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The Difficult DAS Installation

It was a clear and moderate day when we rolled into the parking lot of the former Sears building that had been gutted and was being refurbished to house a variety of different stores.  The building shell was specifically designed to be a 3-floor department store which is not compatible with operating stores that are owned by different entities.  One of the floors was the basement which makes radio reception exceptionally poor.  The ground floor also had substandard reception from the fire department radio system that was located on a mountain top just a few miles away.  Unfortunately, it was not close enough to work well enough on the bottom two floors, but it worked very well on the second floor.  This meant that we did not have to wire up DAS antennas on the second floor.


Inside Building Antenna 1

When we were first engaged by the general contractor (GC) our job was to design the project.  One of our people went to the job site to take signal measurements to determine if the entire building needed to be wired or just part of the building.  While walking the floors of the building with a spectrum analyzer and a calibrated radio, it seemed clear that the top floor would escape our wrath and that only the ground floor and the basement would need to have us install DAS antennas.  Unfortunately, our person did not pay attention to the tall ceilings and report them to the office for the bid process, as we were there to design the system and not to install the system.  After the design was approved, we were asked to bid the job and the memories of the job walk had faded in the memory of things past, making our job of bidding the project a bit awkward and ill informed.  We bid the job and were notified a week later to proceed with the installation, so we put it on the schedule and soon the day arrived for us to prepare for the job.

We started the job the day before we were to show up by talking to the GC when we were getting ready to load the vehicles with the materials to install the system.  The GC informed me that they decided not to install the conduit and that we would have to mount the antenna cables and antennas directly to the ceiling.  Since the décor called for an open ceiling, we voiced our objections (to no avail) that the installation would not look aesthetically pleasing and that it should be in conduit as we originally proposed.  They said that the building owner did not want to spend the additional money for conduit.  We had bid the job on the assumption that our cables would be in conduit and this was going to cost us a huge amount of labor that we had not included in our bid.  This was going to cost us a considerable amount of money that we estimated to be $2,000-$6,000 for additional labor.  The GC was totally unsympathetic and said that we had given them a price and that they expected us to honor that price.  (Unfortunately, we had not included the proper disclaimer conditions in the “boiler plate” of terms, so we did not have a valid argument for the additional fees.)  Lesson #1.  It was time to load up the materials for the job and include many items that we had not priced into the job so that we could get it done.

The next day we showed up at the job site in the morning to find that there were many conditions that were going to make the job difficult.  First, all the ceilings were approximately 24 feet tall, making it totally impractical to work from any of our ladders which were not tall enough for this job.  We asked the GC for the use of some of the scissor lifts at which time they told us that we needed to bring our own and that they do not supply them.  Every job that we had done up to this point either did not require a lift or if one was needed, we were able to use one of the existing lifts.  Typically, most of the jobs that we did had no requirement for a lift and if we needed to use one, it was for only a small portion of the job where the ceiling was particularly tall.  This time, we needed the lift for the entire job, start to finish.  After discussing the job amongst ourselves, we decided that we would need at least two lifts to perform the work, otherwise we would be wasting too much time with our personnel.  After contacting several lift rental companies and discussing rates, delivery time and other factors, we decided that we needed to abandon ship for the day and come back another time to start the project.  The lifts had a daily cost plus they had delivery charges, so we needed uninterrupted time to perform the work.  This was going to add another $2K of cost to our job.  We decided to start the job one week from Monday with the man lifts to maximize our ability to work with the lifts in case we ran more than the anticipated 3 days which seemed likely this time with sufficient personnel to get the job done efficiently.  We went back inside the building and walked the job again to make certain that we did not overlook anything.  We almost got it right this time.  Lesson #2.

Another item that we discovered was that there were improvements that were not on our plans.  The main portion of the ground floor was also having tenant improvements being done at the same time as the building rehabilitation which added multiple walls to the building shell.  We did not have copies of the tenant improvements and had not taken this into account during the bidding process.  We went to the GC to discuss this issue and they attempted to claim that it was our oversight.  However, after reviewing the emails that we received from the GC, it was clear that they had not sent us the information regarding the tenant improvements.  I told them that additional antennas would be needed to accommodate the tenant improvements and we eventually agreed on a price for the additional work.  It also became apparent at the same time that we had not planned for some of the improvements that were part of the building shell in the basement, so we added a similar amount of antennas in the basement at our expense.  Lesson #3.

