Wiring your house or office
By Joshua Erdman
The logic behind wiring is very easy, just follow some simple color codes and you are on your way. What most people are never prepared for is crawling through the attics, cutting holes in the walls, and having the tools necessary to get the job done. If you think you can handle these things the rest will be easy.
First of all you need the right cable. For you okies and farmers out there, computers cannot communicate over speaker wire, phone lines, or bailing twine. You need to use a type of cable called Category 5 (or CAT5) it comes with 4 pairs of wires inside (that is 8 wires total). I feel it is necessary to mention that there is also a cable out there called CAT 3 which will NOT work with the faster networks these days. Just suck it up and pay the extra few pennies for the better cable. CAT5 allows communications to be at least 10 times faster than that of CAT3. This is done by the tighter twist of the paired wires inside the PVC sheath.
You can get CAT5 in 2 types, solid and stranded. Solid may be cheaper but it is less tolerable of stress when bent several times in the same place or when pinched.
CAT5e & CAT6
You may have also heard about CAT5e or even CAT6. These are higher quality networking cables. These cables can handle higher data rates (when they become available) such as Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet.
CAT6 is much more expensive and thicker so fewer cables can fit in a conduit. Not tomention there are no official standards available for using CAT6. With that said, I usually run CAT5e for all my networking jobs.
Purchasing Network Cable
The cheapest place you can get your wire at in your city would be at a electical distributor where building contractors go. These are hard to find and you may need to open an account with them to buy anything. If you are planning ahead and want to save money, I recommend that you get your stuff online from Cyberguys.com. They are cheaper than the distributors and way cheaper than Radio Shack and their shipping is fast.
Running the Network Cable
Rules to Follow
There are several ways people can go about running the wires, each depends on how much you want your network installation to be aesthetically pleasing.
Quick and Dirty
The simplest is to run cables along the floors or pin them in the corners of the ceiling and wall. The wires will run from each location to a central area. Obviously this is an interior designer's worst nightmare. At each end of the wire you would just crimp an ice cube using the wiring order specified in the termination article.
Nice on the inside, who cares about the outside?
The next step up for aestethics would be to install surface mount jacks on the walls and hide the wires from view by driling a hole to the outside.
To do this, mark at each location where you want a network jack (you can only mark along the walls that make up the outside perimeter of your house because the cable will be run under the eave of the roof). Then use a stud finder to see if there is a stud (2x4) on the immediate other side of the wall. If there is, move your network jack location over a few inches and check there. After you find a good location drill a 1/4" hole into the sheetrock and all the way through the the outside of the house.
Now you can run your wire along the outside of the house, keeping the inside looking really clean. Use one of those surface mount network jacks to cover the hole you drilled and you will have a semi-professional looking installation.
The quality in network aesthetics I shoot for require much more work. Instead of using a surface mount network box for each drop, I use what is called a low voltage ring. The ring is approximately 2" by 4" and is inserted into a matching hole that you cut out in the in the wall. There are 2 screws that you use to clamp it down so the lip of the ring and the screws pinch the wall. If you installed it correctly, the faceplate should mount flush against the wall and look totally professional. For the wires themselves, I try to run them up inside the wall into the attic, or if the house has a wooden floor with a raised foundation I try to run them underneath the house. This ends up being a battle, where you fight dust, allergies, many more boards to drill through, and muscle cramps as you squeeze in tight places that not even a cat would try.
Now that you got the wires going from each location to a central point, read the article on network termination to learn about correct wiring order, patch panels, and network plugs.
Article last reviewed: 06/01/2004