Is Wiring Your Home Worth It?

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Is Wiring Your Home Worth It?

I just bought a new house, and while I'm going to miss not having to mow my lawn, one thing I certainly won't miss are all those Ethernet "alternatives". While Wi-Fi is fine for surfing the Internet on the couch while I watch TV, it doesn't cut it for always-on or high-bandwidth applications--like the Vonage line my wife uses for her home office or streaming video (especially high-def content). Powerline is OK, but the adapters are very expensive, and I continue to be concerned about the security of the format--the software you use to lock powerline adapters down is a big pain in the ass too.


Yes, this is a flattering shot. In an unusual twist, the entrance to my crawlspace is inside my pantry.

So, one of my first tasks in my new house (aside from painting the entire thing) was to rewire all the living areas and the garage for an old-school Cat5e network. This Sunday, I donned my coveralls, strapped on my kneepads, and turned on my headlamp before I crawled under the new house and pulled some wire. It took six full hours to pull the cable, but now that that is done, I'll be able to enjoy glorious gigabit file transfers everywhere in the house, and it was definitely worth that.

I'm going to writeup a full how-to (along with Michael Brown, who is in the midst of a similar project) for an upcoming issue of the magazine, but I'll walk you through the basic scheme here. The first thing to do is plan out your network. That means you need to determine where you want Internet to come into the house, which rooms you want ports in, and where you want to terminate your cable runs.

For my house, I placed my router, cable modem, home server, and Vonage box in my garage. The cable... um, cable comes into the house through the garage, and I have a handy little shelf in there (complete with a power outlet or three) for all the necessary gear. Unfortunately, I had to drill a hole through the poured concrete foundation of the house. Luckily, a footlong 3/8" bit was enough to handle the task.

Next, I determined the location for the home-run. Normally, you'd also terminate each of the cable runs near the router, however, I chose to do something a little different so that I didn't have to run wires from each of my rooms all the way out to the garage. My house is a little odd, with the crawlspace entry inside the house, in the floor of a closet. I chose to put my home run (the termination point for the runs from each of the rooms) there, and place a network switch in the crawlspace near the entrance. This meant I only needed to make the hole between the garage and the house big enough for a few cables, and I didn't have to run the cables from every room to the garage. Finally, to save $100, I made a hoopty patch block by hammering a standard new-construction mud ring into the floor joist, and mounting six standard Ethernet ports to a 6-port modular face plate instead of buying a 24-port "for corporate use" patch block.

The only catch with this scheme is that I don't have power in the crawlspace for the switch. To solve that hurdle, I'm actually using Power Over Ethernet equipment, which sends the necessary current over the two unused pairs of wire in the Ethernet line. The home kit I'm using includes both a transmitter and a receiver. I'll plug in a transmitter at an Ethernet port that's near power, then plug the reciever in at the other end, and split out the necessary voltage. I've never really used this before, so I'll be interested to see how much it affects available bandwidth between my server and the rest of the house. I have an electrician coming later in the week, and I'm probably going to get him to add power down there, just in case. I'll report back on the performance of the POE stuff once I've got it up and running.

Since I was under the crawlspace anyway, I decided to actually run multiple cables at the same time. For the normal rooms, I ran two Cat5e cables (one for voice and one for data) as well as a single RG6 cable (for cable or satellite). This will give me plenty of dead wire to exoand or add new capabilities, if I need them at a later date. I pulled two Cat5e and two RG6 to the garage, so that I'm satellite-ready, should I decide to upgrade to a dish.

Before pulling any cable, I measured out the appropriate lengths for each run, being careful to add at least ten feet to the maximum possible length I thought I'd need at either end. Then, I bundled all the cables going to each room together with masking tape, labelling both ends. I also should have labeled which Cat5e cable was each at both ends (voice and data), but I can figure out which is which fairly easily by wiring each jack multiple times.

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Breakingcustom

I've been working in the telecommunications industry for close to 2 years now (I'm an apprentice) and I've done some massive wiring jobs (casinos, hotels, etc) and some retrofits.  One thing you forgot to talk about is terminating the ends of the cables. 

 There is a big difference between terminating Cat5e and Cat6 cable (if you go to test them).  Even so the best thing to do is only have about .5 inches of cable exposed from where you stripped the jacket.  Also, keeping as much twist as possible is key to avoid cross talk.  Another tip is to avoid over twisting.  Too much twist can actually impact the performance of the cable.

I can't wait til I buy my own house and wire it up to the max.  If you are looking to save money Cat5e is more than enough, but if you can find a box of Cat6 go for it.  The thing to remember though is if you are running Cat6 cable, use Cat6 patch cords.  There is no point in running Ca6 if you are going to use less than Cat6 patch cords.  You also need to make sure the connectors you use are rated for the cable.  The easiest way to see if a RJ-45 is compatiable with Cat6 is by looking at the fingers where the conductor makes contact.  There should be 3 of them instead of 2 (Cat5 and under).  The same goes for jacks.  I've worked with Leviton jacks that are Cat5e rated and just put a cat6 to see how it would test and it would fail because how you split the blue and green pairs.

 Lastly, when running cable make sure you don't go over 90m.  It is the standard for horizontal cabling.  Most people won't ever exceed that, but if you have a big house, you never know.  One other thing, it is a good idea to make a 5-10ft service loop at each end of a cable run.  

 If any of you have questions, let me know.

