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I'm trying to run ethernet cable about 250ft underground to the garage. It is going through a hard plastic/rubber tubing under the yard and into the garage. Is there anything I should know before doing this? UTP/STP? cat 5e/cat 6? If a location of where to buy decent cable is allowed, I would be interested in that as well.

House to Garage line

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  • Does it have to be copper underground? Wifi with directional antennas may be a perfectly viable alternative. Websearch "cantenna" for multiple designs; I've successfully used the side-fired coffee can version, which is probably the simplest to construct.
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 4:57
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    Forget the cantennas. I've done that in the past and they definitely work (if you do it, make sure you look up correct technical specifications that take into account the length of the wire you poke up into the can, and the distance of that wire from the reflector [that would be the back of the can] and so on). But you can just purchase nice directional yagi antennas for reasonable prices, or look to a company like Ubiquiti for great point to point wireless gear with the radios built right into miniature radio dishes (they have a setup good for 15 miles at 150Mbps for $70 per end). Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 5:12
  • Either way... I wasn't aware of cheap commercial links, but that's a perfectly reasonable solution, and probably more weather-resistant and easier to mount and so on. I'm enough of an old-timer to remember the early pringles-can yagis, so I was amused by the DIY aspect of the cantennas... and if you aren't trying yo get every last dB of signal out of them, their measurements don't have to be all that precise.
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 17:05
  • @keshlam The Pringles cans actually weren't ideal, although they worked. A larger soup can or even a #10 can worked better dimensionally, was constructed completely from reflective metal instead of being mostly that faux metal foil on the inside of the Pringles can, etc. The real key to maximum performance was designing the thing correctly. The lengh of the radiator (wire), the distance of the wire from the back of the can, then length of the can, all in relation to the actual physical wavelength of the signal, etc. Fun times. ;-) Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 20:13
  • Not citing Pringles cans as ideal by any means; they were just one of the first really successful diy directional wifi antennas so they're a datestamp on my interest in the topic. Embarrassingly, accumulated wisdom of the internet agrees with you that it's easier to get high gain out of the coffeecan than out of a Yagi; the latter is theoretically better but the build is more critical than the basic bit bucket. ... oops, now I have to build one out of a galvanized pail, darn it.
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 21:01

4 Answers 4

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Fiber would be ideal, but...

Bear in mind that terminating fiber is more exacting and more expensive. It requires special equipment and special skills. You can't just cut fiber with a pair of wire snips and crimp a plug on the end of it. The ends have to be angled and polished, and it sucks when you poke the little fibers in the ends of your fingers, etc. What I'm saying is that you won't be terminating the fiber yourself, you'll be hiring it out.

Equipment considerations and cost for fiber

I was going to make a statement about the cost of fiber GBIC or SFP modules, but those seem to have come down in price. I'm even seeing modules from top-shelf enterprise switch manufacturers online between $45 and $200, presuming they aren't fakes. If you're willing to go with non-enterprisey brands, I'm seeing some SFP modules between $40 and $100 each, and switches with SFP ports that might work with those modules starting around $150 each. You would need at least two such switches and two such modules (alternatively, you can find Ethernet switches that have fiber ports built-in). If you already have top-shelf switches, you're going to want to buy modules from the same manufacturer. Some of the top-shelf switches simply expect to find GBIC/SFP modules from the same manufacturer plugged into them, and in fact some recent switch firmware upgrades will disable off-brand modules that worked prior to the firmware upgrade (presumably because somebody somewhere had issues with those modules not working properly).

Practically speaking, Ethernet over copper is fine

I would do it. I would rent a trencher and bury PVC conduit (schedule 40 or 80, or liquidtight) at least 18" deep, then pull direct bury rated Cat-whichever cable through the conduit. This way, your Ethernet cable is both protected from physical damage (sch 80 is better for this than sch 40), and you have an additional electrically-insulating layer between your wire and the lightning. Caveat: lightning is weird; no guarantees.

250 feet is just fine for Ethernet. The spec is 328 feet (100 meters). But that doesn't even mean the signal suddenly stops working at 100 meters. It means the cable conductors are sized, twisted and sheathed such that, presuming competent termination, installation that respects minimum bend radius requirements and non-defective equipment, you will get full performance at 100 meters.

I would look for real copper cable, and not copper-clad aluminum (so-called CCA). If you bargain hunt really hard, you'll find CCA cable a lot cheaper than pure copper, but caveat emptor (buyer beware). On the one hand, there's a skin effect and most electrical conduction happens on the skin of the wire, which I admit is where you find the copper in a CCA wire. On the other hand, aluminum is a poorer conductor than copper, and there are also chemical breakdown issues over time with aluminum and copper in contact with each other, which means your signal quality could degrade with time if you use CCA.

If you bury conduit you can pull more or different cable later. That could be another Cat5e run or two so that you can do LACP trunking (Etherchannel in Cisco-speak, or "teaming") to combine multiple Gbps links into one higher bandwidth link. Or you could pull Cat6/6e/7 or fiber later.

Use grounded Ethernet surge protectors on both ends and make sure you bond the ground wires appropriately.

If you bury the cable reasonably deep, in PVC conduit, and take extra pains to add surge suppression and adequate grounding, you should be as safe as you can reasonably expect. In the case of a lightning strike, an Ethernet cable can only transmit so much current, which the surge suppressors stand a chance of absorbing/diverting. If that happens and somehow destroys the cable and both surge arrestors, you just pull new cable and buy a couple of new surge arrestors.

