Networking your house

What's it for and why bother?

Let's start with a more distant perspective. In our house we currently have the following gadgets that need a network connection, an aerial or just simply power.

  • Jocke's workstations (two PCs)
  • Caz's workstation (one PC)
  • Jocke's Laptop (uses WiFi)
  • The Xbox
  • The server (PC)
  • Livingroom TV
  • Bedroom TV
  • Guestroom TV

And in the future, we'd like to add:

  • Music streaming/Video streaming to the livingroom, study and even the bathroom
  • Networked surveillance in the garage
  • Perhaps a TV in the kitchen
  • What else the future brings?!

As you can see this is a considerable amount of gadgets/toys and they all need power and another wire. That's a helluva bunch of cables.
The only way to keep ourselves sane and the place tidy is simply to do this properly.
Luckily this isn't such a huge task as you might initially think, and the reward is just amazing.

The Grand Plan

Before you do anything you should know what you intend to do. The grand plan needs to take shape. First get your notepad and a pen. Then walk around your house and figure out what you want and what you need in every room. Later you'll have to make a compromise; even if you want 20 network connections in your bedroom it doesn't mean you should have 20 connections there.
When you know what you want where, you need to figure out how to get the connection there. This is the tricky bit.
If we're just talking about Ethernet now, then you generally want one central place for your "out of sight" network/computer gear. Typically the basement/cellar or attic/loft. I chose the attic, simply because I don't have a cellar, and also the WiFi waves carry better from "up there" (into the garden for example where I'm at the moment).
As we're running ADSL this also means we need a telephone line up there.
To clarify; In the attic I have:

  • Server computer
  • ADSL Modem/Hub/Firewall/Wireless
  • Network Switch

This means that all network cables need to end up in the attic somehow.
Good places to route cables are closets and airing cupboards etc. If you don't have that, you're going to have to pull conduits from the floor to the ceiling. This is more expensive and it won't look as neat.
You can also go through the wall to minimize the use of visual conduits. Say you have some sideboards or some other obscuring furniture in one room, and want a network point in the next room. The solution is to put the conduit behind the furniture and drill a hole through the wall and simply mount the network point onto the wall. Just be careful where you drill and put nails/screws! Check, and double-check to make sure. There are tools that react to cables in the walls; get one!
The trickiest problem we had was to figure out where to go between the ground floor and the 1st floor. This is always tricky. Luckily we found a closet from which we could drill a slightly diagonal hole into the ground floor. On the ground floor we simply put a conduit all across the hallway to cover it all up.
It might take a long while to let the plans mature, and it'll take a lot of running around and measuring, but eventually you've exhausted the options and you begin to know where the cables should/can go.
Now it's time to revisit what you made notes about earlier; which room is to get what features. Make up your mind, and then make a shopping list... To infinity, and beyond!!

What you'll need

To do this you'll need a bunch of material and some tools.
The tools I used (sorry if I've forgotten anything as it's a while since we did this)

  • Measuring tape(s) - you need to know where to drill and where to cut
  • Drills, both masonry drills and wooden drills depending on where you're going to pull the cable. I managed with one "big" one of each. Large enough to pull about 4 cables through. You'll also need masonry drills if you intend to put sockets on brick/concrete walls. And the plugs of course.
  • Spirit level - you don't want wonky sockets on the wall, that's just ugly. same goes with the conduits, you want them straight.
  • Pencil, sounds silly but a pencil is invaluable for marking things out
  • A piece of string, and possibly a piece of steel wire (from a wire-coat-hanger) to thread through the cables
  • Saw, I used a metal saw to cut the conduits, as long as it makes a nice cut, it's fine
  • Small file, spend a bit of time filing the ends of the conduits and it'll look much nicer.
  • Mitre box, you want the angles right ('scuse the pun)
  • Soldering iron and soldering tin (?). I rejigged our Home Cinema System so I cut the speaker cables.
  • Vacuum cleaner. You'll be creating an immense mess. Best to be prepared.
  • Network testing tool; you can get these very cheaply nowadays, and they're invaluable when you're crimping your own network cables.
  • Network cable (RJ45) crimper tool.
  • A little thing to press down the network cables into the facias (you can use a small screwdriver if you want).
  • Torch; you'll probably be rummaging around in badly lit places (at least I did)
  • The trusty Dremel rotary tool. I use this to make holes in the wall socket boxes, cut through dado rails and so forth. Indispensible to me.

Then you'll need some material. A trip to Homebase/Focus and Maplin should see you with most of what you need.

