Given a blank slate, how would you network your house?
July 21, 2009 3:55 AM   Subscribe

How would you network your home if you had a blank slate? Wired or wireless? Our house is about to be almost entirely demolished and we have the opportunity to 'future-proof' our home. Given that the walls are down, should we take the chance to fill them full of wires? If so, what sort?

The requirements:

1. Reliable. The #1 concern.
2. Secure.
2. High-capacity. HD media-streaming ready.
3. Affordable. This isn't a 'money is no object' question.
4. Low-maintenance. With no in-house tech. support, it needs to be easy to maintain. Any suggestions for really simple, user-friendly, network gear would be appreciated.
5. Future proof. If we go with wiring, it's going to be a long time before we can get in there and upgrade!

Bonus points: B+B guests should be able to gain access to the internet, without joining the intranet. Perhaps a wireless gateway isolated from the intranet?

Currently we're running on Ethernet-over-power sockets, but the new house will have 3 different mains circuits, so this will no longer be an option.
posted by hydrophobic to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I would put (I can't remember the word in english right now) gutters into the walls so that no matter what shows up in the future, you can always upgrade without ripping anything apart. Then I would just run cat-5 cabling through it.
posted by jedrek at 4:00 AM on July 21, 2009

As well as wiring, think about putting in pull-thru cords (and tying off and marking both ends). That way, adding new cable is easier (if your future-proof plan somehow turns out to be not quite optimal). You can tie a new pull-thru cord to the end of the cable you add, so you always keep your upgrade facility.

Pull Thru cord site I googled up, there are lots of others but this has good pics
posted by Tapioca at 4:13 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

The word jedrek wants is "conduits" and I agree strongly.

I Cat-5'd most of my home when I had the chance (a couple of ports in every room back to a gigabit switch in a closet), and that's been great, but the cheapest and best thing I did was to also run a couple of empty 3" PVC pipes up and down between floors in every room. It's come in very handy later as the place evolved more and I got better ideas. Much easier than re-fishing wires all the time.
posted by rokusan at 4:13 AM on July 21, 2009

There is still a substantial cost difference, not to mention availability issue, between broadband copper and fiber optic wiring systems, but "wired" is the way to go, given that your #1 and #2 goals are, respectively, "Reliable" and "Secure." Personally, if I were doing this project, I'd cable for gigabit Ethernet on CAT6 cable.

100BaseT on CAT5 has served well for many years, and remains a viable choice, too, as even the bandwidth you get there is massive, by Ethernet standards. But given the coming high rate network applications like IPTV, I think you're going to see Gigabit Ethernet rapidly becoming the standard for new install work over the next 5 years. Gigabit switch prices and network cards are affordable, and while I might backstop my selection with some good coax in the walls, too, I think you'll be happy with gigabit Ethernet for at least a decade or more.
posted by paulsc at 4:24 AM on July 21, 2009

Another +1 for conduits, fish cables and Ethernet cable - I slowly wired my house as I redecorated over the years, adding network (and TV antenna feed) to each room as I went along.

I used CAT-5e, which can carry Gigabit ethernet, but if I were you I'd price the difference between -5e and -6 and buy the 6 if the price difference isn't too big - given that the capacity of -5e has jumped from 100 to 1000MBps with improving switches/NICs, it isn't too much of a stretch to imagine that -6 might get a boost later, too.

I'd also suggest adding multiple cables to each room, possibly to opposing corners, so you're not tied into a given room configuration by your wall jack.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 4:44 AM on July 21, 2009

I would run cat-6 since its more future proof then cat -5 cat-6a will be capable of 10gbase-t .
Its only $20 more for cat6 then cat5e at monoprice. Make sure you have also have coax cable that is rated at 1,000mhz or above (a lot of cable companies are upgrading their network to use the frequencies above 850mhz.

Use One of the cheapest places for cable (audio/video/networrk) and to get al lthe equipment necessary to run it.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:51 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, Cat-6 is the right choice today. I typed Cat-5 out of habit, but looking at a leftover spool now it was 5e that I used two yrs ago.
posted by rokusan at 5:08 AM on July 21, 2009

My house was built in '81 so it's not wired or prepared for anything! My computer is hooked up wired to the cable modem and everything else is wireless. What I would do:

-Run Cat6 (futureproofing!) to pretty much every room minus bathrooms (use the wireless you grossos!) in the house, put a wallplate in.
-Make a networking closet in one of the smaller closets. Have all the pulls run to there to a simple patch panel, or just a 12/24 switch.
-I'd mount my wireless router in the center of the house on the ceiling (It already gives great reception no matter where you are, but this will ensure equal distrib on both ends of 2-story house and basement.
-In the backyard I'd hook up a solar panel, (I work for the lead manufacturer of thin-PV in the world :P ) to a wireless N router and make it a repeater so there was a clear signal no matter where on my property.

