Every cable that you install on a job MUST be labeled. No excuses. Labeling will not only save you lots of time on the job site, but will greatly reduce frustrations of troubleshooting and service

Cable Labeling TIPS

Grayson Evans | The Training Department

Cable Labeling TIPS

Author: Grayson Evans, Training Reels - Copyright 2008

Every cable that you install on a job MUST be labeled.  No excuses.  Labeling will not only save you lots of time on the job site, but will greatly reduce frustrations of troubleshooting and service.  Professional labeling will also separate you from the non-professional competition.

Every cable installed on the job (interconnect or infrastructure) should appear on a cable schedule.  The cable schedule is derived from the design drawings and lists each cable to be installed with from-to location and termination information.  It documents what needs to be installed and where, and it serves as an installation record to verify that everything was installed and tested, by who, and when.  It will also indicate any necessary deviations such as a different type of cable or termination.  Each individual cable should be listed on a separate line even if it’s part of a bundled cable.

I spend a lot of time at CEDIA Boot Camp classes and one thing I’m constantly reminded of in every class (including the Advanced class) is that nobody seems to understand how to do proper cable labeling, much less why it’s so darn important. 

I’ve written about proper labeling many times in the past, but the procedure is worth repeating since there are always new people in the industry.   Besides, I’ve got some new labeling techniques worth passing along to save you time and frustration.    I’ve tried every kind of cable labeling you can think of, and there may be a better way than what I’m about to recommend, but I doubt it.

What Needs Labeling

Every cable that you install on a job MUST be labeled.  No excuses.  Labeling will not only save you lots of time on the job site, but will greatly reduce frustrations of troubleshooting and service.  Professional labeling will also separate you from the non-professional competition.

There are two types of cable labeling requirements.

1) interconnect cables - (or jumper cables) short cables used to interconnect A/V or similar equipment that you take to the job and install.  These cables are purchased or fabricated in the shop but always labeled in the shop.  Note that power cables fall in this category, including 120V AC cables that come with purchased equipment.

2) infrastructure cables - typically part of your structured cabling install that are run in the walls and cut to length (CAT5, RG6, 14/2, etc.).  These cables are terminated and labeled on the job site.

The Cable Schedule and Cable Identification

Every cable installed on the job (interconnect or infrastructure) should appear on a cable schedule.  The cable schedule is derived from the design drawings and lists each cable to be installed with from-to location and termination information.  It documents what needs to be installed and where, and it serves as an installation record to verify that everything was installed and tested, by who, and when.  It will also indicate any necessary deviations such as a different type of cable or termination.  Each individual cable should be listed on a separate line even if it’s part of a bundled cable.

Each cable on the schedule has an identifier (ID).  The ID can be numbers, letters, or any combination as long as you understand it and it works.  I’ve tried a bunch of different systems, but always come back to the same conclusion:  don’t try to make the label “make sense.”  That is, don’t try to use labels like “Master Bedroom to Security panel” (there is one exception, see below).

First, you can’t fit it on a label.  Second, I know you think it makes perfect sense when you write it, but come back even a week later and you’ll forget what you were thinking.  Third, it doesn’t tell you enough.  Use a cable reference ID.  The labels you make for the cable will simply reference the ID on the cable schedule.   If you need to know where the cable goes from-to, look it up on the schedule.  I’ve settled on using letters for the ID since numbers are used for location ID’s on the plans.

The graphic above shows how the cable ID is transfered to the cable schedule.  The design drawing shows the cable [ ED / 22 ] (cable ID = “ED”, going from a data switch, port 2, to location 22).  This shows up on the cable schedule as ID=”ED”.  The cable schedule indicates the following:

Cable = C5 (CAT5)
FROM = DC2 (Distribution Center 2)
  Term = G1724-2 (Data switch model G1724, port 2)
TO = 22 (WAP2) (location 22 on the plans, Wireless Access Point 2)
  Term = C5J (CAT5 Jack)

Other columns on the schedule are used to check-off when the cable is installed, trimmed, and tested, and an estimate of the cable run length (used to total each cable type length for inventory control).
It’s best to put interconnect cables on a separate schedule since it needs to indicate length more accurately and whether the cable should be built or purchased.