  • Conduits, conduits, conduits! Get these from your DIY shop. Have a walk through the house and do some rough measurements of where you'll use the conduits and how many cables will go in them. Don't buy too many; it's easier to buy more than to return stuff. I tend to buy the conduits that have a self adhesive strip on the back. Saves me fiddling with glue and saves time.
  • Wall boxes for the connectors. Be careful to get deep enough boxes. These are the ones you screw onto the wall, and then attach a facia of your need (Aerial, Ethernet etc) to.
  • Facias for whatever cables you're installing; Ethernet, Telephone, Aerials, Satellite, etc.
  • Cables, cables, cables. Your best bet here is to browse the Maplin catalogue or surf the net. Make sure you know for example what network speeds you want the cables to "withstand".
  • RJ45 connectors, aerial cable connectors, etc.
  • Electrical tape, you'll probably end up cutting wires and soldering the back on. Tape is also useful for threading the wires through your holes; you tape the wires to the thread and pull through.
  • Cable fasteners, for when you're not using the conduits. In the attic for example.

Looks like we're set.

My plan

I'm going to try to be breif, but so you can have it all in context this is what our plan was like.
We needed to pull the telephone cable from the front door to the attic.
Then we needed the network cables from the study, four of them to be precise, to go into the attic.
I also needed an aerial cable into the study as I sometimes tend to half-watch TV whilst working on the computer. Into the bedroom we needed a network cable and an aerial cable. The guestroom, where the Xbox lives, needed two network points and thus two network cables, and one aerial point. The reason for the two network cables is that I'd like guests to be able to plug in if WiFi isn't suitable/working.
The livingroom, yes. A bit more tricky. I wanted two network cables to go down there. One for entertainment and one for the Xbox if I want to play down at the big TV. We also wanted to put the Home Cinema system's speakers up on the wall (well four of them anyway). On top of that, there was already an aerial point in the livingroom, but it was on the complete opposite side of the room, so we needed to extend that one, without touching the floor, to the other side.
We've not touched the dining area, the kitchen, or the garage or shed. Plenty left to do! Heheh!

Piece by piece

Instead of going with the timeline, I'll show you the individual parts that we did. This way you can use the information to whatever part you need, instead of following through and doing everything sequentially.

Mounting sockets on the wall

A few pictures of how to mount the sockets on the wall. If you're drilling into plasterboard, you can usually just use the right screw and drill it in. If you're in a brick wall, you'll need to drill the hole and plug it first.
The wall sockets have "pre-perforated" holes in them, use a big flat screwdriver or a sturdy knife to push them out. I used the Dremel with a routing bit to make the holes as I wanted.

A socket mounted on the wall., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The socket mounted on the wall. Note the hole on the right hand side that'll funnel the cables to the next socket. The cables are aerial and ethernet.

Two sockets mounted on the wall., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The two sockets mounted next to each other. Aerial to the right, Ethernet to the left.

Connecting the aerial sockets, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Connecting the aerial.

Aerial and ethernet socket on the wall., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The ethernet and the aerial sockets fitted to the wall. Neat and tidy, well after I hoovered the dirt from the floor.


Conduits are the plastic things you tack onto the walls to route the cables in. These things come in a standard length, but in warying depths and widths. Try to use as small conduit as possible but not small enough to not fit todays and perhaps tomorrows cables.
Use a spirit level and some help to put them up on the walls. Sometimes a small nail in one end can help position it horizontally or vertically.
Cut the ends to 45 degrees using a mitre box, file the ends to make it pretty.

Metal saw, mitre box, measuring tape and a small file used to cut conduits in proper angles., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The tools I used to cut the conduits, metal saw, mitre box measuring, tape and a small file. This mean that the angle was mostly good enough, and mostly the right length and with the file I could tidy the conduit up a bit.

A conduit joint using 5 pieces., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Sometimes you'll have to spend quite a bit of time to get a corner like it should be. This one was the trickiest in our house. Three conduits meet, but all from different angles and heights. Without couting conduit covers this junction consists of 5 parts.

Another conduit corner., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Another time consuming corner to battle with. Not too complicated, but still another example of what you might have to deal with.

Dremel cutting the dado rail to make way for the conduit., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The conduit had to go through the dado rail like a railroad through a mountain. The Dremel leaped to the rescue. Orange, who had the room painted in ORANGE!?!!

Cables coming out of the conduit., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Quite a few cables in this conduit; 2x Ethernet, 4x Surround Sound Speaker and one aerial cable.

Between the floors

The tricky part in our project was to find a suitable place where we could pull the cables through from one floor to another. You can't just stick the drill through the floor into the ceiling. It needed to be nice and tidy.
We eventually decided that there was a possibility to drill from the upstais closet down into the hallway above a door. We managed to do this, and the end result is quite pleasing as the only visible thing downstairs is the conduit, and nothing upstairs (except inside the closet).
The position was also ideal for pulling the telephone line up into the attic.

