, climate, security, camera surveillance, and more [EIB, X10, INSTEON, Z-WAVE and maybe more supported]
• Communication: Phone system with auto-attendant, voice mail, call forwarding/routing for VOIP and POTS lines
• Security: Uses your existing home alarm, surveillance cameras, lights, phones and tv's to notify you on your mobile phone of any security alerts with the option of reseting the alarm or broadcasting your voice in the house over the tv's

Any thoughts, opinions, previous experiences? Please share...

Update Lessons-learned

Anonymous's picture

Hey Doc - How about an update with lessons learned. What works, what ain't worth it, any gee I wish I had done this...? I am about to rip out the lath/plaster walls to spray in insulation, install sound-proofing, re-wire and automate the electrical system, HVAC, etc. Very curious about your project. Also, how many outlets did you install per room (both duplex and data/comm), what governed your placement? Hope you are still peeking at this thread.

Goog luck...

James Kronefield's picture

Hey I love these ideas. Especially the one for the surround sound system. I'll use some of them if you don't mind. :)
I suppose you've already finished all this stuff. I hope everything is the way you planned it.
Good luck!

Russound is your solution

John Manning's picture

Mr. searls i am no salesman or expert by any means but just by reading this i will tell you that as far as your audio needs go that Russound is your solution. Russond has multi room multi source inputs. The CAV6.6 receiver can hold 6 keypads. These kepads run off of cat5e cable from your keypad location to the location of your Russound reciever. The keypads come in 2 differnt sizes to either fit in a 1gang box or a 2gang box. The CAV6.6 also has the advantage of having 4 other ports for A-BUS volume controls. The cav6.6 can also be purchased with either SIRIUS or XM radio built into the reciever and still give you 5 other sources to plug into the CAV6.6. By sources i mean you have the option of connecting a CD player,DVD,VCR,FM tuner,ETC and play a different source in each room of your home, inother words if you want SIRIUS playing in your office and yor wife wants her cd playing in the master bedroom you can do this with the CAV6.6. Russound also has a very nice media server can hold all of your CDs on a computer chip rather than buying a 300 disc CD changer or some other bulky peice of equipment. The media server wene full can play for approxmatly 1 month for 24hrs and you want here the same song twice. I believe that Russound would be your best solution for your audio and possibly even video needs. So find your local Russound dealer and just see what they say, and im sure Russound will have your solution. Your wife will like it because it is a very user freindly system.

Home Audio

Darin's picture

Doc Searls,

Have you considered a uPnP alternative for the Audio and Video. You mentioned you have a large CD collection. this will allow you to rip your audio and video to drives and serve them around the house. I am putting together a system the runs TwonkyMedia on a Linksys NSLU2 NAS (Unslung Linux). They have several flavors that run on different operating systems and hardware. TwonkyMedia is not the only game in town but the best I have come across so far.

There are several options for clients as well that will play the audio and video files you have stored as well as access Internet based content as well.

Take a look a TwonkyMedias stuff and see what else you can find on the net for uPnP. If you have not looked at this technology, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Atlanta Georgia

Give Insteon a look

Neil Cherry (linuxha)'s picture

Sorry I'm late to the Party.

I notice one other contributer suggested UPB. I don't know if they have drivers for Linux but I went the Insteon route (my code is Open Source). I only have some sample code for using the X10 portion of Insteon but I'll be writing more later (working on a Linux Home Automation book right now). I have a driver for Mr. House ( to use the Insteon PLC instead of the CM15A and for the most part it works (it's alpha code and it has a few bugs but it doesn't crash).
I intend to integrate Insteon into Mr House and finally get the reliability I've been looking for. I've improved my X10 setup to about 98% but I want that last 2%.

Also I have a Nokia 770 and it will make a great replacement for my Audrey's. I just need a few apps to push the content to the Audrey. That I'll have to work on.

Neil Cherry
Linux Home Automation

Why run cat5 and coax?

Mikael's picture

Pull in some 1500 mhz cat7+ cable with EC7 connectors.

Will solve yours needs for a long time. Cat7+ is a new generation of structured cableling.

Im doing this myself at home in my megarenovation of a house.

Kerpen, Corning and Siemon makes 1500 mhz cableling.

wiring systems

Christof P.'s picture

It suprises me that no one here talked about cable ducts :-) (because that's how i am gonna do my wiring)

When you mount "industrial" iron cable ducts to the walls of your basement, you just have to drill a hole
up where you need power or network or phone socket or whatever other socket.
So no more pulling cables through conduits (so much much more space for your cables then when using conduits),
just go to your basement and put another or an extra cable in the cable ducts and lead it for example
to your network switch.

