How to Get your Home Wired with Network Cables (almost) like a Pro

Network Wiring
Want the best Wi-Fi network for your large home? It’s time to get your hands dirty!

You might have noticed by now how I’m a big fan of using cables — as opposed to Wi-Fi — as a way to extend a home network. Getting your home wired is the only way to get the best-performing system, including one with lots of Wi-Fi clients.

Running cables sure is a pain, and, sometimes, can be so for a rather unusual reason. A reader, named Martin, wrote to me just the other day, saying in part:

[…] I had to drill a bunch of little holes to push the wire through. Not a huge deal. The thing is, by the time I got it to where I wanted, the connector’s head was damaged. Now I have a non-working cable. […]

Well, Martin, I feel you. But using ready-made network cables is not ideal in your case. Most importantly, that cable still works fine, and you’re very close.

That’s right, the actual physical work of running the cables from one place to another (and installing the mounting boxes) is the hardest part of getting a home wired. If you’re willing to do or have done that, this post will help you deal with the rest. It’s easier than you think.

Getting your home wired: What you need

First and foremost, you need to figure out the places you need to run the cables to and from. A network cable has two ends. Generally, they are both the same. But for the sake of this post, let call them A and B.

A is where the cable starts, and B is where it ends. More specifically, the A end goes into a switch (or router), and the B end goes into a wired device (like a computer, or a Wi-Fi broadcaster, or another switch).

Figuring out the locations

In many homes, you just need one or two cables so that you can have a mesh system with a wired backhaul.

In this case, you run the cable(s) from where the router is to where you want to put the satellite unit(s), which should be the other end of the home or at least the middle of it. It’s all about proper hardware placement so that you get the best coverage.

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On the other hand, if you want to go all out and wire the entire home, you’ll need to have a place where all the cables’ A ends converge. It’s best to have them all in a small room or closet, where your Internet service line comes into the house.

From there, have the B ends of the cables go to different parts of the house, as many as you want. Personally, I have two for each room in my home. The place I use as my office, I have a couple for each wall.

What cable to get

If you just need to run a cable in an open space, it’s OK to use a long ready-made cable.

Chances are, though, you will have to run the cables behind a wall, on the attic, outside the house, etc. In this case, it’s best to buy them in bulk. Now you can cut any length you want, and bulk cables are a lot more affordable than ready-made alternatives.

For virtually any home, CAT5e cables will suffice, but it doesn’t hurt to go with CAT6 (or higher grades). Get the bulk long enough for the entire home. (Note that each cable needs some slack.) Generally, a spindle of 1000 feet (330 m) is enough for a large house with some to spare.

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By the way, if you intend to run cables in the attic or outside of your home, it’s a good idea to use weatherproof ones, or use a conduit, especially if you live in areas with rough weather.

The basic rule of network wiring

Running network cables is different from wiring a home for electricity. You need one cable for each connection. That’s because you can’t split a network cable the way you do an electrical wire or service line (phone or coaxial) and expect it to work.

The only way to make one network connection available to multiple wired devices is via a switch. And that involves multiple cables.

That said, let’s take a specific example. If your service line comes in your basement, that’s where your router is going to be. Now if you want to use a wired device in your living room (like your Xbox) and another in your office (a desktop computer), here are the two ways to wire:

  • One cable that runs from the basement to the living room.
  • Another cable from the basement to the office.
  • Connect the cables’ A ends to the router, and B ends to the wired devices.

The daisy-chain way (not ideal)

  • One cable from the basement to the living room.
  • A switch in the living room.
  • Another cable from the living room to the office.
  • Connect the first cable’s A end to the router.
  • Now connect the first cable’s B end and the second cable’s A end to the switch
  • Then connect the second cable’s B end to the desktop computer.
  • Use a third short (ready-made) cable to connect the Xbox to the switch.

Either method of wiring will work and in reality, you probably use both. That’s because even when you use the standard way, there’s always a chance you need to connect more wired devices than the number of network ports available at a location.

And that brings us to the next important part: The things you attach to the ends of the cables.

What parts to get

Bulk cables don’t include the parts that make them work as network ones. In other words, they are generic wires. To make one work as a network cable, we have to turn each of their ends into a network connector or port.

So, we need to get these modular bits and install them at the A and B ends of each cable.

