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I have a older home (build in the 50's) with 1/2" dry wall and then plaster on top.

I would like to run Cat6 cable through most of the house (living room, kitchen, entertainment room,etc).

So, I'm looking for pointers on how to do this.

At first glance, I could make a fairly long 'horizontal trench' in the wall, through the plaster and dry wall and then run the cable through the studs (they are wood and I would have to drill a hole).

But I'm really hoping their is a better way.

edit

I also have a finished basement (except for the furnace area).

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Just out of curiosity, why CAT 5 and not something newer like CAT 6? Or at least CAT 5E... If you're going to go to a lot of work, might as well make sure it lasts. =) –  Mike B Jan 11 '11 at 22:14
    
ok, cat 6 then :) –  cbrulak Jan 11 '11 at 22:18
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How set are you on having hard-wired connections to all those places? Would you consider wiring between 2 or 3 key locations, and wireless elsewhere? –  Jay Bazuzi Jan 11 '11 at 22:55
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@Jay Bazuzi. That was common in the late 60s. During the transition from plaster and lath, they used what's called "Gypsum lath" Which is essentially half or even 3/8 inch drywall covered in plaster. It's not that different than what we do now, except now we use a thicker drywall, and the thinnest possible surface coat. –  Chris Cudmore Jan 12 '11 at 15:19
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6 Answers 6

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Go big or go home. If you're going through all the trouble to pull wires through existing walls, don't pull just one. It's only slightly more work to pull two wires than to pull one. Doing the project a second time in a few years is twice as much work, though!

Think about everything you might want (IP networking, surveillance cameras, cable or satellite TV, telephone, speaker wires, home automation control signalling). Then add a bunch of extras. Cat-6 is a good choice, because it can carry most things you might want.

Consider a single conduit. During a major bathroom remodel & replumbing job, I had the plumber put conduit from the attic to the "wiring closet". He went a little nuts, putting two 4" conduits in - one for high voltage, one for low voltage. This makes it relatively easy to add a new service anywhere. Unfortunately, this was after I had finished running structured wiring.

Since a small part of your basement is unfinished, you might want to run conduit from there to your attic, and make that your "wiring closet". Then you can pull from each outlet to the attic, and easily run it down the conduit.

Star topology. Pull everything to a central location, and patch them together there. I used the space under the stairs.

How to pull up to an attic: In your attic, drill a large hole in the sill plate. It should be big enough to fit all the wires you want through it, but small enough to keep the strength of the sill plate. Avoid the wall studs below.

Cut a hole in the wall below, for the outlet.

Push a fish tape down from the attic. Have a helper watch the hole for the tape, and grab it with a bent coat hanger. They attach the wire bundle, and you pull it back up.

To push/pull from attic to basement, you can cut a hole on the floor in between, and do it in two steps. Or you can fish from both ends at the same time, using fish tapes that have hooks on the end. When they hook each other, pull the attic tape up to retrieve the basement tape. In the attic, tie on the wire bundle, then pull it down to the basement.

To pull between finished floors you need to cut a hole in the wall to drill a hole in the sill plate & fish between the floors.

See also my answer on how to pull wire to a basement or crawlspace: How do I run ethernet, speaker wire, and coax through a wall into a crawlspace?

The more holes you cut, the easier it is to pull wires, and the more fixup work you have to do.

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I'll also add: an installer bit (a long, flexible drill bit) is invaluable for doing installations in existing walls.. here's my blog post from when I did it: gregmaclellan.com/blog/running-network-cables –  gregmac Jan 12 '11 at 23:56

I disagree with the recommendation from the IT Services guy here. I really don't think Wifi is an option if you want speed. The average house has problems getting Wifi N to cover a full 1200-2000sq/ft house with good speed across it. Wifi N maybe fast, but is extremely important to be close to the router and have a good signal. Unfortunately while the signaling has gotten faster, it has not gotten better at coverage and in many cases is worse than 802.11b/g. Additionally, older homes are worse for wifi as they get interference from older construction materials with thicker plaster and gypsum board.

Truth be told, wiring the house is always best as you can deliver the absolute best speed for a relatively cheap amount. If you have electrical in the crawspace, follow that and use it as a guide to where you want to put the wires. Once you are into the walls from beneath, you can easily punch a hole in the wall and snag with a hanger.

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WiFi is the worst possible recommendation for my employer's house. It is constructed of materials that absorb RF so badly that getting from the Rec room to the living room is just about impossible. It takes two WAPs to cover the whole house. Wiring was the best thing we ever did. –  Fiasco Labs Mar 28 '13 at 0:15

As someone who owned a private IT business, I can honestly say it is not worth the effort unless you are dead set on hard wire. If you do not have an unfinished space to run cables the effort is not worth the return. Wireless N is blazing fast and plenty secure if you configure it properly.

