How to Run Ethernet Cable Between Floors Without Drilling

How to Run Ethernet Cable Between Floors Without Drilling

Have you ever needed to connect devices on different floors of your home or office building but didn’t want to drill holes through walls and ceilings? Running Ethernet cable between floors can provide faster and more reliable wired network connectivity, but it often requires invasive installation methods.

What's In This Article?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore various techniques for routing Ethernet cable between floors without drilling or major demolition. Whether you need to link a few PCs in a home network or wire up an entire office building, it is possible to “go vertical” with Ethernet while avoiding unnecessary drilling and damage. Read on to learn the key steps for a smooth, non-invasive Ethernet cabling project.

Key Takeaways

  • Assessing your building’s structure is crucial to identify pathways for vertical cable runs. Look for existing conduits, hollow walls, HVAC ducts, and other opportunities.
  • Plenum-rated Ethernet cable is best for running vertically through ceilings and wall cavities to meet fire safety codes. Fiber optic cable is another good option.
  • Careful cable concealment using wire molding, cable raceways, or adhesive hooks can give a professional, finished look without drilling.
  • Wireless Ethernet bridges can provide connectivity between floors without cables, but may have speed/reliability limitations.
  • Proper installation techniques, cable management, and testing ensures your non-drilling Ethernet cable setup will perform well for years to come.


In the modern digital world, having a fast, reliable network connection has become extremely important, both at home and at the office. Ethernet cable provides better speeds and reliability compared to WiFi, but running cables between floors can be challenging.

Drilling holes through ceilings and walls is the most direct way to route Ethernet cable vertically. However, this invasive process can damage property, compromise fireproofing, and require expensive repairs. Fortunately, with the right techniques and materials, you can run Ethernet cable between floors in buildings of all types without resorting to major drilling or destruction.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various options for connecting two or more floors with Ethernet networking cable, without ever having to pick up a drill. Whether you need to network devices in a small home or wire up an entire office high-rise, this guide will walk you through the entire process.

Below, we will cover:

  • How to assess your building’s structure when planning vertical cable runs
  • Choosing the right type of Ethernet cable for long vertical runs
  • Techniques for running cables vertically through conduits and concealed pathways
  • Wireless bridging alternatives to eliminate cables between floors
  • Tools and supplies needed for installation
  • Step-by-step instructions for installing Ethernet cable without drilling
  • Testing and troubleshooting your non-drilling cable runs
  • Tips for maintaining and future-proofing your Ethernet infrastructure

By the end, you’ll have the knowledge to create a high-speed wired network connecting multiple floors, while avoiding invasive drilling or permanent damage. Let’s get started!

Assessing the Building Structure

When you need to link two or more floors with Ethernet cable, the first step is thoroughly evaluating your building’s layout and construction details. Understanding the physical structure will reveal the easiest pathways to route your cable vertically from floor to floor.

Here are key factors to assess:

Building Design and Layout

  • What is the overall floorplan? How are the floors connected via stairwells, atriums, utility spaces, etc?
  • How does construction framing like stud walls, headers, and floor joists align between floors? Look for direct vertical paths.
  • Are there elevators, shafts, or other vertical spaces to utilize? Assess options for cable pathways.

Construction Materials

  • What are walls/ceilings made of? Drywall, masonry, concrete, etc? This impacts cutting or drilling options.
  • How was HVAC, electrical, and plumbing routed? Look for existing vertical conduits to potentially use.
  • Is there an open ceiling design with accessible joist bays? Allows easy cable drops.

Potential Obstacles

  • Does fireproofing material prevent drilling? Spray-on fireproofing can’t be disturbed.
  • Are there layers that impede vertical access? Multiple ceiling layers or special materials like plaster.
  • Any hazardous material concerns? Older buildings may contain asbestos or lead risks.

Thoroughly investigating these structural details will reveal the most feasible options for non-invasive vertical cable routing in your unique building.

Tools for Structural Evaluation

Equip yourself with the right tools to explore the building layout and identify cable pathways:

  • Building floor plans – Obtain construction blueprints if possible.
  • Inspection camera – A “snake camera” can see inside walls/ceilings.
  • Flashlight – Illuminate dim spaces to assess routes.
  • Ladder/lift – Safely access ceilings and high areas.
  • Stud finder – Locate framing and cavities for fishing cable.
  • Tape measure – Measure distances between floors and other dimensions accurately.

