A Tour of My Networking Closet

On several episodes of Mac Power Users, including our most recent Networking episode with Bradley Chambers, I’ve referenced my home networking setup. When I built my home 3 years ago I knew that I wanted a Ethernet backbone to feed each of the rooms in my house. In working with the builder, they had their electrical subcontractor create a data cabinet in my laundry room that would be the single hub for all of these networking drops so I could have one location for all my networking equipment. I’ve had several people inquire about this setup, so thought I’d post a picture and a little further explanation.

 My networking closet. Someone really should clean up these wires.

My networking closet. Someone really should clean up these wires.

Coax Cable: Each bedroom in my house and the living room is wired with multiple coax cable ports. This is to connect Cable TV service and to allow flexibility in the future should I (or future homeowners) decide they want to relocate the TVs. All of these feeds terminate in this closet. There is also a main feed that comes in from the cable company that is fed into this box.

The house is designed to be connected to a traditional cable service. Currently I use my cable provider for Internet service so that feed is connected to my cable modem. I have an HD antenna mounted in my guest bedroom closet (out of sight) So I “back feed” the antenna signal through my entire house by plugging that cable into the “in” port on my Coax splitter and then feed the antenna signal to the other TVs in my house using the splitter that’s built-in the box. (If I had a traditional cable setup, that feed would go into the “in” port instead).

Ethernet Cable - My house is designed to have multiple Ethernet cable drops in rooms. I have two ethernet drops in each bedroom and five in the living room. I wired the house with Cat6 Ethernet cable because at the time the cost difference for new construction was insignificant (literally dollars) compared to the more standard Cat5 cables. All the Ethernet drops in the house terminate in this box and are run through a 16-port Gigabit Ethernet switch.

Telephone Connection - Although I personally don’t use a landline phone, I wanted to design the house with resale in mind. I have a few telephone drops throughout the house. However, these are also run off of Cat6 cable and the faceplates are designed such that you could either plug a traditional telephone line or a Ethernet cable into the wall outlet. There’s a “telecom distribution module” in the panel box that distinguishes whether a particular port is a “phone” or a “data” port. If it’s a phone port, than the telephone company’s input signal is plugged into the module and the ethernet  cable that corresponds with that port is plugged into telecom box rather than the switch. Presently I use all the  ports as data ports.

Power - Power is needed for the switch and modem.

Cable Modem - The cable modem is plugged directly into the line in provided by the cable company. It goes out to the WAN port on my Airport Extreme which is located in my living room. The first LAN port on the airport extreme goes back out and connects into the Gigabit Ethernet switch which then connects all the other wired appliances to the rest of the network. (So I really only have three usable ports in the living room since two are occupied as upstream and downstream for the Airport Extreme - but the Airport has two free LAN ports which can be used.). 

What I Would Change - All in all, this has been a great setup, but there are a few things I would change in my next home.

  1. More ports - Despite having at least two ports in every bedroom, a few extra ports thanks to unused telephone jacks and five ports in the living room, I’m finding it’s still not enough. Adding ports at the time of construction is cheap. If I had to do it over again I would have added additional ports in my closets (for servers, NAS, printers, etc) and additional ports in the living room and in my home office. I also would have added additional ports wherever I mounted a TV.)
  2. Battery Backup/Surge Suppression- I would have also rethought my power needs. If possible, I would have added a battery backup component and power suppression to the mix and perhaps additional power ports. The size of this particular cabinet (it has to mount between two studs) makes that impossible with this design) but perhaps alternate designed could have accommodated that.

  3. Relocate. - Next time I would have relocated this to a closet. Perhaps the master bedroom or home office closet. This would have allowed more options for keeping this equipment out of sight but allowed for easy expansion.

What does something like this cost - not as much as you would think. The “base price” of my house included running one coax cable to each bedroom and  the living room. Everything else, including the extra drops, Ethernet cable, the cabinet itself and the labor was extra. The total add-additional expense (not including the hardware I provided myself) was less than $2000. This was mostly due to the fact that at the time of new construction, running extra wire when the house is just a stud frame is very easy to do.