Home > Articles > Home & Office Computing > Home Networking

Creating a Networked Home Without Rewiring

Mention home networking to some people and they instantly think about ripping up the walls. Fortunately, there are alternatives to destroying your home.
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

This is an article for people who want to save money, who want to get their network running fast, and who don't want to spend a lot of time learning about networks. The solutions are easy to implement, but they come at a cost. None of these solutions run as fast as high-speed Ethernet; although I've read about some systems that will eventually support 100+ Mbps speed, they commonly support 3–12 Mbps speeds today. Most games run fine, but other programs won't. If you want a solution that will let you make backups of all the machines in the house and help the kids get their homework done while you work with reports from the office, this is the article for you. Many of these systems also let you control devices—everything from an alarm system to your sprinkler to the stereo in your family room.

There aren't as many people today in office buildings as there were in the past—at least, not on a consistent basis. Many people now have a home office that they use once or twice a week to work at home. In addition, it's not uncommon to see multiple computers in the home. The one used by mom and dad provides support for the systems used by the children. Because of these changes in the computing environment, many people are looking for networking solutions that will work in their home but not cost a mint or wreck the house. Most of these solutions fall into a relatively new category of equipment known as small office/home office (SOHO for short).


You can also choose to go wireless. While wireless is a great solution for many, it does have a few drawbacks, which I discuss at the end of this article. The main purpose of this article will be to cover wired options for your home, for folks who can't or don't want to go with a wireless solution.

House-Wiring Systems

Unlike offices, where false ceilings, cubicle stanchions, and hollow walls offer places to put cables, a home often has permanent ceilings and voids with plenty of obstacles. Running a cable of any kind can prove frustrating. In some cases, the only way to get a cable run is to tear out part of the wall—something a landlord will look upon with disfavor. (If you own the home, you might decide it's worth the effort—but then change your mind once you see the mess this kind of change creates.) Of course, you could always leave all those lovely cables exposed, but the results are hardly worth the effort, and exposed cables present a number of potential hazards that many people don't want to face.

Fortunately, your home probably already contains all the cable you need to transfer data from one machine to another. Every electrical outlet is part of a web of cabling that encompasses the entire house. A house-wiring network makes use of this feature to get around the problem of running cables in the home. Data moves from receptacle to receptacle, just as it would with standard network cable. This solution doesn't work very well for commercial applications—it's definitely designed for the SOHO environment.

Of course, just having cabling in place won't allow the network to run. All of these systems require a special plug-in box that isolates the computer from the voltage the house wiring is designed to carry, but allows the computer to transfer signals. One end of the box has a standard two- or three-pronged receptacle plug. The other end has a cable with an adapter on the end that plugs into the computer.

The appeal of the house-wiring system is that it's easy to set up and configure. If anything goes wrong with the plug-in device, you simply pull the old one out and plug a new one in—it's akin to changing a light bulb. The only difficulty you might encounter is installing the software. While the vendor normally automates this process, you might run into configuration problems in some rare cases.

Using house wiring is one of the more popular alternative networking technologies because it requires so little work on the part of the installer. Some systems don't even require a three-prong outlet—any two-prong outlet will do. This feature makes some systems acceptable for any house, no matter how old, as long as it has wiring of some kind. Most people will find that setting up this alternative network takes about 10 minutes. You begin by plugging the two plug-in boxes into outlets. Connect the other end to the computer and complete the process by sticking a CD-ROM with the required software into each machine. Once both machines have the required software in place, they should be able to communicate. The only decision that the installer may need to make is which plug to use on the back of the computer.

There are four methods used to make the connection to the computer. The method you choose will depend on how much you want to spend and your networking needs.

  • The fastest data-transfer method is to connect the plug-in box to a standard network interface card (NIC). Of course, this is also the most expensive method, because you have to buy the NIC in addition to the plug-in box. The theoretical speed of this connection is anywhere from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps depending on your setup, but you'll rarely get it because of the poor performance characteristics of house wiring. One of the better offerings in this category comes from Linksys. You can get everything from single Ethernet ports to complete kits.

  • The second-fastest method, at a guaranteed 1–2 Mbps, is to make the connection to the USB port on the computer. Newer USB ports can get up to 14 Mbps; but, again, it depends on how you have the system set up and what operating system you use (older versions of Windows, for example, don't support high-speed USB connections). Unfortunately, the plug-in requires special intelligence for the USB port, which raises the cost of the system, so it's not as popular as other methods. One of the more interesting selections in this category is the Belkin F5D4050 Powerline Adapter. It features a 14 Mbps transfer rate and 56-bit DES encryption, so nosy neighbors can't intercept your communication.

  • Older connection methods rely on the parallel or serial ports on your machine. You'll have a hard time finding certified products for these options, but they do exist. The advantage of using a parallel port is that the plug-in requires no special intelligence and you can still get around 360 Kbps transfer rate.

  • A serial port connection is the slowest method, at a maximum 115 Kbps transfer rate. All of these methods provide better performance than the maximum dial-up speed of 56 Kbps, though, so even gamers should be happy with the results.

Transfer rate isn't the only concern when connecting two machines. You also need to consider a factor called latency, which is the time it takes for one machine to respond to a request from another. House wiring has extremely poor data-transfer characteristics, and there's a chance that the other machine will have to ask for the same data several times before it actually receives a good copy. This means that the time required to transfer a single piece of information (called a packet) increases dramatically as the quality of the electrical cable decreases. A standard 10 Mbps Ethernet network has a latency of about 1 ms for a short cable. A house wiring network has a typical latency of 40 ms, but can be has high as 400 ms if the wiring in your home has a lot of flaws (such as kinks). Unfortunately, there isn't any way to determine what the latency of the network connection will be until you connect everything. In some cases, you can fix a latency problem in a home wiring network simply by moving the plug-in to another receptacle.

A potential concern for this networking technology is the voltage on the other side of the plug-in. If the plug-in should fail in such a way as to connect the house current directly to the parallel or serial port of a computer, the excess voltage will most likely destroy the port and damage the computer. I've never heard of this particular problem happening. It would seem that the vendor selling the kit would ensure the plug-in includes safety measures to guard against this problem, but it pays to check the vendor documentation to be certain.

Another concern is that lightning will strike and damage the system. You should plug your computer into a surge suppressor to guard against this problem. However, there isn't any guarantee that the plug-ins will be able to communicate through a standard surge suppressor for all wiring kit designs. Look for a house wiring kit that includes a surge suppressor that you can use with the kit. This special surge suppressor will allow a higher data-transfer rate and still protect your system from harm. If the house-wiring network kit that you choose doesn't include a surge suppressor, check with the company to ensure that your standard surge suppressor will work. You can partially overcome this problem by asking your electrician to install a whole-house surge suppressor. This device connects to the main lines coming into the house and shouldn't interfere with the connection between computers. A side benefit is that the device can potentially block your computer signals from exiting the house, so sneaky neighbors can't access your network.

Now that you have some idea of how these house-wiring network kits work, let's consider specific vendors. The best place to begin your search for qualified vendors is the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. All the vendors listed on this site offer certified equipment—a must if you want to protect your computer investment. When you want to add various kind of home automation to your network setup, check the X-10 ActiveHome product list.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020