Connector vs port (Crimp vs. Jack)

A connector is an end that goes into a network port. A jack is a network port you can plug a connector in. They are male and female terminals.

Jack vs Crimp
A network Jack (top) and a network Crimp. They make a port or a connector, respectively.

The parts for these ends are normally called connectors and ports, but you also find them as RJ45 Crimps and RJ45 Jacks, respectively. (There are a bunch of other names, too, like plugs, couplers, and so on.)

If you buy a ready-made network cable, you will note that both of its ends are crimped connectors. And that’s a good thing, when possible, always use ready-made cables, which come in many appropriate (short) lengths, to connect wired devices to your network.

Yes, you can make one (I’ve made plenty myself), but in getting a home wired, I’d recommend against using connectors (crimps) for the cables’ ends. It’s best to turn them into network ports. I speak from years of experience. Here are a few reasons:

  • Less work: It’s much easier and faster to attach a port (RJ45 Jack) to a cable.
  • Higher chance of success: The possibility of making a mistake with a jack is much slimmer than with a crimp. Pay a bit of attention, and you can make a perfect network port at the very first try. More below.
  • Stability: A network port remains stationary, which allows the cable behind it to stay unchanged.
  • Flexibility: Once you have a network port, you’re free to use a cable of any length to connect to it.

That said, let’s just all agree that we’ll go with using RJ45 Jacks. The objective now is to create a network port at either end of a cable.

You can also buy jacks in bulk. You need two for each cable so get how many according to your need and then a couple more as spares. They are relatively inexpensive.

CAT5e vs. CAT6 (vs. CAT7 vs. CAT8)

Again, for home applications, there’s no discernable difference between CAT5e and CAT6. Both can deliver up to 10 Gbps — it’s your switch (or router), and the end device that determines a connection’s final speed.

(CAT7 is similar to CAT6, just better in terms continuous of length. CAT8 can deliver up to 40 Gbps).

But it’s always a good idea to use the cable and modular bits of the same type. If you have to mix them up for some reason, keep this in mind:

You can use CAT6 jacks (or crimps) on a CAT5e cable, but the other way around is not a good idea. So, if you decide to go with CAT6 wiring, don’t use any CAT5e end bits. Also, make sure you use the same type at both ends of a cable.

Extra: Patch panel

A patch panel is basically a bunch of RJ45 Jacks (network ports) put together in an array for easy management.

If you want to run five or more cables, it’s a good idea to get a panel for their A ends, instead of having a bunch of separate network ports. Each port on the panel is numbered, which is a great way to know which cable goes to which location. (That is if you also number the other end of the cables with the same digits.)

By the way, you need to run more cables than the number of LAN ports on your router, then it’s also time to get a switch to add more ports to the router.

The tools you need

For the job we’re about to do, namely turning a cable’s ends into network ports, we need two pieces of equipment. Both are relatively inexpensive, costing about $20 each.

Home Network Cable Wiring 19
My trusty Punch-down (red) and Crimp tools, I’ve used these for a decade. Note the 12-port patch panel and the single Jack.

A Punch-down tool

This one is a device that you use to punch the cable’s internal wires onto a jack. It’s super easy and fun to use.

A Crimp tool (or a pair of scissors)

This tool is primarily for crimping the network cable, turning its ends into network connectors. But it’s also great for cutting a cable or removing its shielding to reveal the internal wires. For what we do here, though, you can get away with a pair of scissors.

Getting your home wired: The inside of a network cable

Inside each network cable (of CAT5e grade or higher), you find eight little wires in four twisted pairs. Each pair has a color of its own, including Blue, Orange, Green, and Brown, with one wire being a solid color, and the other mostly white with a color stripe.

It’s important to be aware of these colors since each wire needs to match with that on the jack in a particular order.

Home Network Cable Wiring 15
The four twisted pair of wires inside a network cable. Note the pull string.

Other than that, you’ll also find a pull string, which is thin but very strong that works as the support when you need to pull the cable from one place to another. That said, you can pull pretty hard on a network cable without damaging it, just don’t pull too hard.

By the way, when running a network cable, make sure you give it some slack and then leave a lot of extra at both ends. You can always cut it shorter, or roll it up, but the other way around is very hard.

