Counterfeit Products: Saving Money, but at What Cost?

Dec 3, 2013

System Installers are always looking to save on their wire and cable purchases, but at what cost? The sale of non-UL approved or counterfeit products is an increasing problem in the building industry. Contractors who purchase non-UL or counterfeit products do so because of the up-front cost savings versus UL listed cable. What they fail to realize is that these purchases and installations are a liability and may cost them much more in the long run.

Problems stem not only from cost-cutting, but from the buyer’s lack of understanding regarding terms used when specifying cable. There are several terms every low-voltage cable buyer should know. One is “plenum rated.” Plenum rated cable passes NFPA 262 plenum cable flame test, demonstrating a high degree of flame retardance, low smoke generation, and smoke that meets optical clarity requirements. NFPA 262 was previously UL 910, and also called the Steiner Tunnel Test. UL Listing is the most widely accepted authentication of compliance, as UL continuously monitors that materials, processes, and procedures of manufacturing remain consistent, and frequently re-test production in follow-up testing. UL is rigorous in their policing of standards and highly regarded by all stake holders in the value chain making them the NRTL (Nationally Recognized Test Lab) of choice for wire and cable life-safety testing. Sometimes contractors go into buying a product and fail to understand the meaning behind these words. When UL lists a plenum rated product, NFPA 262 has been met, meaning that in a fire event the fuel load and smoke contribution will remain within expectations. With these criteria met, building occupants and fire fighters have their best chance of evacuating the building and extinguishing the fire according to overall expectations. By installing UL Listed cable, installers minimize their liability by doing everything in their power to ensure the Code (NFPA 70, The National Electrical Code) has been met in these respects. Buying only UL Listed cable also ensures that other features of the cable are uncompromised. One matter of substandard cable on the market in recent years has been Category cables manufactured with non-copper conductors. These designs have been found to be a potential source of fire by the CCCA (Communications Cable and Connectivity Association.)

When wire and cable does not meet these NFPA 262 flame and smoke requirements, fires tend to spread farther, faster, and create heavier smoke, thus hindering fire rescues and evacuation efforts, which could cost lives.   

Many people also fail to verify the authenticity of UL labels from unfamiliar vendors. Buyers may see a UL logo and automatically assume it is a safe and legitimate product. Increasingly however, UL logos have been illegally placed onto products that are not UL Listed and which do not meet UL and NEC requirements -- a form of counterfeiting. The UL Listing can be verified by checking for a serial number located close to the label, that the label is a holograph, or by checking the UL website for the manufacturer’s name as being listed for the wire type.

Counterfeiting wire in other countries is not a difficult thing to start. InChinayou can make an initial investment as low as $16,650 to get a counterfeiting business up and running. These low investments with high payoffs can be a driving factor in today’s counterfeiting market. When consumers start purchasing wire from alternative sources, such as the internet rather than in person, it is easier to sell counterfeit and non-UL wire products. Although UL certified products are not as cheap as counterfeit and non-UL certified products in the short run, it is important to realize the overall costs associated with subpar products with regard to liability and safety.

For more information and resources related to counterfeiting and non-UL product sales:

- Whitney Agan