Two buildings are separated by approximately 8 feet. A PEX pipe shielding a CAT5e ethernet was buried 8 inches underground.

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If each end of the ethernet cable is connected to a switch, I am concerned that there may be a ground loop.

  1. How would symptoms of a ground loop manifest themselves?
  2. How would one measure to detect a ground loop? (volt meter?)
  • 1
    Two diametrically opposed answers: "Ground loops happen" and "Ethernet doesn't suffer from ground loops". Not a good sign. :(
    – FreeMan
    Mar 29, 2022 at 12:06
  • @FreeMan it's grounding of the twisted pair (doesn't get grounded) vs the shield (prevented by grounding on one side only). The shield is the one that causes havoc by conducting equalizing currents between building grounds. Interference from ground hum is not the issue. See the excellent answers to the 2017 question, linked below by user nobody
    – P2000
    Mar 29, 2022 at 14:06
  • That's about 10" shallower than code dictates for communication/LV conduits, but "code, schmode" I guess...
    – Ecnerwal
    Mar 29, 2022 at 22:41
  • 1
    Why not use fiber for this? You're really taking chances on doing this run, given that Florida and lightning go together like Florida and gators, and primary-grade protectors for Ethernet are not easy to come by... Mar 29, 2022 at 23:27

4 Answers 4


You could only have ground loop if you installed shielded cable and connected the shield to ground at both ends. Ethernet’s signaling exclusively uses differential pairs (no ground reference) and every device contains isolation transformers.


That said, you should still use fiber between separate buildings for lightning resistance, etc.


Ground loops manifest in Ethernet as failure to establish link, slow link negotiation, downshifting, poor performance, errors, and damaged ports. I strongly recommend either switching to fiber or installing a CAT6 rated ground loop isolator.

  • 2
    Ffffiiiibbbbeeeerrrr!!!!! All-dielectric fiber. Last I heard, lightning happens a lot in Florida.
    – Ecnerwal
    Mar 29, 2022 at 3:26
  • 1
    The ethernet specification requires devices to use isolation transformers, a.k.a. "magnetics", explicitly to prevent ground loops with a normal (UTP) cable. The only type of ethernet cable that can cause a ground loop is a shielded cable, but the vast majority of ethernet cable that is used is unshielded.
    – Moshe Katz
    Mar 29, 2022 at 13:43
  • 2
    @MosheKatz Yes, for well designed devices.
    – longneck
    Mar 29, 2022 at 14:30

Ethernet does not suffer from ground loops and it was specifically designed to not require any common ground. A properly installed ethernet (i.e. UTP - unshielded twisted pair) line is not connected to ground at either end. So your two switches can be at a different potential.

Each pair of wires is terminated at an isolation transformer and only the difference in voltage in that pair matters. Hence these are called differential pairs.

Some older networking schemes did use cables that connected to ground, for example 10Base2, and you did have to worry about grounding issues especially with long runs of the coax.

  • Cat6a+ uses ground for signal shielding through a foil cable wrap and metal conductors on the sides of the plug (specialized RJ45). Mar 29, 2022 at 14:11

A signaling ground loop isn't going to be a problem for Ethernet.

A power ground loop could be a huge problem. This doesn't have anything to do with signal quality, but suppose your shed was fed without grounding (e.g. a pre-1966 regular circuit, a pre-1996 dryer circuit, or a pre-2008 subpanel). You have a ground fault or a bad connection on the neutral wire. What happens?

On a pre-2008 subpanel: Normal 120V return current wants to get back to source (the transformer neutral). The neutral wire does that normally, but suppose it has a bad connection. These obsolete installations combined neutral and ground, but it's broken. So neutral current will seek through all ground connections back to the main panel or supply transformer. One of those ground connections is the foil wrapper on your shielded ethernet - it's suddenly carrying 11 amps of neutral current. So it's glowing cherry red. Not good!

On a grounded power strip fed off an ungrounded 120V line: All the system grounds are together, but not connected back to the main panel. So the PC power supply has a hot-ground fault. If proper grounding was present, that would flow 77 amps on the ground wire and trip the 20A breaker. However, it's not. But, it is connected to the ground on the router, which is connected to the foil wrapper on the Ethernet cable. That foil has high resistance and will only flow 18 amps, so the breaker does not trip, but the foil sits there glowing cherry red. Not good!

So your problem is utility ground current traveling on that shielded Ethernet shield, and the solution is make sure the supply wiring to the shed has grounding that is absolutely tip-top. If the grounding is good, current will flow all paths in proportion to their conductance (1/resistance), but the proper ground path will be very high conductance so the ethernet's share will be minimal.

By "grounding" I mean ground wires back to the panel. Code may also require ground rods for non-attached buildings, but those are for lightning and ESD, and can't really carry 12 amps @ 120V. If it could, we wouldn't bother to mine copper.

  • This can still be something of an issue even on unshielded Ethernet -- the cable-side CT on most Ethernet magnetics has a cap to chassis ground on it, and a fault could stuff enough current through that cap to cause...issues at the other end. Mar 29, 2022 at 23:25

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