Understanding the wiring pattern

To add a port (or a connector) to a cable’s end, you need to know the wiring pattern. There are two, including T-568A and T-568B. (Don’t worry about the details of these numbers. Consider them as proper names.)

These are popular terminations, or pinouts, for Ethernet cables of CAT5e and higher. They are the specifics way to match the colors of the wires with pins of the terminal pieces (connector or port).

T-568A vs. T-568B

Either of these patterns will work as long as you use the same at both ends. In this case, we have a Straight-Through Ethernet standard cable.

(If you use T-568A at one end and T-568B at the other, you’ll make a Crossover Ethernet cable. This cable won’t work as the straight-through one, but it’s great to connect two devices directly without a router in between. Still, though, I put this part in brackets because it’s not a good idea to mix up the cable’s two ends. Pick one and go with it. Consistently!)

It’s worth noting that generally, T-568B is the preferred wiring pattern and the one I’m using for this post as well as in real-life. If you buy a ready-made cable, chances are it also uses this wiring pattern.

By the way, if you use wrong patterns (even when consistently so at both ends), the cable will not work at all or work at reduced speed (10Mbps or 100Mbps). Not a good thing.


Extra: How to find out if a cable uses T-568A or T-568B

To find out if a cable uses which pattern, just take a look at its connector. First, flip it so that the clip side is way from you. Now, if the first pin is stripe green, then it’s a T-568A; if it’s stripe orange, then it’s a T-568B.

T568A vs T568B
The two common terminals of network cables.

Now, look at the other end, if it’s the same, then it’s a straight-through cable. If not, then it’s a crossover. (By default, all network cables are straight-through, you have to specify that you want a crossover to find one.)

Of course, you can always cut off the tip of the cable and re-crimp it. However, again, we don’t do that in this post.

Extra: Why making your own network connectors is not a good idea

Crimping a cable, as you can imagine, is quite a pain and prone to errors.

That’s because you first have to arrange all eight little wires in a specific pattern as shown above — good luck with that! — then cut off the tips of the wires to make them all even. Now stick all of them into a tiny crimp plug without messing up the pattern. After that, insert the plug itself — with the wires loosely attached — into the crimper’s hole. And then crimp the whole thing with one hand while keeping your other’s fingers crossed in high hopes that the wires’ order won’t be shoved around during the process.

OK, it’s not that painful, but you get the idea.


Getting your home wired: How to make a network port

Making a network port (CAT5e or higher) out of a cable’s end is much easier than turning it into a connector. You just need to deal with a single wire at a time. As long as you’re not severely color-blind, you can’t make a mistake. The steps below will help.

By the way, I used CAT5e parts for the photos, but everything is the same if you use CAT6 and higher equivalents. Also, the pictures only serve as examples and not part of a real project — I’d be too busy to take photos (and my hand wouldn’t be that photogenic).

1. Determine the wiring pattern.

Take a look at the jack and determine which wiring pattern you’ll use. Again, either will work but the T-568B is the most common. Note how each groove has its own color corresponding to that of the cable’s wires as mentioned above.

Home Network Cable Wiring 2 1
A close-up of a network Keystone Jack: Note the T-568B pattern, which is the lower row of colors: Stripe Orange, solid Orange, strip blue, solid blue. The rest are on the other side.

2. Prepare the wire.

Cut the tip of the cable to remove the parts of internal wires that might have been damaged during the installation — something that happened in Martin’s case mentioned above.

Home Network Cable Wiring 20 1

Now use the crimp tool (or the scissors) to remove about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the shielding to reveal the copper wires. Spread them out as twisted pairs. (You can cut off the pull string or just put it out of the way.)

3. Install the wires on the jack

Keep the pairs as together as possible. Now press them down individually on the grooves of the jack, matching the color of the pattern (T-568B in this case.) There’s no need to press them down too hard, just tight enough so they won’t fall out.

Home Network Cable Wiring 5
Press the wire individually on the Jack, matching the wiring pattern (T-568B). Here’s the right side.

Home Network Cable Wiring 8 1
And here’s the left side.

Home Network Cable Wiring 7
And here’s from the top.

4. Punch ’em down!

Now comes the fun part. Use the punch-down tool to push the wires down onto the groove — one at a time.

Home Network Cable Wiring 9
Place the Punch-down tool on top of the groove with the blade side on the outside.

