Do Electricians Run Ethernet Cable? Choosing a Contractor to Build Your Home Network. 

Installing network infrastructure can be a lot of work and many people do not have the time or desire required to build up the knowledge needed to do it well. I hire a mechanic to do most of the maintenance and repairs on my cars so I can honestly say I understand the feeling of just wanting to hire someone to do it for you. When looking for a good contractor to build out a home network one of the first questions a lot of people ask is do electricians run Ethernet Cable?

While it is common to find an electrician who knows what he or she is doing when it comes to networking, you do not need to know anything about networking at all to get an electrician’s license in most states. A much better way to know that you are hiring the best contractor for your home network is to find someone who carries a certification specifically targeted at networking, such as those provided by BICSI. Another great way to make sure you hire a competent contractor is to ask them a few key questions before you hire them.

Why So Many Electricians Make Mistakes When Installing Networks

A painfully common occurrence that I have seen happen over and over again is when someone hires an electrician to install an Ethernet network and is left with a completely non-functioning mess. I spent some time this morning reading in forum threads online of people that this has happened to in the past. The reasons that I can see for this happening are threefold.

First, in the commercial setting, it is common for a company to hire an electrician to install all of the cables but will use their own internal IT department to put all the ends on the cable and set up the rest of the network. I have seen it happen several times where there was a miscommunication in the bidding process where the customer thought they were paying to have the entire network installed but the electrician only bid to install the cables. This situation leaves the customer with a half-finished network they may or have spent their entire budget to have installed.

The second mistake that I have seen electricians make is when they assume that Ethernet and phone networks can be built in the same way and install what is known as a daisy chain topology. This mistake is particularly bad because not only does it leave you with a network that will not work for Ethernet but in most cases, much of the cable will be installed in the wrong places and will need to be completely redone. If this has happened to you, or you would like to know more about the differences between these two types of networks take a look at the article I wrote about upgrading from a phone to an Ethernet network.

All of the other problems I have seen left behind by electricians were usually caused by overconfidence. Honestly, it makes sense that it could happen. To become an electrician these people spend years in school and working as apprentices. They spend most of their time installing cabling that is far more dangerous than anything a dedicated network guy will ever need to deal with. When talking about Ethernet I have heard electricians talk about how it does not matter how you install it. While they are correct that it will not burn your house down when it is installed incorrectly that does not mean that it will work the way that it should.

What Licenses or Certifications Qualify Someone to Install Ethernet

When looking for a good contractor many people look straight to the various licensing agencies for the answer. The problem with this approach is that there are not any state or federal licenses (at least not where I live) that focus on the skills needed to install a reliable network. The reason that there are no licenses for this type of work is that government regulations and licensing are primarily concerned with safety. Networking is just not very dangerous so most governments have chosen not to license the people working in this industry.

While you are not likely to find a licensing authority that focuses on networking there are several private companies in the United States that provide contractors the opportunity to prove their ability to do this kind of work and get certifications to prove it to customers. Four such companies are BICSI, Commscope, Cisco, and CompTIA. To give you an idea of some of the certifications that would be good to look for, here are some of the training materials from these companies.

BICSI provides by far the most relevant certifications when it comes to this conversation. This company focuses all of its training material as well as tests and certifications on the proper installation and maintenance of physical network infrastructure. If you have found a contractor that is carrying a BICSI certification they will likely have the knowledge needed to do the job well.

While Commscope is not the only Ethernet cable manufacturer that offers training courses as part of their warranty program it is certainly one of the most common. You may find a contractor that has taken the courses necessary for them to extend the manufacturer cable warranty to your project. While in all of my years of working in networks I only used the Commscope warranty a single time I did find that having factory-certified installers on my crew led to a generally more capable and knowledgeable group of guys. Factory certifications of this type are generally very relevant and teach most of what someone needs to do to do a good job I generally do not value factory certifications as highly as BICSI certifications because in my experience they tend to be quite a bit easier to complete and in some cases only apply to a single manufacturer’s products.

Unlike BICSI or Commscope, Cisco certifications cover a lot more than just the installation of network cabling. Cisco is a company that makes much of the network equipment found in commercial environments and the certifications they offer are focused mostly on installing, programming, and maintaining this type of equipment. While Cisco certifications are not focused on cabling they are among the most comprehensive and difficult certifications that I will talk about in this article. Because of their comprehensive nature, a contractor with a Cisco certification has a good chance of being able to provide you will a good physical network.

CompTIA certifications are in my experience easier to get and are focused on IT professionals as a whole. While someone holding a CompTIA certificate is going to know much more about installing Ethernet networks than the general public these certificates are, at least in my opinion, the least valuable on the list.