Tenant Improvements

We now had about 9 days to gather materials that we had not anticipated when we prepared for the job the first time.  Now that we had to run the cables without conduit, we needed to figure out how to mount the antennas which were designed to be mounted to a ceiling tile, drywall or an electrical breakout box that would have been part of the conduit system.  The antenna was not designed for our circumstances of having an open ceiling without conduit.  The building also contained a lot of steel and concrete beams which necessitated going around them since we could not drill them.  We thought that we would use low voltage cable hangers that could be set by a Ramset gun.  We figured out the materials list and priced out the materials.  This was going to cost us another $2K-$3K on top of the other issues we encountered.  To work efficiently, we felt that we would need two Ramset guns, so we ordered them along with the materials.  It occurred to us that possibly someone would object to the Ramset gun noise, so we called the GC to let him know that it would be extra noisy while we worked on the job due to the Ramset guns.  They told us that we would not be allowed to use the Ramset and we needed to find another way to do our job.  This just cost us another $2K in labor due to it taking more time without being able to use the Ramset guns.  I was beginning to wonder if we were going to pay them for the privilege of doing the job and that they must have received other bids for considerably more money from other contractors, so they took our bid before we changed our minds.

It was now a week from Monday and the job needed to get done.  We met in the parking lot in front of the building and started unloading our materials and tools.  We started looking for the lifts that we had delivered and found what we thought were our lifts based upon the description from the GC where the lifts were parked.  We grabbed one of the lifts and drove it over to our vehicles.  When we attempted to drive the other lift over to our vehicles, it only drove in circles.  The steering would not work properly so we had no way to drive it since we could not turn the wheels from the position they were currently pointing.  Now I had to get on the phone and discuss with the rental company that one of the lifts did not work properly.  I spent about 25 minutes on the phone with them being transferred from one person to another being given different stories.  Eventually, we determined that we had been directed to the wrong lifts since these belonged to another contractor who was not present that day.  We had to go on the hunt for our lifts which we eventually found.  This fiasco cost us an hour of work for 5 people, but finally we were able to get started on the job.  Lesson #4.

We drove the lifts around the side of the building to the loading dock ramp so that we could get the lifts down to the basement level where we decided to start the project.  We walked the basement to determine the location of each antenna and splitter so that everyone was on the same page.  We had a copy of the plans that indicated the location of each item, but often the job site conditions dictate that we should change the location of certain items.  Such was the case here, so we marked the new locations on our plans and set up the cable reel with the 3’ diameter spool of cable that weighs several hundred pounds.  Using the two lifts, we started pulling cable off the reel and running the cable below the ceiling which was often above other utilities such as air conditioning ducts, sprinkler lines lighting and other objects that we could use as a temporary support while pulling the cable until we were able to secure the cable to the ceiling.  Slowly, we made progress on the project of running the cables, but we also realized that we did not have many of the materials that we needed to complete the job.  Sam had been tasked with sourcing all the items, but he basically failed miserably at that job after we were told that we could not use the Ramset guns.  He essentially walked away from sourcing the materials and now that we were on the job, I had to source everything that we needed that we did not already have with us.  This became an almost full-time job for 2 days while the other 4 men worked at running the cables.  I went from one supply house to another trying to figure out how to mount the antennas with the materials that I was able to find.  In the middle of my search for materials, we received a call from a local hospital that their base station was stuck on the air and they needed us to resolve the situation.  We tried to talk them through what needed to be done to fix the problem, but to no avail.  So in between the multiple trips to multiple Home Depot stores and wholesale electrical houses, I went to the hospital to take care of their problem.  Before the end of the day, it became apparent that we would need a 3rd lift for the rest of the week as we now knew based upon our progress for the first day that it would take us the entire week to install the equipment for this job at an additional price of $2K.  Lesson #5.

Man on Lift 1Tuesday, the guys showed up at the job site and found the 3rd lift without a hassle.  They drove the lift down the ramp and Steve proceeded to install connectors on the cable, install the signal taps and signal splitters using the 3rd lift.  Kyle, Sam and Phil continued working on running the cables using the 1st and 2nd lifts while I was running around locating additional materials.  I started at Home Depot around 6:30AM where I found 4 of the boxes for $23 each and I needed 18 of them.  Home Depot only had 4 of them at the store.  Then I went to Lowes and did not find any of those boxes.  The next stop was a wholesale electrical supply looking for 8” x 8” x 4” electrical junction boxes.  Unfortunately, they only had 4 of them available, so I bought them for half the price of Home Depot.  Then I went to Ganahl Lumber because they carry some electrical supplies, but they did not have any of the boxes I needed.  At each of the above places, I was trying to purchase threaded rod hangers, but none of them had the materials in stock and it would take them from 1-3 days to have the materials.  So I got on my computer with my Wi-Fi hot spot and went onto the McMaster-Carr website and found them in stock.  I ordered them over the phone and was told that it would be 9AM before the materials would be ready for pickup, but it would take me that long to get there from where I was located.  I drove to their warehouse and went into Will Call.  The man looked up my order in the computer and declared that it just cleared credit and it would be another hour before it was ready for pickup.  I left there without the anchors and proceeded to drive 40 miles to the jobsite where I delivered the materials I had been able to obtain that were needed immediately by the guys where they were currently working.  I inspected the progress, made my comments on what needed to be changed and cautions about certain aspects of the job.  I was also informed that most of the other contractors had used Ramset guns to mount their equipment to the ceiling which caused me to do a slow burn over being told that we could not use the Ramset guns.  Then I took off to another supply house and was able to obtain 7 more electrical boxes.  Back to the jobsite with those materials and assisted with installation for the next 2 hours.  We called the job for the day and everyone went home except for me since I had to go back to McMaster-Carr to pick up the anchors, then to the office to take care of some essential items and then home by 9PM.

