Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fishing for CAT5 Cable: how to run ethernet cable

S: Our DVD player died last month so we dropped some heavy hints for Santa. Luckily Santa passed the message on to my mom and brother, who chipped in and got us a brand new Blu-ray player with ethernet connection. There was just one problem. Our house was built in the early 80's, prior to speed texting (Z: I hope that's not related to sexting, Sarah) and viral videos, and there was no ethernet port in our living room.

Z: I'm sure loads of people were aching to connect one of the many network ready media devices sold this holiday season. I'm also sure most people relieved those aches by connecting that device to their WiFi router since that's usually easier because your wireless router probably isn't close to your television. That is unless you're lucky/rich/addicted to speed and have CAT5 ethernet cable running through your walls. Lucky/rich doesn't apply to me, but I am addicted to speed (in terms of data transfer rates, not crystal meth or NASCAR) The two main benefits provided by a wired connection over a wireless one are higher, consistent speed and reliability. The downside: installation. Running any kind of wire in your attic is difficult. But if you want your streaming HD Netflix movie to be the highest quality and hiccup free, you need CAT5e cable.
Here's your basic supply list for running ethernet cable from the router to the media center:
Some place like Fry's will provide better options than HomeDepot or Lowe's

- 2 low voltage wall boxes (if you can run the cable to where your coax cable enters then don't get these)
- 2 CAT5 compatible keystone wallplates (I recommend at least 3 ports and color matching your outlets)
- 2 RJ-45 keystone jacks (get the tool-less kind and match the wallplate's color)
- pack of keystone blanks
- bare CAT5e cable (length: measure the distance of your attic run and add at least 15 or 20 feet)
- 2 CAT5e patch cables (one to run from router to wall, the other from wall to media device)
Also need
- flashlight, fishing tape (for pulling wires), cordless drill, drill bits, gloves and mask (protects from insulation)
Good to have and possibly necessary
-right angle drill attachment (for drilling in tight spaces), a helper and walkie talkies

Here's a few of the tools that you'll need to pull this off in a tightly spaced attic.

Here's how I did it:
Luckily I didn't need low voltage boxes since I could get cable to where my coax cable entered both rooms, but you might have to locate your box(es) elswhere if you can't reach one or both of them. I ran the first outlet easily by using speaker wire the previous owner had installed. I simply tied a string to the speaker wire in the living room, pulled the wire up from in the attic, taped the CAT5 cable to the speaker wire to run smoothly down, and got Sarah to pull the cable down through the wall from the living room by pulling on the string.
I ran the cable through the attic to where it would drop down the wall to the router and I made sure to avoid running the wire parallel to any electrical wire as this can interfere with the signal. Running perpendicular is fine.
Donning a dust mask, gloves, and long sleeve shirtt to protect from the insulation, I headed over to the dark, dusty corner where the eave of the roof met the wall armed with my drill, wood boring drill bits, and headlamp. I cleared away the insulation and laid a scrap piece of wood across the ceiling joists to keep me from falling through the sheetrock. I had to drill through the headers (2 2x4 that run along the top of the wall studs), except the nail studded underbelly of the roof encroached upon the space my drill needed to occupy. This cable drop proved rough, discouraging, enraging, cramped and utterly terribly. I simply could not drill at the correct angle with the limited space. I almost wept. Then I bought a Milwaukee Right Angle drill attachment. I finally drilled the hole, but my spirit had been broken by drilling frustration, suffacting dust, blistered hands, and roofing nail pierced head. Then my cheerleader showed up

S: When I got home from work, Zach had successfully drilled the hole, and I was ready to help drop the cable. However, Zach was somewhat discouraged by all the difficult work he had just been through and was doubtful that the cable would find it's way through the small hole in the attic, between the two studs on either side of of the cable box, and through all the insulation. He was prepared to cut a hole in the drywall to make the job easier, but I convinced him to go up in the attic and give it a try. We were using walkie-talkies so we could hear each other through the attic, and I took the opportunity to transmit some encouragement his way. Like "You can do it!" and my personal favorite, "You can do anything!" which I whole heartedly believe of my husband, although he takes some convincing. Zach ran the cable fishing tape down through the wall and a few moments later it passed right into the cable box! Never understimate the power of encouragement.Z: I should add "encouraging wife" to the supply list because this was one of the tougher jobs I've done around the house. The next steps were comparably easy.

1. Cut the cable. Make sure to leave plenty of extra cable in the attic.

2. Strip and remove about one inch of sheathing and separate the twisted pairs.

3. Lay the cables out in the keystone jack according to the color code. Ex: Orange block to orange wire, Orange-white block to orange-white wire. (A or B doesn't matter as long as you do the same on both ends)

4. Secure each wire and push it firmly into the slot then clamp the top down over the wires to complete the connection. Cut off the excess wires and secure the tie down to the jack if equipped. Mount the keystone jack to the wall plate making sure the correct end is up. (We also purchased a coax connecter since the lines were coming in through the same wall outlet) Mount the plate to the wall and you're done!


  1. Wow, you sure made that look simple.

  2. I’ve been working on a blog that investigates the pros and cons of Cat5 Cables, Cat5e cables and Cat6 cables. For example, most people don’t realize that the maximum length of Cat5e Cable is 90 meters.