New for 2011, each Security + Life Safety Systems issue will include a Cool Tools column devoted to tools and testers used by electricians who install, maintain and repair low-voltage and fiber cabling for security, fire and life safety, communications, and building control systems.

The goal is to inform readers who specialize in this growing market about trends and developments of the tools essential for their work. It will include new tools and products and improvements that make existing products more functional, easier to use and more durable.

Basic categories will be tools for copper low-voltage installations and fiber, testers for specific security and life safety system applications, and accessories and equipment. Topics to be covered in 2011 include the following:

APRIL, Tools for Fiber: A growing number of surveillance and security projects use fiber optic cable. Examples include indoor video surveillance systems in large commercial or industrial facilities, networks with outdoor video surveillance cameras positioned in large parking areas and facility yards, and fire and security systems that link multiple locations. Primary reasons for using fiber instead of copper cabling is signal clarity and fiber’s ability to transmit long distances without amplification. Correctly making fiber connections requires training, experience and the proper tools for each type of fiber termination. Hand tools used to install connectors vary depending on whether the termination is with epoxy, hot-melt, anaerobic, crimp-style or fusion connectors. Jumpers or pigtails with connectors already attached at the factory speed up termination and installation.

JUNE, Certification Testers: Ensuring that every low-voltage installation’s cabling is installed correctly and that the network meets industry performance standards requires accurate and reliable certification testers. Rapid changes in technologies mean it’s essential to have testers with capabilities that meet the most recent applicable standards. For copper, basic tools include a wire mapper with multiple remotes and a certification device to prove the installation is standards-compliant in order for warranties to be filed. For fiber, essential tools include a visual fault locator for simple polarity tests and to find breaks in the cable, a light meter and source for simple verification that the link will support its application, and a device to measure length and optical loss so a warranty application may be filed.

AUGUST, Tools for Copper: Twisted-pair -copper wiring remains widely used for business premises local area networks to operate security and fire alarms and to connect “smart” building controls. Proper terminations are critical—faulty connections make it impossible to certify a commercial job or qualify residential low-voltage systems. Basic tools making copper voice/data/video (VDV) connections are the same categories as those for conventional electric terminations—cutters, strippers, crimpers and punchdown tools—but there are versions of these tools designed specifically for VDV work—for example, specialty copper tools with simultaneous multiple wire pair termination capabilities and termination tools that can be operated with one hand.

OCTOBER, Qualification Testers: Commercial VDV networks must be “certified” that they meet industry standards. “Qualification” of VDV wiring of private homes and multifamily residential buildings is an option that a growing number of contractors find beneficial. Qualification testing of residential networks tests installations to TIA-570-B standards. Qualification tests data transmission types that can traverse network cable and also may include troubleshooting suggestions if a cable cannot support certain speeds. Qualification testers are designed to meet the needs of residential installers. Considering the cost of a service call to repair an installation defect, a qualification tester can quickly pay for itself.

DECEMBER, Labeling Tools: Portable label printers have become a fixture in toolboxes of many electricians for quickly making labels on the job site. Datacom jobs require labels for cables, patch panels, face plates, blocks, racks, shelving and bays. Today’s easy-to-use handheld label printers can produce labels in several sizes on a variety of materials to meet different labeling applications. For example, self-laminating labels are used to identify wire and cable, and heat-shrink markers often are preferred in control panels and other harsh environments. Time-saving features include automatic legend repeat for wire and cable markers and automatic spacing of legends to align with terminal block, patch panel or faceplate positions.

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at