blankThe next day was Wednesday and we were originally supposed to be finishing the job today, but all we had was the bottom floor wired and one string of cable on the ground floor.  I started the day by going to Walters Wholesale to purchase 4 additional boxes that they had in stock and then proceeded to the job site to start making up the antenna boxes by marking, drilling and punching the boxes so that Steve who was working on the lift could install the antennas already mounted to the boxes with the least amount of work.  Steve had to drill the concrete ceiling, install the anchors, cut the threaded rod, install the threaded rod, mount the box to the threaded rod and connect the antenna to the signal tap or splitter.  He continued in the basement until all of the antennas were installed and all of the junctions were connected which took him into the next day.  After I managed to get ahead of Steve’s requirement for completed antenna boxes, I went to another wholesale electric supply to obtain the last of the boxes we needed for the job.  I returned to the jobsite while Steve was still trying to finish the basement antennas.  Sam had to run an emergency calls for some two way radio customers and was not with us for the rest of the job.  The guys went home while I headed back to the office to handle paperwork, emails and other messages.

Thursday, I spent about two thirds of the day making up antenna boxes and managed to finish all of them for the job.  Steve moved his lift upstairs once he finished all of the antennas in the basement and when he tried to get inside the building with the lift, he needed to have a forklift pick up the scissors lift and drop it inside the building.  Kyle and Phil were continuing to run cable and had made progress getting the 2nd and 3rd runs of cable on the ground floor, but now it was time to quit for the day.  At that time, Steve was still working on installing the antennas, taps and splitters after installing the connectors on the cables.  The guys were starting to clean up our workspace, pick up the trash, return tools and materials to their vehicle and organize the job for the next day when we were feeling like we would finish the job.

Man on Lift 3Friday, we got there at our usual time and started running the cables to the roof for the donor antenna to pick up the signal from the fire department radio system.  We installed it along with the lightning arrestor and sealed up the connection to keep water from intruding into the connections.  Then we mounted the equipment on the concrete wall using our rotohammer and wedge anchors.  Kyle and Phil went back to working on the final part of the cabling and had to install a two sleeves in the wall to accommodate two of the antenna cables from the first floor and route them into the DAS 2 hour rated fire equipment room while the 3rd ground floor cable came in from another direction and had to be brought into the room.  Then Kyle and Phil worked on mounting the DAS annunciator in the main hallway where the fire department personnel could see it if they entered the building and routed the cables into the DAS room for attachment to the alarms.  It was now time for the final wiring of the system so Phil proceeded to climb the ladder and work on mounting the cables down the wall to the equipment.  Everything was proceeding well until I looked for the DC backup power cable which I could not find.  Eventually, I found the connector for the DC backup, but it had no wire on it, so I had to find some wire and my soldering tools so that I could make up the power cable for the backup power.  After that was completed, I returned to the DAS room so that I could complete the routing of the cables to their proper location and have it ready for Steve to make the final connections.

BDA EquipmentNow that the system was complete, we started running checks on the system to determine if it was working correctly.  We took our calibrated portable radios out of our vehicles and started walking the building systematically checking the signal strength of the radio signal.  This radio system is a conventional radio system, so it does not transmit all the time like some of the more sophisticated systems.  This means that we have to move to another location in the building and wait for the fire department to say something on the radio.  The waiting for a transmission is sometimes as long as 10 minutes and other times as short as a few seconds.  Since we have to check a minimum of 20 locations per floor, it can take quite some time (typically about 2 hours) before we know whether the system is performing according to our expectations and will pass inspection.  The system performed well and felt strongly that it will pass inspection.  After the City inspected, they agreed with us.

Another successful project completed by Raycom…………….

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