The right fit

I cannot believe all these years that I have been turning the handle of a screwdriver. I wonder how much time I lost until the day I bought my first battery-powered
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The right fit

Jun 1, 2000 12:00 PM, Roy Bowling

I cannot believe all these years that I have been turning the handle of ascrewdriver. I wonder how much time I lost until the day I bought my firstbattery-powered screwdriver. I saw them advertised in a local newspaper -on sale for $29.95, including the charger. Thinking they would be a pieceof junk, like many tools of this nature, I purchased two of them. To mysurprise, both units still work beautifully after many thousands of screws.They have paid for themselves many times over.

In this business, we often have a tendency to be penny wise and dollarfoolish, and we do not purchase the necessary tools to do the job properly.We continue to do the job the old way and improvise, thinking someday wewill get the right tools to do the job. This attitude costs many dollarsper year, and it is much like saying that you are going to save a quarterwhen you park in front of a parking meter because you are only going to begone for 5 minutes to 10 minutes. Then you come out to find you have aparking ticket costing $5 to $10. The quarter would have cost you$0.02/minute but wound up costing $1/minute. This very example happens tous every day in this industry. If you sit down and figure out what it costsyou to not have the proper tools for the job, it would totally astonish youas to how much money you lose, not including how much easier the job wouldbe to do. How can you put a dollar amount on frustration?

Savings can quickly add up. By our estimates, custom tools we havedeveloped at Labor $aving Devices alone have saved low-voltage wireinstallers between 20% and 60% of their installation time, increasingprofit margins or their install per day percentage. Put your own figuresinto the following equations:

H - T - N - 0.2 = minimum expected savings

H - T - N - 0.6 = maximum expected savings

where H = hourly install labor cost, T = total install hours per year, andN = number of installers. Compare your figures to the cost of the righttools to accomplish a given task and you will discover that price is notcost.

The right tools not only make the job less frustrating, but they also makeyou look more professional, and in the eyes of your customer this makes allthe difference in the world as to how many referrals you will get. To giveyou a couple of examples of where tools can make the difference, aninstallation crew installs an alarm in a new building with a drop ceiling.One of the technicians tries to walk on the false ceiling, breaks one tiewire holding the ceiling up and in a domino reaction, the entire falseceiling drops to the floor, costing the installing company many dollars toreplace.

Another nightmare is an old false ceiling where an installer is lifting apanel and throwing the wire as far as he can, then moving to that locationand throwing the wire again. In this instance, while disturbing theceiling, one tie wire was loose and dropped the ceiling (dirt and all) onthe floor, making one big mess. Again, it cost the installing company abundle to replace the ceiling.

Using the right tools to run the wire could have rectified the two aboveexamples. In these cases a $30 tool could have saved the company manydollars. The following are some of the problems installers' face and thetools available to solve these problems:

For fishing insulated walls (stapled bat insulation), the problem is thatthe insulation fills most of the void in the wall. Fish tapes are the oldtool used for this job, and they are problematic because they can getcaught up on the insulation causing tears, thereby negatively affectingefficiency.

Using a device called the Wet Noodle & Retriever (Figure 1) wire pullingtool and a Stud Sensor or densiometer together is the answer to the problemof fishing insulated walls. Using the Stud Sensor, which really checksdensity and not nails, locate the stud in the wall. Beside each stud, thereis always a void where insulation is stapled to the stud. Drill a holebeside the stud. Drop the Wet Noodle, which is 10 feet (3 m) of speciallymade ball chain, inside the wall. It will sift its way to the bottom of thewall cavity. With the stud sensor again, locate where to drill at thebottom on the same side of the stud. After drilling the hole, insert theRetriever, a 24 inch (610 mm) flexible handle with magnet attached to oneend. It will attract the ball chain, and you then pull it out and attachyour wire. Finally, pull your wire.

Other problems may involve inaccessible areas to fish wire (grid ceilingsand crawl spaces with no access area, such as running wire between floorsfor smoke detectors in multi-storied buildings, any and all types ofinsulated walls, and running wire under carpet between the tack strip andwall (there is a channel there that is perfect for concealing wire).

A device called the Creep-Zit (Figure 2) is a versatile tool that canhandle all of the above problems and almost eliminate future use of fishtapes. It consists of five 6 feet (1.8 m) rods that can be used separatelyor screwed together to make 30 feet (9.1 m). These rods are fluorescentgreen in color, made of fiberglass and less than 3/16 inches (5.9 mm) indiameter. Two unique heads are included for multiple methods to fish wire.The first head is a whisk-like (egg-beater type) head that solves the firstproblem. These rods are flexible, and with the whisk head attachment, theyafford the ability to crawl over impossible places. If it gets hung up,give the rod a flip, and it will jump out of its stuck situation. Byturning the rod, the whisk head will walk like a caterpillar so that youcan guide it wherever you want it to go. The fish tape, on the other hand,goes wherever it pleases. The rods, when screwed together, are so flexiblethat when given a flip, they can jump !over air-conditioning ducts or any such objects in the way.

