Wiring the House for Ethernet

The biggest part of setting up our home network was wiring the house for ethernet. There were two basic phases: running the wire through the walls, and then terminating/testing each wire to make sure it was set up correctly. We hired a family friend who is an electrician to run the wires, and then terminated/tested them ourselves. We installed a total of 34 lines across 4 different floors, all coming into the closet under the staircase.

Cat6 Basement

Running the wires proved to be a bigger challenge than expected due to the fact that all of our walls were filled with insulation. A number of access holes had to be cut in the drywall in order to access everything. Four separate boxes of Cat 6 ethernet cable were used, so that multiple lines could be run to the same location at once. The free end from each spool was taped into a small bundle and a long metal wire with a hook was run from the target location (say, the bedroom), through the walls, and into the basement where it was attached to the end of the cat 6 bundle. Then the wire was pulled back up through the walls, bringing the cat 6 cable along with it.

Cat6 wall

Wires coming into our home office. The orange ring gives the faceplate something to screw into.

Each location in our house got either 2 or 4 wires, depending on how many devices we planned to put in that area. For every location in the house we needed either two or four RJ45 keystone jacks (one for each wire) and a faceplate with an appropriate number of holes. Keystone jacks are available in two basic formats: the standard kind which require a punch-down tool to terminate the wires and a “tool free” type which includes little caps which punch the wires down automatically. I personally prefer the standard jacks.

Cat6 Keystone

The near side of this jack (white) has been punched down, the far side is still waiting to be done. Each strand of the blue cat 6 cable goes into its own slot on the jack. Color codes on the side tell you where to put each wire. Monoprice included a handy little holder (black) to place the jack in while punching it down.

The two keystone jacks have been pushed into the faceplate, which is waiting to be screwed into the wall.

The opposite ends of the cables, which are bundled in the basement closet, get a slightly different treatment. Instead of going into individual jacks, they’re terminated in a patch panel. We used two 24 port patch panels, placing 16 connections on one and 18 on the other. We’ll be mounting these in our server rack, but if you’re going for a minimalist build there are inexpensive wall-mount brackets.

Cat6 PanelEmpty

Two patch panels, one face up and one face down. The black thing on the right is a rack-mount power strip.

Each wire was marked with a small letter or number at both ends. To keep everything in order and save my sanity, I used masking tape to temporarily keep the wires in alphabetical/numerical order.

Cat6 Sorted

Cat6 PanelBeck

18 cables have been punched down into the back of the patch panel.

Each jack in the patch panel is then patched into one of our network switches (which are each in turn plugged into the router) with a 6″ cable. Why not just go directly from the wall to the network switch? The patch panel gives you flexibility to change the network around later by moving the 6″ patch cables rather than tangling up the spaghetti coming out of the walls. Additionally, punching the wires down into the back of the patch panel is considerably faster than crimping a male RJ-45 connector onto the end of each drop.

Patch Cables

I briefly considered crimping my own patch cables from the leftover cat 6 cable, but then I remembered that crimping cable ends sucks and a 6″ patch cable costs all of $0.55. The photo above shows half our network cables, the other half are mounted on the back of the rack. I still need to install stress relief for the blue the cables and mount the router + modem nicely somewhere.

The server and switches are all connected to the LAN ports on the router. Our cable modem connection goes into the WAN port. Now the server and anything else on the LAN can see the outside world.

Overall it was a pretty massive project: it took three people a week to get all the wires in place and then another day and a half for my dad and I to button it all up. The next step is to configure the router for the advanced management options we want, as well as configure the wireless access points to provide “seamless” coverage throughout the house. The media server also needs considerable set up, right now it’s just a fresh Linux box with a giant hard drive. I’ll cover the software side of things in part 3 of Our Over-engineered Home Network.

This is part 2 of 3 posts about our home network.
Part 1: Our Overkill Home Network
Part 3: Coming soon 

Filed under: New Construction Townhome

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10 thoughts on “Wiring the House for Ethernet

  1. Shant says:

    Wow this is great. I plan on buying a house soon. I want to do the same to my whole house and build a home media server throughout the house. Can’t wait for part 3. At first I wanted to use some switches, but now I am really thinking of using a patch panel. Thank you.

  2. Shant says:

    Some more questions. Each patch panel is going to be connected to one of the ports on the router. So when connecting lets say 24 devices on the panel would that slow down traffic from the one port. Also, I see you are using cat6, but are they solid and what are the details and the specs? Lastly what type of media server are you using? I have 4 3tb drives I will be connecting to it. Do not want to spend too much money on electricity. Thanks again.