Take time to carefully evaluate the building’s current layout and materials before deciding how to proceed with your particular situation. Understanding the structure is key for choosing the optimal cabling approach.

Choosing the Right Ethernet Cable

For vertically routing Ethernet cable through conduits, walls, and ceilings, you’ll need cabling designed for long cable runs and fire safety compliance. Two main options work well:

Plenum-Rated Ethernet Cable

Plenum cabling has a special fluoropolymer jacket that produces less smoke and resists spreading flames. This makes it ideal for running through air circulation spaces like ducts, joist cavities, and ceiling plenums. Plenum cable meets NEC fire safety codes for these type of installations.

Common options include:

  • Plenum CAT6 – Provides 10 Gigabit speeds up to 180 feet.
  • Plenum CAT6a – Supports 10Gb speeds past 180 feet.
  • Plenum CAT7 – For extreme speeds/distances. Overkill for most needs.

Armored Fiber Optic Cable

Fiber optic cable routes data through light pulses in glass fibers. It can transmit huge amounts of data at lightning speeds over long distances. Armored exterior protects from crush/impact damage.

Advantages of fiber:

  • Extreme speeds – 10 Gbps, 40 Gbps, and even 100 Gbps options.
  • Long runs – Miles of distance supported.
  • Noise immunity – No copper means no electromagnetic interference.
  • Sturdy – Armored outer jacket is very durable.

The downside is that fiber optic requires specialized network gear and terminations, so it has higher upfront costs. But for long vertical runs and fast speeds, it can’t be beat.

For most standard Gigabit Ethernet home and office networks, plenum CAT6 or CAT6a will provide the best balance of performance, protection, and cost-effectiveness when routing cable vertically between floors.

Exploring Non-Drilling Methods

Drilling straight through ceilings and walls is certainly the most direct approach for running Ethernet cable vertically between floors. But you can avoid this destructive process by using creative cable routing techniques and taking advantage of existing infrastructure.

Here are some methods for concealing and securing Ethernet cable for inter-floor runs without drilling holes:

Use Existing Conduits and Pathways

Many buildings already have vertical conduits for electrical, plumbing, and HVAC which you may be able to utilize.

  • Check standpipes, drain pipes, and vents – Often have excess space inside.
  • Look for openings around chimneys to thread cable through.
  • Utilize conduits intended for future use but not yet occupied.

Electrical Outlet Knockouts

Electrical boxes on each floor often align vertically from one floor to the next. You can remove the circular knockouts between floors to route cabling. Just be sure not to run Ethernet right alongside electrical current!

Hollow Wall Cavities

Interior walls with stud framing create vertical cavities you can drop cables down. Use flexible fiberglass or glow rods to fish cable through openings. Watch out for insulation and other blockages.

Hoistway Around Elevator

Elevator shafts provide an open vertical space to either send individual cables up and down or install a vertical conduit. Be sure to get approval from building ownership first.

Cable Trays and Wireways

Trays and wireways are open-top troughs for neatly routing cables vertically on room surfaces. Available in metal or PVC, and in varied dimensions. Screw directly to walls or attach to stands for freestanding applications. Great for clean cable management without demolition.

Concealed Cable Raceways

Adhesive cable raceways discreetly mount to surfaces and blend in like architectural molding. Their back opens up to allow installing multiple cables inside. Raceways come in varied materials and colors to match your décor.

Suspended Ceiling Tiles

In offices with drop tile ceilings, simply lifting select ceiling panels provides easy access to the open plenum space. You can route cables overhead between panels for a completely hidden look.

Utilizing these types of existing infrastructure and concealed pathways allows Ethernet cable to be routed vertically between floors with minimal invasion or damage, while achieving an integrated finished appearance.

Wireless Alternatives

In cases where drilling or cabling may not be feasible at all, wireless connectivity bridges can be a good alternative to link network access between floors.

Here are two popular options:

Ethernet Bridge

An Ethernet bridge kit consists of two wireless transceiver modules that enable joining two wired network segments via a wireless backhaul channel. The bridge units have Ethernet ports to connect devices via cable on each end.

