Running Network Cables Inside Your Walls
Written by M Holland
With the worldwide trend in internet technology long since shifted from dial-up access to a broadband, “always on” connection, just about every new house being built in North America features an integrated data network. This means that data cables, typically Category 5e (Cat5e) or Category 6 (Cat6,) are run through the walls and connected to jacks at each end. The cables typically all run back to a central location, where they can be patched into the network or other equipment.
However, what if you have an older house, or one that simply never had network cables installed? Of course, wireless networking is an option, but wireless networking comes with several downsides that many people are not willing to deal tolerate. Wireless transfer rates are lower than wired, and are severely more susceptible to interference. Wireless communication also introduces at least 100ms of latency time into the connection, which is less than acceptable for gamers.
Fortunately, in most homes, running network cabling is not very difficult. I will explain what is needed to carry out the task, and the steps to completing the job quickly and professionally.
Tools and Supplies
In order to run networking cables, you will need a few specific tools and supplies. Most of the tools are things that many people will already have available. To get the job done right, you will need:
* Electric drill and drill bits
* Keyhole saw (drywall saw)
* Measuring Tape
* Fish Tape (cable snake, etc.)
* Pulling string (mason line works great for this and is inexpensive)
* Assorted screwdrivers
* Knife or scissors
You will also need to purchase a few materials. They can all be purchased at either hardware stores or online, from sites such as Newegg.com or Monoprice.com. You will need:
* RJ-45 Keystone Jacks (These are the outlets that will be affixed to the wall)
* A spool of Cat5e or Cat6 cable (typically sold in 1000ft rolls, plenty for one house)
* Keystone wall plates with enough holes for the number of jacks you plan to install
* Single-gang wall boxes (one for every place you want an outlet)
You will need to purchase one keystone jack for every place you plan to install an outlet. Most retailers sell newer “tool less” jacks that do not require a punch-down tool. If possible, get these as they are easier to use.
The First Step: Plan
Before starting any actual work, you will want to look around the house and plan out exactly where you will want to install each jack. It is important to get this done first, as you will want to order the correct amount of supplies, and it can also save you a good bit of work later on.
You will also want to identify the best place for your central location, the place where all of your cable runs lead back to. This is where you will keep your network equipment, internet connection, etc.
Identify Walls and Drill
The next step takes place in the attic. You will need to find the top of each wall you plan to install a network jack into. This can be done using the measuring tape and fixtures that are in the same place both in the room and in the attic, such as air conditioner vents.
Typically, the top of the wall will be a 2×4, and will stand out from the sheetrock ceiling. Once you identify the top of the wall, you will want to drill a small to medium-sized hole to run your cable down. Now, do this for each location where you will want to install network drops.
For the central location, you will likely want to drill a larger hole, as several cables will be running through it.
Next, you will need to locate the areas you planned each jack installation and cut holes in the drywall to mount gang boxes. Before cutting, use the face of the box to trace the size, and then use the level to make sure you get everything straight.
Cut the holes by drilling into the center of your marked-off rectangle, then use the keyhole saw to cut around the edges. If you want the final look to be smooth, you can sand the edges.
At the central location, you may require a two-gang wall box, which is larger and will allow for more ports. Decide this before beginning installation.
Now you will want to pull your cable runs to each jack point, starting from your central location. Place the box of cable just outside the new hole you have just cut in the wall. From the attic, “fish” down the wall with the fish tape until it can be seen through the hole in the wall.
You can either attach your cable directly to the fish tape, or run a pull string. I recommend the string because you can keep one continuous piece going as you pull you cable runs.
Pull the cable up through the wall and run it across the attic to the location of your new drop. Be sure to pull an additional fifteen feet or so to run down the wall and to the jack. Drop the cable down into the hole you drilled in the top of the wall. If the walls are thin or have a lot of debris in them, you can use the fish tape to “run” the cable down the wall to the cutout below.
When you have completed one run, cut the cable off at the box, re-attach the cable from the box to the pull string, and start on the next run. Do this until all planned jack locations have cables running to them.
Mount Wall Boxes
Locate the cable through the hole you cut into the wall. Pull some cable out of the wall and run it through one of the openings in the back of the gang box. Place the gang box into the new hole and tighten it down by tightening the screws at the upper right and lower left corner. This will secure the box in place
After all of the gang boxes are installed, you should have neat boxes mounted in the walls with the raw cable(s) hanging out of them. Following the instructions specific to the model of keystone jacks you purchased, connect an RJ-45 keystone jack to the end of each cable run. Be sure the follow either the 568A or 568B wiring standard, which will be noted on the jacks.
When the jacks are all connected to the end of the cables, you can snap the keystone jack into the wall plates and screw the wall plates into the gang boxes in the wall.
Congratulations! You are done installing network wiring in your home. For an average home, utilizing ten or so cable runs, this can be done for about $150. That sure beats paying a professional $90 an hour PLUS the cost of materials to do the same work!