The prominence of low-voltage wiring in the commercial world is mostly a side product of modern business digitization. Computers, internet access, and phone access are a critical contingent of practically any commercial installation. With COVID-19 restricting a lot of the conventional methods of face-to-face communication, even those holdout businesses are needing to convert. None of these essential systems function without proper low-voltage wiring. As a result, any electrical contractor looking to make some serious headway into working with these clients needs to understand low-voltage wiring inside and out. Here are the fundamentals.
Low-Voltage Wiring Basics
First, let’s clarify that the threshold for a set of wiring to be considered low-voltage is lower than 50 volts. This generally means that it holds less power on average than you would typically find in your average wall outlet, which runs at 120V or 240V most of the time. For example, while your standard lamp or other appliance is standard-voltage, a lot of the network/communication equipment in a commercial business is at low voltage.
Low-voltage systems run on an infrastructure known as structured cabling. This is separate from the conventional wiring in a building, which means that it requires a specific set of expertise and isn’t interchangeable with other wiring knowledge.
This puts smaller electrical contractors in a bind. Of course, you want to compete with your larger competitors who generally cover these serves and others. However, if you tackle a low-voltage job without the proper training, you risk impacting your client’s network and staining your reputation.
What are some of the significant differences between structured cabling and conventional wiring? Let’s take a look.
Fragility: Low-voltage wiring is far more delicate than other types of wiring. As a result, an untrained hand could easily damage or destroy cable while pulling it. Generally, the maximum pulling tension is lower than 25 pounds.
Bending Capabilities: Your typical low-voltage wiring can’t bend at a 90-degree angle. This means you need to loop it, but that loop also needs to meet manufacturer guidelines to avoid breaking the cable and hurting the signal.
Cable Type: Anyone interested in working with low-voltage wiring needs to familiarize themselves with Cat. 5e/Cat.6, RG-6, and fiber optic cable. These are generally bundled together in your typical wiring system. Make sure that you install these at least 12 inches away from conventional wiring, and keep them parallel.
Many contractors looking to pick up low-voltage wiring as a part of their suite of services may want to look for outside training for their teams first.
Low-Voltage Wiring Applications
So, with this in mind, what are some of the main items that low-voltage wiring is actually used for?
Telephones: Low-voltage wiring is necessary to set up any multi-phone system. This applies whether you plan on using fiber optics, Wi-Fi, or ethernet.
Wi-Fi systems: Wi-Fi is the lifeblood of a lot of modern commercial settings, from offices to just about any customer-facing niche you can think of.
Cable: Many people may associate cable with residential use rather than commercial, but many businesses use video/audio equipment either as part of their work or part of their marketing. Some may also subscribe to cable to be used in areas like meeting rooms or as part of a bar or restaurant’s ambiance.
Fire alarms: This applies to both your basic single-building alarms as well as those that alert people across multiple facilities.
Fire suppression systems: These include systems that automatically detect fire and use either liquid, foam, or chemicals automatically to put out the fire without using water. These are common in settings with certain materials or delicate equipment.
Security systems: This includes a wide variety of different types of systems. For example, your conventional CCTV system utilizes cameras, recorders, and monitors to see what’s happening in a building. Access control systems include biometric scanners and card readers that keep unwanted people from certain parts of your building.
Paging/intercom systems: These are essential to delivering messages across a large facility without communicating in person. These generally comprise of call stations and speakers around the facility. This also includes specialized variants of this like nurse call systems in hospitals or senior care facilities.
Collaborative workspaces: More and more businesses are taking advantage of ways to communicate and collaborate without meeting in person. These include cloud-based conferencing tools as well as social software for enterprises. All of these are powered by low-voltage wiring.
Low-voltage wiring contractors have a lot of different elements to juggle. For example, every low-voltage electrician you send out in the field needs to track to make sure they have the equipment they need and are efficiently moving from job to job. They also need to reach back to your team to make sure they are handling things the right way, especially if they are new to this tech. It’s also essential on a larger scale to ensure that the bids you are giving for low-voltage cable jobs and other projects match your actuals enough to provide you with a consistent profit.
Doing all of this on pen and paper will become ineffective, the larger your operations get, and you also lose that deeper level of analytics. Your business should get ahead of the curb and utilize project management software like eSub. We offer a full set of different tools for you to get the most out of your team and your jobs. In addition, we use a modular style, so you only have to buy the parts of our software suite that you need.