The Costly Consequences of Neglecting Cable Tray Supports

Commercial roofs are fraught with high- and low-voltage electrical cables, not to mention large, heavy equipment such as HVAC units, communications systems, and cooling towers that receive power and signal from these cables. Electrical networks as complex as these require special rooftop design considerations. There are three important reasons why:

  1. Roofs are not designed to support heavy equipment. Though excellent at keeping moisture in and hot or cold air out, their protective outer membrane is surprisingly fragile and susceptible to damage. Even foot traffic can compromise the integrity of a roof. 

  2. The technicians tasked with maintaining rooftop environments need secure access to cabling and equipment. Without proper safety considerations, the risk of electric shock, falls, and other life-threatening accidents substantially increase.
  3. Rooftop assets require protection from weather and temperature extremes, seismic activity, and other damaging factors. Beyond the cost of repairing or replacing expensive commercial equipment, damaged cables can result in incalculable financial losses due to downtime. 

For these reasons, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is placing greater pressure on commercial builders and building owners to invest in rooftop support systems, which include cable trays and supports that manage large-scale insulated cables used for communication, power, or control.

Multiple sources estimate that, by investing in cable trays, builders and building owners can reduce material and labor costs by as much as 50%! However, cost-savings can become a stalemate if cable trays aren’t supported by a high-quality, zero-penetration cable tray support system.

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What Are Rooftop Cable Tray Supports?

Cable tray support systems are structures designed to uphold electrical cable runs on flat or sloped roofs. Traditionally, facilities have chosen to bundle cables and rig them up in a way that offers little protection, or run cables through a tube-like electrical conduit system, which hinders access to the cables, hampers ventilation, and can trap moisture inside the enclosure. Cable trays and cable tray supports provide an organized, easily accessible management solution for rooftop cable networks that can be adjusted to any height or width, routed around walkways and equipment, and configured for proper ventilation and drainage.

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Why Your Building Needs Cable Tray Supports

Today’s savvy builders and building owners take a value-engineering approach to rooftop designs and focus on reducing the total cost of ownership over time rather than upfront. The value and longevity of your investment in a cable tray support system can be realized in numerous ways:

1. Scalability for Growth

Commercial buildings are increasing their rooftop devices and systems to support companies who are digitally transforming and adopting significantly more technological tools and systems. To handle the influx of electrical devices, cabling networks must be expandable and reconfigurable without the need for labor-intensive installation processes and extensive planned downtime. According to IBM Systems Magazine, the number one cause of downtime for commercial businesses is human error—usually resulting from misconfigurations or failure to upgrade networks.

Properly designed and supported cable tray assemblies are easy to access and provide the organization and visibility technicians need to make repairs or updates to cabling networks safely, effectively, and in less time—thus reducing the cost of labor and downtime, and the risk of human error.

2. Preservation & Performance

Cable trays that are not upheld by a durable support system at the correct intervals can shift or pull apart at the joints—typically due to fluctuations in temperature, high winds, or seismic activity. If the trays become unstable, they can cause unnecessary wear and tear on cables, cable corrosion, cable failure, and unexpected downtime. Ponemon Institute estimates that the average cost of downtime is about $8,851 per minute.

Expertly-engineered cable tray support systems are constructed of high-quality materials and designed to be flexible and adaptable to changes in temperature, wind speed, and vibration. Their adaptability prevents joint separation, cable damage, structural instability, and other issues that can negatively affect the lifespan and performance of your roof and rooftop equipment. Cable tray supports can also be configured in any way to keep cable trays up and out of the way from exposure to chemicals and other machine byproducts that can corrode cable jacketing and cause an electrical failure.

3. Safety, Liability & Prevention

According to the latest data from the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, almost 20% of work-related fatalities are attributed to falls and exposure to electricity. If OSHA finds that the roof environment in which a fatal accident took place is not up-to-code, building owners face legal charges and state and federal fines, not to mention the weight of responsibility for someone else’s loss of life.

