Over the past several years, increasing needs for networking speeds and capacity have led to technology-driven cable installation in office buildings. Because there was no code requirement to remove the cable being replaced, these buildings now contain several billion feet of both active and abandoned communications cabling. The resulting accumulation of these cables increases the fire risk in buildings by adding fuel load, and potential for smoke generation in the event of a building fire.
Leaving old cables in place as new ones are installed is no longer an acceptable practice. Most local jurisdictions in the United States have adopted into their local building codes requirements for the removal of abandoned low-voltage cables based on National Electrical Code® (NEC) 2002 (or later) edition.
In addition to being a life and property safety hazard, abandoned cables also can interfere with airflow, robbing sensitive electronic equipment in data centers of precious cooling and wasting energy. Excessive cabling crowds cable conduits and pathways, increasing the expense of network upgrades.
Over the years, many types of cable made from a variety of materials have been installed in the concealed spaces of commercial and public buildings. Some of these materials were engineered to resist high heat, flame spread and smoke generation, while others were not. Fire spread risk is further exacerbated when fire-stopped penetrations are disrupted and not adequately replaced or protected when new cabling is installed in the same pathways as the old.
Abandoned Cable Defined
The NEC generally 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." » More
Other NFPA standards have consistent provisions for the removal of abandoned cable. including:
2002 NFPA 75 "Standard for the Protection of Electronic Computer Data Processing Equipment" 2002 NFPA 76 "Recommended Practice for the Fire Protection of Telecommunications Facilities" 2002 NFPA 90A "Standard for the Installation of Air Conditioning and Ventilating Systems"
Enforcement of Abandoned Cable Removal
The permitting process triggers inspections. Typically, electrical inspectors are responsible for inspecting the removal of abandoned cable and enforcing the code. Due to the potential fire hazard from the accumulation of abandoned cable, fire and life safety inspectors, such as fire marshals, may also be involved in inspection and enforcement.
Removal of Abandoned Cable
The NEC does not address the issue of when abandoned cable must be removed. Most end-users initiate removal projects when new cabling systems are added, or when a major renovation is being done. There is nothing to stop a local jurisdiction from performing proactive inspections, nor does the concept of "grandfathering" apply.
Another issue not addressed by the NEC is how removed abandoned cable should be disposed. Local code and statutory requirements, may come into play. Some states do not allow disposal of these cables in landfills. While the copper in (copper) cables is often recovered and recycled, the major problem is the large amount of plastic material used for insulation and jacketing. In the past, this problem has not been adequately addressed through recycling.