And don’t forget to label power cables.  This is the one exception I mentioned earlier since these cables are usually not shown on the design drawings.  You should label these with the equipment it connects to such as “Sony MP387”.   Just make sure you use the same identifier on both ends.

Use the Right Label

First, NEVER write the cable ID on the cable with a felt-tip marker.   You may THINK you can write on a small rounded dark object so someone else can read it, but you can’t.  Forget it.  Use a label.

Avoid using masking tape, Avery office peel-and-stick labels or other paper products to label.  They get scraped off when you’re pulling the cable through the hole in the 2X4, they don’t flex, and they’re impossible to move once applied.  Use a polyester or other flexible plastic material.

Commercial label makers from Brady and Dymo (shown above) work fine.  The labels are easy to read, plastic, and self adhesive but the equipment has a couple of down-sides: 

  1. the machines require batteries which you won’t have extras of on the job;
  2. they require tape, another item you won’t have on the truck when it runs out; 
  3. you usually have to trim the label so when you wrap it around the cable, the ID is visible. 

They also seem prone to tape jams on the job, maybe due to rough handling or getting full of sheetrock dust.  These products are best used in the shop and are especially good for labeling your interconnect cables.  And they aren’t expensive.

 


Several manufacturers make sheets of peel-and-stick-on self-laminating adhesive labels.  Just Google “cable labels”.  You can write on them with a felt-tip marker (BEFORE you apply the label) or run em through a laser printer (in the shop).  Self-laminating means they include a colored print-on area and a clear part that wraps over the label, protecting it. 


Individual self-laminating labels (left) that you can write on are best for field use.  You can, of course, pre-print em in the office.

Self-laminating labels are my preference for the field since they are low-tech, easy to peal off and apply, fairly flexible, and you can change/move them easily.  You just have to be able to write legibly. This is IMPORTANT.  If you can’t write so someone else can read it, get someone else to write it! 

Always try to pre-make all the labels in the shop before you get to the site—lots easier. 

I recently discovered an interesting gadget from Dymo for field labeling, the Rhino 101 (right).   It’s a dispenser for self-laminating labels on a roll with a “window” to allow you to write the label, then cut and eject the label ready for application.  The eject mechanism doesn’t work great, but it is easy to position the label by hand. There is even a place to hold a pen, and the thing clips to your belt.  Nice.

Labeling in the Field

Lets talk about prewire cables first.  Besides testing, cable labeling is the most important step in prewire cable installation. Cable labeling must happen BEFORE the cable is pulled.   I use a technique of rough-in/termination labeling, meaning that I apply a temporary label during the prewire and replace it with a permanent label during trim-out. when all the cables are cut to the proper length.  You don’t have to do this, you can always remove and reapply a plastic label, but it won’t look as good.

When the cables to be pulled have been identified from the cable schedule, make TWO rough-in labels for each cable with the SAME cable ID.  ALWAYS use the same label on both ends of the cable (you might be tempted to put “Ch. 1 line OUT” on one end and “Left audio IN” on the other end of an interconnect cable, but DON’t do it.  Why?  Think about it when your trying to troubleshoot that connection).

Write the cable ID on each label (or use pre-made labels) and apply one of the labels to the end you are going to pull.  Temporarily stick the other label on the corresponding cable reel or box.  Pull the cables.  Back at the end you pulled from, cut the cables to the necessary length.  As you cut each cable, apply the other label (that you stuck on the reel or box) to the cable.   When you’re pulling multiple cables this will prevent loosing track of which cable is which.

At trim-out, when the cables are trimmed to their final length and the insulation is stripped for termination, apply the trim label.  The label should be within 4-5” of the connector so your co-worker can find it without having to pull 2 feet of cable out of the wall!

If you have any questions about anything in this TIP or a related cable labeling tip, drop me an e-mail at grayson@trainingdept.com  I will actually answer it!

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