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Don’t Forget Your Jacket!

Winter is just around the corner, and wearing a jacket made of the right material can really make a difference insulating you from the cold!  Equally important is the jacket material (outer coating) choice for your network cables, which provides a layer of insulating protection for the shielding and conductors inside the cable.  Most importantly, the jacket determines where a cable can (or can’t) be used, how physically durable it is, and how resistant it is to fire and other damage. Please note:  This article is for informational purposes only.  Anyone planning, designing, or installing cabling must comply with local code requirements.  Most jurisdictions follow the National Electrical Code (NEC), which is published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).  The conditions of the installation should guide your cabling choice, with fire safety being the primary consideration.  If you are cabling in riser or plenum spaces, be certain to use the proper cabling. Most cable jackets are made of plastic compounds such as PVC or Teflon based materials.  Some of the most common cable jacket materials are: PVC (PolyVinyl Chloride):  One of the most common and general purpose plastics used today and the most common material for cable jackets.  It is low cost, flexible, and highly durable.  However, PVC poses a great risk in building fires as it releases heavy smoke and deadly gases (even before it ignites) such as hydrogen chloride, which turns to hydrochloric acid when inhaled.  CPVC (Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride):  Similar to standard PVC, but can withstand much higher temperatures. XLPE (Cross-Linked Polyethylene):  A thermosetting polyethylene material which can withstand higher temperatures for short periods of time.  It has high dielectric strength, abrasion and crack resistance, and exhibits a good balance between physical, electrical, and mechanical properties. PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) and FEP (Fluorinated Ethylene Polymer):  Both are Teflon based cable jackets often used for plenum spaces due to high-temperature tolerance, and low flame and smoke properties.  Teflon based cable jackets also provide chemical and abrasion resistance, with non-aging characteristics and resistance to sunlight damage. LSZH (Low Smoke Zero Halogen):  PVC, FEP and PTFE contain considerable amounts of halogens. Halogens are a group of highly reactive, nonmetal elements which form highly toxic and corrosive gasses when heated and burned.  LSZH jacketing is composed of thermoplastic or thermoset compounds that emit limited smoke and no halogens when exposed to high sources of heat.  This type of jacketing is becoming popular in applications where ventilation is extremely poor such as rail cars and aircraft.  It is also increasingly being used in public and government buildings and where there is sensitive electronic equipment such as hospitals, supermarkets, airports and control rooms. In addition to jacket material, NEC ratings also provide guidance for selecting the right cable for your application.  The following designations printed on the cable jacket identify the type of cable based on its purpose: BL / BM = Network-powered Broadband Communications Cable CATV = COAX, Community Antenna Television and Radio Distribution Cables CL2 / CL3 = Class 2 and Class 3 Remote Control, Signaling, and Power Limited Cables CM = Communications Cables FPL = Power Limited Fire Alarm Cables MP = Multipurpose Cables OFC = Conductive Optical Fiber Cables OFN = Nonconductive Optical Fiber Cables PLTC = Power Limited Tray Cables Additionally, printed on the cable jacket are suffixes that follow the above designations.  These suffixes further identify the cable rating based on installation conditions:              X = Residential             None or G = General Purpose             R = Riser             P = Plenum Residential ( X ) – rated for use in homes, though they may be used in commercial buildings if conduits are included with the installation. Residential Cables are held to a lower standard than the other types. General Purpose (None or G) – may be used anywhere in commercial buildings other than areas where Riser or Plenum cables are required.  Flame tested and held to a lower standard than either Riser or Plenum cables. Riser ( R ) – rise between floors and may also penetrate either fire rated walls or floors. The cables are subjected to flame tests only, and are not held to as high a standard as Plenum rated cables. Plenum ( P ) – a plenum is a separate space provided for HVAC systems and is usually between the structural ceiling and the drop-down ceiling, and sometimes under a raised floor.  Plenum cables are held to the most stringent testing of any of the cables rated by the NEC, rated for both flammability and smoke generation. For your next cabling project keep in mind that all cables are not created equal.  Cheap and inferior cable is out there.  Always ask for a cable’s data spec sheet to know exactly what you are getting.  Quality cables will have a marking number from a recognized testing agency such as the UL, CSA or ETL, and these numbers can be verified with the testing agency, and often this can be done online. At Falcon Tech, we are committed to providing our customers with high quality products and we only sell tested and verified cables.  Additionally, it is our goal to assist our customers in understanding all the complexities of the data communication industry.  We want to provide you with the most economical products while maintaining safety at all times.