For the first floor you need another wiring system of course (would be a funny sight to have cable ducts going
through your kitchen :-) )
So for my wiring on the first floor, i was thinking about a skirting board system for my sockets, which is also
very easy to modify if you need an extra socket without have to pull wires through conduits again, and again
much more space that using conduits)

And you can always connect these 2 systems using conduits between the first floor an the basement in certain rooms.

Anyone having other wiring ideas ?

Christof P.

You didn't mention security

Anonymous's picture

You didn't mention security cameras (front door, backdoor, yard, etc.). Something to think about when running conduits/cables. Neighborhood teens have made me wish I had wired our front door (stolen packages, etc). It'd be so easy to set a camera and run a motion sensitive DVR package on Linux... if only I had the cables in the wall...

Also, with your ambitions with RF, don't forget about ground - I mean RF ground. CAT5 can put out enough RFI (radio freq interference) to make your shortwave listening experience a drag. And it's not just Ethernet that makes this (electrical) noise. Ideally a solid 8' copper rod buried as close to your server room as possible will provide an excellent ground - but such a set up is a big hassle, just do the best you can. Consider how to ground all your systems (Ethernet, CATV/DSS/whatever, audio, etc.) - you made need to do so in order eliminate RFI in your other systems.

Glad you enjoy the RM100B, my FM transmitter experiences have not been that good; but you are correct, modern FM receivers vary in reception sensitivity and selectivity.

Wish you all the best.

Security, grounding

Doc Searls's picture

For all our electronic mindfulness, we've never been concerned with security, except as a checkbox for resale. But I'll bring it up with my wife and the electrician, and see what we come up with.

As for the grounding, good advice.

As for FM receivers, there are no matches I've seen for my old Yamaha CR-1040 receiver, which dates from the turn of the 80s. The tuner in a Technics analog receiver here at the house isn't bad either. Car radio FM sections are generally very good too. But the new home receivers are remarkably bad. I have a 5-year old Technics that was the best of the breed at the time, and it's not great. i have a Pioneer of the same vintage and it's terrible. Newer ones I've tried are all bad. Embarrassing, really.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Conduit - My Yes

Anonymous's picture

Doc - Defintely go with conduit (!!) -- you won't be sorry. You can pick up some really good fits-together PVC stuff at your local Big Hardware Store chain, and depending upon the count of the wires you will ultimately put in it, you may want to go with 1" conduit instead of 3/4". (I really wish I had.) Note: If you can pull fiber for your main lines, do it. It's way smaller, way faster, and is not as much of a terror to deal with as it used to be. It also stages you for just about any bandwidth you will want. Yes, more expensive, but hey -- "dream home", right? And all the things you want will cost bandwidth.

Home automation has made some good advancements. X10 is nice, but (depending upon your wiring) often problematic. Check out the new x10-compatible "Insteon" line of products from The modules address almost every x10 shortcoming and use RF in addition to powerline transmission to create a mesh network where each module repeats and strengthens the signals it sees. They are also closed-loop, with each module confirming the order it has been given. (Finally!) Note: Make sure all your electrical wiring is all at least 3-wire, and if you can pull 4-wire electrical, do it. While you may not use that last line immediately, it will come in handy for eventual PLC uses, etc. You'd be suprised. The wire isn't that much more expensive either, and the pullin' costs the same.

As for small-space server solutions go, check out the recent LJ article (8643) on modifying a Linksys NSLU2 to be a small, quiet, and cheap (!) solution for serving up all sorts of open source daemonic goodness. For a tad more money and a tad less work, you could also get a small SBC server from Embedded Systems or EMAC. (See their ad: LJ 01-2006, pg. 45.) that will look/smell more PC-ish, and less embedded-ish.

Good Luck!

Man! So many geeks in one

Mr P's picture

Man! So many geeks in one place. What about thinking about a place to read a book? Play board games with your family? Cook inside and outside? Have your little projects in the workshop? Sheesh...

Non-geek activities

Doc Searls's picture

Hey, I've got a nine-year old who almost never uses a computer, because we won't let him.
And who never watches TV either, for the same reason. We sit outside every night and watch the stars (often with the help of a laptop planetarium), play in the pool and on picnic tables outside. We shoot hoops next door. We play games.