The second head attachment looks like a bullet with a hole in it. Thissection solves the second and third problems. Because of the smoothness ofthe bullet head, it goes directly through insulation because there is nohook to be hung up, nor is there any way that the smooth end will get stuckwhen following the channel between the tack strip and wall under the carpet.

Another difficulty involves fishing wire between floor joists in finishedbasements where only a small amount of wire can be seen but cannot bereached. A device called the Grabbit (see Figure 3) 12 foot (3.7 m)telescopic pole will work here. This tool is a shockproof, lightweighttelescoping fiberglass pole that makes the fish tape obsolete. Through thedesign of the Z-formed tip with double-knifed edges, it literally grabswire and hangs on to it. Wherever a wire can be seen, this tool can grabit. The other side of the Z-formed tip is great for pushing the wire along,especially needed when pushing wire up and over pipes, which can, in somecases, eliminate the time-consuming and sometimes dangerous use of ladders.

Fishing outside windows to the attic poses another problem because it takestwo installers, and one person has to wallow in the insulation. For thisapplication, the Fish-Eze Kit (see Figure 4), which is an attic fishingtool combination, and the Grabbit telescopic pole will suffice. Thiscombination answers one of the most difficult problems installers' face -running wire to the attic (residential windows). It can now be automatic,and this tool enables people to do it by themselves. The Fish-Eze Kitconsists of two stainless steel tubes, one each for 8 foot (2.4 m) and 9foot (2.7 m) ceilings, stored in a durable carrier. The round stainlesssteel holder contains a 12 foot (3.7 m) special plated spring wire witheyelet loops at both ends. This wire is doubly heat treated to maintain acoiled effect.

With this tool, simply drill a 0.25 inch (6.4 mm) hole to the attic andpull the drill bit from the hole. Remove the spring wire from its circledholder. Insert the stainless steel tube to the attic until it stops at theroof sheathing. Now, insert the 12 feet (3.7 m) of spring wire into thetube, and push through the tube until it stops at the sheathing. Pull thetube back approximately 6 inches (152 mm) and push the remaining springwire through. Next, pull the tube from the hole and lay it aside. Strip andattach the wire to the eyelet of spring wire at the base of the window. Thespring wire is now in the attic and ready to be retrieved by the Grabbit.Take the Grabbit to the attic and stay in the center where there isheadroom. The Grabbit telescopes out to 8 feet (2.4 m), and it has anickel-plated hook at its end. Reach out and hook the coil and pull itback. It will come uncoiled back to you. There you have it; no morecrawling in insulation.

For long wire runs in a small access area, try the Sling-A-Linewire-pulling tool (see Figure 5). This tool is simply a reel mounted to aslingshot. The weight and swivel is attached to 10 pound (4.5 kg) test linefor tying the wire on. After pushing the button on the reel, which releasesthe line, the weight is put into the leather sling. Then, just as you shoota slingshot, the weight goes out with 200 feet (61 m) of line on the reel.Tie your wire on at the other end and simply reel it back.

In some parts of the country, running wire under the carpet is consideredtaboo. If two rules are followed, I believe it is an effective andefficient method. In some residential installations where the constructionis such that it is impossible to conceal wire, running the wire undercarpet may be the only effective way to conceal it. The first rule, alwaysrun wire between the pad and carpet. This gives a cushion to the jacket ofthe wire and prevents wear. The second rule, never run multi-conductor,solid or zip-cord wire under carpet. Always run a quality, brand-nametwisted-pair wire. There are two under-carpet snakes available. One fromFreeform R&D Company, Newport Beach, CA, has a 35 foot (11 m) carpet snake,and Labor $aving Devices has a 25 foot (7.6 m) snake.

The last problem that I want to discuss is running wire behind molding. Thetools to do this professionally are available at hardware stores and lumberyards. The chief difficulty lies in removing molding properly. I have seenmany installers pry molding off, leaving big pry marks in the wall orbreaking the molding. I suggest purchasing #4, #6 and #8 penny finish nailsand the complete line of putty sticks. There is a putty stick made forevery type of molding. To do it right, drive the nail on through themolding using a small punch or a nail set for #4 finish nails. This willcause the molding to fall off. If it has been painted many times, cut thetop edge of molding with a razor blade knife. This will prevent pulling outa chunk of wall. After you have concealed the wire and are replacing themolding, use the next size larger nail and drive it in the old holes. Now,putty the holes, and it will look like new again.

In closing, I will again say that tools make the difference. I realize thatthere are instances out there where it is sometimes impossible to concealwire in a residence or building that seems to have been constructed byaliens. in such cases, imagination, ingenuity or going wireless isnecessary, but in most cases, the right tool for the job will save time andfrustration, minimize labor and make a professional out of an installer.Carpenters, plumbers and electricians have known this for years, andlow-voltage installers must also realize this because professional toolsare available to them for their specialized needs. Whether you find it fromLabor $aving Devices or from another company, such as McMarten InstallationDevices, the right tool is out there.