Caution - Wet Paint

Get Reel - July, 2009

Paint, water and cable do not mix

Enemy #1 of telecommunications cable is liquid. They simply do not mix. It is a misconception that because copper (UTP and FTP) cables are covered with a durable plastic-based jacketing material to protect copper conductors, that they are also impervious to water or any fluids. Not so. Cable manufacturers precisely engineer and develop jacketing compounds that will be tested to pass safety codes which are then classified to determine where they can or cannot be installed. The cable jacket is designed to be the primary barrier to flame propagation while minimizing smoke generation. But coming in contact with water, paint, chemicals or anything liquid, with the jacket may disrupt or reduce the ability of the jacket to perform this job.
There are versions of outdoor, water-resistant cables, but indoor LAN cables, used in critical data, voice and video applications are quite the contrary. The reason is that water-resistant materials used for insulation and jacketing for outdoor cables, are not rated for indoor fire-resistant usage and would not pass local or national electric safety codes and regulations. 
Purposely painting cable, or even if done by accident – such as incidences where walls and ceilings (most often occurring in the telecom room) are being spray painted after the cable is already installed – can alter the cable performance.   Water-based paints typicall contain water and other solvents. These solvents can attack the cable jacket, which in turn, can alter the cable’s mechanical properties, as well as change the flame characteristics of the cable (the cable may no longer meet plenum or riser requirements). Removing the paint can become even more of a detriment as it may contaminate the jacket with inflammable solvents. This can affect the durability of the cable and its electrical characteristics.
Painting the cable also covers up any legends or markings, including any standards’ listing which is critical, especially when installed in plenum spaces. These markings specify that the cable has been manufactured and tested with the applicable safety requirements, such as UL and ETL listings. Painting may also be in violation of local building codes enforced by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). It is the responsibility of the AHJ to investigate the acceptability of the modification is acceptable and the product still meets safety requirements.
It is best to protect cables from long-term detrimental effects of any liquid matter (including condensation) by installing them in environmentally controlled areas.
Painting the cable jacket is considered a field modification to the cable. Cable manufacturers provide extensive product warranties, as long as they are properly installed, but that they have not been altered through “field modifications,”  which includes painting. Be aware that painted cable negates warranties and that the owner, not the manufacturer, will have to assume any future liabilities for any degradation of the performance of the cable. As a result, cable manufacturers cannot guarantee performance if any properties of the cable, including the jacket, have been altered.

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Carol Oliver Berk-Tek Marketing Analyst