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How to wire your home for Ethernet

Here's how to build the ultimate home network by putting ethernet in walls throughout your house

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Order spools of cable, likely in 1000-foot amounts. Though your whole job will probably come in at less than 1000 feet, I recommend running at least two spools at a time (I used three) to speed up the process by laying out pairs together.

At each outlet, you'll wire each cable into an ethernet keystone jack. This jack interfaces with a modular, keystone wall plate that lets you insert combinations of RJ45 (ethernet), RJ22 (phone jacks), coaxial (cable TV), and other plugs. Figure out how many wall plates and ethernet jacks you'll need, and order a few extra. I picked Cat 5e jacks again, but if you're wiring for Cat 6, buy those instead.

Finally, though you can screw the wall plates directly into sheetrock if necessary, you'll be better off visiting a hardware store and buying a single-gang cut-in electrical box for outlets you're placing in an existing wall. For open walls, just screw single-gang plaster rings into conveniently located studs; afterward, you'll put sheetrock in front.

The yellow wire beneath all of the ethernet cabling carries AC down the second bay, behind the stud. I had to run my cables about 5 inches away for a short section, but my network will be fine

Plot the Cable Runs

Before you lay the cable, clear the path in the walls. This part of the project is easiest if your walls are already open for other renovation, as mine were in some cases. Drill a path through the center of your studs, headers, fireblocks, and other beams with a ¾-inch or 1-inch paddle bit.

Be careful: A powerful, two-handed Milwaukee A/C drill (like the one I borrowed from a contractor) may make you feel like a big-time operator--but after you try to bore a hole with the drill is set on reverse--and wonder why it's not working--your ego will regain its natural dimensions.

In many areas, I drilled multiple sets of holes so that I could fit multiple bundles of cable. You'll want to keep them close together in most situations, except where doing so might weaken critical structures such as ceiling joists; in such cases, space the holes a few inches apart.

You have to break a few walls to install home ethernet wiring. I removed plaster and lath to run cables inside this wall.

Drilling overhead? It may be hard to look cool while wearing goggles, but it's even harder to do while trying to remove tiny fragments of your house from your eye. Protect your eyes!

Avoid electrical wiring as much as possible. AC cables can interfere with ethernet if you run them together. Also, try to route the ethernet into its own wall bay. If that's not possible, try to keep it 6 inches or so away from the AC wiring. Your cabling will probably have to cross the AC wiring at some point; but in those situations, try to do it at a 90-degree angle.

In places where your walls are closed, you'll have to break into them. You've had your eye on that "Bay Leaf" and "Cornbread" Martha Stewart Living Paint, right?

For plaster walls (which are the type I dealt with), use the claw end of a hammer to score a horizontal line for your path. Use moderate force to chip in; then go back over the path with heavier swings, trying to break just a strip free. In most situations, you'll work near the baseboard, where the outlets will end up.

Underneath the plaster, break, cut, or pry back the lath strips along your path. Doing so will reveal the studs and fireblocks that you'll have to drill through.

For sheetrock walls, use a sheetrock saw to cut a 5-inch strip parallel to the baseboard. (You might be able to cut multiple, smaller holes and then use a hanger to pass the wire along, but in any event you need to get to the studs.) Drill your path through the exposed studs. If you encounter insulation, push it back and work in front of it.


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