Installing, servicing, and maintaining low voltage communication systems
What is a Low Voltage System?
Have you ever used a VoIP system? What about keyless entry on your car? Plugged your computer into an HDMI cable for a presentation?
Well then, you’ve used low voltage systems. Low voltage systems are electrical systems that run below 49 volts, although this definition varies from country to country. To give you some sense of comparison, an analog phone line runs between 3 to 48 volts and a power line runs between 155,000 to 700,000 volts.
Based on the amount of low voltage electricity that is used in our day-to-day lives, you may be surprised at how often you come in contact with a low voltage contractor. Low voltage contractors come to your home when you have issues with flickering lights, need a security system installed, or need electrical outlet repairs.
Who are Low Voltage Electricians?
Low voltage electricians really began to expand as a career in the early 20th century with the expansion of landline telephone networks. Now the field has expanded greatly to include your broadband cable and CCTV systems.
When trying to find an experienced low voltage electrician, there is a gray area to consider when it comes to training and regulations. This is due to the wide array of state regulations around the trade. It’s important to understand the different types of training for low voltage contractors as it will help you decide which contractor to choose.
There are three common types of licensing for low voltage electricians:
- Low voltage electrical work is included within the license for residential electricians
- Low voltage electricians can be classified as their own category
- Low voltage electricians can be licensed according to their individual role.
The first two of these categories require a multi-year commitment and training process that follows the route of apprentice—journeyman—master electrician. However, when low voltage electricians are licensed according to individual roles (i.e. different license for fire alarm electricians versus security technicians versus phone electricians, etc.), the training commitment is often only a couple of months.
Low voltage electricians can also go through a certification process offered by in-state colleges and universities in order to fulfill state licensing requirements. Otherwise, professional specialty certifications are offered by national organizations and allow electricians to distinguish themselves as an expert among their peers. These nationally recognized credentials may or may not be required by local licensing authorities.
When hiring a low voltage electrician, it’s always best to find out what your state’s licensing requirements are and check to see if your low voltage contractor has at least fulfilled the requirements, if not gone above and beyond.
Types of Low Voltage Systems
You can find low voltage systems in both commercial and residential facilities. Commercial low voltage facilities can include security alarms, surveillance cameras, lighting systems, phone systems, and audio/video systems.
Commercial Security Systems
There are two main types of commercial security systems: analog and internet protocol cameras. Instead of an analog system that relies on point-to-point cabling, a connected IP camera system operates free of any dedicated physical infrastructure in place. You can send and receive information for surveillance purposes through a standard IP network such as Local Area Networks (LAN) and/or an internet connection.
While both these systems are low voltage, an IP camera system is higher tech and gives you benefits such as superior image quality, easier installation, and stronger security. At Medlin, we’re experts at helping organizations with security camera installation, having worked with companies large and small to ensure that buildings work the way they’re needed to. And, with extensive experience in systems integration, we can make sure that your security systems play nicely with the rest of your systems, too.
VoIP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, is a software that allows you to make phone calls using your internet connection. Essentially, it’s capable of creating one centralized hub for voice, data, and CRM that allows you to move your phone services over to the cloud. It’s also another type of low voltage system is that is a necessity for your commercial business.
Each VoIP system has four main components including a signaling gateway controller, media gateway, media server, and application server. The VoIP systems actually combine several different types of low voltage systems.
Analog VoIP systems adapt an analog telephone to access the internet. These are plugged into a pre-existing computer. An IP phone is a specialized type of low voltage system that looks like a typical landline phone but uses an ethernet cable, not a phone jack. A third low voltage VoIP system uses only computers and connects two different desktops or laptops to create a call.
Upgraded conference rooms have become the new norm. This includes big screen TVs, projector screens, amplifiers and speakers, teleconferencing equipment, smart boards, and peripheral video equipment. Guess what? All of these upgrades are low voltage systems.
Today, the technology is almost a given, but for audio and video systems to really bring a space to life, apps, screens, audio, and more all need to be integrated into a phenomenal low voltage design so that AV experiences are intuitive and easy. Integrating each of these low voltage systems is what creates an audio/visual experience that is seamless.
Keyless Entry Systems
Ensuring that the right people get in and out of the building at any given moment sounds simple, but in practice it’s often complex. The solution is intelligent keyless entry systems that securely manage access in a way that just works. These keyless entryways are low voltage systems that work to protect your facility.
Similar to VoIP and audio/video systems, keyless entry low voltage systems are made up of many different parts that have to work together seamlessly. From smartphone apps, to key fobs, to gate systems, and sometimes even to biometrics, there are a variety of sources that need to integrate in order to allow efficient access.
When it comes to keyless entry systems, you have a few options. Some companies use the cloud, Wi-Fi, and even a smartphone app to allow employees to walk through the doors key-free. Don’t want your employees carrying their cellphone everywhere? There are options for you, too.
RFID bracelets have had a large presence in festivals but are just starting to make their way into the office. Employees wear these bracelets and touch a hardware access point, like a sensor, to gain access. These means no keys, no hassle, and they’re even hands-free. Only employees wearing a band will be able to access the building or certain spaces within it.
Wireless IT networks are another example of low voltage systems that may be surprising. While IT systems are a little higher voltage, they’re still considered on the low voltage end of the spectrum. The IT world is changing fast and moving forward. The future is wireless. It’s in networks that enable better roaming and guest network access in one location, as well as networks across multiple locations and buildings that can be remotely monitored.
The virtualization of the IT network is a unique low voltage system. While the other systems are physical, the IT network represents a low voltage system that is slowly becoming less visible. Clearly, there are still cabling and server considerations, but IT is becoming more and more virtualized and moving to the cloud.