    1. Hi Shant,
      A patch panel isn’t a substitute for a switch, it’s just a way to terminate the cable ends in the basement. Individual jacks in a patch panel aren’t connected to each other in any way, that’s what the switch is for.

      We just used generic cat6 from the local hardware store. Since this is just a home installation we didn’t freak out too much about the specs.

      The server (which I do need to get around to writing up) is running Debian. We ended up building a new machine for it, using mid-range parts from NewEgg. The rack and case came from Amazon.com.

  3. Shant says:

    Here in California we don’t have basements, so I will be installing everything in a downstairs closet (2 story home).
    I’ll make sure every run does not exceed 295ft and are at least 12 inches from any electrical wiring.
    I will have time warner or verizon, but will not need a wireless modem with 4 ports. Since my modem will have one port out, how do I connect them to the media server and the switches? Maybe I should get one 48 port switch depending how many ports I plan in putting in the home and which rooms I choose to have ports.
    So, my media server will be connected to the switch along with every other device I have connected. The media server I plan to purchase is the Synology DS1512+ Disk Station (5 3tb drives).
    I will also have WD tv live units in the den and in the master bedroom (5 Bedroom home).
    2 xboxes one in the den and another in a bedroom upstairs.
    I will also have a wifi router downstairs and another upstairs for better coverage.
    In the Den I will also have an Ooma phone.
    With all these devices connected what type of internet speed should I purchase in order for everything to run smoothly?
    Sorry for the long post and thank you.

  4. Raj says:

    Congratulations Kellbot; this is something I had always wanted to do and your project is an inspiration to get me into the action. Would probably be mailing you for more details on some aspects of this home networking.

  5. Rikke says:

    Hi Kell,

    Nice write up! Any time soon to complete Part 3?
    Can’t wait to read it! 🙂


  6. Mildred says:

    Wow Kelly – love reading about your networking adventures. I have been trying, somewhat unsuccessfully to install Ethernet in 5 rooms in an old house. Getting the guy who was suppose to help me was more difficult than having the rough-in done. I think I will use your advice and get an electrician to finish that part. Thanks again for sharing your story.

  7. Sharon says:

    When I built our house in 2008/9, I had a networking company install wiring for everything from security to speakers to CAT5 in every room. $10k+ later, ADT showed up with wireless devices for nearly everything, I still haven’t installed a whole house speaker system and my DSL is connected to the phone line inside one cabinet in my Keeping Room (furthest east side of the house, upstairs).

    So, I go in search of a way to take my iMac and soon to move back in daughter’s laptop off the wireless as well as connect some of my TVs/Blu-Ray/Wii (if possible), to the CAT5 jacks and I came across your postings. My problem is this: I have two patch panels with 12 ports and two phone expansion hubs with two CAT5 ports each, one labeled “modem”, but I can’t connect my modem because it requires a regular phone jack. I was at Walmart yesterday and picked up a switch but after noticing it didn’t have a phone jack connection to plug the modem in to, put it down and decided to get some advice from you.

    Your first two articles focus on CAT5/6 wiring, I’m hoping your third will mention something about how modems/routers/switches all connect to the patches – but I don’t want to wait for installment three. You can see the wiring mess I have here: http://imgur.com/a/a3si4.

    I’d be grateful for your help on how to get the modem/router connected to the expansion hub and what kind of equipment I still need (currently have an older Netgear modem/router and a newer Netgear router). Thanks!!!

  8. Travis Z. says:

    My fingers are hurting looking at the patch panel. I hated doing ours in the basement mostly because of the awkward placement (my own choice since I wanted it out of the way). Luckily we had the Cat6 cable ran when we were building the house so just having to terminate the cables was nice.

    Two pictures:

    The server has one SSD for the OS and six 2TB drives in a sofware (md) RAID5. I was hoping to upgrade this to six 4TB drives in a RAID6 this year but the money is just not there (is it ever?). The server acts as a NFS, DNS Caching Resolver (unbound) and graphite/carbon (http://graphite.wikidot.com/) server. It’s not very powerful, but for what I’m doing at the moment it doesn’t need to be!

    I’d like to start doing some temperature monitoring in the house as a co-worker/neighbor has a few sensors setup.. and because it’s nice having more graphs 😛

    1. Kelly says:

      Yeah my decision to go straight from the wall into the rack and punch down there was maybe questionable, but I left enough excess on the cables that I can always tidy it up later if I decide I suddenly care.

      I never did get around to writing the third part of the post (server and router hardware). Whoops.

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