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butcho323

Hey Will,

How about adding some photos and a write up about the equipment in your garage? I would like to see how you route all of the ethernet and cable signals. Some equipement suggestions would be helpful too.

Also how would you recommend running wiring throughout a condo? Are there tools that make it possible to route wires through the walls and floors when your home doesn't have a crawl space?

 

Great article! Thanks!

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Erik R

When I wired my home, I used the "composite" cable that has two CAT-5e and two RG-6 Cables contained in a single sheath. This makes for a very neat installation. It also keeps all the wires for each room together. For jacks, I used Leviton Quickport jacks. Leviton makes blank wallplates that you custom fit with the jacks you need. This gives a very professional look to your installation.

Erik

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ACBlessing

I've done my share of crawling through the attic as another poster said...here in SW Florida, it hits over 130 degrees as sweat was dripping onto my eyes stinging them. Just be prepared for this before taking on the project and take everything you need WITH YOU during the crawl. Nothing sucks more than having to crawl all the way back just to get cable ties or a tack hammer.

Despite the physical pains and heat exhaustion, I put in redundant runs to each room trying to future-proof this install. I can do POE or separate LANs within the same room or even port aggregation as some aftermarket router firmware provides for combining ports 3 and 4 for example.

In the end, I created an ad-hoc wiring closet in the garage with easy access to the routers, cable modem and amplifier.

Hey! There's an idea for an article: KickAss User wiring closets! Forget case mods, this might be a new trend. Think UV and LED lights,lava lamps, fancy cooling and plexiglass doors to show all the blinking router and switch lights! Okay, I digress.

Nevertheless when it was all over, it was worth it. Superfast gigbit switching, no deadspots, no worry about Draft N specs to be ratified for the next decade and no channel hopping every time a neighbor (you know the ones: SSID is Linksys and password is admin) sets up a new router.

Wireless has its place...travelling and coffeehouse hotspots; maybe the occassional jaunt to the patio but there is no substitute for cable.

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oihorse

I'm looking at making my own cable and pulling it through the house.

I'm very interest in what tools you used? Brand? Did you just but a full kit? If so, which kit? What purchases would you suggest before making your own cables?

I did a search on the forums but the only threads on network tool kits is about 2 years old (which may be valid, but want to check to see if anything new and cool is being used 2 years hence).

Thanks!

Horse

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Breakingcustom

For crimping RJ-45's I just bought a crimper from Newegg (Trendnet).  I've never had a problem with it.  For terminating jacks, I use a Fluke punch down tool, but you can go to Lowes and pick up an Ideal one.  When it comes to stripping the jacket, I recommend buying a pair of Klein scisscors (electrician ones).

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samduhman

Wiring is definately worth it in my house. The damn cordless phone and microwave are always knocking out my wireless connection.

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MantaBase

Hardwire is far superior IMO to wireless for non-portable devices. It's Faster, it's more secure and it's more signal robust.

So yeah - its worth it if you can pull it off easy(ish). It will also increase the value and sale-ability (sp?) of your home.

Knowing where you live I doubt you need to worry about critters. That said, it is a real issue in certain areas. Something in the wire insulation tends to attract certain critters (like raccoons and possums).

Good job. Looks better than my wiring work.

Manta

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McB

I've been a professional "low voltage" wirer (heh) for a few years now. If you're interested in a few do's/do not's I'd be happy to help.

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MacKinnon

Looks like an apprentice ran that wire in the crawlspace. Some one posted about only wiring the first floor of their new house. Most times you can wire the second floor without too much hassle. Most homes are balloon construction. There should be a space between the outer wall and the floor boards, so you should be able to get a snake up there easy enough. Also, if there is a fireplace or chimney you can always follow that from the basement to any 2nd/3rd fl areas you need to wire.

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Baer

Wired is always better, Yes I have Wi-Fi but in the office section of my home I have three computers and two network printers. I have wired that entire half of the house with CAT5-e and have never been sorry. No glitches, everything is fast, If I have a guest I can hand them an ethernet cable instead of a 40 charachter password and then have to consider changing it.
Way to go, do it the right way instead of the easy way.

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DreadedOne509

Looking forward to the article. Just bought a new house and will more than likely wire it with some 6E. We're fortunate to have a full basement, and I only plan on putting outlets on the ground floor and the basement (where f@h farm will be).

I hope in your article you include specific details on wiring the faceplate's/outlets etc.

"Thought's of Dread"

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sidwndr

The wiring of the RJ45s are very easy. The color code is on the jacks for type A and type B. Only thing to worry about is making all of them the same type, all type A or all type B. I would like to see the patch panel you made up, and might be able to get you a real one for cheap.

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willsmith

The made up patch panel is a snap--it's just a 6-outlet faceplate on a new construction mud ring, with 6 ports plugged into it. Nothing fancy, but more than enough for what I need.

I could have bought a real patch panel, but 16 or 24 ports are total overkill, and the smaller 6 and 8 port jobbers for home use looked like a ripoff.

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elburro

great article I'm thinking about doing something similar in my own home

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cliftong

I hope nothing chews at your cables.

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L_M_Damiani

In SW Florida, we don't have to worry about crawl spaces. We have none. At 10 ---> 11 feet above sea level - maximum in SW Florida. There are no cellars or crawl spaces.
At this time of the year, our attics are ~130+ degrees - function of the time of day.

"Is Wiring Your Home Worth It?"

I think NOT!

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