But we're also building a house and need to make sure we don't screw up the multimedia stuff, no matter how little we may end up using it. That's why I posted this piece.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

3/4 inch flexile plastic conduit is "future proof"

Chris Albertson's picture

Here is what you need it can be said in jut one word "Conduit".
Yes those empty plastic pipes that hold wires. The stuff is only 25 cents a foot and is easy to install when the walls are open. Run tons of empty 3/4 inch conduit to every room in the house. You can't run enough of the stuff

People will talk about "wireless" but wireless will never be hight bandwidth. It just simple physics. a 1Gbps pi;pe will require over 1Ghz of radio bandwidht even with technology from 100 years in the future. I pulled to old 10BaseT co-ax cables out of some platic conduit and now I'm pulling fiber. In 20 years I can replace that.

Cables, 1000BaseT, fiber, and whatever goes out of style every decade but plastic pipes will still be usfull in 100 years handling types of information we can't imagine today

Conduit, etc.

Doc Searls's picture

All the conduit we can install is already in, or on the way: runs from the service location (end of the garage) to the patch panel, and from that panel to the server room. That's it. So we're going to have to future proof other ways to the other locations.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Lighting with X10

Curtis's picture

I run X10 from a Linux server using cron and the program heyu2. I set the times to turn on and off my lights and it works pretty well. The only time I have problems is after loosing power. At that point I take my batteries out of my X10 control module and wait 30 minutes and plug it back in and everything works again as normal. I know X10 can be unpredictable for some people and it was for me when I first got into it. I almost gave up on it but then I decided to buy myself another X10 control module and everything has been great ever since.

Building an Open-Source House

Bill Batt's picture

Lighting: I searched in vain for a standards-based lighting control system about a year ago. There don't appear to be any open standards in this area. X10 is probably as close as you can get, unfortunately, it is plagued by problems. I did find UPB, which is a licensed power line control technology supported by multiple vendors. I installed components from two vendors (Simply Automated and HAI) and they interoperated properly. The only problems I had were physical issues with dimmers from Simply Automated. Some of the multi-rocker faceplates do not align properly with the switches inside the dimmer body so the switches do not always function reliably (not a problem with single-rocker dimmers) and the dimmer bodies are too large to fit in an old work box (not a problem with new construction). I'ld install it again if I were building a new house, although would really perfer to see an open standards-based hard-wired system. The main UPB site is

Power: I would recommend a whole-house surge supressor in addition to surge strips at each device. It is _very_ inexpensive insurance.

Wiring: No existing wiring technology has potentially higher bandwidth or is more future-proof than an empty conduit or innerduct (perhaps this is "smurf" tubing- I'm not familiar with that term). I'ld use it for all the data runs.

Shortwave question

Tanner Lovelace's picture

What kind of "shortwave" do you do? Listening only or are you transmitting in the ham bands? I'd definitely look at something other than RG-59 since that can be fairly lossy to the signal. Generally, if I recall correctly, RG-59 is basically used for video signals (at 75ohms, no?) I'd instead look into using something like RG-8M which should be about the same diameter and will give you much less signal loss.


Karl O. Pinc's picture

I just went through a renovation and put conduit everywhere. I'm told that the smurf tubing is tough to pull through, and that cable etc can "burn" through the tubing at the bends. I looked into the minium bend radius for fiber, and while I couldn't tell you what it is now, I confirmed that it will pretty much always run through whatever conduit you install.

I'm also planning on installing VOIP & an asterisk pbx (and going through a wholesaler to connect to the public telephone system as that seems the only way to go) and ditching the phone company entirely. This will require some sort of QOS on my internet line. As I've no control over the remote end I'll have to test and see how wel l throttling works _after_ the data has come through the pipe, outbound will be no problem.

FYI, dunno if it matters but I've heard with folks who do radio collar tracking in the jungle that you get all sorts of reflections off leaves and vegatation. That may be an entirely different application so YMMV.


PJ's picture

What about doing all your video distribution via MythTV? I've got no specifics on hardware for frontends or backends, but if you're putting 'net everywhere, it makes sense to make everything distributable over that net, including video. This may be a solution for audio as well - I think MythTV will do the 'media server' thing and let you stream mp3s as well as video.

