Cable Labor Estimate Standard - Ceiling Runs

By Brian Rhodes, Published Nov 25, 2014, 12:00am EST

Running cabling is routinely one of the biggest costs on a new project, and being able to estimate basic costs is an important first step for end users and installers alike.

In the second entry from our IPVM Install Labor Estimate Standard, we focus on the most common and time consuming aspects for running new cable.

Two Common Scenarios

We asked survey takers to give us their typical installation manpower estimate for 50 feet of new cable run overhead, providing an image and text description:

Low Tile Grid Ceiling: "This location has no existing raceways or hooks, with no access from attic space above. How many hours would you estimate to run cabling in a 50' (~15m) length of the acoustic tile/drop grid, 9 foot high ceiling type below? Why?" 

High Hard Panel Ceiling: "This location has no existing raceways or hooks, with ample access from attic space above. How many hours would you estimate to run cabling in a 50' (~15m) length of the solid panel, drywall sheathed 12 foot high ceiling type below? Why?"

Inside, we provide estimates and color commentary on the key factors impacting those estimates.

Low Tile Grid Ceiling

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"This location has no existing raceways or hooks, with no access from attic space above. How many manhours would you estimate to run cabling in a 50' (~15m) length of the acoustic tile/drop grid, 9 foot high ceiling type below? Why?" 

This picture accompanied that question to illustrate the environment:

Results: Over 60% of the responses fell between 1.0 to 2.0 manhours. The full spread is shown below: 

Installation of Cable Hooks/Hangers: Biggest Cost Variable

We did not address any details regarding the methods or requirements of installing a run of cable, instead leaving details like code requirements, or cable hanging details to be illustrated by the responder. In general, the biggest driver between short and long install times was the inclusion of hangers above tiles. 

In several cases, the addition of installing raceway or hooks doubled the estimate:

  • "Pulling cable 50ft through drop ceiling would take approximate 2 hours. The most time will be for installing jhooks to keep wiring off of drop ceiling. Some time you run into issues where the duct work and other mechanical structure delay pulling the cable."
  • "2.0 hours. a. open ceiling tiles, b. mount J-hooks or other cable management, c. run pull string, d. pull cable, e. test cable continuity, f. replace tiles & clean up."
  • "We can do 50' in 1 hour with ladders and existing cable trays, but it could easily take 4 hours if we install them new."
  • "3hrs possibly longer..this is tricky you possibly could run the cabling in inside offices provided they are accessible then come back out into the hallway. If not I would install plastic raceway Panduit and fittings let dry overnight and then snap in wire. I usually run clear silicone glue on the double face tape as a precaution to help support wire...been behind jobs to re-glue raceway where tape does not hold weight of wire."
  • "2.0 man hours. Will provide "bat wing" clips and 1" rings on pencil rods every 8'."
  • "From past experience I usually would estimate 50 ft per hour. If existing raceway or hooks 100 ft per hour."

Hangers Not Always Used

However, several installers noted they install cables just by laying them atop tiles. In many areas, this practice is not permitted by code and can be the source of issues or a safety hazard, but in general those mentioning installation without hangers estimated smaller times:

  • "0.5 hour to run as cable runs in drop ceiling are easiest. Cable can lay on grid if customer has no problem with it."
  • "Not sure if I am being asked to put in the hooks in or not. In my experience, most people just say put a cable in and make it as cheap as possible. 1 hour pop ceiling tile pull cable and drop tiles back."
  • "No more then 1 man hour especially if you can just leave cables laying on the dropped ceiling and not to put them in some kind of cable canal."
  • "0.25 manhours if we are running cables overhead in the shortest path.  It will take more time to run it through hooks."

The average of all answers is 1.85 manhours for 50' of cable run above a grid ceiling.

High Hard Panel Ceiling

This location has no existing raceways or hooks, with ample access from attic space above. How many manhours would you estimate to run cabling in a 50' (~15m) length of the solid panel, drywall sheathed 12 foot high ceiling type below? Why?

Results: Over 66% of the responses fell between 2.0 to 3.0 manhours. The full spread is shown below:

The second scenario was answered with less certainty across the board, with 30% of the answers outright giving a range rather than a single value. In many cases, the uncertainty translated into a hesitant response without actually being able to see the site firsthand:

Seeing is Believing

  • "I've been climbing in attic 30yrs or so without looking first I honestly cant tell you. "
  • "Probably 2 hours but would depend on what the attic space looked like and how to gain access especially between firewalls."
  • "I would estimate 3 hours. Even though the attic has ample access space, it can take time to be diligent about getting holes in the right spot the first time, there is little to no forgiveness with drywall."
  • "I would strongly consider changing it to 6 total man hours, depending on how hard the site is to access."
  • "We need to see what's up there before giving a number. There's just too many potential obstacles to do it blind."

Attic Access Important

Many answers also suggested the final estimate is subject to how easy access really would prove to be. In general, the restricted access of a hard ceiling drove estimates higher than a grid tile space of the same length:

  • "1 hour, if for sure you have access from above"
  • "2 men 2 hours each - pulling through attic space verses drop tile"
  • "1 hour to run cable minimum. Would vary depending on access to attic is enough for tech to walk above ceiling or just pop up through hatch to fish cable across. Also depends on obstructions on the attic or in the area where the attic hatch is located. (e.g. closet full of junk)"
  • "Accessing the ceiling is cumbersome, but once up there, the cable run should be fairly quick."
  • "2hrs. 1 technician. With easy roof access, cable would be run very quickly and efficiently."

The average of all answers is 2.51 manhours for 50' of cable run above a hard/ drywall sheathed ceiling.

Longer Lengths Scale

We specifically asked our survey pool to estimate 50 foot runs, but the answers the gave typically scale for longer continuous lengths.  For example, running 100 feet of cable in a grid/tile ceiling system reachable by ladder can be estimated at 3.5 - 3.75 manhours.

The exception to easy scaling these estimates are when obstructions like firewalls or other overhead mechanical obstructions like ductwork pop up. Our 50 foot estimates are based on a 'clear' run with no such obstructions

1 report cite this report:

VMS Labor Standards on Dec 11, 2014
We continue our industry first installation labor standards result with a...
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