Best way to run a network from upstairs to downstairs?
January 3, 2011 11:59 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to drop a cable (a network cable) from the second floor to the main floor (in a house)?

I'd like to do it cleanly. Ideal way would be of course to do it during house construction, inside the walls. Unfortunately I'm 30 years too late for that. I dont want to have a line running down the stairs, that seems unsightly.

What are my options? How have you done your wire runs?

Thank you in advance!
posted by aeighty to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Our cable runs go through the cold air return ducts. Nice wide passages through the house.
posted by saradarlin at 12:08 PM on January 3, 2011

I have closets that are on top of each other from floor to floor. I drilled a hole as close to the wall as I could from one to the other. THen I run along where baseboard meets the floor.
posted by AugustWest at 12:23 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks that's a great idea. We have a forced air heating system, so there is definitely ductwork. I'll have to investigate how it's all connected.
posted by aeighty at 12:24 PM on January 3, 2011

Powerline adapters.
posted by timdicator at 12:27 PM on January 3, 2011

If you go through duct work, if you have duct work, you need to use plenum rated cable.

What are you walls? 2x4 with drywall? Paneling? Do you have fire breaks? Do you have a central trace for all wiring/plumbing from the box to the outlets? Many newer homes have a central trace, or channel, that sits between wall spaces (sometimes near the second furnace intake or breaker box) that drop down in a clean shot to the lower space. Some don't.

There are a zillion ways to do a zillion things. If you've got drywall, you can drill holes as necessary and pull cable wherever you like. If it gets down to it, you can cut out whole sections and use drywall clips for the repair. If you've got plaster, you can either attempt to run through existing traces (hard only because the traces can be nightmarish) or use conduit. I've also seen people literally take a router and cut a channel into plaster/lathe/whatever for thin conduit or bare wire, then joint compound the blemish.

You can also go outside, through the exterior wall into conduit then down (or up, wherever your source is) and back in again for your individual runs.

Normally, you can find traces using existing wiring as your guide, if you can figure out how it gets where. Fish tape and fiberglass "sticks" can be your friend.
posted by TomMelee at 12:29 PM on January 3, 2011

I said bare wire, I didn't mean bare wire. I meant shielded wire, without conduit.
posted by TomMelee at 12:30 PM on January 3, 2011

Yep, I'd agree with the vents -- that's how I put in a new phone line, and it worked like a charm for years. Your in-wall options are probably still available, though.

When I did it, we took the upstairs cord to the spot directly above where we wanted it and dropped it straight down through the wall. Then we drilled a wide hole (what are those drill bits called where it's basically a serrated cup? It was about the side of a hockey puck) in the wall where we wanted the wires to come out downstairs. This was a good 15 years ago, so I can't remember where it came from upstairs, but we either put it in the side of the vent upstairs (not in the vent itself) or ran it down the vent itself and poked a hole in the vent where it came out downstairs in the bathroom on the other side of the downstairs wall. We may have also drilled a similar hole through said bathroom wall, but it was in the cupboard under the sink and we patched it up (so no peeping Madaminas, thank heavens). I recall that there was a small but not terrible amount of shining the flashlight into the hole and reaching in with, like, a coat hanger or some such to catch the cord.

The house in which we did it was then approximately 80 years old. It survived just fine, and even if it doesn't work out for you, that's still a small enough hole to patch easily on your own. Especially if you've got drywall and not horsehair plaster. (Like us.)
posted by Madamina at 12:32 PM on January 3, 2011

(Note after seeing TomMelee's comment: I did this operation with a semi-crusty neighbor guy who ran the university's networking division, so I'm sure I'm missing a couple steps that he knew but I didn't. Carry on with gleeful caution.)
posted by Madamina at 12:35 PM on January 3, 2011

If the physical methods don't work, you could always use a wireless bridge, like this.
posted by Kevin S at 12:35 PM on January 3, 2011

what are those drill bits called where it's basically a serrated cup?

