My Network Cupboard: The Immovable Object vs. The Uncoordinated Man

For those of you that follow my Twitter feed and those of you who live within a block or so of my house, then you already know that we have had a pretty difficult day in the MyNetworkCupboard effort two weeks ago.

Our goals were pretty simple: cable up the patch panel, test the existing cable runs, run the network drops to the remaining rooms, and relocate the Verizon FiOS router. From what we had accomplished the night before, I thought it was a slam-dunk that we would have the project wrapped up in a few hours and then be eating burgers and drinking beers. In retrospect, it is funny how wrong your assumptions can be about the work that is immediately before you.

We started off by measuring out and crimping down network cables for the patch panel. To be meticulous, we tested each cable we created. Our intent was to wire up the patch panel to such an extent that we could plug in the existing runs and do some throughput testing.

Upon completing the cable cutting, the wheels on our project began wobbling. We attempted to move the FiOS hardware into the cupboard. The FiOS router/modem has both a coaxial cable and an Ethernet cable run into it from the Verizon box on the side of the house. In our research online, we’d read that it needs one or the other, not necessarily both. To test things out, we powered off the FiOS router and disconnected the coaxial cable. With only the Ethernet plugged in, we were not able to access any of the Video-on-Demand services that we get with Verizon’s FiOS TV services. We were hoping that it would work with just Ethernet, but that was not the case. For the last step of project reroute both the coaxial cable and Ethernet cable fed into the FiOS router.

The wheels continued to wobble when we noticed during our throughput testing that on roughly half of the drops (8) we were only getting 100Mb and in some cases 10Mb from our runs. When we initially ran each of the drops, we put a cable tester and made sure that each jack lit up on all 8 strands so this came as a bit of surprise. What we found, was that the tool-less RJ45 keystone jacks we had been using were either a little fragile or that we were being careless with them after crimping them down. We had to fix and re-test several of the network jacks before they lit up the lights on the switches that we expected and measured out at gigabit speeds.

The next part of the project was a little fun and kind of humorous. Our house is a ranch style house and we have a two-sided fireplace right in the middle of the house. The fireplace separates the office/den and living room, the network cupboard is in the laundry room that is attached to the office/den, and the living room has vaulted ceilings. Getting the cable from one side of the house past the chimney, over the vaulted ceiling and within arm’s reach of the other attic access point was going to take some creativity, luck and athleticism; basically we needed Tim Tebow up in the attic with us. Although, I’m not sure Tebow would fit comfortably in the attic or that his awkward left-handed throwing motion would be conducive to making the throw at all.

I purchased a ball of very lightweight but sturdy twine and grabbed one of my puppy’s bone-shaped dog toys. I tied the twine to the toy and Pat held one end while I threw the toy, trying to thread a needle across the room near the roof. Twenty or thirty tries later, I finally hit the hole that I was aiming for, but the dog toy was going to be out of our reach from the other side of the attic. However, the dog toy snagged when I tried to pull it back and rather than risk losing one of the puppy’s favorite toys, I decided to go up into the other side of the attic and try and retrieve it somehow. From the other side of the attic, the toy was out of reach and out of sight, though we could see the twine hanging down across a round HVAC duct. But it’s resting place was going to be too small and cramped to crawl into.

Thankfully we had an 8 to 10 foot length of 1”x2” leftover from building the framing and equipment rack. Pat went down into the garage and rummaged around and managed to turn it into a hook of sorts with one of the clamps I we had been using. Thankfully, it was barely long enough that I could lean forward and snag the loose twine and retrieve the dog toy on the end.

The plan after that was to use the string to pull through the network cable to the other attic access point and to attach a new stretch of twine to the network cable we pulled through; that way we would have enough twine to pull cables back and forth between the two sides of the house. We pulled the first cable across without too much difficulty and then we ran into the Immovable Object.

The master bedroom, spare bedroom #1, spare bedroom #2 and guest bathroom are in a row through the hall. The hall is nearly intersected by the doorway to the living room with the attic access in that hallway. Up in the attic, the HVAC unit runs along the wall between the bedrooms and the hallway. HVAC ducting extends towards the front of the house to spare bedroom #2, towards the back of the house to the Master bedroom and then hangs off the back of the unit.

In order to run network cable into the two remaining bedrooms (spare bedroom #2 was already wired up with CAT5e by a previous owner), I was going to have to find a way over the HVAC unit, or the main trunk and then over another smaller HVAC duct. I raked away as much of loose insulation as I could and was dismayed to find that the rafters were running 90 degrees differently than they were over the office/den. The rafters were running parallel to the HVAC unit and there was only one rafter between HVAC & Main Trunk and the next run of HVAC ducting. Being a man of limited mobility and coordination, I had no faith that I would be able to climb over two obstacles, place my boards and move to drill holes down and run cables through them. To make matters worse, the roof slopes down three sides of the master bedroom; even if I could navigate safely past the HVAC obstacles being able to worm into the master bedroom and run a cable down the far wall was a very, very unlikely proposition. With that, the wheels finally shot off on the weekend’s progress and any promise of completing the project that weekend was lost.

By the time we finished that Saturday night (very very late), it turned out to be a very frustrating and disappointing day. At one point I was afraid that we would not be able to complete my goal of cabling every room but the kitchen and bathrooms with Ethernet. However, there are always alternatives, and I have been thinking about it for two weeks now; right now I’m trying to decide how feasible it would be to use a flexible drill bit (and some flexible extensions) to try and drill up into the attic and then fish the cable back down. Unfortunately, buying all of those tools is going to cost quite a few dollars. Since I am a new home owner, I’m not opposed to buying most tools, since they will likely come in handy down the road on another project. In this case, though, I’m hesitant to buy the tools because it’s going to wind up being something I only use this one time. We will see what kind of zany/creative/expensive solution we can come up with!