Designing and installing a home network isn't something that all of us get to do. But when you gotta, it's helpful to learn from others who have already been through the process.
SNB reader Frank Drenckhahn learned from our Diary of a new Home Network, Homegrown Networks and Building a Home Network From Scratch articles and then wrote to share his experience with designing and installing a network in a new concrete block home in Costa Rica.
Frank's challenge was to design and install video, data and telephone networks in his new two floor 2700 square foot home. As is common in tropical climates, the home is built of concrete block, rebar, and poured concrete. The preliminary plan from the architect included provision for a small LAN along with telephone and cable TV wiring. But the plans included separate panels for each service in three different locations.
After looking over the plans, Frank decided to change course and use a single Structured Wiring (SW) panel that included phone, cable and LAN. The number one reason for the change was to ease connecting the three services to each room of the house via one conduit, then distributing phone, data and cable as needed to wall boxes around each room.
The second reason was for Internet connection flexibility. Both cable and DSL were available in Frank's neighborhood, so he wanted to keep his options open. In the end he opted for DSL. But any future switchover will be very easy since feeds for cable and telephone are right in the SW panel.
The last reason was to allow for a powered cable TV splitter for eight room locations. The SW panel's AC outlet made installation easy.
After examining offerings from various SW vendors, Frank settled on a 36" Eaton panel. What really sold Frank on the Eaton SW system were the shelves and modules that were available. They made for a very neatly organized installation.
Eaton structured wiring enclosures
Since the plans were already accepted and Frank did not want to pay for any “extras”, which always cost way more than they should, he made a deal with his construction company. The builder would install all the boxes and conduit and Frank, his wife and 7 year old daughter would do the rest.
Frank supplied the contractor with the 36” Eaton SW panel, 3/4" conduit, 3/4" connectors, deep 4”X4” junction boxes and double gang to single gang faceplate adapters. He also ordered all the cable and connectors.
Working with concrete and conduit is much less forgiving than with wood frame and drywall construction. While it might be relatively easy to move a box from a wrong location in a concrete block wall, moving the conduit that goes with it isn't. So good drawings and planning are very important.
Frank made detailed drawings like the one shown below to exactly locate the main panel and all of the deep 4”X4” junction boxes. Note that all boxes were 4" X 4" ("double gang") to allow plenty of room for extra cable that you'll need to get connectors away from the wall so that you can crimp them. The single gang wall plates were mounted with the aid of double gang to single gang adapter plates.
Conduit plans were also made and designed to that each run had a maximum of two 90 degree bends to ease the cable pulling chore and minimize cable stretch.
Eaton structured wiring enclosures
The main structured wiring panel was installed in the Utility room of the house. All CAT5e for network and telephone along with RG6 cable for Cable TV and OTA antenna were pulled in by Frank, his wife and daughter, with the help of cable pulling lubricant. Frank then terminated all the cables and connected everything up.
The finished panel with everything installed is shown in the photo below.
Finished Structured Wiring Panel
You can also check the gallery for construction and other photos.