Low Voltage Systems for your New Office
While there are many different types of low voltage systems, there are several crucial ones to install or repair first when moving into a new office. Moving into a new location means installing mission critical systems first. You’d be surprised at how critical low voltage design is to your company productivity. Especially in the middle of an office move, be sure that your low voltage contractor installs these four systems first.
First Priority: Security System
Moving to a new office means a less familiar location. How safe is the area? What are the neighbors like? Not only do you want your customers to feel comfortable coming to your place of business at all times of day, but you want your office to be protected even when you’re not there. That’s why a security system should be the first priority on your list.
There’s a wide variety of security systems on the market, from simple entry-level cameras to the most complex wireless networks. Small businesses may want to set up a network of cameras linked wirelessly or by cabling. If you’re getting started, look for a heavy duty and reliable system without the fancy bells and whistles. This will give you the security that you need without the price tag.
Whichever type of security system you choose, make sure you standardize all the low voltage components, like cabling.
Second Priority: IT Network
Without this low voltage system, you won’t have a VoIP system and you most likely will find it pretty hard to do business. Your IT network may be your most mission critical low voltage system. It’s extremely important that its installed correctly and integrated with all of your other systems.
Believe it or not, many new networks can be unreliable due to mistakes made pre-network and implementing and monitoring the network. Designing a corporate and guest wireless network can provide additional security for your mission critical data while providing ease of use for visitors needing to access the web. But it’s all dependent on a proper plan.
Third Priority: Keyless Entry Systems
Keyless entry systems are a crucial part of your low voltage integration in a new office. You won’t have to worry about lost keys or dangerous individuals entering your building. No matter what type of keyless entry system you choose, all are low voltage systems. This means selecting the best low voltage contractor for the job.
Install your keyless entry system early on in your new office migration. It’s an important low voltage system in that it adds to your security system and controls your office access. Without its additional security, anyone can walk in to your new building.
Fourth Priority: VoIP System
Already discussed above, a VoIP system is the newest tech replacement for an analog phone system. It’s a great low voltage system that increases your efficiency and decreases your costs.
Without a VoIP system installed in your new office, you could have increasing costs due to phone bills, less reliable phone service, and, if you delay too long before installing any phone system, you’ll be missing calls from potential clients.
Because of its mission critical role in sales, a VoIP system should be one of the first low voltage systems installed.
Maintaining Low Voltage Systems
Like all other systems, low voltage networks still require regular maintenance. How much and how often varies on the type of systems involved. Most low voltage systems will not give much warning if there’s an issue. And if there is a warning sign, most people disregard them.
For example, flickering lights in your office can often be considered a minor detail that isn’t worth the money to fix or isn’t noticeable. However, oftentimes these small warning signs mean that your low voltage systems need maintenance and shouldn’t be ignored.
Let’s take a look at some tips on how to maintain your low voltage systems.
Maintaining Lighting Systems
It’s recommended that your lighting systems are given an annual inspection. You can do this yourself, but it is recommended that you hire an expert to give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing your lights are good to go.
If your lights aren’t properly maintained, the amount of light they produce could go down. If your light levels become too low, your building could appear unappealing. Low light levels also place you in a position of liability for any accidents that may occur due to ill-lit spaces.
Look closely at all of your lighting systems to ensure that all components are rust-free and appear to be holding up well. If you notice any signs of flickering or debris around the light socket, this could be a sign of arcing or electrical short-circuits. If this occurs, a low voltage electrician should be brought in immediately as it puts you at greater risk of fires.
Behind all of your low voltage systems, i.e. VoIP, security, and IT lies a maze of cabling that winds through your walls and connects your systems. While the out-of-sight out-of-mind mentality sounds tempting to apply to cabling, resist the temptation. Your network of cables still needs maintenance.
Make sure that all of your cables are labeled according to where they connect to. Both ends should be labeled, and if it stretches too far, the middle can be labeled as well. All cable terminations should be securely connected into well-reputed terminations. Any wiggling in the connection can create downtime in the systems.
If heat builds up from the electricity running through your cables, you risk burning out cables and having to buy replacements. Make sure you design your systems to keep both servers and networking cables cool.
Routinely look through your visible cabling for signs of rodent interference. Occasionally mice or other pests will chew on cables. This could leave exposed wires open just waiting for the right material to come along and create a spark. If replacing exposed cables isn’t feasible for your budget, you can wrap electrical tape around the exposed area. However, it is recommended that all damaged cables be replaced.
Maintaining IT Networks
Hiring an excellent systems integrator is a great way to maintain your IT network. Proper installation and integration can really cut down on unreliable systems, insecure networks, and maintenance needed.
Using the right integration company means setting up your system for long-term success and minimal maintenance. Once an IT network is installed, maintenance should include constant back-ups in case of lost data, and consistently updated security. Maintaining an IT network is more about keeping up with the pace of cybersecurity threats than it is about looking for exposed wires.
Use a Trusted Low Voltage Contractor. Use Medlin Communications.
If there’s one thing that customers praise us for at Medlin, it’s our ability to see a project through every last detail. They know that when we’re associated with any job, they don’t have to worry about surprises a week or two later. It just gets done right the first time, so you can move your business forward.
As a low voltage company, Medlin Communications has the experience you need when working with all of your communication systems. Your phone systems. Your energy management systems. Your camera systems. Trust us, we’ve thought of all of it and then some. Because to Medlin, it’s actually a lot more than a job. It’s our whole reputation on the line.