Hole Saw.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:39 PM on January 3, 2011

Thanks for all the suggestions. House is a 40 year drywall and 2x4. I can certainly drill but then I'd have to figure out how to repair it :) Looks like I need to figure out how to explore/map the duct work as a first step before I start cutting.

I currently have wireless but the throughput is insufficient for my needs (media box). I've tried powerline ethernet adapters from D-Link. While they work in nearby outlets the speed degrades to unusable levels on two different floors.
posted by aeighty at 12:46 PM on January 3, 2011

Seconding running through the cold air ducts, that's how it was done in my house.

Also, if wireless is acceptable, I know netgear (and probably others) makes a wireless repeater so you could have a wireless router upstairs and downstairs sharing the same internet connection. IIRC, it's on the pricey side for a consumer router, $150 for the pair the last I checked, but it will be simple.
posted by zug at 12:49 PM on January 3, 2011

Have you tried the MOCA adapters? The ones that use your coax?
posted by majortom1981 at 12:49 PM on January 3, 2011

You should check housing codes in your area, or you may have to tear it all out when you try to sell.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:50 PM on January 3, 2011

one example of the adapters. This is for both adapters.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:52 PM on January 3, 2011

Would this help?
posted by anewnormal at 1:42 PM on January 3, 2011

Just a note that 40 year old drywall is likely thicker than modern, even in the same thickness. Those 2x4's will actually be 2x4's too. Patching drywall is ez-pz, it's the matching the paint that's a hassle.
posted by TomMelee at 2:18 PM on January 3, 2011

Thanks for all of the fantastic suggestions. I'm going to go with MOCA first, because that matches my skill level (or rather lack of any skills). If MOCA works out great, if not you're going to see a bunch of questions soon.

Thanks again!
posted by aeighty at 9:40 PM on January 3, 2011

I just ran the ethernet cable down the power ducts. Pushed one of those fairly stiff plastic pilot gizmos through first to find out where the next stop along the line was, pulled it through with the ethernet behind it, and repeated until I finished up where I wanted to be. Two separate cables, one going down one level and the other going down three levels - worked fine. As timdicator said, powerline adapters would have been better, except that they need to be on the same circuit, and in my house there were three separate circuits.
posted by aqsakal at 3:27 AM on January 4, 2011

Network cable comes in plenum and non-plenum rated varieties. They differ in that non-plenum cable is toxic when burned. You should be using Plenum cable if you run cable through a space that is carrying ventilation air, or else you will be circulating poisonous gases in the event of a fire.

Unfortunately, plenum cable is somewhat harder to work with (stiffer), and it is (last I checked) several times more expensive. It's probably going to be hard to buy a premade cable of plenum cable, too--it's more likely you'll have to buy a whole spool which is more than you need. I may be wrong, though, a search on [premade plenum cable] just got me to Stonewall Cable which purports to sell any length.

I wouldn't run it alongside power cables; too much possibility for interference. In your shoes I'd look into wireless or powerline or some such workaround. What I personally have done is just run the wire myself but it's a lot of work. Sometimes I was able to use existing holes from phone wiring. Other places I had to drill. Getting through the wood at the base of the second floor isn't as hard as getting through the fire blocking (horizontal 2x4s in the stud cavity). You can get through it either by removing and patching drywall in the vicinity of the blocking (but I hate patching drywall, I can never get it perfect), or by using a long flex drill bit. They have estensions that bolt on and increase the length, too. I bought mine at Home Depot. You're welcome to borrow mine, it's not like I use it every day. :)
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:17 AM on January 5, 2011

I saw RikiTikiTavi's warning about power cables. In fact, I checked this out before installing with a question on an AskMeFi-similar board on another website I frequent, along with a lot of other technical questions about the installation. I too was worried about interference, but people on that board reassured be it wouldn't be a problem, so I went ahead. In fact, I've had no interference whatever, despite running the ethernet cable alongside the house power lines through the same ducts.

There's a lot of relevant, useful Q&A in that thread which might help the OP.
posted by aqsakal at 11:36 AM on January 5, 2011

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