You need a surface for this (the wall will do). Make sure you put the blade side of the tool’s tip on the outside, it’ll cut off the extra wire. Now just press it down in a quick action. You’ll hear a satisfying click sound.

Home Network Cable Wiring 10
Note how the extra wire is cut off.

Home Network Cable Wiring 12

Repeat that with the rest of the wires, and you got yourself a network port perfectly attached to the cable. (The attachment is actually really tight, much more durable than a hand-crimped connector head.)

5. Attach the port to a face plate

Now, if you have a mounting box, attach the port to the box’s faceplate, and mission accomplished. If not, you can get a surface-mount box. Even if you leave the cable loose, you still just got yourself a network port.

Home Network Cable Wiring 16
Each Keystone Jack has a clip for it to fit tightly on a face plate.

Home Network Cable Wiring 18
Like this.

Home Network Cable Wiring 17 1
Here’s the real newly minted network port.

And that’s it. Now repeat the same process at the other end of the cable, and the rest of the cables, and you just seriously got your home wired.

Extra: How to wire a patch panel

Wiring a patch panel is like wiring a bunch of jacks at the same spot. The principle is the same: You match the colors of the wires with the grooves on the panel.

Patch Panel Wiring
Wiring a patch panel shares the same principle as that of a single jack.

Under each panel, you’ll also see the pinout patterns of both T-568A and T-568B wiring methods. Pick one, and go with it consistently. Note that in most cases, on a patch panel, all eight wires of a cable will be mounted on one side.

Patch Panel Finished
A patch panel makes organizing and managing network cables an easy job.

Again, make sure you get a panel that has enough ports for the number of cables you’ve run. In this example, I used a 12-port panel even though I only ran six lines. By the way, I was able to finish this job in less than 30 minutes, including the time spent on the photos.

Getting your home wired: The takeaway

Again, what I described above is the easiest part of wiring a home, though it can seem the most intimidating. Hopefully, the latter is only so before you’ve read this post.

So here’s the trick: Get someone lanky to do the actual work of running the cables. Once they’ve gotten the cables’ ends sticking out of the wall (or the floor), send them home! It’s time for you to have fun while saving some money on labor.

It’s very satisfying to see how much better your home (Wi-Fi) network becomes afterward, especially when you can claim you did that (all) by yourself!

19 thoughts on “How to Get your Home Wired with Network Cables (almost) like a Pro”

  1. Thank you Dong. I have read this right through.
    1. Running cat6 from living room (router is here) to office for my Mac
    2.Want to put face plate with two jacks in the living room wall and the same type in the office (only need 1 cable but it seems most say run an extra cable in case)
    3.Then run short cable from router to jack and short cable on office from jack to Mac
    4.It seems difficult to buy bulk cat6, but best buy has Lan cable with connectors, can I cut those off and add RJ45 connectors to same cable?

    Reply
    • Then you should already have ALL the answers, Labren.

      1. Sure, CAT5e is fine too.
      2. Yes, remember one cable per jack (each end). You can’t split the cable the way you do a phone line.
      3. Yes, just like you’d use any device with a wall network port.
      4. Yes, I mentioned that specifically in the post. Make sure you use CAT6 end bits on a CAT6 cable.

      Reply
  2. I was having trouble getting internet in the basement and my current WiFi router setup and extender just doesn’t cut it so I was about to buy an expensive WiFi mesh system and read this article and it motivated me to run CAT 6 cable to the basement. Anyways, I bought the tools your recommended, ran the wire, and everything now works great in the basement with a two router setup(one in basement connected to the one upstairs by CAT 6 cable).

    Great article Dong! I also really like abundant use of pictures in this article which makes the process so much easier to follow.

    Reply
  3. Hi Dong,

    How do you quickly identify which Cat5E cable connects to which room? We have Cat5E already run in the house, but it terminates in RJ-11 ports, so I’m trying to replace the terminations with Cat5E ones. The problem is, in the basement it’s just a bunch of unlabeled Cat5E cables without connector pins and I don’t need/want to attach them all to a jack.

    Reply
    • You can get an inexpensive toner. That’s what I had to do as I bought one of those kits that have the numbered ends so that I would know which room had which but there were no RJ11 connectors.

      Instead I just used an inexpensive toner to determine where each one terminated. The side that generated the tone plugged into the RJ11 jack and the I used the other end where the cables were loose. I could have also just gone ahead and changed the the RJ11 jacks to RJ45 and then used the kit I had.

