October 2007

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On How To Obtain The Best Value In System Cabling

      Jim Sinopoli

Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings
Contributing Editor

Author of "Smart Buildings"

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

How can designers and contractors reduce the cost and streamline the process of installing cabling for building technology systems? More importantly, what can we do to make sure the money spent is the best value for a building owner, the proverbial “biggest bang for the buck”? Long term costs are difficult to address when you’re dealing with adherence to an immediate construction budget. However, the facility and the technology infrastructure (at least the cabling, cable pathways and equipment rooms) are long term, and you’ll want to balance the initial cost of the technology infrastructure with the long term value for your client. Here are nine tips to saving monies on cabling infrastructure:

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zone enclosuresTip #1 - Use Zone Cabling
Cable consolidation points or zone enclosures are typically used in open office environments, but they are also utilized elsewhere in the building. Instead of running individual cable from the equipment room to each office or cubicle, zone enclosures or consolidation points are installed throughout an area. The approach reduces the space, cabling and equipment in the equipment room and moves the connection point or patch panel out closer to the endpoints. A smaller amount of cable is run from the equipment room to the zone enclosure, thus allowing shorter cable runs to the cabling endpoints. The zone enclosure can be “passive” or “active”, meaning it contains network equipment. They can handle not only voice and data, but BAS systems, video surveillance, access control, etc. The initial cost of zone enclosures is about the same as running all the cabling from the equipment room; however the savings is in avoiding significant re-cabling cost during modifications and alterations. Many modular furniture manufacturers have consolidation points hidden in their products that look like and fit in with their modular furniture.

Tip #2 – Consolidate Equipment Rooms and Cabling Administration
If you’re designing a three story building, do you need to have equipment rooms on every floor? You could serve the entire building from an equipment room on the second floor if the distance between the second floor equipment room and each cabling endpoint is 90 meters or less (the infamous 90 meter rule). There are a multitude of benefits from doing this; less space, power and AC is utilized for equipment rooms, improved efficiency in network equipment, and greater ease from an operational and maintenance standpoint. The cabling may be slightly longer, but overall it’s a significant savings.

Tip #3 – Require Labeling and Provide a Cable Management System
Most of the labor associated with troubleshooting the cabling portion of a network is related to determining where the cable runs and what it is connected to. Make sure that during installation the cable is permanently labeled in a predetermined naming convention. Take all of the labeling information and the as-built drawings and upload the data into a cable management system, one that can “read-write” between a relational database and a CAD module. Then, provide ongoing resources and processes to record all the changes to the system to maintain accurate drawings and databases reflecting the physical condition of the system. The result will be improved management and troubleshooting of the network, an extended system lifecycle, and less time for moves, adds and changes for the networks.

Tip #4 - Converge the Cabling Types
There are probably a dozen different building technology systems in a decent size building. The telecom systems have long standardized on unshielded copper twisted pair and fiber optic cable. Building automation systems in the last five years have standardized on twisted pair and fiber optic cable although many manufacturers and contractors have not adopted the standard. Despite the lack of the standard’s adoption, twisted pair copper and fiber optic cable are used in some portion of the BAS deployments. While the life safety systems have not standardized, video surveillance and access control systems are using twisted pair and fiber optic cable, and some cable manufacturers offer full solutions for life safety systems using twisted pair and fiber optic cable. The point being that the more you use “standard” twisted pair and fiber optic cable, and the more you get away from propriety cabling systems, the greater the opportunity to economize and save money.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Tip #5 - Coordinate Pathways for All the Technology Systems
Coordinating cable pathways in a building ceiling is something that is typically expected during design and construction but rarely occurs to an acceptable level in the field; whichever contractor gets there first claims the space. However the cable pathways can be “economized” similarly to the cabling itself. While cabling and cable pathways of many of the technology systems have different end-points (such as tenant offices, cameras, HVAC fans, etc.), the longer backbone cable runs through a facility should use one common pathway. Install one common highway or pathway for the cabling; try not to build several smaller pathways.

Tip #6 - Reduce the Number of Cabling Contractors
Over half of the cost cabling is labor. Why then have one contractor install a cable from room A to room B, only to have second contractor install a cable for a different system from room A to B? Why pay twice when the cost for one contractor to install both cables at the same time is marginal? From a construction standpoint, why coordinate two installers rather than one?

Tip #7 - Use Master Agreements for the Materials and Equipment
Larger clients, such corporations with many sites, university systems, school districts, healthcare entities, REITS, etc., should have standardized the materials and equipment they use for their technology systems. If they’ve standardized and large enough, they should have master agreements for materials and equipment that contractors may be able to use. The master agreement results in lower prices because of the aggregation of facilities and commitment to suppliers. If your client does not have master agreements, advise them to purse the opportunity and at least make the facility you’re involved with the first to avail itself to the lower pricing.

Tip #8 – Re-Think Warranties
When major cabling manufacturers first offered long term warranties on their products and systems, it sounded like a good idea. A 15-25 year warranty from a manufacturer surely demonstrates that the manufacturer backs their product. But the value of these warranties is diminished by the fact that hardly anyone has ever made a “warranty claim” on their cable – if the cable is initially properly installed and tested, what could one claim that would have any value? In addition, why it is true that the cable may be operational for 15-25 years, technology needs may have change 5-10 times during the warranty period. If you can get a warranty on the cabling fine, but if you have to pay a premium for the warranty, think twice.

Tip #9 – Plan for Expansion
Many times the size of equipment rooms is questioned. Typically a large equipment room is provided only to find out that few equipment racks are initially installed. Sometimes cable pathways are provided and only half of the pathway is initially used. No, it’s not a waste of space. It’s long term thinking. You don’t ever want to move an equipment room. As building technology systems converge to an IP platform, the systems will demand more space, more power, more air conditioning, more grounding, etc. Build it right the first time, and avoid tremendous disruption later. Spend a few more dollars upfront and avoid the huge cost later.

Designers and contractors are tasked with controlling initial construction costs while providing long term value for the facility. It can be quite the balancing act. The cabling infrastructure for the building technology systems can contribute to that effort. For more information about technology design or to schedule an AIA CES program, email us at info@smart-buildings.com.


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