Our device is about to hit the market

PenguinRadio's picture

PenguinRadio is releasing the Solutions WebRadio on Monday Nov. 28. Basically this is a little black box built around the open source Ethernut platform that is used by parishioners in European churches to stay in touch with their local sermons. We found the manufacturer in the Netherlands and worked with them on some modifications.

We now have it set up to access our streaming mp3 radio stations database and our massive podcast collection from It's pretty much plug and play in a DHCP household with Ethernet, but it also has a modem for those still working off of dialup.

It's not as sexy as the Squeezebox (and I'll say I'm an admirer and user of that as well) but our device is designed for a different audience--geek's moms. We've had so many people say "I'd love my parents to listen to Internet audio but getting them to use or even have a pc is a pain." That's where this rather functional, practical and simple device is aimed. Those who don't want the hassle of the PC or the streaming software. We've already sold a number to our beta-test list and one of the most common uses is "I'm setting this up in my (parents/grandparents/inlaws) house because they can't (use a computer / speak English) but want to listen to radio from around the world.

Anyway--saw your posting and thought I should let you know that we finally have a box on the market.

Our radio device is out today.

PenguinRadio's picture

Hi Doc,

PenguinRadio is releasing the Solutions WebRadio on Monday Nov. 28. Basically this is a little black box built around the open source Ethernut platform that is used by parishioners in European churches to stay in touch with their local sermons. We found the manufacturer in the Netherlands and worked with them on some modifications.

We now have it set up to access our streaming mp3 radio stations database and our massive podcast collection from It's pretty much plug and play in a DHCP household with Ethernet, but it also has a modem for those still working off of dialup.

It's not as sexy as the Squeezebox (and I'll say I'm an admirer and user of that as well) but our device is designed for a different audience--geek's moms. We've had so many people say "I'd love my parents to listen to Internet audio but getting them to use or even have a pc is a pain." That's where this rather functional, practical and simple device is aimed. Those who don't want the hassle of the PC or the streaming software. We've already sold a number to our beta-test list and one of the most common uses is "I'm setting this up in my (parents/grandparents/inlaws) house because they can't (use a computer / speak English) but want to listen to radio from around the world.

Anyway--saw your posting and thought I should let you know that we finally have a box on the market.

Squeezebox & Speakeasy?

Matt's picture

I'll add another vote for the squeezebox... I got a first version, and went and picked it up in person (since they're local to me here in Mountain View), and the founder is a really good guy.

I'm kind of surprised to hear you talk of going with SBC or cable for internet connectivity. If you're going for "openness", I'd think you'd go with Speakeasy. Home DSL doesn't block any ports, you can share the service with your neighbors if you want, and they're all around a good company to deal with. Read SBC's Terms of Service and then read Speakeasy's, and I'm sure you'll notice a difference.

I'm in the process of getting rid of SBC as much as possible by going with Speakeasy OneLink and VOIP. Yeah, I know Speakeasy is still paying SBC for the copper, but I will no longer have to deal with (or pay) SBC directly. One less monopoly in my life.

What a mess...

Grishnakh's picture

This situation doesn't sound good. I'll echo some of the other comments here: definitely run conduit (sounds like you're already planning that), and try out the Squeezebox.

First off, you should try to connect everything possible by Cat5e or Cat6, using either 100 or GbE, and of course coax (RG6) for the video. This would minimize the wiring hassle. Use RG6, not RG59, especially for any runs to the outside.

What's with the copper roof? Is this an aesthetic thing? I've never heard of this. I thought Spanish tile would be the norm in high-end California homes. Won't it just turn green?

Dump the Ramsey systems. The sound quality will be crap. FM radio (no matter when it was made) has a very limited frequency range and terrible stereo separation. You can accomplish this task easily using Cat5e transmitting digital audio. Use the Squeezebox mentioned above, or something similar, to play audio streams. You'll get CD-quality audio, and not worry about radio interference.

For FM reception, it sounds like you need a way to have an external FM antenna, but then be able to listen to FM in any room. Put together a mini Linux system (VIA EPIA perhaps) with an FM radio tuner (PCI or USB). Locate this near the rooftop antenna, then have it connect to the house network, and stream FM radio. This will probably be a small project by itself, but either 1) have one selected station (NPR) always tuned in, and streaming out, or 2) have some way of connecting to it and selecting the station. You should then be able to tune into the stream on the Squeezeboxes. Anyone have any better suggestions for this?

