Monday, June 7, 2010

What is Plenum Cable/Innerduct and When Do I Use it?

What is Plenum?

According to the National Electric Code (NEC) a plenum is a "compartment or chamber to which one or more air ducts are connected and [which] forms part of the air distribution system." To qualify as a plenum, the space above an acoustic tile ceiling would have to extend above other rooms in the same building or be open to ducts connecting it to other parts of the building. The concern is that during a fire, if there is burning material in a plenum air space, smoke and fumes can travel through air ducts to the whole building. For this reason, there are codes to restrict the types of materials (such as wiring) that can be placed in the plenum.

It's quite common to have an acoustic tile ceiling without having a plenum. If your room-dividing walls extend above the dropped ceiling and seal off the space above, you do not have a plenum air space and so may not require plenum-rated wires. You can lift up an acoustical tile in your room and peek in to see if your room has a plenum.

What is the code?

According to the National Electric Code (NEC), in plenum air spaces you must use plenum rated cables, also called Communications Plenum Cable (CMP). Plenum cable is only required when cable is installed in a plenum air space. Materials kept below the ceiling — including speaker wire, computer cables, telephone cords, etc. — do not need to be plenum rated according to the NEC.

Remember that even though the National Electric Code may allow non- plenum cable, the final decision is up to your local Fire Marshall. Most cities adopt the national codes as their own without revision, but some cities modify or expand them and require plenum-rated cable in all situations. Regardless of the code or its interpretation, your Fire Marshall makes the final decision. We recommend that you contact your Fire Marshall if you have questions.

Why is the regulation for plenum air spaces but not for inside the classroom?

It's dangerous to inhale fumes from any burning material. Communications cable is no more dangerous than any other plastic item you would find below the ceiling in a typical classroom — computers, carpet, power cords, etc. Therefore, requiring the use of plenum wires within the classroom itself would have little impact. The regulation covers the area where it's most critical.

How is plenum cable and innerduct different from CRM/PVC?

The Plenum rated coating on wire burns at a much higher temperature and emits fewer fumes.

What does plenum wire look like?

Identifying this cable just by looking at it is hard to tell. It is very similar in look and feel, so you'll want to check the print on the jacket for the letters "CMP"

Who sets the guidelines?

The National Electrical Code (NEC) is a set of guidelines recommending procedures to reduce the risk of fires, electric shock and other hazards associated with electrical installations. The code is advisory in nature, but most state and local building departments across the country use the NEC as the basis for their own electrical codes. Some local codes may be more restrictive, so please check with your local Fire Marshall if you're unsure.

Is compliance with the locally-adopted code mandatory?

Yes. City, county or state codes are mandatory and enforceable as law.

Make sure you and your contractor are on the same page. When life has been lost in a fire a lawsuit is not out of the question if plenum wire has not been installed when it should have been.