Home Network - Part 1 - Bulk Cable
Wiring an existing home for Ethernet is a fun project. There is a lot of information out there on how to accomplish this, unfortunately much of it is vague or outdated. It's not uncommon to find guides that talk about using Cat5 cable or show pictures of ancient 10mbit networking devices. Other guides are more modern, but they gloss over specific details and fail to mention various pitfalls.
This will be part one in a seven part series:
- Part 1 - Bulk Cable - This document.
- Part 2 - Tools - Drilling holes and cutting wires.
- Part 3 - Pulling - Running cable through tight places.
- Part 4 - Mounting - Rack mounted or wall mounted?
- Part 5 - Patching & Terminating - Making the bulk cable runs useful.
- Part 6 - Switch - What is everything going to be connected to?
- Part 7 - Access Point - You may have heard of WiFi.
Bulk Ethernet Cable
The first thing you need in order to start this project is a decent amount of quality, solid copper, bulk Ethernet cable.
How much do I need?
How much cable you need depends on how many runs you will be doing and how large your home is. When estimating how long each of your runs is going to be don't forget to include the height from an attic down to a jack near the floor. A run three feet up into an attic, thirty feet around obstacles, and then down seven feet to a wall jack will turn into a 40ft run. Two such runs each to three different rooms can easily require 250 feet of cable.
If you are only planning a few runs for some ceiling mounted access points and security cameras, you may only need 100 feet total.
I estimated that I would only need 400ft, but went with a 1000ft box. The cost per foot for the 1000ft box was a bit lower than the 500ft box. The last thing I wanted was to have to buy 2 boxes and end up spending more in the end.
What kind of cable?
In 2017 there's little reason to use anything lower than Cat6. Even though 10GBaseT is rather uncommon and support for NBASE-T is non-existant, it doesn't make sense to run Cat5e anymore. Cat6 is not that much more expensive, and it's the hardest thing to upgrade once it is in place. ‘You aren't gonna need it’ is often true, but I'd rather not need it than have to re-wire everything in the future.
The box matters too ?!
You want to make sure the bulk cable you are buying comes in a Pull Box. A Pull box is designed so that you can easily Pull the cable directly out of a hole in the box without it getting tangled.
A Warning about CCA
Many bulk cable boxes are advertised as ‘Solid Cable’, but the fine print mentions ‘CCA’. CCA is NOT solid copper. CCA Stands for copper clad aluminum. Copper clad aluminum is inferior to solid copper and should be avoided at all costs.
There are two ways to tell the difference between solid copper Ethernet cable and CCA: Cost and weight. Solid copper will currently cost about $100 for 1000 feet, while CCA costs about half that much. 1000 feet of solid cooper will weigh about 35 pounds, CCA about 15 pounds. Before using it, throw your new bulk cable on a scale to verify that you did not get ripped off!
So what to buy?
After deciding on cat6, avoiding inferior CCA cable, and ensuring I would be getting a pull box, the cable I purchased was Vertical Cable Cat6, 550 MHz, UTP, 23AWG, Solid Bare Copper, 1000ft, White, Bulk Ethernet Cable. The cable that actually arrived was labeled Cat6E tested at 600mhz. I'm not sure if I got it by mistake, but I can't complain.
Part 2 will cover all the tools that you will need, but an important item that you should not skip is fish line. This is a fancy word for string, but it's useful to get the specific kind designed for this application. I have Greenlee 430-500 Poly Fish Line, Tracer Green, 500-Foot which convienently comes in a container designed like a pull box. 500 feet should be good for at least 50 runs.
For every run that you do, you will be leaving extra fish line in hard to reach areas. This fish line can be used as a pull string to pull new cable (and new fish line!) in the future.