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Networking a House
April 28, 2014 1:56 PM   Subscribe

How I should network my house? I understand the basics of running cables, punch-down blocks, patch panels, jacks, network switches, etc. What I don't understand is how to put all of these together in a way that gives me what I want. Details inside.

As a result of a fire in our house, we had the opportunity to run new wires. I took this opportunity to make sure that coax, network cable, and phone cable (the last two are both Cat-5) were run to a bunch of different places.

With the coax, I know basically what to do - buy a splitter (or a bunch of splitters) and send the cable signal to all of the jacks (although I welcome any suggestions on how to do this well as opposed to just buying a bunch of splitters).

With the phone, I know in theory what I want to do (wire all the phone lines together), but don't know what hardware I need or what I should buy (a punch-down block, presumably, but is there one made just for phones?). Is this any different for the newly-run wires (Cat-5) and the older existing wires (Cat-3), which need to be wired together?

With the network cables, should I just get a patch panel and a network switch and wire those up?

Finally, what have I not thought of that I'm going to wish I thought of before I bought a bunch of equipment?
posted by Betelgeuse to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I just did something similar. I put a patch panel in the electrical closet and ran patch cords to a switch which runs upstream to the internet connection.
posted by plinth at 2:02 PM on April 28

In addition to running cables you might want to install conduit with pull cords in them for new cables in the future.
posted by sacrifix at 2:07 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]

You should really run cat5e, and assume you'll want fiber within the next few years.
posted by crayz at 2:10 PM on April 28

For the coax, you'll want a powered (amplified) splitter, otherwise the signal will become too diluted (noisy) if you split it too many times.

For the phone, you just need a patch panel/punch block. Did you know that phone wire is the same as cat5/cat6? It's just a single twisted pair instead of 4 twisted pairs. So the plug is different (RJ11 vs RJ45) but otherwise you can use the same tools. For the cat5 wires that you're using for the phones, just treat them like phone wire with extra wires and ignore the unused wires.

For the network, you want a multi-port network switch, 16 or 32 ports, which then connects to your actual internet router. You can terminate all the cat5 w/plugs directly to the switch or you can use a patch panel.


* I put a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) in the closet w/everything to power the switch, router, etc so that any power line hiccups don't kill my internet.
* Get a label maker and label everything! What's obvious today may not be that clear next year.
* I also ran speaker wire all over the house, and terminated it in the same closet, so I can do centrally-managed whole-house audio.
posted by jpeacock at 2:13 PM on April 28

If you have the choice to do the phones back to a single point, this is much easier to troubleshoot then wiring the phones one-to-the-next. We have the latter in our current house and it was a colossal pain in the ass to reverse-engineer the madcap path laid out by the builder. I would have killed for a central punch-down block.
posted by jquinby at 2:16 PM on April 28

I assume by "Cat 5", you mean "Cat5e" or "Cat 6", right?

For phones, all you need is a punch-down block, a 110 block for your Cat 5 phone wiring. You can get them at the big hardware stores, or online.

For your network cables, your life will be made easier if you terminate them all at a patch panel. You can get these again online (monoprice) or at a big hardware store.

For coax, you just need a distribution block (something like this).
You don't want to daisy-chain splitters.
You could get fancy with amplifiers and such, but there's no need on new wiring like you have.
posted by madajb at 2:21 PM on April 28

Cat-5 comes in multiple grades for different elements of a building's structured cabling, and I recommend "Plenum grade" Cat-5e.

With Plenum Grade, the plastic outer coating is made to not emit toxic fumes if burned, which is why it's required for running through the plenum (ceiling space) of modern buildings. You can use it anywhere, though.

Mount short lengths of PVC pipe in place for any unusual turns in the walls, and in addition to putting in the cable, you should add some cable pull strings (polyfilament fishing line, really) from endpoint to endpoint so you can pull fiber or additional cable through the wall at a future time.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:32 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]

For the coax:

Be careful about how you do the splitting. You can put in an amplifier, but amplifiers also cause noise. Further, they only amplify downstream signal, so trying to run a cable modem through an amp tends not to work very well. Ideally you'd want to have the cable come in and hit a 2-way splitter. One half goes to your cable modem (if you do internet through cable) and the other half feeds your TVs. Then you get a splitter with exactly enough outlets to feed exactly as many TVs as you have, with an amp if necessary.

As madajb says, chaining splitters is bad.

