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How Designing Less Plenum Cabling Space Can Enhance Sustainability Attributes

When leading sustainable building projects, we tend to focus on the building materials far too often. In doing this, we overlook how the physical design of the building locks us out of choosing sustainable materials. This is especially true for cables jacketed with polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

PVC is the most commonly used plastic material in buildings, and can have negative environmental and health impacts if not managed properly. Like most chlorinated vinyl materials, PVC is a known human carcinogen and shows up five times on the ILFI Red List.

One way to reduce the amount of PVC installed in buildings is to reduce the plenum spaces in a building. “Plenum” is a fire rating for spaces where air circulates openly, usually for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. These spaces are typically above suspended ceilings or below raised floors. Because fire and smoke can spread quickly in these spaces, building codes require Plenum cable jackets to be made of flame-retardant materials—namely, PVC.

“PVC and similar plastic materials negatively impact the environment throughout their lifespan,” said Annie Bevan, Global Head of Sustainability of Superior Essex Communications. “Because plenum cables are commonly jacketed with these materials, they can expose humans and the environment to harmful chemicals not just during their use in the buildings, but long after the building is out of use.”

By designing raised floors or dropped ceilings, we cut our options for sustainable materials. So how can we reduce their presence in the built environment? Bevan believes it takes a bit of innovative building design.

“One way that builders can reduce plenum space and decrease the need for those harmful cabling materials is to design fewer plenum spaces in the building,” explains Bevan. “Plenum fire codes do not apply to open-ceiling designs, making it easier for project teams to implement PVC-free solutions.”

Reducing plenum spaces opens up a number of PVC alternatives for in-building cabling. Superior Essex Communications has worked closely with certification organizations and suppliers to provide non-PVC cabling solutions. It’s halogen-free PowerWise 1G 4PPoE LSHF and Category 6A U/UTP (ScTP) with FEP Jacket cables are jacketed without PVC, eliminating those harmful materials while enabling high-efficiency building networks. These are third-party verified and provide flexibility to teams as they work to remove PVC from their projects.

For more information about how Superior Essex Communications can help your building reduce its impact on human health and the environment, visit superioressexcommunications.com/sustainability/.