Hole in the floor in the closet, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

One of the trickiest things was to pull the cables between the our two floors. We deducted that this closet would be the least worst place. It was also fairly convenient to route the phone line up to the loft, whilst routing the network down to the living room.

Pulling the cables through the floors., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Feeding the cables between the floors. I used a piece of string that I threaded through the hole with a wire-coat-hanger. I taped the string to the cables and simply pulled them through.

Pulling cables through the floors - done., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Here we go. Cables are through. Note that the conduit was mounted before pulling the cables through.

Livingroom Surround Sound Speakers

The speakers were mounted using simple brackets from Homebase. I must apologize to audiophiles here for the use of "wrong" connectors and for generally curling up cables. In my defense, this system is fairly cheap (under £200) and it's better this way than the way it was, and to me it sounds "just fine". After all, we built this for our own enjoyment, not yours ;) .

Conduit mounted on the wall., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

We wanted to have the surround speakers mounted on the walls. We started with the front ones. We put a conduit up on the wall. Note the conduit to the far right.

Conduits meeting with a decorative wooden rail., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

We then added a wooden decorative rail under the conduit. Note how the horizontal conduit meets the vertical one near the corner. There's naturally a cutout. On the top, there's a hole that goes through the wall.

Caz soldering the connectors onto the shortened surround sound speakers, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Caz is preparing the speakers by cutting the original cable and mounting the plugs. In hindsight we should have used different connectors and cut the wires even shorter.

Conduits on the wall, along with a box for the front right surround sound speaker., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

A few cables in place, the box for the front right surround speaker is mounted on the wall. Slowly getting there.

Front left surround speaker fitted, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The front left speaker fitted. Just some paint on the wooden rail and we're done.

Home cinema speaker mounted on the wall., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Rear left speaker. Can't get much closer to your ears than this. Audiophiles might have a heart attack about the thin cable, the unsuitable contact and the low amount of space between the ear and the speaker. Myself on the otherhand loves the fact that the speakers don't occupy any floor space, nor is there a cable on the floor. Much better than the alternative. Could be better, granted.

Surround sound speakers mounted on the wall., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

There you go. Conduits and speakers in place. Just a lick of paint and it'll be just fine. In fact, the rail is almost invisible when painted and a picture is hung up below.

The sockets behind the TV

Behind the living room TV, there used to be a myriad of cables. This tidies it up a bit. There already were a dual power socket there, we needed to add the Ethernet sockets and the Surround Sound Speaker connections. We should have made the aerial cable into a wall-mounted socket too, but we didn't for some reason (money/time/lack-of-energy/shops-closed/etc).
I made the facia for the speakers from a 4 connector cluster from Maplin. I used the Dremel to widen the hole enough and then scew the connectors onto it. The idea is that there are a bunch of short cables going from the Home Cinema System to the wall, the sound is then transferred to the connection boxes on the wall under the speakers. The speakers also have a short cable connecting to the box. Nice and tidy.

The starting point; Twin sockets, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

This is how it began. Twin sockets, then some conduit. Remember to check where the cables are buried in the wall so you don't go nuke yourself.

Boxes mounted on the wall., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The two sockets mounted next to the power plugs. Note the holes cut for the entry of the cables and to allow them to go between the boxes.

Cables in place in the socket., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The cables are now in place, and the right hand side contains the dual ethernet cables, and the left hand side one contains the surround speakers.

Surround sound connectors in place. Fitting the Ethernet cables., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The surround sound connectors are in place, now we're fitting the Ethernet cables. You can just push the cables down, but there's a cheap tool that allows you to push the cables down properly, well worth the money.

The living room sockets done., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Here's the final result. Note the cheating aerial cable poking out from underneath. In hindsight I should have forked out the few extra pounds for the wall socket etc, but it does work this way too. And should I find the need, it's easy enough to fix.

There you have it

It wasn't difficult at all once we figured out where the cables should go. The house is now very nicely networked and adding gadgets should be a breeze. A SlimDevices Squeezebox for example would be nice. All I have to do is plug it in (WiFi, pah!).
The network has worked without any hitches as has the ADSL line despite being in the attic.
All in all, we spent about 3 days working on this. Initially most of the time was running around gathering tools, and getting experience, but in the end we were laying conduits like you wouldn't believe.
The total cost lies somewhere around £200, and that's including the tools we had to buy along with the rest of the material. We used a big roll of Ethernet cable from Maplin, and we got through it all.
I'm very pleased with it all, and having a clutter free living room is very relaxing. Well worth doing!