You're Outta Here: Removing Abandoned Cable

The National Electrical Code requires that cabling must be removed if it isn’t properly tagged for future use. Outside of that mandate, there are other reasons—financial, legal and plain common sense—to get rid of cables that are no longer needed.

“The majority of the time, my customers will call and say that it’s in their lease agreement that they have to remove the cables when they leave,” said Buddy Otis, project manager at Eckardt Electric Co. in Chamblee, Ga.

It also is not uncommon that, as new tenants prepare a space before move-in, they need an electrical contractor to remove cables they don’t plan to use. Tenant improvements can also prompt a cable removal project.

“If we’re renovating the space and the inspector is going to come out and inspect it, if he sees any cable that isn’t being used or tagged for future use, he’ll make the customer remove the cable,” he said.

Not only do safety concerns and legal obligations make removing abandoned cable necessary, helping customers maintain clear and usable system pathways is also an important consideration. 

“Pathways are not cheap to install, and they represent a significant investment for our clients,” said Kerry A. Engmark, operations manager of the technologies division of Cannon & Wendt Electric, Phoenix. 

As trusted advisers, electrical contractors (ECs) are in a position to assist their clients in protecting that investment. Engmark said that being ready for whatever the next evolution in technology brings is also a notable reason to ensure that cable pathways are clear and able to accept new material. 

“If it’s reasonable to expect that you want to get 20 years out of your building, you certainly want to take out everything you don’t need in order to accommodate future growth,” he said.

The ECs interviewed offered some tips, tricks and things to remember when bidding on and tackling structured cabling removal projects. 

Whether you start cutting in the wiring closet or at the wall (and everyone has their own preference), it could be argued that the most critical part of many cable-removal projects is ensuring you are removing the correct cables and not inadvertently disrupting services that are still in use. The old adage “measure twice, cut once” is relevant here. 

“Take your time and do the work up front that you need to do to be confident—and I mean 100 percent confident—that you’re only going to be cutting the correct cable plant,” Engmark said. 

A mistake could negatively affect mission-critical systems, some of which may cause life-safety issues or result in loss of revenue for your customer. 

“The last thing you’d want to do is to take out a bank of equipment in a data center that’s processing travel reservations,” Engmark said as an example. “There’s a potential, with a couple of mistakes, to cost clients thousands of dollars per minute.”

Sometimes, determining what’s live and what isn’t will come with an extra level of difficulty. 

“We’re doing a demo job right now where there’s a lot of cable,” Otis said. “It’s taking quite a while to figure out which cables we can cut. And,” he added, “they’re all blue cables.” 

Fortunately, Otis discovered the challenge before starting the project, though it doesn’t make the job any less difficult. Doing your due diligence during the estimating phase can potentially save both you and your customer headaches. Will your field crew need extra time to dissect a cabling plant that’s all one color? Better get it into the estimate, rather than hit the customer with it (and the delays it is likely to cause) later.

Administrative issues can mean some additional steps. 

“I’m in a community where we have to pull permit for any electrical work we do,” said Wyatt Johnson, demand service manager at Modern Electric, Casper, Wyo. 

That mandate includes demolishing low-voltage wiring, and he knows that an inspector will review the demo portion of each project his team undertakes. 

“There are some that are really picky out there,” he said. 

Some inspectors may be more strict while others are less so, and Johnson encouraged ECs to educate themselves on how things are normally handled in their particular area. He also recommended ensuring that everything is in order on every removal project, even if it’s just one part of a larger endeavor.

Particular environments may also make cable removal more challenging. Multi-tenant spaces—office buildings, strip malls, etc.—have the potential of more cables of indeterminate use, or a pathway or termination that risk being inadvertently impacted. 

“Make sure they don’t run through different spaces, or that it isn’t someone else’s cable,” said Aaron Parendo, RCDD, systems account manager at Egan Cos. in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

He has found it useful to have the customer talk with the other tenants to see if they know of any other cabling that might go through their suites that the EC is not aware of. If that isn’t feasible, the contractor should be ready to do that legwork themselves before beginning the project.

Older hospitals or healthcare facilities can also present their own problems. Decades of constant use—it is not uncommon for a hospital to have been operating for 30 years or more—may have quite a bit of unused cable behind. It’s a scenario that could easily lead to problems, especially when looking at technology in and around operating theaters. New surgical and audio/video tools are routinely making their way into the healthcare environment, and, as emerging platforms and equipment come into play, they are likely to require cabling that is also more advanced than what is sitting unused in the ceiling. Unfortunately, when asked if mystery wires should be removed, too many building operators respond “no.”

Other types of aged structures might also drop hurdles in your path. The construction of older buildings that are (or were) part of a school system are one example. 

“Most of them were built with either concrete or brick walls,” Johnson said, adding that, as a result, much of the cabling was likely installed in conduit or wire mold. “We would have to yank them out of the wire mold or remove the wire mold from the wall, so there’s more time involved with that.” 

Another very real possibility is that the cabling in these older environments was not secured with something as removal-friendly as D-rings. 

“They used zip ties to tie things up,” Johnson said. 

These situations will no doubt require more work for the contractor and should be factored into the bid and project schedule.

About the Author

Julie Knudson

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

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