Buy a solid wireless N router and use wireless bridges for the hard wired devices in your entertainment center. Most computers have G built in which is backwards compatible or you can buy N cards.

Pre 80's houses were built right, it is a complete pain to run cables in them.

You may not like my answer but as an IT professional who has wired countless houses and offices it is my honest answer.

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thanks for the honest answer. haven't got around to trying it yet so this is good food for though. –  cbrulak Mar 9 '12 at 21:39
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Also be aware that the internal network speed is relative only to peer to peer transactions. For instance if you have 1000mbps hard wired speed it does not make netflix any faster since the bottleneck is your isp speed. If you have 10mbps internet service that is as fast as external media will transfer. the internal speed of your network only helps speed up content from local sources inside your network. –  DaffyDuc Mar 10 '12 at 2:34
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That said, hardwired means no interference issues. When your neighbours all keep cranking up their broadcast power on their routers, your networking works just fine on CAT5/6. –  mikebabcock Sep 21 '12 at 14:21
    
Wireless has a lot of disadvantages. Only one client can be communicating at a time, so it's terrible for LANs - network transfers are much slower, gaming with many (>5) people is basically impossible, and don't even try streaming HD video between computers. 2.4GhZ wireless is highly succeptable to microwaves and other RF noise, including other WiFi signals. The bandwidth drops quickly with distance to the source. Legacy clients slow everyone down. Wired has none of these problems. –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Sep 20 '13 at 20:12

Check your local codes. Most will allow you to run plenum rated ethernet cable through heating ducts (if you have installed forced air HVAC), and many will allow you to run regular ethernet cable through the air ducts. You can then place the ethernet jacks near the HVAC ducts, or at least get the cable close to the right area and run the cable through the wall as normal, but you'll be doing a lot less work.

If you want it to look nice and professional, though, there are long drill bits and long fishing tools that allow you to make smaller holes in your walls and run the cable without going through the process of making trenches like you describe. It's hard work, and the tools are expensive, but it may save you time in the long run depending on how much wire you have to run.

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The best answer for this depends on how your house is currently wired. Look for ways you can piggy-back on existing wiring runs; if there's an existing cavity with an electric wire, you may be able to fish the cat5 alongside it. If you have existing telephone wiring between the desired locations, you may even be able to use the telephone wiring itself as a fishing line.

On a lower floor, try to get your wire into the basement. On an upper floor, it's sometimes easier to drop something down from the attic. Alternatively, you may be able to run your cat5 cable through an exterior wall and outside the house. My house has some telephone wiring done that way, and it's ugly but I can see why they did it that way.

A couple of things that have worked for me:

  • Running alongside a drain vent pipe, which goes directly from my basement through the room where I needed an ethernet port.
  • Replacing an unused electrical outlet. I shut off the circuit, disconnected the receptacle and removed the wiring leading to it. Then I used the existing box but installed a plate and wiring for cat5 and coax. (This was on my first floor where I could easily drop wiring into the basement.)

Another thing you may want to consider is powerline networking. Not as reliable as hardwired ethernet, but much easier to install.

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Avoid putting ethernet right next to power line, as there can be interference - cross at right angles. Also, codes usually don't let them share a conduit or junction box. –  Jay Bazuzi Jan 11 '11 at 22:54
    
Yup. I agree with Jay. It's a bad idea to have network cabling next to power. Shielded twisted pair cabling can be a little more resistant but I'd simply avoid placing the cables in close proximity at all. –  Mike B Jan 11 '11 at 23:38
    
I hadn't thought about interference, good point. However, I have a run of cheap unshielded cat5e that goes for about 25 feet directly alongside the central beam of my house -- surrounded by as many as 10 power cables -- and have never noticed a problem. (This run goes to my file server and printer and is used daily for work and videos.) –  Shimon Rura Jan 13 '11 at 4:39

If you have attic access, you can fish it up through the walls and make horizontal runs through the attic.

Alternatively, if you have an unfinished basement or crawlspace, you can go the opposite direction with it.

Other options could include running it behind baseboards or crown molding.

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only way I know of. Ain't pretty, but gotta be done. Up vote –  shirlock homes Jan 11 '11 at 22:18
    
how would you fish it through the wall from the attic? –  cbrulak Jan 11 '11 at 22:21
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4 foot flexible installer bits and a fishtape –  shirlock homes Jan 12 '11 at 0:09

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