Pro AV's research indicates that pulling cable and making connections and terminations probably account for the majority of billable hours on most system installation projects.
THE SOLUTION: “We thought we wouldn't be the best at doing the cable runs, so we hired an electrical contractor,” says Nelson. “On larger projects, we typically don't pull our own wire. We're more than willing to subcontract out that particular task if we know a strategic partner that will do a better job.”
The particularly strong presence in Washington state of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers factored into this strategy, but there are other good reasons for Nelson to subcontract out cable pulls to electricians, he explains. For one, electrical contractors are more intimately familiar with Article 640 of the National Electrical Code, the part that deals with low-voltage audio systems.
“There are things in the code that govern what we do, but a lot of AV contractors aren't aware of that,” says Nelson. “They think it's just for power and lighting.”
Offsetting liability is another reason why Sound Solutions subcontracts its wirework to other vendors. At the Walla Walla church, for example, the electrical subcontractor damaged the ceiling, “and they had to bring in their insurance company to settle things with the church,” says Nelson. “It was unfortunate for them, but it was fortunate for us that we didn't run into that.”
That doesn't mean you shouldn't closely monitor the work of electrical subcontractors. “You have to communicate exactly the wire paths you want to take,” says Nelson, recalling another recent church install. “We thought the cable should run through the back wall and through the ceiling, but the electrician ran it through the front wall, which doubled the run. Not only did that create a cost issue, but with that longer length of cable run, the resistance was much more than we expected or designed for.”
Hiding loudspeaker cable in aesthetically sensitive buildings, such as the Episcopal Church of St. Matthews in San Mateo, Calif., can be a challenge. One method is to follow the lines and junctions of dark wood and trim.
Of course, there are plenty of smaller projects for which Sound Solutions pulls its own wire. To keep inventory costs in control, Nelson advises choosing a finite set of cables that will meet the widest variety of needs rather than stocking every gauge and plenum and non-plenum variety of cable imaginable. He also advises to order cable in bulk. “Take advantage of manufacturers' free shipping offers,” he says. “Oftentimes, if you order a certain amount, the shipping is free.”
4. USE EXISTING CABLING.
THE INTEGRATOR: Jeff Galatro, owner of Commercial Sound and Video, Sacramento, Calif.
THE JOB: Galatro works in a lot of government buildings that have interlocking ceiling tiles. Removing just one tile means the installer has to rebuild an entire jigsaw puzzle when the room wiring is finished.
THE SOLUTION: “I try to use as much of the existing wire in these buildings as I can,” says Galatro, noting that many government facilities he works in were wired for Ethernet capability over a decade ago using plenty of Cat-5 cable that can be repurposed. For example, video signals can be sent effectively over Cat-5 using recently introduced distribution amplifiers. “For Cat-5, the electronics to amplify and equalize signals have gotten a lot better of late,” says Galatro.
When he does have to pull cable, Galatro likes to use “old wire to pull new wire through.” This is done simply by attaching the new cable to the end point of an old one, then pulling the latter through at the other end. When pulling new wire, he also likes to use fiber-optic for anything longer than 25 feet. “With fiber, unless you destroy the wire, it's going to work, and you're not going to get any RF interference,” he says.
5. USE MORE SPACE-EFFICIENT CAT-5 CABLING.
THE INTEGRATOR: Tom Schraufnagel, design engineer of ExhibitOne Corp., Phoenix
THE JOB: Like Galatro, Schraufnagel also finds himself working in a lot of government buildings — courtrooms, specifically — with tedious-to-remove ceiling tiles and wiring conduit that includes the kind of sharp turns that fish tape and stiff fiberglass push rods can't overcome. “A lot of electricians will make bends in their flex conduit that are too drastic,” says Schraufnagel, adding that other times, the older conduit has simply become too full over the years to add wiring.
ExhibitOne's cabling work mostly is done in government buildings, such as this one at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Las Vegas. A lot of tedious work, such as removing ceiling tiles and wiring conduit over tough obstacles goes into these retrofits.
THE SOLUTION: Also like Galatro, Schraufnagel is fond of routing audio and video over Cat-5, which is skinnier and easier to pull in many cases than other kinds of cable.
“You can get it into a lot smaller spaces,” says Schraufnagel.
Instead of going through walls and ceilings, Schraufnagel will often run narrow strands of Cat-5 along decorative moldings. “We've also taken it out of the courtroom and run it in the hallways to hide it,” he says.