Ethernet bridges can handle high throughput at speeds up to 300 Mbps or more. No new wireless router needed – the transceivers link directly to your existing wired infrastructure.

The downside is placement restrictions. The bridge units must have line-of-sight access and distances are limited. Walls and interference will impact signal and speed performance.

WiFi Mesh System

A mesh WiFi system uses multiple access points linked wirelessly in a “daisy chain” to extend coverage throughout a building. This creates one large wireless network so clients can roam anywhere without dropped connections.

Mesh WiFi provides easy wireless connectivity without running any cables. However, maximum wireless speeds are generally lower compared to wired Ethernet. More nodes may be required for larger buildings, raising costs. Appliance connectivity can also be an issue with some WiFi systems.

In many cases, an Ethernet bridge or mesh WiFi can sufficiently handle light duty residential and office networking. For more robust connectivity, maximum speed, and reliability, permanently running Ethernet cable between floors is recommended. But wireless systems do offer a temporary or small-scale alternative if drilling or cabling is impractical.

Tools and Equipment

Installing Ethernet cable vertically through ceilings, walls, and conduits requires having the right tools on hand. Assembling a proper toolkit helps ensure a smooth cable installation.

Here are recommended tools to have for any inter-floor cabling project:

Basic Tools

  • Tape measure, levels, ladder, work gloves for safety
  • Utility knife, cable cutters, wire strippers
  • Caulk gun, drywall saw for fitting cable in walls
  • Voltage tester to avoid electric lines
  • Flashlight for seeing in dark spaces
  • Screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, clamping tools

Fish Tape/Glow Rods

  • Used to thread cables through conduits and cavities
  • Fish tape is a coiled steel tape that pushes forward into spaces
  • Glow rods are illuminated fiberglass poles that visually see the route

Cable Pulling Accessories

  • Mule tape allows attaching cables to pull through
  • Cable pull grips prevent damage or slipping
  • Pulleys and leverage tools for tough pulls

Network Tester

  • Confirms cabling connectivity and identifies issues
  • Tests for continuity, speed, and performance

Having this equipment on hand will make any intra-floor cabling job much easier. You want to be fully prepared to tackle common snags and complications. Assembling everything in one organized kit ensures nothing gets forgotten.

Step-by-Step Installation Guide

Now that we’ve covered planning and preparation, let’s walk through installing Ethernet cable between floors from start to finish.

Follow these key steps for proper placement and concealment:

Plan the Cable Route

  • Chart pathway fromFloor 1 endpoint to Floor 2 endpoint.
  • Identify vertical conduit/cavity to use based on building assessment.
  • Have secondary route optioned in case issues arise.
  • Obtain supplies – cable, fittings, connectors, tools.

Mount Outlet Boxes

  • Position outlet boxes at desired endpoint locations on each floor.
  • Mount securely into framing with proper slack cable length.
  • Leave pull string hanging in box temporarily.

Feed Cabling Through Vertical Pathway

  • Use glow rods/fish tape to thread pull string through conduit pathway between floors.
  • Secure string so it hangs down on both ends.
  • Attach cable end to pull string on upper floor, tape for smooth travel.
  • Feed cable down through pathway, having assistant guide on lower floor.

Install Cable and Terminate

  • Pull enough slack cable to comfortably reach each outlet box.
  • Allow extra length for future terminations.
  • Use strain relief to prevent cable tugging on connections.
  • Terminate cable ends with jacks/plugs to match your network.
  • Test cable thoroughly prior to finishing the installation.

Conceal and Finish Cabling

  • Carefully conceal cable along moulding boards, raceways, etc for clean look.
  • Replace ceiling tiles, outlet covers, conduit lids neatly.
  • Caulk/seal any openings to maintain fire rating and appearance.
  • Confirm normal network connectivity and speed at both endpoints.

Take precautions at all times to avoid damaging cables or building structure. Go slow and steady. Following these steps properly will yield a hidden, protected cable installation linking floors without any drilling or invasive demolition required.

Testing and Troubleshooting

Once the Ethernet cable is physically installed through your desired pathway, testing and troubleshooting ensures your cabling performs properly before completion. This avoids headaches down the road.