Because cable tray support systems can be customized around a roof’s environment and allow technicians to work safely and more efficiently, they also reduce situational risks and the amount of time technicians are exposed to risks. Furthermore, a stable support system allows other maintenance professionals to safely work on or near cabling without having to maneuver around obstructions or be in proximity to dangerous electrical currents.

4. Lower Labor & Maintenance Costs

Cable systems that are bundled or run through conduits provide less visibility and can turn repairs or upgrades into tedious projects that require more labor time and longer planned downtime. By default, these systems also slow the resolution of unexpected downtime. Additionally, the systems themselves require maintenance and eventually need to be repaired or replaced.

A high-quality cable tray support system is constructed of durable, self-maintaining materials. Technicians can quickly access cables and identify problems instead of pulling apart rigged-up bundles. Additionally, a well-designed cable tray support system can lessen instances of undetected cable damage that could trigger maintenance issues such as unplanned downtime or electrical surges that can fry equipment.


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Rooftop Cable Tray Installation Best Practices

Cable tray assemblies and supports can address the most common problems associated with commercial rooftop electrical networks. However, the benefits of a support system hinge on quality installation practices. Traditionally, support systems required penetrating the roof’s insulation membrane to permanently secure bases to the building’s roof structure. In doing so, building owners saved on labor and material but inevitably lost money due to structural damage caused by penetrations and flashing, which will void most roof warranties and can compromise the overall lifespan of a roof. PHP Systems/Design were the first to implement their cable tray support system that does not penetrate or damage your roof’s surface in any way. When preparing to install a cable tray support system, consider the following:

Design Specifications

All designs begin with a thorough assessment of your rooftop environment. The following specifications are crucial to the quality and success of the design:

The greatest value is achieved through a complete roof support system.

Many of the safety, accessibility, and performance issues associated with cable networks also apply to surrounding equipment and assets, including your roof’s surface. To truly address them all, you need a complete roof support system that is durable enough to outlast your building’s entire lifespan, but sophisticated enough to do so without causing any damage to the infrastructure or assets.

Implement proper spacing for cable tray supports.

Proper spacing is extremely important when installing cable tray supports, and can fluctuate depending on numerous factors, including the material of the tray and the possible temperature ranges of the environment. Best practices recommend that supports be no less than 2 feet from each side of an expansion joint splice plate to ensure the strongest reinforcement, prevent cable tray distortion, and allow for adequate ventilation.

Inspect your roof and cable trays regularly throughout the year.

A comprehensive evaluation of your rooftop electrical cabling, cable trays, and supports can help identify potential issues before they become costly problems, such as the build-up of combustible debris, which can settle within cable trays and create a fire hazard. This screening should be performed a few times per year.

Incorporate expansion joints in the design.

A joint is a place in which two cable trays meet and connect. Expandable joints are flexible, allowing cable tray structures to expand and contrast with changes in temperature without causing trays to break away from the supports.


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Product Breakdown

PHP’s zero-penetration roof support systems are constructed of rugged materials that can withstand decades of wear and tear. Each system is custom-designed according to the exact specifications of your rooftop environment and will evenly and securely distribute the variable weight of cable trays and other types of equipment on flat or sloped roofs (up to 2:12) without the need for penetrations, flashing, or damage to the roofing material. Our systems can be ordered in a variety of sizes and heights, configured in almost any way, and are available for seismic and high-wind applications. 

Each base is injection molded with high-density/high-impact polypropylene that is treated with UV-inhibitors and antioxidants. The cable tray support system framing is constructed of hot-dip galvanized carbon steel, which lowers costs, prevents corrosion, is self-maintaining, and offers an extremely long lifespan.

Every minute could be worth thousands of dollars in lost productivity, not to mention the financial impact of liability issues, fines, and damages. Protect your building, equipment, employees, and financial well-being by taking a value-engineering approach to your rooftop design. A zero-penetration cable tray support system designed by PHP Systems/Design will help you maximize the safety, performance, and reliability of your commercial rooftop environment. 

Don’t wait for an incident to happen. Prevent the possibility with an investment that will last decades.

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