Abandoned cable: New solutions to an old problem

Sept. 1, 2004
The National Electrical Code (NEC) now requires that all abandoned cable be removed whenever a cabling project of any kind (new install or moves/ adds/changes) commences.

The National Electrical Code (NEC) now requires that all abandoned cable be removed whenever a cabling project of any kind (new install or moves/ adds/changes) commences. Are your clients' tenant spaces and buildings in compliance with this Code requirement?

Developed and revised every three years, the NEC as of 2002 has a provision requiring the removal of abandoned cable. While the NEC itself does not have the effect of law, the majority of jurisdictions in the United States adopt the NEC by reference into local building and fire codes, which can then be enforced by the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). If your local AHJ has adopted the NEC 2002, you need to be aware of its potential impact on your clients' tenant space or buildings.

Speaking the Code

NEC 2002 defines abandoned cable as "installed communications cable that is not terminated at both ends at a connector or other equipment and not identified for future use with a tag" (Articles 800.2 and 770.2). Since many have taken the approach of tagging cables as opposed to actually removing them, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA—Quincy, MA; www.nfpa.org), the organization that publishes the NEC, most likely will eliminate the "future use" provision.

Why should you be concerned with abandoned cables? First, the accumulation of thousands of feet of cabling left behind in the ceilings and walls of tenant spaces is becoming a major concern for life safety. Cables that have been abandoned in ceilings, riser systems, and air-handling systems can fuel a fire and create heavy smoke that can impede exiting a building during a fire.

Second, abandoned cable is a potential business tool to help you develop better relationships with building owners, which should equate to increased sales and service.

As local AHJs adopt NEC 2002 and begin enforcement, building owners and tenants could face hundreds of dollars in additional cost to remove and dispose of abandoned cables. Building owners also need to ensure that tenants install proper cables to meet the building requirements for life-safety considerations of their other tenants.

Owner-tenant agreements

Since the building owners have the ultimate responsibility, they will need to take steps to protect themselves and their properties from potential liability. Tenants come and go; if owners don't become proactive, then a building could easily contain abandoned cable from multiple former tenants.

So, what options are available to the building owner? And what can you as a cabling contractor do? First, develop a system to conduct surveys of building spaces for your existing clients, properly identifying cables by the services they perform, and by their listings (i.e., CMR for communications riser, CMP for communications plenum). The NEC 2002 requires certain types of cables to be installed in particular environments. Any cable that is not listed for the environment in which it is installed also must be removed.

Cabling contractor involvement

How can you help the building owner cover the cost of complying with the Code?

Leases should clearly state that tenants shall not abandon any cabling during the term of the tenancy and require a qualified cabling contractor to remove cables upon the termination of the contract. I recommend that you suggest your building-owner clients add language to their leases to require the removal of cabling installed by the tenant or, at the very least, a provision to back-charge the tenant for its removal.

Another option, one we are currently exploring with local property managers and building owners, is having the cabling infrastructure become part of the initial lease between owner and tenants. A set fee can be included in the lease for the installation of structured cabling, and its removal upon lease termination. This fee can be a small monthly add-on to the lease. By making it part of the lease, the building owner retains more control over the potential liability of abandoned cable.

Get what's coming to you

As cabling contractor, you may either work out the financial arrangements with the building owner, or with a leasing company so that you are paid when you install the cabling, and again when you remove it. The owner then collects an additional monthly fee to cover your services.

Another option for existing leases is maintenance agreements between building owners and cabling contractors to remove cabling as soon as a tenant terminates the lease. Coordination with owners is vital, as a new tenant may be able to use some or all of the existing cable. This is where the retention of a qualified cabling contractor can benefit the owner. Because the lease may be written to contain provisions for new cabling installation, a single vendor should handle both installation and removal, simplifying the process for the owner.

Since the NEC is revised every three years, the abandoned cable issue is sure to receive further discussion. This is a requirement for which we need to assist building owners, managers, and tenants in working together to ensure that all parties understand their responsibilities to comply with the Code.

Richard S. Anderson, RCDD is with Data Cabling Service (Boise, ID; www.datacabling.com).

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