Here are key testing steps:

Check Cable Continuity

  • Use a multimeter or cable tester to confirm each wire has conductivity.
  • Rule out any severed/damaged lines or wrong terminations.
  • Recheck runs that fail initially or indicate issues.

Verify Normal Link Light

  • Link lights on network jacks will illuminate when properly connected.
  • Absence of link lights indicates a bad cable or termination.
  • LEDs also confirm expected port speed (100 Mbps vs. 1 Gbps etc).

Test Data Transfer

  • Use a laptop or two computers at each end, transfer files between them.
  • Perform speed tests to measure real-world network performance.
  • If slow or intermittent, there may be cable damage or interference.
  • Check error logs for indications of packet loss.

Don’t assume a newly installed cable will work! Taking time to methodically test and troubleshoot connections identifies flaws and saves major issues down the road when users complain about network problems.

Future-Proofing Your Installation

When running Ethernet cable through conduits and hidden pathways, it’s smart to prepare for future expansion and upgrades proactively. This avoids having to re-do work later.

Here are tips for planning ahead:

  • Pull extra cable during initial installation – Adds capacity for more runs and devices later.
  • Consider conduit/raceway sizing – Accommodate future cable, or allow pulling an additional conduit.
  • Use modular connectors and panels – Simplifies changing or adding jacks and devices.
  • Label all cables clearly – Helps identify connections down the road.
  • Draw up as-built diagrams – Documents the system cabling map for future technicians.
  • Establish yearly inspection schedule – Check for damage, add capacity if needed.
  • Upgrade infrastructure over time – Evaluate new cabling standards for improved performance.

You don’t want to have to re-invent the wheel each time network changes arise. Building in excess capacity and modularity makes expanding or altering your cabling much easier as needs evolve.


Connecting devices across multiple floors with Ethernet cable provides the most robust wired network performance. But invasive drilling should not be required. As we covered, by taking time to evaluate pathways and using conduit-friendly cabling, it is possible to link floors together without resorting to major destruction or visible surface cabling.

Planning out runs in advance, assembling the proper tools, selecting approved plenum or fiber optic cabling, and installing cable meticulously through conduits or hidden spaces allows Ethernet to “go vertical” through ceilings and walls seamlessly. Extra slack, modular connections, and labeling also prepares for future expansion needs.

While wireless options exist to link floors, permanently running Ethernet cable provides the highest speeds and reliability. Investing in clean cable routing techniques without drilling yields benefits for years to come. Just be sure to thoroughly test runs and correct any issues prior to finish work.

With the knowledge provided in this guide, you can now confidently install Ethernet between floors in any home or office building. Just exercise safety precautions, use proven cabling methods, and take the time to do the job right. The end result will be a high-performance network connecting multiple levels, without ever having to break out a drill.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I run Ethernet cable between floors without drilling?

A: Yes, using methods like utilizing existing conduits or wireless Ethernet bridges.

Q: What type of Ethernet cable is suitable for vertical runs?

A: Consider flat Ethernet cables or those designed for in-wall installation.

Q: Are there wireless alternatives for inter-floor Ethernet connectivity?

A: Yes, wireless Ethernet bridge solutions can provide a viable alternative.

Q: How can I conceal the Ethernet cable along walls and ceilings?

A: Use cable raceways, adhesive clips, or cable hiders for a neat and discreet installation.

Q: What tools and equipment are essential for non-drilling cable installation?

A: Fish tape, cable pullers, cable ties, and a stud finder are some essential tools.

Q: What are the safety precautions for running Ethernet cable between floors?

A: Ensure proper insulation, avoid electrical hazards, and use appropriate safety gear.

Q: How do I test the connectivity and performance of the installed cable?

A: Use Ethernet cable testers and perform speed and latency tests for thorough evaluation.

Q: What are the common issues when running Ethernet cable between floors?

A: Interference, signal degradation, and cable damage are common issues to watch for.

Q: Can I future-proof the Ethernet cable installation for potential upgrades?

A: Leave slack in the cable, use quality connectors, and plan for future expansion needs.

Q: What are the benefits of a non-drilling Ethernet cable installation?

A: It provides a reliable, cost-effective, and flexible solution for inter-floor connectivity.

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