      Reply
  4. Dong: re modems, if I set up an AiMesh w/ wired backhaul (2 AX58U routers), what about the modem (Xfinity); does that play any meaningful role in establishing a reliable, good system? If so,
    – Thoughts re brand/model? Not all work with Xfinity of course.
    – Hard wire or wi-fi connection from router to modem? Does it matter?

    Thanks!

    Randy

    Reply
  5. Thanks for your wonderful reviews, posts and tips, Dong. Appreciate the insights!

    I moved into a 4-level, 2000SF townhome and am using a TP-Link Deco M5 mesh with generally decent but certainly mixed results. I’ve had to use 4 nodes: basic modem/router +1 M5 on basement/level 1, and one M5 on levels 2-4. A daisy-chain style setup is the only choice given cable/internet comes in to the basement/level 1, and then it’s in a closet. So that, plus multiple floors – in spite of an overall small footprint – seem to be challenges, though I’ve never experimented with a higher-end modem/router or other mesh units (M9 didn’t exist when I installed).

    It’s time for a faster, more consistent system. I am following your lead and exploring a wired AX system: the initial owner installed a complete home wired system/board (10+ years ago – so I need to confirm exactly what I have). Here are my questions:

    1. On the presumption that it is at least CAT5 am I correct that all I’d need to do is swap out the current modem/router in the basement/level 1 for a WiFi6 unit, and then hardwire that to an additional WiFi 6 router(s) on the other levels (I’m thinking first trying just one additional router on level 3)?

    2. Sounds like you’d still recommend one of the Asus dual-band AX routers in this instance (RT-AX88U, AZ89X, AX3000) and skipping the tri-band, wireless mesh systems?

    3. If I do hav the ability to go wired/wired backhaul, is it really as simple as buying 2-3 new AX routers, connecting them, and then simply connecting all our devices wirelessly to the routers?

    Many thanks, Dong!

    Randy

    Reply
    • Get a bunch of dual-band AiMesh routers (any of those you mentioned or a mix of them will do) and swap them out with the TP-Link hardware, Randy. Daisy-chaining is fine with wired backhaul. You will need to set up your network from scratch but it’ll work much better.

      Reply
  6. Hi Dong,

    I’ve been poking around the site a bit trying to find the right place to ask this question. Based on some old columns of yours (I thought here, but maybe on CNET back in the old days) I wired my a fews house using Actiontec Moca adapters/wifi access points to run from my upstairs router to the downstairs family areas. Well with everyone at home we’ve got Zooms running all the time and the wifi doesn’t reach the porch, so I’m looking to up my game.

    I don’t know whether I should try and add another moca adaptor/wifi access point near the porch. Upgrade my existing router or scrap everything and get a mesh system. Right now having the entertainment center hard wired for streaming is really nice.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    • I’d say it’s time to step up the game and wire your home with real network cable, K. But if you still want to stay with MoCA, it’s good to change the adapters into newer standard that Gigabit-capable, like this one: https://amzn.to/2D9pzfM

      Reply
  7. Doing. Your a total idiot or really smart. I wonder how much money your making off all the just right placed ads throughout the article.

    As for your article, did you watch a few YouTube videos to figure it out? If people do it your way, they’ll have slower speeds than with their wifi. With your suggestions, I promise!

    Reply
    • How would they get slower speeds? Can you elaborate? As for your questions, I’d say I’m more comfortable in my own skin than you can ever imagine. 🙂

      Reply
      • I can’t believe you actually bothered responding to that totally disrespectful comment of that idiot, Dong. But that says a lot about you, too. Have a great day! Love your website. Thanks for the honest and useful information!

        Reply
        • He did give me a choice of “smart”, so maybe he had a point there, Gail. It’s all good. I’m happy to have any real input, as opposed to the crazy amount of spams I have to go through daily. 🙂 And you’re welcome!

          Reply
  8. Any tips on running cable in a house with completely finished basement (and no accessible attic? Can cables be run in HVAC ducts, and if so, how does one manage to get the cable fished through all the turns?

    Reply
    • Jeff, I have the same type of basement. I just ran the cable loose under the floor and drill a couple of holes on the floor itself. I did use outdoor cables for this part.

      Reply

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