That's pretty much it besides upgrading my current router to N instead of G.
posted by PetiePal at 5:44 AM on July 21, 2009

document document document. I'm assuming you'll have a/v wires / network cables etc. running every which way. Make a little diagram and put it all down, which wire runs where, and what number is it (number them all at the ends). Laminate and tape somewhere where it won't get lost. Inside of electrical cabinet, utilities closet, somewhere safe.
posted by defcom1 at 6:03 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is this lovely thing in the building trade called "composite cable", which includes coax, twisted pair, straight conductor, and fibre optics into one easy-to-pull package. Pulling that, with a couple of messenger lines, means every pull can handle cable TV, ethernet, whatever we deliver on fibre, and if you have straight conductors, audio as well.

The messenger lines are for the technology we don't have yet.

You don't have to terminate each line right away -- in particular, the fibre will probably be dark, and no sense putting a connector on until you know which one you need.
posted by eriko at 6:32 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would probably tend toward spending more money on making the connections to the rooms more accessible (good conduit that makes future wire runs easier) rather than spending a nickel on wires that I won't use.

I'd put two access boxes in each room (obviously, only to a point- a small bedroom would only need one. But a larger bedroom would benefit from two, so you can hook stuff up more conveniently and aren't stuck with the TV/computer in one corner that seemed convenient at the time). Put a box in a few ceiling locations so as to locate wireless access points on each floor. Put an electrical outlet near this spot as well.

Locate the "end" of the conduits either in one spot in the basement, or in a couple of spots on each floor, and make them "home run". So that you can open the boxes at either end, and fish your new cat-8 cable right to where you want it without having to open every box in the house to fish the cable along.

(They have flexible PEX tubing for doing this with water supply- I wonder if it, or some similar alternative, exists for electrical conduit? This would eliminate any sharp bends or expensive elbow joints where cables can get hung up.)

And yes, absolutely, leave messenger cable (pull cord?) in the lines. That way you just tie the nes cable to the cord, along with a replacement cord, to the existing cord and yank it through.
posted by gjc at 7:01 AM on July 21, 2009

I would also install quad shielded RG6 coax at the same time you do the network cables. It doesn't cost that much and is the equivalent of Cat-6 for TV signal distribution. I usually pull two network and two coax runs per wall jack.

If you do end up going with conduit (best option by far) then I wouldn't bother with fiber as it should be easy to add later if necessary. If you decided that conduit is too expensive or too much work then I would go with eriko's suggestion and use a bundled cable product that includes fiber.
posted by Max Camber at 7:37 AM on July 21, 2009

Obligatory link to Structured Wiring. He recommends running both coax and 2 Cat6 wires (one data, one telephone). That said, I'm a dirt and pipes engineer, not the 1s and 0s kind.
posted by electroboy at 7:39 AM on July 21, 2009

Absolutely run cable. Wireless is never great. I recently remodelled a 3 bedroom house and pulled about 16 different strands of Cat-5e to have proper ethernet jacks in every room. On every single wall, for the bedrooms-turned-to-offices. It's awesome and I'm really glad I did it. Conduit sounds even better, so you can replace what's in your walls some day. No idea how expensive that is. I wouldn't bother with fibre optic.

All your cable runs should terminate in one place, a network box / closet with a patch board. Plan ahead for this; they take up a lot of space, particularly with adequate ventilation. I have a network enclosure mounted on a wall in my garage that's about 3 feet x 1 feet, and even with all that space it's barely enough for switch, modem, etc. And I forgot to plan for a UPS to power it all, which I now regret.

Also plan ahead for wireless access points. Even if you have a wired jack in every room, someone on a laptop will still want to take a walk. I hid an ethernet port in a back corner of a kitchen cabinet and am really glad I did since I could use it to fill a wifi dead spot.

For your B&B guests on a second network, there's a variety of ways to do that. They generally require more complex routing hardware (Ie: not a $50 consumer router) and/or a second IP address from your ISP.
posted by Nelson at 7:40 AM on July 21, 2009

There is this lovely thing in the building trade called "composite cable", which includes coax, twisted pair, straight conductor, and fibre optics into one easy-to-pull package.

Wow, that stuff is fantastic. I had no idea. Pricey, but brilliant.
posted by electroboy at 8:15 AM on July 21, 2009

nthing conduit. Big conduit. Make sure there are several big runs going vertically from one floor to the next, and then almost-as-big horizontal spans going out to each room on each floor, and 1" or bigger going to each outlet box.

You will need to get this done by an electrician and it's worth getting done right, because the vertical runs can be a fire hazard if they're not installed correctly. (You want to be careful, for obvious reasons, any time you're punching holes from one floor to the next that might allow a fire to spread faster.)

Then I would pull two pieces of Cat6 and one piece of quad-shielded RG6, along with an extra piece of pull cord, to each outlet. That ought to suffice for the next few years. You can get away with just Cat6 today, but running video over IP is an immature technology and you'll need expensive converters for your TVs that make it worthwhile, IMO, to just pull coax. Plus you never know what in the future you may want the coax for; high-grade low-loss coax is always good to have around, it has a much greater bandwidth than most UTP wiring.

A few extra things:

1) Be careful of bend radii. You want to be able to blow fiber into the conduit at some point in the future. That means no hard L-bends!

2) If you can, "home run" the conduit. That means have 1" conduit going from each room back to a central location. I doubt you have space to do this 100%, but it would be optimal if you did. The next-best solution is for each outlet to feed back to some central point on the floor (easily accessible!) that then feeds into a big conduit that goes down to the wiring closet.