And finally, yes, you want everything in the house to come down to one central point, probably in the basement.
posted by kavasa at 2:49 PM on April 28

So people where I work suggest to run a few cat6 drops to each point. You use a star or "homerun" configuration - no daisy chaining. You'll need a switch in a wiring closet somewhere.

But you can put either ethernet or phone lines over cat6. cat 5e is fine too, but you're a little more future-proofed with cat6.

For TV you can get what are known as "video baluns" which match the line impedance of ethernet cable to coax so you can run a coax video signal over 100 feet or so of cat6. You can also get HDMI baluns, etc. You can really run just about anything over cat6 for short distances.

You can also get "structured cabling" which is a bundle of coax and cat5/6 cables in a single package, but it's usually pretty expensive. It's cheaper to just run cat6 everywhere and get baluns where needed.

besides, who gets TV over coax any more?
posted by GuyZero at 2:52 PM on April 28 [3 favorites]

Coincidentally I'm about to do a similar project at home.

Surge protection is definitely something worth considering IMHO, at least if you have a bunch of pricey gear. I'm actually going as far as to get panel based whole house surge protection installed. I opted for Siemens here and purchased the beastly SPD4Home unit along with the SPD4Coax unit for my cable connection. Maybe not the cheapest but a price I'm willing to pay for peace of mind.

My "hub" will be on the top shelf in a centrally located closet. Here I will have the cable company's router, my own router, my NAS and a network switch all running of a power strip with more surge protection... in case anything punches through the Siemens unit. Unlikely maybe but better safe than sorry :D.

Because of the tight space in the closet I'm worried about heat. I live in SoCal and obviously it gets pretty hot here but at the same time I'd rather not run the AC all day when nobody is home. So I'm probably going to vent the space at least into another room or maybe even to the outside (would have to be roof in this case). I've got some quiet 120mm fans and temperature sensors and other gear left from a PC water cooling project so I think I can set something up where the fan will turn on if it gets too hot in there. Since it's such a small enclosed space I'm thinking about installing a smoke detector in there. But maybe I'm just being too paranoid. Anyhow... heat (and fire related risks) are something to be considered when trying to hide away powered gear like that in a closet. Luckily there is a properly installed outlet inside the closet so I don't have to worry about that.

This is the switch I'll be using:
Netgear GS116E Gigabit Unmanaged Plus Switch

It'll basically be wired up like so:

coax -> cable modem/router -> my router -> switch -> NAS (in closet)/Cat6 to wall jacks -> devices

(the reasons I've got my own router behind the cable company's router are: (1) they can access their router at will, (2) I have full configuration control over mine but not over their router, (3) I can switch providers without having to reconfigure the local network)
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:11 PM on April 28

I don't know exactly what your conditions are, but a here are a few basic principles for laying out your network:
- Remember that labor is going to cost more than materials. If in doubt, err on the side of pulling more and better cable now.

- Remember that the primary use that these cables will have is to put wireless access points (both internet and phone) in advantageous spots. Don't go nuts running cables.

- Gigabit Ethernet (and under) cables are good to 100 meters on cat5. 10 gigabit is good to 55 meters on cat 6. So use Cat 6 if you can, and keep those runs under 55 meters if you can. And definitely keep each run under 100 meters (not that I'd imagine that this will be a challenge.

- 100 mbit 100baseTX is 20 years old and still the most relevant speed for home use (especially with a properly built network, like you are going to build). Don't go too nuts about future proofing.

- as already noted, you can run phone over the same type of cable as you run your network. Do this.

- Every joint and connection is an opportunity for failure. Every piece of wire that will be in the wall should be intact and in good condition from the wiring closet to its far end, and if in use, punched down to a connector of the same spec as the wire. No spitters or daisy chaining, ever.

- But I've seen ethernet run just fine over fire alarm cabling for a short run. So don't worry too much.

- Get a punch down block at your local hardware megastore or Amazon, along with patch cables of appropriate length (not too long - they'll become unmanageable) to go from the ethernet punch down to your switch. You can get away with crimping connectors onto your cables and plugging them directly into the switch, but don't do that unless you want to get real familiar with crimping connectors onto ethernet cables (You don't. It's hard to do well, and even done properly it won't be terribly durable).
posted by wotsac at 4:16 PM on April 28

Tons of good suggestions already.

One more, in case you are thinking about a security system in the future, and are now planning to install ethernet -- a few carefully chosen ceiling points. Some security cameras can run PoE (power over ethernet) and this will give you a means of powering them and transferring the video footage.
posted by instead of three wishes at 7:39 AM on April 29

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