I'd dump the satellite radio until those stupid companies come to their senses and make it easier to work with: it should all be networkable, instead of requiring proprietary wiring. Just make sure to install some conduit through the roof at key locations for future expansion.

For sound at the home theater, separate speakers are a must if you really value sound quality. Rear surround speakers in the ceiling are ok, but the two main front speakers should be separate. There are many attractive options here. We don't have the technology today to make very high-quality sound without the speakers being visible.

I'd also think twice about the over-the-air TV antenna. Sounds like a big pain, especially with the rotator. Since you already have satellite TV, are you sure you can't just use that?

Copper roof

Anonymous's picture

Turn green, and approach a black body; have you considered the energy balance?

some suggestions

Mike Taht's picture

Power control: Although X10 is well supported by open source software, I'd recomend against it. Three years ago I converted almost my entire house over to using X10, and was plagued not only by lights switching on and off randomly, but physical failures, usually triggered by my area's violent power failures and spikes.

Having total automation of the lights (with motion control detectors in the driveway), and stereo, water heater, etc, was nice, don't get me wrong - but ripping out failed X10 wall sockets and switches on a monthly basis gets wearying after a while.

You are on a good path with the idea of using the Nokia 770 as a portable radio and home control unit, but perhaps you'd want something longer battery life. I note that the Philips Pronto 2 was Linux based, I don't know about more recent models.

Noise: Modern computers make a lot of noise. In my case I drilled holes down to the basement and mounted all my fastest computers about 10 feet down, with some soundproofing between here and there. Result - I can work and hear birds chirping outside while my dual opterons howl in the basement. The basement idea, however, limited the possible placement of my work areas to within 15 feet of the computer. I researched a few long range video/audio over cat5 products - as well as firewire extenders - all were expensive but it looked like several of these products were worth embedding in the walls.

I've always wanted to have a computer screen mounted horizontally (so I could read and work in bed)... with support for a USB headset so I could do dragon dictate in bed and watch movies, listen to podcasts and music. Maybe a touchscreen.

Another thing that drives me nuts about modern house design is the profusion of wall-warts of every possible voltage. I sure wish there was a standard AC-DC converter you could mount in a wall that you could use to get rid of the wall warts. Not only are they unsightly and clunky, but more than a few emit audible hum and feedback through the mains.... most of my wallwarts ended up in the basement.

Power: You can pick up major batteries used from the phone company (they have to replace their batteries far more frequently than required) and use them with an inverter and go solar if you so choose.

GigE is nicer than wireless. Everywhere you can possibly run an outlet, do so. I've hidden them behind paintings, and in a couple places, they are mounted in the carpet cleverly so as to be invisible when not in use.

You probably want to go both G and A for your wireless stuff, and you'll need more than one access point to get adaquate coverage. X over GigE is startlingly fast, and multiple cheap terminal servers (some with touchscreen support) exist.

I've always wanted to mount video and touchscreens in a smart door....

There's a lot of interesting work going on for audio distribution. I have a toslink and coax based digital wires run, but with longer lengths I did have issues...

There is Gibson Magic, and variaxe. There's some new things happening in the Linux world for a jack based ip protocol (jackd is the standard plugin environment for professional linux audio production tools like ardour and audacity). The slim devices (praised elsewhere in your commentstream) rock.

Nobody's mentioned bluetooth. Plantronics is making some nice bluetooth headsets now, and a stereo one is either out or due out soon.

I'm not huge on the local FM idea, either. The slim players are the way to go - or, to be trendy, check out the cool designs of mini-itx based boxes at

As for speakers, I'd still argue that in your listening room, that you get separate floor standing speakers for best sound. This is one of those male vs female battles worth fighting, but that's your call! :)

For more ideas, consult Dilbert!

phone system

Mike Taht's picture

you haven't mentioned your phone system... asterisk is one of the more successful Linux based open source products, and it works great, so you can simplify your wiring by going all or mostly voip over ethernet and wireless. Polycom's phones are pretty darn good, and there are probably more than a few Linux based phones worth trying.

What's with all the wires?

Pito Salas's picture

Doc, I did an addition 3 years ago and wired my house almost as elaborately as you did. In retrospect, way too much wire. I mean who needs it with all the great wireless technology that exists?