As an extra precaution, only plug the buried cable into Ethernet switches with grounded plugs, and ensure that they're plugged in to receptacles with functional grounding. Or at least make sure the switch has a grounding lug on it, and connect it to ground. Note the grounding lug on the left side of the back of the switch in this picture:

enter image description here

Also, data center (including wiring closet) standards call for a grounded solid copper bus bar mounted on the wall, and better network and telco equipment will have a ground lug on it so you can hard-wire it to ground.

Bear in mind that as weird as lightning is (and it is weird), it is seeking the earth. There's a massive static electric charge built up on the clouds, and the voltage potential is between that and the earth itself. It's a static discharge between clouds and the earth, through whatever conducting medium presents the least resistant path. Although, lightning is weird. Take ball lightning, for instance.

Also bear in mind that you have a cable modem or DSL modem (more than likely), which is directly plugged in to a coax or telephone cable which runs for miles underground and for the most part that works out okay. Of course, both your telephone line and your coax line are grounded where they enter your house, right? :-)

Here's an Ethernet surge protector, for example, good for up to Gigabit Ethernet for under $20:

enter image description here

I have definitely heard and seen issues with buried network cable and lightning in the past, but honestly that tended to be in situations where (I'm not kidding) somebody had done something like direct-burying 1000' of RG9 in a 3" to 6" trench under a gravel parking lot.

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    @Aaron offhand, I'd say you're probably okay. You're definitely better off than if you were stringing the cable up in some trees, right? :-) Do you know how deep the tubing is? Ideally it's at least 18" deep. Is there anything else already in that tubing? Specifically, you're not supposed to run line voltage and low voltage in the same conduit. Not to mention the fact if that tubing isn't actually so-called liquidtite flexible PVC conduit, or the gray schedule 80 (schedule 40 might be okay in some places if local code makes exceptions) PVC, there shouldn't be any line voltage wires in it. Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 15:41
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    @Aaron 4 feet sounds good. I'd do it, if it was my place. I really like the point-to-point wireless equipment from a certain vendor and if cable was infeasible or the place was bigger, I'd seriously consider wireless. But wireless just can't beat wire or fiber. I definitely would also heed the advice about using cable rated for wet locations, and double-check the quality of the grounding. Ground both the surge arrestors and the switches. Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 16:12
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    @Aaron The APC product is an example of a MOV (Metal Oxide Varistor) surge arrestor/protector/suppressor for the Ethernet cable itself, the same way a surge protector power strip protects the electrical wires. It does not just ground the Ethernet cable, it actually works to suppress objectionable currents. The ground wire lets it shunt some (or a lot) of that current away through the grounding path. That was just one example of an RJ-45 surge arrestor. There are a lot of them on the market. Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 20:31
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    @Aaron Just to be clear, I am not specifically endorsing the APC product. There are many on the market, and I would thorough research them before making a purchase. Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 20:37
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    @Craig -- note that in most of the US, you'll need primary protectors at each end of the link, listed to UL497, not an ordinary Ethernet surge suppressor (listed to UL497A or UL497B) Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 12:39
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I used to have a cable in a sealed and buried conduit between my house and my brother's house. The distance was about 100 ft. We lost one of the switches on each end at least once a year after a thunderstorm. After a few years of this, we pulled the Cat5 and replaced it with Fiber. Never had another problem.

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  • Concur. Long exposed wired (as in, not in a grounded metal conduit) are nothing more than antennas when lightning is around.
    – SDsolar
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 0:50
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Your best bet is to do this with fiber optics - copper networks between buildings are notoriously prone to lightning damage. I used to have a bunch of those; life after thunderstorms is much calmer with fiber optic links.

Regardless of copper or fiber, be sure to only use exterior/wet location rated cable - all exterior conduits are defined as "wet locations" and they usually are. Interior type cables leak and fail after a while. Exterior type cables do not.

At 250 feet your exterior run is a large faction of the maximum link length for ethernet on copper (100 meters, 328 feet) which may be another reason to choose fiber, depending how far the wires need to run inside the buildings.

Cat 6 will probably buy you exactly nothing at that distance. Cat 6a or Cat 7 is needed if you ever expect to run 10Gig on wire that far - Cat5e is fine if you are happy with 1 gig, or with pulling out the Cat5e when and if you change to a faster network.

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  • When you refer to lightning damage, do you mean if lightning hits the ground and then hits that metal pipe?
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 2:43
  • So it only plays a role if lightning somehow affects 1 of the 2 locations, which makes the low-voltage funky in building A, which travels down the line to affect building B?
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 3:00
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    You don't have to be so rude about it? I wasn't trying to talk myself out of anything. I just wanted to know how it worked. Sheesh...
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 3:19
  • By the same token, there are plenty of long copper links between buildings in the form of buried telephone and coax cables, and buried power lines, all of which are connected to your equipment. Not to mention all the overhead copper and aluminum power lines and communication cables. For the most part that works out okay. A direct lightning strike carries ridiculous amounts of energy, of course, so there are no guarantees. Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 5:03
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...only plug the buried cable into Ethernet switches with grounded plugs.

Be aware that grounding each end of the cable to local grounds will allow ground loop (voltage along cable due to different potential at house and out-building ground point). I recommend not-connecting the out-building end of cable grounding sheath. House equipment and cable connected to house ground point. Out-building equipment connected to out-building ground point.

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