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While beautiful and charming, old buildings aren’t without their construction and renovation challenges. And when it comes to installing a network, you might face big challenges. While new buildings are designed to support the cables required to power networks, older buildings are not. There isn’t often space between walls or above ceilings, and you might face thick walls and odd layouts in historic buildings that legally cannot be altered.

Of course, many old buildings need robust networks. Whether it’s an office building, apartment building, church, resort or other structure, chances are any functioning building today needs a network to support it. Often, the goal when installing a network in an old building is to make the building modern and ready to do 21st-century business without looking like it’s modern and ready to do 21st-century business.

Network considerations

Old buildings present unique challenges that can throw even the most experienced people for a loop. One of the most difficult considerations when installing a network in an old building are the laws and rules that you may need to follow. 

Historic Buildings

Historic buildings may have rules regarding what you can and can’t modify and, depending on the building’s location and age, there may be federal as well as local historic preservation laws. Usually, you’ll need to limit any visual changes to the building as you install the network, which is difficult when you need to run cables to multiple locations.

Another consideration when installing a network in an old building is where you’re starting from. In some cases, you might be starting completely from scratch, as the building may not have had any networking or cabling updates. Other times, you may find yourself working with a mess of old wires that need to be sorted out, organized and potentially removed before you can begin the installation.

Building Layout

Once you’re ready to do the installation, you need to consider the layout of the building. Many old buildings have very thick walls compared to newer builds, and they may be made out of materials you’re not used to. For example, you might find that walls are made of brick, plaster, stone or concrete. These materials can make installation more difficult, and they can block signals. This means you might need to get creative with where you place wires and how you physically structure the network.

There are ways to get creative and use existing parts of old buildings while preserving the historical aspects. Some options for running wire include chimneys, flues and existing HVAC systems. You can also create a false ceiling in old buildings that have high existing ceilings and store wires above the new false ceiling, use a perimeter surface raceway to disguise cabling or run cable under existing carpet. 

Some options for dealing with odd layouts and thick walls include very high-speed DSL (VDSL) and point-to-point networking (P2P). In some cases, you’ll need to install a wireless network even if that isn’t ideal.

Because old buildings are not straightforward, you’ll probably end up using more cabling per square foot of building than you would in a newer building. This is something to consider when planning your installation. 

Building Age 

Another important consideration when planning a network installation in an old building is the definition of "old." People often think of old buildings as those built over 100 years ago; but “old” has a different meaning when it comes to networks. Even buildings that were built 20 or 30 years ago likely won’t have the infrastructure in place to support a modern network.

Best practices

The ultimate goal when installing a network in an old building is to install the best network you can while making as few modifications to the building as possible. Here are some best practices to follow: 

  • Modernize the building so that it’s functional without compromising the charm, history or architecture.
  • Future-proof anything you install. This will help limit any later changes that need to be made.
  • Make a plan ahead of time, but also understand that you’ll probably face challenges and need to adjust as you install. Old buildings are full of surprises.
  • Work with what you have. Use HVAC pathways, laundry chutes, flues or other passages in old buildings to run cables when possible. Though these might not be the traditional route, they are often your best option in an old building.

No two network installations in old buildings are going to look the same, and it’s a fun challenge every time to troubleshoot and find a way to make a modern network work in an old building.

Installation

Installing a network in an old building is not without its challenges, but networks are necessary for buildings to be functional today. Above all else, it’s important to preserve old and historic buildings, even if that means you can’t install the ideal network.

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