If you are looking to extend your network connection outside, perhaps to a wireless access point or an outbuilding, you may be wondering whether you can use your existing ethernet cable or if you need to purchase a specialist type of cable.
Ethernet cable can go outside. Exterior-grade ethernet cable which is weatherproof can safely be used outside without the need for a protective conduit. Other types of ethernet cable that are not exterior-grade may still have a UV protective jacket to protect it from exposure to sunlight.
When you are planning on running ethernet cable outside, you need to make sure you are using the right type of cable and have the necessary protective measures in place otherwise there is a chance it will get damaged in bad weather.
Running Ethernet Cable Outside
When it comes to running ethernet cable outside, you really have two options.
The regular interior-grade cable that you are used to using inside can be used to a degree, but you should absolutely take a few additional steps to provide it with the protection that it needs.
An alternative option is to purchase some exterior-grade ethernet cable that has been designed specifically for outdoor use, but these do inevitably cost more to buy.
Out of these two choices, I would always recommend going for the exterior-grade cable whenever you plan on running an ethernet cable outside, regardless of how far the cable needs to be run.
It may not seem worth spending more money on one of these specialist cables when the length that is being run outside may only be a few feet, but continuing to use the regular ethernet cable you already have is a bit risky, especially if you experience particularly bad weather.
If you do decide to continue using the interior-grade cable but still have a need for some, or all, of the cable to be run outdoors, you should at the very least place in a protective conduit.
When choosing a conduit, it may be tempting to pick up some cheap and basic PVC pipe, but I wouldn’t suggest going as cheap as possible here.
You should make sure that the conduit is at least waterproof and will provide adequate protection for the cable that is kept inside without it being easily broken with the potential for water to get inside and potentially damage the entire length of cable.
If the conduit is advertised as being suitable for outdoor use, that is a good sign it will be up to the task.
This conduit should then be buried underground to provide it with that extra bit of protection and so that it isn’t in the way, especially if it is positioned where there is a lot of foot traffic. The last thing you want is someone tripping over it when it could have easily been buried and kept out of the way.
When you do come to bury the conduit, make sure it is positioned away from underground power lines or anything else that can cause electrical interference.
This may mean changing the way in which the cable is ultimately run, but it is worth it when you consider how the interference could affect the long-term use of the cable and you may end up having to dig up the conduit anyway when you come to replace the faulty cable.
That being said, I would still recommend using the exterior-grade cable over the interior-grade cable and conduit combination. Depending on the weather conditions you receive, it may be worth using a conduit even alongside the exterior-grade cable.
If you decide you don’t need the conduit and that the cable alone will suffice, you may find it works out cheaper to buy the length of exterior-grade cable than continue to use the interior-grade cable and need to purchase a conduit as these can get to be quite pricey when longer lengths are needed.
There are several benefits that come with using the exterior-grade cable, even it is being placed in a conduit and buried.
The first is that the outside jacket is much more rigid than you normally find and is often made with specialist materials to provide it with that extra bit of protection.
The cheaper cables will feature a basic PVC jacket, whereas the more premium ones are made using linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE).
Unlike the regular ethernet cables which absolutely should be placed in a conduit, you can get away with not burying the exterior-grade cable and leaving it exposed to the elements if you choose to given how it is designed not to allow any water inside.
One thing to keep in mind here is that if you do decide not to bury the cable, you should definitely make sure it features a jacket designed to protect against UV light as sunlight exposure is more likely to cause the cable to fail than any other weather condition, even heavy rain or particularly low temperatures.
My recommendation is to get the exterior-grade cable whilst still placing it in a conduit and burying it outside, just to be on the safe side and increase the longevity of the cable.
Does Cold Weather Affect Ethernet Cable?
If you live in a particular cold part of the world, a valid concern you may is whether the cold weather can affect ethernet cable; even those that are exterior-grade and designed specifically for outdoor use.
Cold weather can affect ethernet cable, even those that are exterior-grade. Although the cold weather will not affect the performance of the cable itself, it can make the cable stiff. Bending the cable too much could result in damage, so it should be left alone once in place.
As new standards of ethernet cables are introduced, better materials for both the insulation and the outer jacket are used to improve the chances of the cable continuing to work in both hot and cold environments.
This isn’t to say you should go out and buy some Cat8 cable to run outside, though, as the cold weather can affect ethernet cables, especially those that are not designed for outdoor use and should be reserved for use indoors.
When running cable outside, particularly if you experience cold weather throughout the year, you will want to make sure that you are using exterior-grade cable given how it is double insulated.
Being double insulated, the cable is typically thicker than the regular ethernet cable you are used to using indoors.
This makes the cable quite stiff, which is especially true if it has already been left out and exposed to the cold weather for an extended period of time. It may not be as stiff when you receive it new, but it will certainly stiffen over time.
For this reason, it is recommended that you try not and bend the cable more than you need to as this could result in it being damaged. You should be fine when installing it for the first time, but still try and keep the cable as straight as you can during the initial installation and leave it well alone once it has been installed wherever possible.
Cold weather won’t affect the performance of exterior-grade ethernet cable as this is simply what they are designed to withstand, but UV exposure is a different story.
UV light is more likely to damage ethernet cable over time, so it is recommended to bury the cable underground in a conduit where possible so that the light cannot reach it. If this isn’t an option, you should still try and place the cable somewhere that is a bit darker, like a shadow, to minimize the chances of the cable getting damaged.
Most people will look to run their outdoor ethernet cable along the exterior walls of the home where shadows are more likely to be cast, so this isn’t something to be overly concerned about, but still make sure the jacket is designed to protect against UV light.
What Happens if Ethernet Cable Gets Wet?
As you now know, exterior-grade cable can be safely placed outdoors where it can get wet from the rain, but what about the indoor-rated cables? What happens to them when they get wet?
Indoor-rated ethernet cables are designed to only operate in dry conditions. Ethernet cables that become wet internally cannot be dried out and should therefore be considered to be damaged and require replacement. The water can penetrate the outer jacket and affect the transmission of data.
If an indoor-rated cable is left outside and gets wet because of the rain, it may well be fine and remain usable, although considering how affordable ethernet cables are, it is probably worth just replacing it.
Even if the water somehow gets inside an ethernet cable, there is a low risk of it becoming a hazard, although there is a very high chance that it will be damaged and you will more than likely see some signal degradation, if it works at all.
Something else to keep an eye out for is corrosion if the cable has been left wet for a longer period of time. If you see any, replacing the cable is the way to go.
If you do come across a wet ethernet cable, you really have two choices: leave it unplugged whilst it is left to dry out naturally or simply replace the cable.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to risk anything and would simply replace the cable given how accessible and affordable they are to buy.
Recommended Outdoor Ethernet Cable
If you are looking for an ethernet cable to run outdoors, this one by Maximm can be found on Amazon.
The cable is Cat6 rated, features a UV resistant LLDPE jacket, and is 150ft long, so is perfect to be placed outdoors.
The jacket is thick and sturdy, so you could probably get away with burying it on its own or even leaving it exposed outside, but again, I would recommend placing it in a weatherproof conduit just to be on the safe side.