Cabling your House

In the UK we overlook creating a structured cabling system in our homes.  If you are renovating, rebuilding or starting from scratch it's worth thinking about the cables you are going to need.  The cost and time saving of putting them in at an early stage of the build is huge.  If you know what you want you will save money.

The_best_time_to_cable

The best time to cable!

I hear you cry wireless! Well you can if you want, but i wouldn't recommend it.  Cables will always do a better job and fry your brain less.  They are much more reliable than wireless so only even consider wireless when you have to.  You want all your main traffic travelling over a physical cable so your wireless traffic such as laptops and mobiles can browse freely without any interference problems.  Cables should use less energy than wireless so hopefully it's the environmental option too.

If you have the opportunity - CABLE!

Even if you think you will never use them, put them in.  The cost of cable isn't high when bought in bulk from a trade supplier and if you can install it yourself you'll save a fortune.  I installed 4.2km of cable in my house and it took me a couple of days for the first fix.  Those days weren't full days either, but if you asked a professional installer they'd charge a fortune as soon as you mentioned Cat5 or 6.

Why?

It makes everything else easy.  If you cable everything back to a central point which is your hub you'll find adding new hardware easy.  Just bolt it in your rack and connect to whatever you need.

The tidy factor and wife/gf acceptance is also a major influence.  I found that designating a cupboard under the stairs to all my tech was accepted on the promise that tech and cables wouldn't be visable in the rooms.  Apparently this saved alot of fiddly cleaning aswell as making the place look like a tip.

It's easy enough to do.  I'm no expert but all you need is a good drill, good tape and a nice flexible plastic rod of some kind.  Do it after the electricians have done the first fix, but before ceilings and floors go in.  Here are a few of the cabling rules i follow.  It's almost an idiots guide!

  • Be careful not to drill through wires your sparky had just put in!!
  • Plan your cable routes.
  • If cables have to cross make sure they cross at a 90 degree angle.
  • Try to run your cables away from power lines as much as possible.
  • Buy good quality cable.
  • Do not leave cable hanging!! Make sure it's fixed using the correct size fittings.
  • Don't break your cable by man handling it!  Go easy.
  • Leave enough length at the end of the cables for fixing the connector and just incase you bodge your first connection and need to redo it!

Under floor and Ceiling cabling

Not such an easy task as laying cables on a new build or house renovation.  It also depends on the construction of your house.  Older houses like mine built from flint are a nightmare to work on and make it very difficult to chase cables into walls without causing destruction.  In this instance it's normally best to run the cable under floors or in ceilings if you have the space and access.  Wooden floor boards can be lifted carefully at point of entry and exit so you can use your rodder(fexi plastic rod) to feed the cable from one side of the room to the other without lifting the entire floor.  Obviously, check which direction your joists are running and do a test run first with your rodder before you start drilling.  Also, make sure you check where the electrical cables are running and try to avoid them as much as possible.

ceiling_cable_to_lounge

Above is an example of the cable run to my new lounge and bedroom above.

Below an example of underfloor before i fill in with concrete.. As you can see the house is fairly old!

underfloor_cabling

 

Retro-fitting your cabling

Cable on the outside of your house

The other option is to run cable outside your house to feed each room.  Normally black cable is the best colour to use so it's unseen.  Make sure you use cable which will not degrade outside.  Most Sat grade Coax will be fine for years, but when you're buying Cat5 or 6 make sure it is rated for outside use or you might run into problems later.  You could also use plastic cable trunking to protect your cables and make them look less like a wiring loom.  This is useful and makes a neater install when you are running multiple cables to each room.

Use a good drill and drill bit to drill a hole from the outside of your house to each room. Check for electrical cables before you drill!  Try to get the point of entry as close to the oulet/socket you plan to install inside.  This helps save time and damage!  Make sure the hole is waterproofed using a weatherproof sealer.  You don't want water creeping up your cables which could cause damage to your house and/or socket that you have installed.  You also want to make sure there are no gaps/holes for insects or animals to nest in!

 

Skirting board cabling!

Not ideal as it normally looks scruffy, but it really depends on what you'll accept as messy.  You might be lucky and have a thick carpet underlay and carpet whereby you can tuck the cables just under the skirting board and cover them with carpet so they are invisible.  It's really important you fix your cables well.  A loose cable if accidently pulled can cause problems.

 

The Lazy Wireless way

Ok, so you've walked round your house and tried to mentally plan where the cables will run, but the amount of effort and possible destruction seems too much to justify.  Maybe wireless is your only option.  It's not ideal because of stability, power usage and the unknown brain frying factor, but it will do alot without much effort as is getting better all the time.

Your biggest problem with wireless is using older systems such as IR.  With Coax or Cat5/6 you can easily send an IR signal down the wire without any intervention from a computer or other device.  This adds reliablility to the system and means if something crashes or goes wrong you can still use your IR remote controls.  The last thing you want is your server crashing and whilst you're running around trying to fix it your wife and kids are moaning about the stupid over complicated system you've created which means they can't watch TV!! If your wife can't access her Sky+ box you will lose serious points!

The other downside is the cost of connecting each room and the type of devices you can connect.  You'll need a wireless transceiver in every room you want linked to your system if the specific device isn't wireless itself.  This can increase costs but also add to the clutter factor.  Do you want a streamer/wireless box sitting under your TV which has been neatly installed on the wall?  I don't!! But if you haven't bolted it all to the wall you might have space in the stand or cabinet for a small box.

Interference and poor signal is also a problem when using wireless.  The construction type of your house will hugly effect this.  Houses made of flint like mine are terrible for getting a good signal as the flint contains Iron ore which can block or distort signals.  Older houses with very thick brick walls also cause problems, but most new houses with dry lined walls conduct the signal well.  Timber frame is also a good contruction type for wireless.  If in doubt test it first.

 

The Cable Conclusion

If you have the opportunity to cable - do it, you won't regret it as long as you make sure you install what you are going to need.  It cost me about £400-500 to install 4.2km of cable.  Buying in bulk from trade really reduces the costs.

Before you cable plan out what you are trying to achieve and where the cables are going to run.  Preperation is everything and everything is preperation!

If you can, run more cables than you need.  You might never use them, but it's as easy to run a handful of cables as it is one.

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