3) Document everything! There's nothing worse than trying to install wiring in conduit and finding out that there's a junction box along the way that nobody bothered to tell you about, and that's been plastered over, or covered by HVAC ducts, etc.

4) Think about how your wiring is going to interact with other building systems. In many places, the HVAC ducting is an afterthought and it gets installed in places that screw with other systems. Plan everything early. Also, keep in mind that in the near future you may want to network a lot of stuff that you wouldn't think about networking today: e.g. your furnace, refrigerator, attic fans, front porch (for IP camera) ... it's easy to put network drops into these places now, expensive later. Your friends may laugh at the funny places you put network outlets now, but they won't be laughing later when you can plug something in there, and they have to fudge around with wireless or cutting holes through finished construction.

5) Don't let your GC or random electricians install data wiring. Either DIY (if you know how) or pay a specialist. UTP data wiring is not like phone wiring! If you pull too hard, or if you crimp it with staples, or if you bend it hard while installing it, you ruin the cable. It doesn't look ruined, and it might work fine for most purposes, but it's ruined and won't perform to spec. If you get a professional, ask how they test cable once they install it. If they just check for continuity, they're doing it wrong — you need a (fairly expensive) analyzer to check for properly-installed data cabling, to detect faults. Just because you can make a DC connection doesn't mean that you're going to get GigE or 10GbE speeds, and that's what you care about.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:23 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also ... although the site is a fun read, be aware he does some stuff that is decidedly not best practice. In particular, I think he has his UTP wiring terminated in RJ45 male connectors in his wiring closet. That is wrong.

The wiring in your walls should be punched into the IDCs on the back of a keystone jack at one end, and at the other end should be punched into the back of a patch panel in your wiring closet. Then you use short, pre-terminated patch cables to connect from the front of the panel to your switch or router, which typically lives near the patch panel in an equipment rack.

You should not have wiring coming out of your walls and terminated in RJ45 connectors and plugging directly into equipment. The wiring you buy to run in your walls — solid copper — is not meant to have standard jacks crimped onto it. They will work, sometimes for a long time (I have stuff like that hanging around my house right now, ugh), but that's not how they're meant to be used. You said you wanted to be "future proof", so do things the right way.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:44 AM on July 21, 2009

People seem to be ignoring the fact that you are price sensitive.

Conduit is not cheap, nor is structured cable.

I suspect the best bang for your buck would be to pull two cat6 cables per box, and you'd probably want 1 box per wall in each room. Depending on your layout you might not want to home all those cables back to one panel. You might, instead, want to have a smaller panel in a closet with AC power terminating the cables from multiple rooms. These sub panels would have multiple cables back, and potentially some fiber and or conduit back to the main panel. You could either patch the active jacks back to the main panel and plug the into a switch there, or put switches in the sub panels connected back to a switch at the main panel. Switched gigabit to each room is going to go a long way and by the time it isn't, chances are that 10Gb over copper will be an option.

Remember too, old cable can often be used to pull new cable especially if you have access to the tip or bottom of the wall from an attic, crawlspace, or basement. You might consider conduit for jacks on outer walls where attic access might be difficult because of the roofline.
posted by Good Brain at 10:02 AM on July 21, 2009

As has been pointed out already here, structured wiring is the cornerstone but, as someone else pointed out, documentation is super important as well.

When I had my home retro-fitted with low voltage wiring a few years ago, the electrician pulled composite cable with an extra run of dark fiber as well as a ground. He said "You never know where you might need a ground."
posted by bz at 10:07 AM on July 21, 2009

Perhaps composite cable isn't a great idea. An article aimed at home theatre installation from Kurt Denke and Blue Jeans Cable (both of which have been mentioned previously on MeFi)
posted by bz at 12:30 PM on July 21, 2009

When I was renovating my house some years ago, I put in Cat-5 networking, coax for TV antenna, and a-v cabling. I use the netwoking and coax all the time. The a-v not so much.

My thinking at the time [remember this was some years ago] was "play a DVD in the lounge, watch it in the bedroom". Of course it wasn't long before I could put a DVD player in every room for less than I spent on a-v cabling.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:19 PM on July 21, 2009

If you can't afford the conduit, I would pull 2xCAT6 and 1xRG6 directly through holes in the studs before you drywall. Home-run them to a central location. To me that represents the cheapest option that will carry you through the next 10 years.

Some people might argue for fiber instead of coax, and that's definitely an option, but it's more expensive and harder to install. Plus, because so much CATV coax is already around in residential and commercial buildings, you are pretty much assured that there will be networking technologies to take advantage of it, if we hit the limits of UTP. (However I think that properly-installed CAT6 UTP wiring will be good at least to 10Gb or maybe even 20Gb.)

And I'm not really a fan of the bundled cables if you're installing in new construction. It's cheaper just to get separate runs of UTP and coax, and I don't really see the advantage of replacing three flexible cables with one inflexible one during an install. When you're pulling through finished construction, sure, but not if you have the walls down anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:27 PM on July 22, 2009

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