Wiring a Building

[Updated 2004.]

Planning for and installing voice, telephone, cable, satellite and future services for a building can be a daunting task. Below we have broken a project of this complexity down to three major sections: How to plan the infrastructure that will support these services, How to plan for distributing those services to the owners/tenants, and finally how to choose what kinds of service to provide and what vendors can provide those services.

Part 1: Distribution of services through the building

There are two ways to distribute voice, data, cable, and future technologies throughout the building: (a) simply leave it up to each owner and have a completely ad-hoc, unplanned cable tangle running through the building or (b) plan cable pathways and point of entries for different services at a building-wide level. Taking the latter approach allows the building to grow and add new technologies as they appear on the market and will be seen as forward thinking and progressive in the years ahead. During the initial phases of construction, the required closets, junction boxes, and cable conduits can be inserted easily into the structure of the building with minimal effort and before finishing work is done on public spaces.

To distribute services in a organized manner, at a minimum a secure wiring closet with space for a telco rack frame or cabinet needs to be installed in the basement and a cable pathway needs to be installed that accesses at least one junction box on each floor. The closet will need to have adequate space and power for present and future telco equipment and will serve as what Verizon often calls the Point of Entry, or the point at which their copper wiring connects to that of the building.

The cable pathways are traditionally run in the form of a single 3in conduit (much like that which is run for power) from this basement junction closet to a box in the common space of each floor (usually in the stairwell). From these boxes on each floor a 3in conduit should be run to each anticipated unit. From this in-unit junction box, each owner can have access to the full range of services available to the building without massive installation or messy, code-challenging wiring in the common spaces.

In general, we supervise the existing electrical contractor and/or provide specification to the architect such that they can supervise the appropriate vendors for this component. As a rule of thumb, we would estimate $3-4k for the basement closet, equipment, power, etc and $1-2k for each floor for this kind of installation.

Part 2: Provision of services within the building

If there is a desire to advertise that internet access has been provided to each unit in the building, then a minimum of two category 5 data [see this url for an explanation] runs should be run to each unit including white box units. These runs would be pulled through the conduit pathways described above and terminated in the junction box present in each unit. The basement closet side of these runs would then be terminated in a building-owned data network switch and connected to a building-owned DSL or T1 line.

If desired, wireless internet access could be installed in each of the white box units to increase their immediate value and reinforce the image of the building as technologically cutting edge.

For finished units, each owner can decide what level of data and telephone wiring they wish to invest in. We have a series of guidelines for planning network installations and an explanation of the merits of wired vs wireless networks.

As a general rule of thumb, we suggest clients budget $1000 per wired run (which generally includes more than one data/telephone jack) and $1000 per 800/sq/ft for coverage with wireless access points. Specific site configurations and any unusual security considerations, of course, can have a significant impact on these costs.

Part 3: Building-wide internet and telephone service

The two appropriate internet access options for this situation are T1 and DSL. For a comparison of the differences between the two technologies, see our guidelines for selecting internet access. We suggest allowing for a ballpark monthly cost of $400 for DSL or $1000 for T1 service. Many clients these days choose to install two lines and a firewall device to provide redundancy and security. We budget $2-3k for the hardware and configuration of a firewall. Future configuration changes are usually made on an hourly rate and can be done to the requirements of individual tenants.

We have numerous recommendations for what vendors to use and how to provide these services to the building; relationships can be established with internet service providers who will take responsibility for data lines (called a Managed line), ones who will provide full-service email and web services (for the building as a whole or for individual owners individually), and who can provide secondary services (such as voicemail, VPN access on the road, etc),

In recent years, a new technology called Voice over IP (VoIP) has become more common and appropriate for these kinds of installations. This technology is already at the core of most large providers (including Verizon, as described in this article). One such vendor, M5 Networks can provide the entire solution, end to end. This includes internet access for the building, unlimited individual VoIP handsets installed with next day response, remotely hosted voicemail and automated attendant options, and fail-over protection in the form of a second, redundant line.

Part 4: Costs for a high-end residential five floor, 10 unit building

All price estimates below are ballpark figures. Firm quotes are generated from the range of vendors involved once a proposal is accepted. Do note that when when spread across multiple units, the cost per unit is minimal.

Part 1
Estimated cost & fees for five floor, 10 unit building: $12-17k

Part 2
Estimated cost & fees for an average unit: $9-14k

Part 3
Estimated cost & fees for an average installation: $3-5k
Estimated monthly cost & fees: $2-3k