How Many Cables Can You Pull Through A Hole?

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A guide to help figure out how many cables you can pull through a hole to help you plan your structured wiring project.

I'd like to run new cables for TV, phone and network and I came up with this little chart that might help you figure out how many telecom cables you can pull through a hole. It includes Cat3 2-pair, Cat3 4-pair, Cat5 4-pair, Cat5e 4-pair, Cat6 4-pair, RG59 and RG6 Quad Shield in various sized holes.

Dimensions of cables vary so please double check the actual cables you're going to use.

For the holes I selected sizes that match the auger sizes of Greenlee D'Versibit Flexible Drill Bits which are a popular type of installation bit used when pulling cables in existing walls. The bits come in 3/8", 1/2", 9/16", 3/4" and 1" diameters.

There are 2 values in the chart. In black is the maximum number of cables I think I can jam through the hole and in green is the number of cables based on a 40% fill.

The NEC (National Electric Code) specifies conduits for power cables should not exceed 40% fill. This allows for some room to run extra cable in the future or change to larger cable as well as heat and providing enough room to minimize chances of damaging cables while pulling.

For some reason TIA/EIT and most LAN installers have adopted the 40% fill rule even though these are very lower power cables. When running cable through conduit the NEC says that the same conduit fill rules apply for low power cables as I understand it. I'm not 100% sure what the rule is when just running cable through holes and not conduit. What I've seen installers do is measure the size of their cable bundle and choose a drill bit slightly larger so that the bundle pulls easily without damaging the cable. The hole size needs to conform with building codes regarding making holes in structural members (generally no more than 1/3rd the width of the member.) Check with your local codes before starting. This is used mainly as a guide to help in planning and determining which size bits to buy. They aren't cheap!

As you can see the Cat6 cable is a lot thicker than Cat5e cable. The whole reason I made this chart was to determine which cable to buy as I have a limited amount of space to run the cables.

They both support Gigabit Ethernet 1000Base-T. Even the older Cat5 cable was able to run at gigabit speeds. The issue comes with transmission problems that may cause errors and slow down the network. Cat5e is better than Cat5 and Cat 6 is better than Cat5e in that regard.

Most Cat6 cable has a plastic center spline that helps prevent crosstalk and other signal issues. That's the main reason the Cat6 cable is thicker. Some manufacturers have found ways to make cable that meets that Cat6 spec without the need for the center spline.

Most of the splineless cat6 cable I've seen is plenum rated. (see Cat6, Splineless, UTP, 23AWG, 8C Solid Bare Copper, Plenum, 1000ft, Blue, Bulk Ethernet Cable (Made in USA)) which is about 3 times the cost of regular riser cat 6 with a spline. The plenum rating means it's made with a different jacket material that doesn't release toxic fumes if it burns. I did however find this Riser rated ICC CMR CAT6 UTP 500 MHz (NO SPLINE) / ICC-ICCABR6VWH which is only 2x the cost of regular Cat6 cable.

If I use Cat5e or splineless Cat6 the installation will be easier as I'd have to drill less holes or I could make smaller holes. Still trying to figure out if it's worth the expense of the more expensive splineless Cat6 instead of regular Cat5e.

To help with pulling the wire also use the appropriate lubricant for your cable jacket. Check out Klein Tools 51015 Premium Synthetic Polymer Wire and Cable Pulling Lubricant or Clearglide Wire Pulling Lubricant.


  1. Can you please post the formulas that were used. I would like to adapt for metric system and custom cable sizes. Thanks

  2. I am about to run cat5e 4P Riser cables for my security system through conduit all around the house (attic is not an option) and your post and diagram has greatly helped with my planning. My question however is if you knew what kind of cat5e 4P you used when calculating that graphic? The brand I have is Steren Baseline Cat5e Riser Cable if that happens to be the same as what you use.


  3. How do you mitogate heat loss when i start putting 1 inch holes from cold basement rooms to main floors?

    1. There are a number of things to consider when putting 1" holes in framing so you'll want to consult your local building codes as to maximum sizes you can put in different members. This article is for how many will fit. To answer your question though, when putting penetrations through different areas many places require fire blocking to be used. This could be fire rated caulk or foam but I from what I've seen the caulk might be better fire blocking. Once you pass all your cables you just seal up the gaps with fire rated caulk and that will seal up the drafts too. Here's an example of Fire Rated Caulk that's available at many local Home Depots.

  4. What a great infographic! Deserves to be a laminated printout in any cable monkey's toolkit.