5 Low Voltage Design Mistakes That Cost Double on the Backend

May 5, 2020

Crystal Ball

As a professional engineer who has been in the industry for almost 30 years, I've encountered just about every low voltage issue you can imagine. For clients and engineers, the most frustrating situations are the design mistakes that cost double on the back end. This means designers have to do double the work, and clients have to foot the doubled bill.

Now, we don't have crystal balls to foresee the future, but we can reflect on the past to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

With a little additional planning and minimal expenses, you can minimize and eliminate most potential low voltage issues before they rear their ugly heads. Here are five low voltage design mistakes that can cost you double on the backend (and how to prevent them).

1. Cutting Technology Infrastructure

Technology is advancing rapidly. The systems we use today will be outdated in just a few years, if not in a couple of months. Wireless technology, for example, is everywhere. Bandwidth is increasing as more and more wireless devices are being developed and pushed to the market. Our society has become dependent on WiFi because wireless connectivity is great… until it doesn't work. 

When your WiFi inevitably has issues, your organization needs a backup plan. Direct connections are still the best low voltage option for speed, reliability, and security of data. At least one, if not two, cables should be installed at each permanent work station as an alternative to WiFi. This way, your systems can continue to run, and your people continue to work efficiently.

wifi comic

2. Neglecting First Responder Codes

Speaking of wireless, high-quality cell phone service inside modern buildings is becoming more difficult. Besides the high concentration of users, our modern energy-efficient building materials are hindering cellular penetration. Pathways for Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) should be designed in the central core stacked Telecom rooms with means to exit the rooms and into the rentable spaces.

As municipalities adopt current NFPA codes, buildings must accommodate First Responders' wireless communication systems. Many DAS systems already incorporate these systems, but it's the building owners/operators' responsibility to ensure that all levels can transmit and receive these emergency frequencies. Enclosed or underground parking structures can be particularly problematic. Providing additional pathways from the property line to the Main Telephone Room or Minimum Point of Entry room is an easy fix. We recommend speaking to an expert to ensure that your building is fully compliant.

3. Waiting to Engage Service Providers

Service providers, phone companies, internet providers, and Cable Television Providers have different requirements to service your building. Failing to get them engaged during your projects' design phase can lead to a coordination nightmare down the road and wind up being very costly. As mentioned above, they have specific requirements to bring their services into your building. Still, they also have space, power, and cooling specifications. It's important to know what each provider needs upfront to design an efficient system to handle all of the demands. Imagine nearing completion of a project and finding out that the providers require you to upgrade power services and cooling equipment. That's an expensive afterthought.

4. Overlooking the Security System Plan

Security and Life Safety systems are a must, not only from a code compliance requirement but also for insurance and liability reasons. During the planning and programming phases for your project, consider all the malicious threats to your building and personnel. Drawing security lines around your points of entry and sensitive areas make it easy to identify vulnerable points.

It's essential to take into account future growth and organizational development. Consider roughing in doors and windows for future security devices. Rough-ins can be as simple as conduits and pull strings in the door and window frames, to full-blown conduit and wire installation back to where a security panel would be installed. The security devices can be easily added in the future.

Your security systems keep your people safe and your assets secure; you should have a well thought out and robust plan in place. Taking this additional time upfront to strategize will improve your system's quality and keep costs low in the long run.

5. Lacking Professional Expertise for Technology Systems

NTI logo

And last, consider the use of experienced Professional Engineers to work with your other design consultants. Professional engineers have to keep up to date with their certifications and credentials. A considerable amount of time is spent every month reviewing current trends and pursuing continuing education requirements. 

So when it comes to investing in expensive building technologies, you want someone who is licensed, well informed, and willing to stand behind their design. Don't just take your techie friend's advice on a "great" system they have at their office. Rely on the expertise of a professional engineer and integrator who understands your organization's needs. Taking shortcuts to save a few dollars here and there is sweet until the bitter reality of failed systems, lost productivity, or lost life. The after costs associated with dealing with these events can be more than double the original savings.

These five low voltage design mistakes are easy to fall victim to, and the consequences are costly. During your next project, or even if you have a current one, take the time to consider these nuances, or bring on a team member who will do it for you.

Our design studio and project managers take proactive measures to ensure that your projects stay within budget and are delivered on time. Click here to learn more about our design studio services.

* James was a Principal at NTI before retiring in June of 2020.

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