How to run network cables outside a home

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The advantage of running network cables inside the house is that these cables will be protected from the elements. The only thing you have to worry about is possibly vacuum cleaners damaging the cable or your pet dog chewing it up. But sometimes it is much more feasible to route your network cables outside of the home. Sometimes there is a physical obstacle inside the home, such as a split-level basement, flagstone or hardwood floors, or some other characteristic of the home that would require extensive work to successfully place network cables. Whenever you need to run network cables from point A to point B, you need to look at all of the potential routes, including the outside of the home.

Evaluate both potential outside routes and decide if the network cables should be attached to the home or buried alongside the home. The entry and exit locations for these cables from the home will make your decision, to run the network cables underground or to attach them to the home itself, pretty clear. What would be the cosmetic impact of attaching the cables to your home? Is the potential underground route free of brick planters, cement walkways, lawn sprinkler pipes, gas, sewer and water pipes and any other underground route obstacles?

Identify and measure the exact underground route that you intend to use. Remember that it is undesirable to make any hard 90° corners, not only when you route the cable around the corner of the house or the corner of the flower bed, but also in reaching the depth of the underground route. Your network cables must gradually "sweep" down into the ground and turn horizontally into the underground trench and then "sweep" back up from the horizontal direction and into the house.

Determine which underground burial technique you will use. You have two choices, direct burial or the use of conduit. Direct burial is easier in terms of labour but comes with a greater risk of damage to your network cables; also, with this technique, cables cannot be easily replaced, and it is recommended that you use outdoor-rated "armoured" cables. Conduit, the second choice, is more labour-intensive to initially place in the ground, but it provides for future placement of additional network cables or replacement of damaged network cables.

Direct burial preparation starts with a garden shovel. Choose a shovel which has a flat blade that you can drive directly down into the ground with the least resistance. A regular curved shovel head is not the best choice. Your goal is to drive the garden shovel straight down in and then pull back and forth on the handle, opening up a "cut" in the dirt. When you complete this first step, you will have a 4- to 6-inch-long (the width of the shovel blade) cut in the dirt that is 4 inches deep and 2 to 3 inches open on top. Repeat this right next to the first cut so that now you have an 8- to 12-inch-long cut in the dirt. Keep doing this all along the proposed route. When you finish, you will have sliced open the earth to a depth of 4 inches, and this slice will be 2 to 3 inches wide on the surface of the dirt and maybe just a quarter of an inch at the bottom of the 4-inch cut.

Place your armoured cable, most likely CAT5, CAT5e or CAT6 cable, into this cut in the earth, pushing it all the way down to the 4-inch depth.

Connect the cables to your network and test them for full functionality before you close up this direct-burial cut. You want to make sure that the cable was not damaged when it was placed.

Close up this cut, which will directly bury your armoured cable, by stamping and pushing on each side of the cut to return the dirt to its original condition. Remember that you did not dig this cut, so there is no extra dirt to fill in; it's simply a matter of collapsing the sides of the cut until the dirt is flat again over the newly placed network cable.

Restore the ground cover over your new underground route. If it is just grass, in a few weeks it should all grow back together and be unnoticeable. If the ground cover is stones or wood chips, simply dress it up so that it looks the way it did before you started digging.

Choose the conduit size that you will need. The conduit size is based upon the number of cables that you intend to place in the conduit. A good rule of thumb is to use 1-inch diameter conduit for one or two CAT5 or RG-6 cables, but skip 1 1/2-inch and move up to 2-inch conduit for three or four cables. Don't forget about future growth. If you know that sometime in the future you will want to place additional cables in this conduit, make sure to size the conduit accordingly. You may want to pull a spare cable into the conduit right now, as future cable placement may be very difficult due to twisted cables inside the conduit. Even with the right size conduit, future placement may require you to re-pull the existing cables to get a new cable in.

Choose the type of conduit that fits your application. If it is a short underground run, less than 20 feet, and you only intend to use this conduit for one network cable, even a common garden hose will do the job. For longer runs and more cables you must step up to a PVC-type conduit. Flexible PVC conduit, which comes in a roll, is inexpensive and eliminates the need for "sweeps" and connectors. However, this conduit tends to "pop up" out of the ground unless it is securely buried a minimum of 8 inches. The third choice is a rigid PVC conduit. This conduit requires the use of couplers to connect multiple sections and the use of "sweeps" to make turns. All of these conduit components must be permanently affixed using PVC glue.

Hand-dig a trench for your conduit. This trench should be 4 inches wide and 12 inches deep. It is advisable to use a plastic dust sheet to temporarily hold the displaced dirt so that it is easy to refill the trench after the conduit has been placed. Use a garden shovel or entrenching tool to dig this trench.

Place the conduit into the trench and, if you are using rigid PVC, make sure to use a liberal amount of PVC glue on the connectors and sweeps to ensure that the conduit is sealed and will not allow any water migration.

Place the cables inside the conduit before you close the trench. These cables can be pushed or pulled using a pull rope, depending upon the length of the conduit run and the type and number of cables which are being placed inside the conduit.

Activate these cables in your network and test them for full functionality before you close up the trench.

Close up the trench by replacing the dirt on top of the conduit. Restore all of the ground cover to the original condition. Don't worry if the trench cover is half an inch or 1 inch higher than the surrounding ground, because time will flatten this out.

Evaluate the potential route for attaching your network cables to the exterior of your house. You want to choose the most cosmetically appealing route. Under the roof eaves and along the foundation are two good places to route cables. Your particular house may offer additional route possibilities depending upon the structure itself.

Attach one or two cables by using simple cable clips. On a wood-exterior house these cable clips are simply nails with plastic cable clamps on the heads, and they are pounded directly into the wood. On stucco or cement you'll need to use screw-and-anchor cable clips. These cable clips will require you to drill a hole to place the anchor and then screw the metal or plastic cable clip into the anchor.

Attach three or more cables by bundling all of these cables together with the use of tie wraps every 18 inches. Then attach the three-or-more-cable bundle to the exterior of your home using metal screw-and-anchor cable clips.

Use a "drip loop" on exterior cables where they enter or exit through the outside wall of the home. A drip loop means that the cables, either vertical or horizontal, dip down below the entry/exit hole, forming a half circle so that the cables themselves are running vertically up and into the hole going through the exterior wall of the house. This is necessary to prevent rainwater from travelling down the cable and into the house.

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