Home Is Where The Network Is

My home's network distribution panel

A couple years ago, my wife and I took advantage of the post-housing bubble low interest rates and upgraded to a larger home. We came across a pre-owned house built in 2006 that came with the price, size, and style that just screamed to us "buy me".  As a family, we carefully reviewed our finances and listed our pros and cons before making the purchase. My wife and I were excited to finally have a bathroom connected to the master bedroom. Our then young son was excited that he finally had a family room that offered him fun and adventure. Secretly though, what sold me on the house had nothing to do with these things. What impressed me most was that this house had a network distribution panel.

Anyone who likes to avoid supporting a "rats nest" of network wiring should insist that their next house contain a well thought-out network distribution panel. In fact if it doesn't and I were you, I would insist to the seller that's why you as the buyer will pay less for the house due to future headaches you are likely to encounter. In my house, the builder and contractors pre-wired the house for phone, data, cable, satellite, cable, and audio. What more could an IT professional want? The best thing of all, the previous owner of the house barely touched those wires giving me the opportunity to hook things up my way for the very first time.

Over the months that we've lived here, it's been interesting to note that the techs from the various digital providers aren't quite prepared to "have it so easy" when installing their equipment. I spent nearly half an hour assuring the DIRECTV installer that he didn't need to string a new wire to his satellite dish as my wires were just fine. When I told our local cable provider I had a perfect place for him to install their internet and phone services, I don't think he relaxed until he entered the utility room. When it was all said and done, every installer that has entered my house ended their time stating they wished every home had it so easy.

So what prompted this conversation on my home's wiring and distribution panel? This past week, I purchased a new wireless router, a Netgear N750 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (WNDR4300). When we moved into the house, I made the mistake of buying a combined cable modem and wireless router (a Motorola SBG6580). As a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem it was a great device. As a wireless device, the router lacked the capability to change the WAN DNS under DHCP (I wanted OpenDNS not my ISP's DNS), it did not provide simultaneous wireless dual-band, and proper placement was limited due to it also being a modem. While I would have preferred a newer Wireless AC router, I was able to purchase the Netgear 750 at less than half the price of an AC.

While the previous home owner didn't touch the distribution board, he did set up a very nice closed door cabinet to hide the distribution panel. For the past couple years, I did everything I could to make sure every wire and device was hidden from visitors (hence why I compromised on the modem/router Motorola combo). This time around though, I recognized that to take advantage of the increase in wireless bandwidth and range provided by the Netgear, placement of the router was crucial. So for my little project this weekend, I bore a few holes on the side of the cabinet and added a shelf to place the router and possibly an attached external drive on it.

My new wireless router shelf and closed panel

In the end, I think the project turned out quite well despite seeing a few wires poking out of the cabinet. The only people that will see those Ethernet wires are those walking into my utility room and the cats (we won't talk about why they visit the room). Even someone so vain to buy a house because of its networked distribution panel should be OK with seeing a few cables in the room. On second thought...maybe I better tighten up those wires with some cable ties as you never know when we might sell the house for one with an even bigger distribution panel. This isn't ego, I only do this for the love of my family.