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Wiring your own LAN (Part 2)

Wiring your own LAN - For the everyday computer user in a small shop, office, or at home, it certainly is worth giving some serious thought about... (Part 2)

by Matthew T. Mitchell, Ph.D.

Published on winasm.net - December 7th-11th, 2008

Planning your wired LAN...

Enough can never be said about planning anything in advance. A wired LAN is no different and is a fairly serious undertaking. Especially if you want a trouble free well crafted finished product that stands the test of time and lasts for years to come.

Planning ahead will help you save time, money, and stress when the time comes to execute the work. It will also help you avoid mistakes and bring to the foreground that unforeseen issue when you prepare by doing the necessary research and figure out what you want.

The only real obstacle here was how to get the cabling from the first floor up through the second floor into the attic. However a careful site survey easily resolved this issue.

The planning stage was not that difficult for this project since I have already installed a 5-port CAT5 based LAN with a 3-port ISP patch panel for a neighbor seven years ago. The experience served as preparation for what would be involved for installing my own or any other wired LAN. I also happen to have the experience as a carpenter and electrician, which is a really big help too.

Prior experience is not required though if you intend on installing own wired Local Area Network. Only a sound understanding of what is involved, a good mechanical aptitude, plus some basic tools are all that is required. If you lack the confidence or skillsets, maybe a good friend has them and can help?

If not, there are plenty of books on the subject at your local home center. As a last resort you can always hire an electrical contractor and at least have the insights to direct the final product you expect, plus know how it should be done. The downside... added labor costs.

Unlike the job for my neighbor who was in a big rush and was supposed to write the work up. I took the extra time to create what I call a LAN Workup Sheet using Excel before doing any work. Including the site survey to determine how the job should tackled.

Basically the workup sheet is a document that defines the location of the LAN & ISP patch panels, each of the network nodes, the cabling type used, the wire code for each cable, color of the cable, plus what ports are included at the ISP patch panel.

It also denotes the location of the demarcation points, the service entrances and or network interface blocks, for the various ISP ports and media services.

Besides a clear understanding of the task at hand, this document also serves as a reference in the event there is a failure with any of the cable runs or for future upgrades years from now.

Plus I won't be here forever and some young guy from the Telephone Company or Cable Company in the future might just appreciate the troubleshooting time saved and actually learn something new.

Lastly… I highly recommend that you carefully inspect each location of where you want to run your cabling. You will save time, avoid mistakes, and have your project come together very smoothly.

Planning tips...

When you plan your own LAN cabling layout I suggest that you take into consideration any other cabling you might need to run. After all, why take stuff apart again or climb into the attic or crawl spaces later on?

Doing the same work twice is never as much fun as the first time. Probably the most important lesson you can learn doing this kind of work. Plus there is nothing quite like a big project. Remember, you can always make final connections and install devices later on if you have a fixed budget.

For example... the phone wiring here, pre-1975, was damaged in places and would not work with my ISP's or third party DSL equipment. The solution was to run new CAT5e cabling for phone along with the new CAT6 LAN cabling. The upgrade certainly didn't hurt anything and should add some value here too.

I really did not have much of a choice in the matter. Until I ran the new wire I was forced to use a temporary 25 foot cable run loosely along the floor with a dedicated jack directly from the demarcation point in order to get DSL working. Turns out there were two bad splices in different locations after taking notice while salvaging all but 12' feet of the old 2-pair 24awg.

Although these days you can run voice and data on the same cabling, I wanted to keep costs down later on for switching equipment, etc., and more or less keep the infrastructure consistent with traditional telephone service. This technique also maintains compatibility with the local Cable Company's method for digital phone should we decide to ever try that type of Internet and Telephone service.

The idea of having separate phone and data cables has an added benefit too. Flexibility to have up to 4 separate phone lines. 2 more lines than were possible before. Now only the drop coming into the house needs to be updated to support 2 extra lines. But that's for the Telephone Company to handle. Plus as they say... "It never hurts to have extra pairs of wires for later on," regardless of what you are doing.

The grunt work… running the cables...

Not all buildings or dwellings are the same. Maybe you have removable ceiling tiles, or plan on installing wire-mold to run your cabling through?

Two things not available here due to the design of this building. Plus I really wanted to keep costs at a bare minimum and wind up with that professionally "built-in" appearance at the end of the project using the best possible materials that are available today.

The method I chose was to drill holes in the top-plates of finished walls for the second floor from within the attic. Then use my expertise with wire fishing tapes and the close quarters 90' right angle drill for the first floor, winding up with only two small wallboard patches in the ceiling of the den due to framing obstructions.

Afterwards, all the holes were cut-out in the wallboard for each the location so that low-voltage single gang old workboxes could be installed. The end product after running all the cables being a single wall plate that delivers three to six services at each location. A great technique for saving a fair amount of money that offers flexible, super easy upgrades at anytime later on!.

Now if you're made of the right stuff, or a lion like me, this method will save you a lot of money with a trade off being some extra work. Be forewarned. You will be getting dirty, sweating, making a mess, and have at least one episode of tourettes.

Relax though. When you're all finished with the installation, you can cross your arms and have that gruff... "That's right, I did it," look on your face when showing off your work satisfied that it was done right!

Had I used wire-mold, installation costs would have at least doubled with respect to materials. Plus made a lot of extra work just to install the wire-mold. However this is an alternative that still offers an excellent finish product when installed correctly and may sound more appealing to you?

Another trick if you have padded floors with tacklace and carpeting is to sneak your wires along baseboard under the edge of the carpet between the baseboard and tacklace. Then use a wall mount style jack attached right to the baseboard at the desired location.

Making the final connections...

I used Gigamax QuickPort jacks from Leviton along with QuickPort wall plates. The connections are straightforward and easy to complete. Each jack has a sticker that denotes how to wire for TIA-568A or TIA-568B with easy to read color-coding that corresponds directly to the wire color of each pair in any type of CAT based network cabling.

The jacks are also shipped with a punch down tool if you do not have one. However I recommend getting your own for the few extra bucks. Just make sure you get the kind that will trim the extra wire off as it punches the wire down into place like the pros use. They cost about $5.00 for a decent one with a comfortable easy grip handle.

Other than that... the nice thing about the Leviton QuickPort system is that you can use wall plates that support multiple ports in different styles and colors. For instance you can do what I did on this project and deliver Telephone, Data, and Cable TV right on a single wall plate!

I also truely believe that Leviton has the best product line for these types of devices, but there are other vendors. Take the manufacturer Legrand for example, who, like Leviton, also markets SMC technology. You pick the brand that suits your needs for your own project and budget? More on the topic of SMC technology further along in this article.

Click here to continue reading Part III of Wiring your own LAN

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