Confounded by Co-ax?
There’s more to installing co-ax cable than drilling a hole and pulling a wire. Learn how to keep the hi-def high and internet speed blistering.
In today’s information age, a massive amount of information is being pushed through our coaxial cables, way more than ever before. That higher volume leaves very little room for error. It only takes one kink in the cable or one faulty connector to bring the whole system crashing down. Our cable guru gave us the lowdown on which products work best and showed us great, practical tips for basic coax installation. Even if you’re not an electrician, being able to run a co-ax cable for a client will score you major points. So whether you’re running cable to a new room, making a simple repair or upgrading a whole house, we’re sure there’s valuable information here to help with your next coax project.
Use the proper cable
It’s important to install the proper cable. RG-6 (“RG” is an old military term for Radio Guide/Grade) is the industry standard, but there are other considerations. The table above should help you decide which would work best for you.
Roll out the cable
If you lay a spool of cable on its side and start pulling cable off it, the cable will twist as it unravels, and a twisted cable kinks when you pull on it. Our expert slides a section of conduit through the center of the spool and rests it on a ladder. He secures the conduit with a scrap piece of wire.
Avoid sharp bends
Sharp bends will damage a cable. Think of wrapping a cable around a coffee can; coaxial cable should never be bent sharper than that. Use a 90-degree adapter when a sharp bend is unavoidable, like behind a TV stand. Just make sure the connector is rated to handle Hi-Def if that’s the signal you’re working with.
Use a stripping tool
It’s not impossible to strip a coax cable with a utility knife, but it’s not easy. A $15 stripping tool gives you fast and perfect results every time. Coax strippers have two blades: One blade cuts through the jacket without damaging the braid, and the other blade cuts through everything except the center conductor. Our expert prefers to leave the center conductor a bit long and trim it down (about 1/8 in. past the connector) after the connector is crimped on.
Use compression connectors
Avoid push-on, screw-on and crimp-on connectors; compression connectors work best. You’ll need a $15 crimping tool to install compression connectors.
Buy connectors that can handle the highest frequency available. Some cheap connectors may work for a security camera, but not a Hi-Def TV or Internet signal. The same goes for wall plates. Not all wall plates have built-in connectors capable of handling high-end signals. When in doubt, buy the connector with the highest frequency rating. The rating should be displayed on the packaging.
Bond the cable
Even if your Hi-Def TV is working fine, you might want to check to see that the coax cable is “bonded” to the house’s grounding system. Bonding simply means connecting two things to ensure electrical continuity and conductivity. In a home, it’s important that the electrical system, communication systems, metal plumbing pipes, metal gas piping and other metallic systems be electrically bonded together.
Electrically bonding various systems together limits the different voltage potential (pressure) and shock hazards that could be present during a lightning strike or other electrical anomaly. A difference in voltage potential can create strong currents that can jump between two different systems through an undesirable path, and that path could be you … that’s a bad thing.
The simplest way to bond your coax to the rest of the house is to run the cables through a grounding block, and then run a wire from the block to the grounding electrode (ground rod) or other qualifying grounding connection point.
If you have no idea where any part of the home’s grounding system is, call an electrician. In addition to electrocution, improperly grounded cables could lead to damaged electronics and house fires.
Install a low-voltage box
It’s much easier to fish a cable through a low-voltage box (sometimes called a “mud ring”) than through a regular electrical box. But that’s not the only reason to use them. Low-voltage boxes allow you to push the extra length of wire into the wall cavity without overbending them. You’ll damage the cable if you try to cram it into a small electrical box. Leave 8 to 10 in. of extra cable in the wall cavity just in case you want to make changes down the road.
Make a drip loop
Exterior cable should never run sideways or downward and directly into your house. Rainwater will adhere to the cable and follow it right into the house. Loop the cable before it enters the building. The loop will not only help shed the water but also provide extra cable for future work or repairs.
A feed-through bushing will allow you to drill a slightly larger hole so you can fish the cable through the wall without damaging it. Dab silicone caulk behind the bushing before pushing it into its final resting place. Secure cables with clamps or straps that are held in place with screws. Avoid cable straps or hangers that require nails or staples. The chances are good that you’ll eventually miss the nail on the strap and whack the cable with your hammer by accident. A cable that’s been crushed by a hammer is a cable that will corrupt a signal. Straps with the screws already in place are favored by pros.
Push the cable all the way in
You won’t get a good connection if the dielectric portion of the cable isn’t pushed flush with the connector. If it’s really difficult to do, you may have the wrong connector for the cable you’re working with. RG-59, RG-6 and RG-6 Quad all require different connectors.
Run coax 90 degrees to power lines
Keep coax cables away from electrical cables. Electrical cables that run parallel with a coax cable can interfere with your signal. It’s OK, however, to run coax cables perpendicular to electrical cables.
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