In the past I've written about some of our home technology items that we've installed since moving into the house in 2003. From thousands of feet of structured wiring to whole house audio, I love pimping our pad with as much technology as possible without making the house look like a crazy bling'd out MTV Cribs house. Overblown home tech installation is a hobby that I really enjoy and something very unique and unexpected in a small house.

Several years ago, when I could see our home tech plans coming together (and I love it when a plan comes together), I could see the growing need for a nerve center for the home. All of the structured wiring had already been laid out to make home runs to the basement, but they all terminated to a disorganized mess that was hanging on the wall.

While this worked for a little while, the number of components, network devices, etc, was sure to grow as we expanded our little home grown system. I wanted to have an actual server rack to house the system, but server racks are too expensive. And if I could find a used rack on eBay or a computer surplus store, there's no way it would be able to fit in the small space we had available under the basement stairs.

I decided I had a perfect opportunity to go totally overkill DIY and create a full featured server rack for our humble little home, so I went for it. The first step was sketching out my rack and enclosure to figure out what I would need to buy. I wanted to keep the costs as low as possible, so I decided to custom fabricate my whole rack. 

I started by buying several length of pre-drilled rack rails. If you're trying to do the same, you can buy them in varying lengths to get the size that's right for your application. Pre-drilled rails are tapped in industry standard locations and thread sizes so you can rack mount your items as necessary using standard screws and holders.

Beyond the rack rails, there are few other technical items needed for my project. Most everything else I either picked up from The Home Depot, Rockler, or I had given to me by a friend, Doug, whose dad had extra server fans he didn't need. This really helped to keep the costs down on this project.

Once I had all of my supplies, and I had my location picked out, I got to work on the build by assembling the base of the enclosure. I decided to build the enclosure frame from 2x4s to give it a sturdy and stable structure. I knew I wanted to make it movable and mount casters on the base, so it had to withstand any moving. I used pressure treated lumber for the absolute base just in case I ever mount the whole enclosure direct on the cement of the basement floor.

With the base the proper size and able to fite where I needed it, I moved ahead on the rest of the frame. Since this was going to be positioned under the stairs, I decided to build it to mimic the slope of the stairs. This approach would allow the rack to position the left while allowing additional room for other equipment on the right. 

At every stage of my construction, I kept test fitting the enclosure. I was completely paranoid I would end up mess something up and make it not fit. But once I had convinced myself all was good, I proceeded with skinning the inside with some thin 1/4" plywood.

The setup I decided on would use eight 90mm fans, four mounted in the bottom to expel air, and four mounted at the top to draw air in. If you'll notice in the photo above, I included a location for an air filter in the top of the enclosure in an attempt to keep dust out while drawing air in. 

The fans were rewired and hooked up to a dimmer switch that would allow me to modulate the velocity of the fans. When these fans are on at 100% they sound like a swarm of bees, even when you are on another floor, so being able to keep them a little slower was essential.

With the enclosure taking shape, I shifted focus over the rack itself. The pre-drilled rails I had purchased needed to be cut in several places and assembled in a cube.  I used my disc cutter with a diamond disc on it and got to work in the back yard. Remember, if you'r doing this at home, use eye protection, gloves, long sleeves, long pants, and ear protection. Cutting like this is loud, so I put on my NASCAR scanner headset (yep, Wendy makes fun of me for owning them too). 

For the rack I put together a sliding and rotating base. I wanted to make sure I could easily gain access to the back of the rack mount items, so it had to fully slide out. I also wanted it to rotate so I could get even easier access. I bought the heavy duty and full extension drawer slides and a ball bearing ring from Rockler. I also finished the exterior of the rack base in oak, in the event I ever I want dress it up in the future. Once I had it all assembled I popped it into the enclosure. It was looking good!

The next step was to finish all of the interior panels and then put an oak facade on the whole thing, again in the event I need to stain it and make it look nice in the future.

In the photo above you can see that I put an outlet in the read of the enclosure. This outlet acts as an extension and power strip for the whole enclosure and is where all of the equipment ultimately plugs in. The final step was to seal the whole thing from the outside and clean up/organize all of the wiring. For this I used our standard Big-Stretch caulk and a couple of wire tacks.   

