The Loft – LAN trunking upgrade

January 16th to 30th 2022, Our House, Derby

And so begins my year long attempt to tidy our loft a process I’m starting by upgrading our LAN trunking.

LAN trunking running back from rack, across the loft and down towards the conservatory

When I first installed our home LAN I ran the Ethernet cables through plastic waste pipe to keep them secure and tidy. Not only was it a great solution it was cheap and simple to install.

A mass of Ethernet, CCTV, satellite and other cables

Fast forward 12 years, during which time a number of other wires have been routed through it, things are starting to get cramped.

Three 3m 75mm cable trays and four 3m 50mm cable trays

Now unable to run any new wiring through the main run that plastic piping is being replaced by proper open faced cable trays.

Cable tray stand offs

I’m using 75mm wide cable trays for the main run and 50mm wide versions for the smaller routes taking cables on to their various locations. I also ordered enough stand offs, which raise the cable trays away from the surface making it easier to manage the cabling, to fit every 50cm or so.

Levelling the main run

The main trunking run spans the entire 8m length of the loft. It’s held in place with pipe clips which, depending on where you are in the loft are either screwed directly to the rafters or to a board which itself is attached to the loft rafters.

Original trunking attached by pipe clips

That meant the original trunking wasn’t exactly straight. It bent slightly to accommodate the difference in depth the board added compared to the end clipped directly to the rafters. As it was plastic that didn’t matter and it never caused a problem.

Cutting blocks
Stand offs mounted to rafters

The board attached to the rafters did though. Unwilling to move it, it’s clearly there for a reason, it wasn’t wide enough for me to attach the stand offs. The gap above wasn’t big enough either so I made a number of batons to fill in the gap and give me enough space to fit the stand offs.

Stand offs fitted across the entire loft

I repeated this process across the entire loft to give me a consistently level surface I could attach the stand offs to.

Installing the cable tray

With the stand offs in place I started installing the cable trays using the fixings supplied.

First 3m run of cable trays installed
Install in progress
Cutting to length

With 9m of cable tray ordered but only needing 8m I used my mitre saw to make the required cut to get it all to fit.

Working out the overlap
Main cable tray run installed

I cut it longer than needed to give it an overlap at the joins before attaching the final piece to complete the run.

Extracting the cables

Now I had to figure out how to get the cables out of the existing trunking without disconnecting them. Some, like the CCTV cables, I could remove easily but others, like the Ethernet wires themselves, would require a lot of work disconnecting and reconnecting them.

Cutting through the pipe

I decided I would free the wires by cutting the plastic pipe with my multi-tool using a cutting disc.

Extracting the cables

This was effective but it was also very messy. It left me with a lot of discarded melted white plastic all over the place and all the time I had to be careful not to cut into the cables.

New cable trays vs old trunking
The first clue of what this will look like once it’s completed

But eventually I’d done enough to free the cabling from one part of the pipe and having secure the wires temporarily using Velcro cable ties I got an idea of how it was going to look.

Spacer added to multi-tool to help guide the cut

Faced with another 5m of cutting I modified my multi-tool adding a spacer to the spindle to help guide the cut and reduce my chances of damaging the cabling inside.

Problem area
Cabling on the main run temporarily secured to cable trays

I also had to navigate a few pipe joins but after some careful cutting I’d managed to free all the cables from the main run and secure them temporarily to the cable trays.

Side runs

With the main cable tray in place I turned my attention to installing the smaller side runs. Placed at various locations throughout the loft they take cables from the main run to other locations in the house. There would be 5 runs in total. One to conservatory & dining room, a second to the office and spare room and a third to the living room. The last two runs would route the cables to either the NAS boxes below the rack or to the devices in the airing cupboard.

Conservatory and dining room run

As this was the run I could get to with the least amount of moving things around I started here following much the same approach I used for the main run.

Some cables removed to give me more space
Cables freed

However this I did remove both the satellite and CCTV cables to reduce my chances of catching anything when cutting through the plastic piping.

Installing the slimmer cable tray

I cut down the 50mm cable tray to the right length and fitted a standoff every 1m to the rafters. I had no problems with spacing for the stand offs this time as here I could fit them in line with the rafters.

Wires temporarily attached to cable tray
Cross over from side to main cable tray

Living room run

This time there was no avoiding it. There was no way I could replace the plastic trunking for this run without moving some of the mountains of crap first.

Emptying, dismantling and moving the shelves
The living room trunking running across the loft
The living room trunking continuing down towards the exterior trunking

With the shelves emptied and moved to the other side of the loft I now had access to pipe containing all the cables running to the living room.

Using my laser level to line up the standoffs
50mm cable trays fitted and cables to living room secured

Having freed the cable from the existing tubing with my multi-tool for the horizontal run I attached the standoffs directly to the block wall.

50mm cable trays fitted and cables to living room secured

For the diagonal run back down towards the roof and out to the exterior trunking I reverted back to my approach of attaching the standoffs directly to the rafters.

Office and spare room run

A bonus of moving the shelving to replace the living room run was it also gave me access to the pipe containing the cables for the office and spare rooms.

Junction where the main run meets the one for the living room, heading off to the right, and the one for office/spare room, going down
Plastic trunking to office and spare room

As I’m planning for the shelving to go back here I wasn’t able to attach the cable tray to the face of the rafter. If I did I wouldn’t be able to butt the shelving up against the rafter as it was before.

50mm cable tray to office and spare room

Once I’d cut the plastics piping and got the cables out I mounted the cable tray along the narrower edge of the rafter so the shelving could be refitted.

NAS and utility room

Located directly below the rack a short plastic pipe takes the Ethernet and power supplies for our NAS boxes, plus the two cable runs to the network sockets in the utility room.

Trunking for NAS wires and Ethernet to utility room

Happily this would be the last time I’d be cutting plastic piping to get to the cables. When this is replaced my use of plastic waste pipe as a method of cable management would be consigned to the history books.

Cable tray installed
NAS cable tray completed

This final cut was the easiest to. I was able to remove most of the wires beforehand and only had to avoid cutting through the two Ethernet cables going to the utility room. Once done I fitted the stand offs and cable trays and secured the wiring.

Airing cupboard

As well as providing a place to keep our towels the airing cupboard is home to our router, Janet and our HUE and HIVE hubs. Two network cables come from the rack giving internet access to those devices.

Original cable run down to the airing cupboard

As these were recent additions to our network and I didn’t have any spare plastic piping lying around at the time I just clipped the cables to the rafter heading down towards the airing cupboard.

Rerouting the Ethernet cables to make it neater
Cable tray taking cables to the airing cupboard

Those cables were unclipped and secured in a cable tray fitted on the same rafter. I also took the opportunity to route the cables more neatly passing them through one of the larger holes in the cable tray, using a rubber grommet to prevent them chaffing against the metal of the try.

Total Cost and what was left

The total cost to upgrade the LAN trunking came to £100. The cable trays and standoffs cost me £84. The wood, screws and cable ties making up the difference. I’m pleased to say there wasn’t much wastage left over at the end either.

Left overs

I’ve got 1m of the wide and 2.5m of the smaller cable tray left, neither of which could have been avoided because of the fixed length it came in. I’ve also got 2 large and 6 small stand offs left.  There’s also just over 1m of the wood left over but that will get used when I raise the loft floor.

Faithful old plastic trunking removed

I’m not sure why I still have two large stand offs left but for the small ones it’s because I didn’t use them quite as often as I planned and being sent more than I actually ordered in the first place.

With this upgrade complete I can move on the next stage of my year long plan, but it wont be the task I had orginally planned to do next.