Guest column: Guidance to fire safety and regulations when it comes to cabling

Kevan “Cable Kev” Sproston, product manager, highlights the fire safety measures that should be taken when cabling a home.

We’re lucky to be involved in an industry that deals mainly with entertainment and where home cinemas remain the big-ticket item that a lot of integrators get excited about. Others revel in delivering effortless control systems or cashing in on the vast opportunity of lighting control. Then there’s the CCTV and security guys too. There’s one thing they all have in common, and that’s cables.

I’ve come to terms over the years with the fact that I’m a cable nerd, my career has taken me to this place more by accident than design. In the same vein, I’m sure a lot of you reading this will wonder how you got to be involved in a business installing systems in prestigious multimillion pound homes… My journey into cables started early in my career, I was there at the inception of structured cabling in the UK, helping to drive the adoption and implementation in banks and commercial buildings. Back then it was a bit like the gold rush, except with copper. New tech and business thrived on the networks we put in, but once we’d hit market saturation and the country was wired with copper to every office and every desk, it was time for me to take my skillset to a different market.

Being a structured cabling man to the core, I was fascinated by the adoption and adaptation of category cable networks for AV applications. I could see that whilst I’d come from a background entrenched in certifications, the peeps in the AV world were often simply installing network cabling and testing it using the methodology that I affectionately refer to as “plug and pray”. Here was my chance to help educate the industry and take some of the service call pain away by sharing my knowledge of engineering and best practice. In short this is why “Cable Kev” is working with the AV community today.

Whilst you might not think cables are sexy, you need them. In fact, you need lots of them and lots of different types. Why you choose a specific cable in AV comes down to a wide range of factors. Perhaps you like the guys and gals you buy from, or perhaps you’re driven by price? It could be that performance is your number one priority, and of course performance can be broken down into subjective and objective views. I’ll leave the subjective to the hi-fi guys; for me, it’s always been about objective engineering data. In AV, lots of design decisions are based on objective data, such as how many channels of audio you need for Atmos, or how bright your projector will be on a cinema screen. Will the HDMI cable you’ve chosen deliver the latest and greatest formats? Does that category cable you just pulled have the bandwidth to reliably deliver HDBaseT to the TV in the master bedroom?

There’s one consideration that in my opinion is too often overlooked or misunderstood and that is safety, more specifically fire safety. As responsible installers, the buck ultimately stops with us to ensure the safety of what we’re installing. If you're hanging a big expensive projector on the ceiling, you can bet your bottom dollar that the fixings you put in would be substantial enough to suspend a small family car, but what about the cabling you’ve installed? What if the worst happened and there was a fire? Have you done your bit to make sure you haven’t put clients at risk? After all, once installed in a void or duct, the cable is out of sight and out of mind, hence easy to forget.

The good news is that there are standards and best practices that exist to help us mitigate the risks. Now I do think it is fair to say that there is some confusion in the industry, not everyone knows what the fire regulations are or what the fire ratings mean. There’s also a lot of people that don’t know how we apply them practically. That’s why as a cabling specialist, father, brother, and friend, it’s something I’m passionate to educate people about. Safety, specifically fire ratings, is important; so much so, that I’ve delivered numerous talks about them, including quite a few at the CEDIA tech summits across the UK.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to a brand agnostic professional briefing paper on the very subject of fire ratings that I want to share with you for the sake of educating fellow AV family members. To my knowledge, it’s the first in this market sector to give such clear and comprehensive guidance in a document, and I’m proud to have been involved, along with the team at Kordz cables. It’s 20 pages long, explains the materials, classifications and labelling, and even has a quick start guide to fire ratings. Don’t in any way be put off reading it because it’s been produced by a cable manufacturer, it’s about engineering and science. Kordz is an engineering-first company with a passion for education, which is why there is such a synergy for me to be working with them. Anyway, I’ll let you judge that for yourselves.

A Professional Integrator’s Guide to Cable Fire Ratings is available now, and there’s some great info inside. Of course, it goes without saying, if you see me at a trade show then please feel free to come find me and ask me more about fire ratings or frankly any cable questions you have, I’ll be the one wearing the orange glasses and orange shoes! 

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