Forgotten But Not Gone: Abandoned Cable

By Julie Knudson | Feb 15, 2014






Electrical contractors (ECs) know that, first and foremost, the removal of abandoned cable is a National Electrical Code issue. But additional considerations make it even more crucial that unused, untagged cables be pulled out.

ECs also know cabling is heavy, especially where several generations of product are in place. If the cable plant isn’t properly supported, the weight can lead to damaged ceiling tiles or a compromised grid. In some cases, even supported cabling can cause problems.

“It’s sometimes zip-tied to the ceiling structure or to the fire sprinkler pipes,” said Daniel Fosbinder, ITS Tech, CFOT, structured cabling systems project manager at Eaton McCaskill Electrical Contracting Inc. (EMEC), Cleveland, Tenn. 

These kinds of complications not only present potential issues in a removal project, but also can cause a real hazard if these cables aren’t completely freed from piping and other building systems prior to being pulled out. The weight alone could disrupt the water pipe or break the ceiling support structure, Fosbinder said.

On a project that has already commenced, the cost of removing abandoned cable may not have been included in the customer’s original budget, but ECs can leverage another layer of harm avoidance when talking with customers who seem reluctant to part with yet more money on their project.

“Abandoned cable is a hazard because of the toxic smoke in case of a fire, and so, therefore, it should be removed,” said Ron Kunkel, president of Signawest Systems Inc., Newark, Calif. “It’s a life-safety issue.” 

A building’s fire protection system is made of many theoretical layers, and the proper removal of unused cable is just one of them. It does not only concern ceiling spaces, where they impede pathways and fill up an already tight area. Unused cable that is left in place can also trigger operational issues when they get into the core communication closets and risers that feed through all the different floors, said Jason Howell, vice president of Mona Electric Group Inc., Clinton, Md.

Moreover, the problem can often be worse than a building owner assumes. Unless the building or property manager has been vigilant, there is a real potential that there are more abandoned cables between the various tenants than they think. 

Customers can also run into problems when abandoned cables begin to overload the external plant. Todd Strand, RCDD, NTS, OSP, senior consultant at On Target Voice & Data Inc, in Orange, Calif., consulted on a job at the University of California, Irvine, where the 1960s-era conduit structure imposes some limitations on how much cable can be accommodated. He said it is more advantageous to remove old copper bundles to open up the conduit space than it is to try to trench.

“As you remove it, you put in a rope, and now you can go from point A to point B rather than trenching even more,” Strand said. 

Locations and methods

For ECs with a strong presence in the education sector, a fair number of abandoned-cable-removal projects are likely to come along. The frequent remodeling and upgrading that goes on in school districts and college campuses prompts the routine removal of large amounts of unused cabling.

“We don’t actively go out and look for these opportunities. It’s just something that happens,” Strand said of most of his company’s cable-abatement jobs.

Other times, cable-removal projects are add-ons to new system installations.

“The reason is because, at this point, they’ll have you go into their telecommunications or equipment room, and they have all this cabling that’s terminated to the back of their panels,” Fosbinder said.

This is when, as they start figuring out how to get everything wired up to the new system, that building managers may start to realize how much abandoned cable they have.

“When you’re designing a new layout for them, they see all this cabling coming down and terminating. It reminds them that they have a lot of infrastructure in the ceiling,” Fosbinder said.

Cable-abatement projects are time- and labor-intensive, and there are not many ways to get around it. The trick is to make them as lean as possible and to minimize the impact on the customer. In some cases, the client’s schedule may facilitate a process that is less disruptive.

“With the school district, they phase their schools,” Strand said. “We’ll go in when there aren’t any teachers or students in the wings, and we can demo all the cables first.” 

When it is possible to remove cable without worrying about end-users running around, savvy ECs can take advantage of the circumstances to make the process relatively fast. But don’t assume that an occupied building means the removal process will be significantly hampered. Staging activities and crews should be done on a per-project basis to ensure you’re providing customers with the best services to meet their particular needs. And while running multiple crews simultaneously—­some doing removal and others doing installation—seems like a good way to save time, few ECs find it efficient.

“Normally, we don’t have two crews,” Kunkel said. Instead, one crew handles both ends of the project. “The same crew takes the cable out after installing the new, or vice versa, if we’re going to reuse the same raceway. Then we’ll take the cable out first.” 

He said that it is often better to focus on streamlining each stage rather than trying to do both at the same time.

The good news is that cable-removal projects often have opportunities to provide the customer with additional services while increasing revenue for the EC. Installing or cleaning up cable pathways is one of the more common services that can often be added to a garden-variety removal job.

[SB]Selling the safety

Another potential revenue generator is to bring those pathways up-to-date in other ways. Cabling that goes through firewalls or concrete may not be fire-stopped correctly, and fixing these issues is a worthwhile avenue for ECs to explore (see “Hold It Right There” by Chuck Ross on page 78).

Mona Electric decided several years ago to take a proactive approach to the issue of abandoned cable. The firm teamed up with Systimax (now part of CommScope) to put together a one-hour presentation outlining the code requirements surrounding abandoned cable and what it means for customers.

“We did the first few with Systimax, and then we ended up providing it on our own to property managers,” Howell said. 

The lunch-and-learn sessions proved to be a hit. Customers were eager to bring their building engineers together to confirm they had the latest Code-requirement information. It also helped to generate additional revenue for Mona Electric.

“We put the effort into teaching the property management companies what the Code means and then what services we could provide based off of that,” he said.

Howell’s presentations regularly lead to discussions with property managers about a more comprehensive suite of needs.

“It’s very eye-opening for a lot of them because they never worried about the telecommunications closets before,” he said.

Some customers have subsequently asked them to create drawings that could be updated as the cable plant evolved. They also have been brought in to consult when new tenants move in, to ensure their cabling needs are addressed correctly.

Sometimes they have to see it

Mona Electric’s access to the phone and electrical closets also provides an opportunity to involve other departments, such as its fire alarm group and the team that manages infrared scans.

“Once you’re into those closets, there’s a lot of core voice, data and electrical components that would lead to us managing all aspects of the building for the property management companies,” Howell said.

Site surveys are another potential upsell that makes a lot of sense for the customer.

“Sometimes you can come in and document the existing cable plant,” Fosbinder said.

Many companies still don’t track their cabling, but a contractor that walks them through the benefits may be able to sell the service. It’s also a good way to segue into discussing the advantages of an asset-management program, the next logical step for an EC that’s already conducting a survey.

“While we’re on-site documenting all these cables that need to be removed, we’re also documenting the cables that are still in place,” Fosbinder said. “You’re doing both, and you can add all that information to the software, so the customer can physically track it.”

Anticipating customer concerns may be one of the best ways to not only land abandoned-cable-removal projects, but also to gain the opportunity to provide additional—and perhaps more lucrative—services to clients. Catching the attention of building owners, a group that is often particularly difficult to win over, takes effort.

“They’re always looking at the bottom line, and they don’t like to spend the additional monies,” Kunkel said. 

Working with them on the advantages of a thorough removal project can help make a business case they’ll support.

About The Author

Julie Knudson worked in facilities and telecom management before becoming a freelance business writer. She can be reached at





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