I was quite happy with how the whole thing had fallen together. After some cabling magic and about six hours of non-stop fighting with wires, I could see my dream of an overkill DIY server rack falling together.

After placing the enclosure back in its permanent home, I added my final little detail items to gussy it up a little bit. "How does one gussy up a server rack and enclosure," you may ask? With blue LEDs and other lights, of course. No computer project is complete without them. 

And there you have it, the story of our basement DIY Server Rack, for the 125 year old house that just can't go another day without one. I'm still planning to build some oak frame doors with glass, but where it currently sits I just put some plastic over the front. It's easier for the time being because of how tight that area is.

What do you think, total overkill? Is there any possibility that the original owner of our house, Mrs. Bryan, could have imagined anything remotely like this back in 1886? I think not.

Do you have any similar technology overkill projects in your home? If you share them with us I can use your place as an example to show Wendy how I'm perfectly normal. I'm counting on you here, do me proud.

Comments 12


9/16/2011 at 11:24 AM
Totally overkill, so of course I totally love it. Makes my little home run patch panel switch wall-mounted thing look like an exercise in restraint!

Back when we lived in a condo without a suitable utility space, I'd hacked an ikea cabinet to hold the networking, NAS and a Shuttle XPC Linux box. Surprisingly, just one 6" fan mounted near the top, 12v under-volted to 9v (to keep it quiet) kept it cool enough. Drilled holes in shelves to allow air flow. Looked half decent, too.

I'm surprised that you're working against natural heat convection by having air intake at the top and exhaust at the bottom. Just curious why?
I had the very same thought about the heat convection, but I went with the top down approach because I knew I could keep the top free and open from obstruction and dirt, but dust or obstructions were more likely to impact the lower vents. Also, I put fans on either side of the enclosure, and rigging the air filter setup would have been more difficult and would require more room on either side. At this point, due to the air filter's restriction on intake, the CFM of air removed actually exceeds the CFM of air supplied, to it creates a bit of a vacuum inside of the enclosure. I need to slow the output fans down a bit to ensure positive pressure so it isn't trying to suck dusty air in through cracks and circumventing the air filter.
9/17/2011 at 9:26 AM
I'm really impressed! That's some diy skillz you've got there!!

And I love the house in the post below. So beautiful!

I've signed up to follow your blog!

Thanks, glad you found us.
9/21/2011 at 10:13 PM
Pretty awesome man... great project!

You may want to try swapping out all of those fans for a single large fan designed for a car radiator (or similar) and running that at low speed. Should be nearly silent and would probably move more air... Maybe one for intake & another for out.
Thanks. That's a good idea, I might have to check out the larger single fan approach. I would be able to cut a larger hole in the top to draw more air at the intake.
9/22/2011 at 8:51 PM
Yea & with a larger, more powerful fan you could probably afford to lose a bit of airflow and install a filter on there to keep the dust out.
5/22/2012 at 6:25 AM
great project alex ang wendy. You got some skills and I love it!
Thanks so much!
11/12/2012 at 1:51 PM
I can't believe how much your projects (all of them) match ours! My husband and I are redoing a 100 yr old house outside Boston. We are both electrical engineers and are wiring up the house for every variety of technology imaginable. We aren't quite to the point of having a server rack but I did just finish running about 300 feet of Ethernet cable and I've easily got another couple thousand to go.

We stumbled upon your site looking for advice on repairing plaster ceilings which we have a lot of. Great to know about the handy buttons. We also have a very similar kitchen, white cabinets with Ikea butcher block counter tops!

Alex, I love the nerd-dom and Wendy, it's so great to see another lovely lady that isn't afraid to get dirty. I knew I wasn't the only wife willing to wield a power tool!

Best of luck with your project. I'll be relying on your experiences so keep posting!

Sarah Wolpert
1/31/2013 at 6:16 AM
Working on a little project.
This also is going in an old victorian!
1/31/2013 at 6:17 AM
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