You'll be spending your life mapping and labeling and keeping track of runs here and there, with much of it (if you are like me) actually "dark." If I were to do it again I would have a major server/wiring closet and then a minor one on all other floors. I would connect the wiring closets together with several runs of coax and Cat5 each. I'd make sure to have power (AC) in all the strategic places, and that's all. IMHO. - Pito

Ramsey FM100

Anonymous's picture

I had never heard of the Ramsey FM100, but it looks pretty sweet.

I'm afraid I'd get into trouble with one, though -- the manufacturer site says that you have to sign a paper saying you'll export it, if you live in the US. And the idea of my neighbors being able to listen to whatever is playing on my tv or stereo sort of bugs me.

I like wireless headphones, but I have problems with quality and reliability. I've tried cheap FM transmitters designed for use with mp3 players and car stereos, and they don't have enough power to be reliable. But the idea of being able to use a decent radio and decent noise canceling headphones is pretty appealing.

Good luck with your house... it sounds pretty great.

Ramsey FM-100

Doc Searls's picture

The standard kit for the FM-100B (the current model) is 250mw, or 1/4 of one watt. The range would exceed FCC Part 15 limitations if we used it with an outside antenna; but we don't. It covers the house and not much else. We've used it in four houses so far, with no complaints from neighbors.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Something else to look at.

Anonymous's picture

I'm currently pursuing the same sort of design. One place you might want to look before you decide on your final design is plutohome. It's located at

Slimdevices Squeezebox

Tim Hunt's picture

Let me add my vote for the Sqeezebox. Although it's marketed as way to listen to MP3's, it's also a great Internet radio receiver, and, unlike over-the-air, it's not constrained by geography.

Like you, my main concern is NPR, but I now have a choice of NPR radio stations. I'm on the east coast, but I regularly listen to KCRW, particularly when I get home late, and the East Coast stations have stopped broadcasting All Things Considered. Plus you can get stations from overseas, including the BBC.

The final bonus is that the SlimServer is GPL'd software that runs on Linux, so it's up 24x7, plus there are all sorts of useful add-ins.

been there... done that.

Dave Mallery's picture

my biggest mistake in wiring my current home was not to use conduit everywhere. no matter what you put in the walls, you WILL need to change it within a few years. so make every run to the data/voice outlets in every room so they can be yanked and replaced. one of the few nice suprises was the rg-58 that i pulled (1989: thinwire ethernet and cat-3: state of the art....) that could be used to carry other stuff like irig time codes from master clock to slave displays. make sure the installer doesn't scrimp on the conduit diameter and pulling access. you didn't mention pulling fiber...

be well


whole-house audio

Anonymous's picture

what about the slim devices squeezebox3?

Its open-source and the hardware is both good-looking and high-quality. My wife hates fiddly gadgets but has taken to the SB really well (to the extent that she packed all her CDs away a couple of weekends ago).

Linux Home Server

Trevor Hennion's picture

Afraid this is a plug for our Linux Home Server - small, quiet and flexible. Based on the VIA Mini-IPX motherboard running Linux - comes preconfigured. Includes mp3/CD serving from hard disk using the SlimDevices free software, a digital photo server, Web Server, DNS, DHCP, WINS, file and printer sharing and loads of good stuff.


Sonos sound system.

Anonymous's picture

Sonos sound system.


Doc Searls's picture

So it turns out that Sonos is right here in Santa Barbara, about 8 blocks from where I'm sitting right now. i went over there on Friday, was duly impressed, and am now trying out a pair of ZonePlayers and a controller. Stay tuned. :-)

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Sonos - more than wireless...

David Shore's picture

I think you'll like the Sonos system.

For those of us that aren't renovating, putting the speakers anywhere you want and being able to change your mind later is quite nice. Being wireless gives that flexibility.

But I found the benefits of a Sonos system is more about the software.

I tried a variety of wireless products like the Roku Soundbridge and Apple's AirPort and they all worked well. But Sonos lets you send any content (TV, CD, Internet, etc.) to any room (or deck) at any volume, then mute all for a phone call. From your PC or from as many wireless remote controls as you care to throw around.

And it's simple enough to use that every one of your slowest house guests can get it in under 2 minutes.

You can add up to 32 zones in or outside the house. And the zone players have 4 Ethernet ports to extend your wireless network or add a storage drive.

I wish someone told me about this a year before I bought it. It would have saved me a lot of research.

re: above cooment about

Anonymous's picture

re: above cooment about roof...copper roofing is used on churches etc , looks well and lasts

fiber optic

optical's picture

Fiber Optic Pacthpanels Features -- Technical information --