Industry certifications are a great way for customers to be able to gauge how knowledgeable a given contractor is before hiring them. I would happily hire someone with an electrician’s license or certifications from any of the companies above if, after a conversation about my specific needs, if I felt comfortable with how my questions were answered. A lack of certification or licensure would not be an automatic disqualification to work for me but if you have any doubt in your ability to ask the right questions to find a good contractor this is a great way to make sure you get someone with the knowledge necessary to get the job done right.

What Questions You Should Ask Your Prospective Network Installer

While things like electricians licenses and industry certifications can be a good way to determine if a contractor will have the knowledge needed to do a job right, a much better way to make sure you will be happy with the result is to have a short conversation with the prospective contractor. By asking the correct questions you can make sure the contractor, not only has the necessary knowledge but that they also have the need equipment and experience needed to do the work properly. These questions will help to make sure that there are no miscommunications between what is included in the bid and what you are expecting to receive from the contractor.

What are some of the networking projects you have worked on in the past?

This question will allow you to make sure that this contractor has done this type of work before. Ideally, he or she will have done multiple projects very similar to yours and can provide references for you to talk to. Keep in mind that not all buildings are built the same and it is much easier to install a network in a commercial building with a drop tile ceiling than it is to work in a home with a completely sealed ceiling.

What is the scope of work? What is included in your bid?

Asking exactly what is included in the bid will help make sure that you are getting everything that you need. It is relatively common to see contractors that will install Ethernet cable but will not put ends on the cable or test them to make sure they are installed properly. Here is a list of some of the things that you may or may not want to be included in your bid.

  • How many cables are included?
  • Where are the locations of the cables going to be installed?
  • What type of cable and terminations are to be used?
    • Ethernet is typically identified by a category number. Cat 6 is the sweet spot for most residential projects.
    • In addition to the category rating, an Ethernet cable also has a fire rating. Here is my article on this topic.
  • How and where will the network equipment be installed? Will there be a cabinet or enclosure provided?
  • Is any network equipment included? This might include a router, switch, or wireless access points.
  • Will you be labeling the cables so that I know where each cable goes?
  • Will you be performing a wireless survey to help make sure my access points are installed in the correct places?
  • If you need to cut a hole in a wall will you be fixing it yourself or will I need to find another contractor for this?

This list is just a quick example of some of the things that you might want to consider before deciding on a contractor. You can save money by skipping some of these items and there may be additional things that you would like to add. Whatever you would like to have in your network is fine. The most important thing is that you have thought through the project from beginning to end and know that after the contractor is finished you will either have a fully functional network that you will be happy with or you will be in a position to finish it yourself and you will have everything that you need.

How will the new network be tested?

There are three types of testing protocols that you will commonly see contractors use. The first major type of testing that you might see is called cable verifying or wire mapping. This type of testing tool is super affordable and easy to use. I see it as the absolute bare minimum and if a contractor is not at very least offering to verify all of the cables with a wire map then I would not recommend hiring them. If this is the only testing that will be included I would recommend doing additional testing yourself before signing off on the work. A cable can have a good wire map test result but still performs intermittently or slowly so it is best to plug in the device you intend to use and make sure that it is performing up to your expectations before signing off.

This is my personal favorite tool for producing wire map test results.

A full cable analyzer will look something like this.

The contractor may also be planning on plugging in a laptop to each cable to verify that the proper link speed is negotiated between the laptop and the network equipment on the other side of the cable. If they are using a laptop the contractor might also have some software on the laptop that will allow them to do further testing on the cable to make sure that it is performing up to speed. This type of testing is fine and will allow the contractor to find most problems that could exist with the network before handing it over to you but there is still one more kind of testing that is even better.

The most comprehensive type of testing is done using a tool called a cable analyzer. You will normally only see these used by larger companies as they cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy. These tools allow the contractor to see things like twists or kinks in the cable that can cause problems as well as loose connectors and sources of electromagnetic noise that would not be found through the other kinds of testing. If the contractor is using a cable analyzer there are no problems that should be left unfound by the time that they leave. This type of testing is great but is generally overkill as long as the contractor is offering a decent warranty on the work.

What kind of warranty will be included with the work?

Warranties can vary wildly in this space from something like thirty days up to five years in some of the more professional companies. I would say that you need to have a warranty that is long enough for you to go through and make sure everything is working the way that you expect it to. One of the best things about hard-wired networking is that it is generally super robust. Once it is in place and working properly problems are incredibly rare. Any warranty on top of this initial testing period is nice but not necessary in my opinion.

Conclusion

Hiring a contractor to install a network for you can be an expensive proposition so it is important to do your due diligence to make sure that you hire someone who will do the job well. It can be rather difficult to evaluate the different contractors that are out there but if you ask the right questions or at very least rely on industry certifications you can be relatively certain that the man or woman that you hire will have the skills and know-how needed to get your job done.