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It’s Possible to Have Your Wifi and Hardwire It, Too

Kathryn Farrell in Building Operations on May 14, 2018

New York City

Wifi + Hardwire
May 14, 2018

Wifi-enabled intercom systems are becoming a prized amenity, but do they violate New York City’s building code? Unfortunately, the answers are anything but clear. A good place to start is with the building code’s section which deals with the issue: 

1008.4.4 Intercommunication System

Buildings containing eight or more dwelling units shall be provided with an intercommunication system located at the door giving access to the main entrance lobby, consisting of a device or devices for voice communication between the occupant of each dwelling unit and a person outside the door to the main entrance lobby, and permitting such dwelling unit occupant to release the locking mechanism of said door from the dwelling unit. In buildings provided with a full-time lobby attendant, the intercommunication system may be between each dwelling unit and the attendant’s station.

A bit more clarification is offered by the Department of Buildings’ (DOB) Construction Codes Team, which answers general questions related to the city’s construction codes via email: “The requirement is that each unit be provided with such a system. A building owner may elect to install systems or features beyond those required by law. A wifi system is not prohibited by the code, but it likely would not satisfy the code requirements if it were the only system provided [because the] code requirements would necessitate a permanently installed device” – rather than the cell phone or tablet usually used with a wifi-based system. 

So there has to be a permanent device in every apartment that can open the building’s front door, regardless whether if it’s wifi or wired. But even that is open to interpretation. 

“If I live in a building and the only thing I have is a smartphone and a tablet,” says Dan Arnold, vice president at intercom-installer Academy Mailbox, “theoretically, what I could do is take the tablet, keep it plugged in because it would need power pretty much all the time, and [use a] very inexpensive bracket to mount it onto the wall. Some people would say that that fits the protocol because it’s plugged in and it’s constantly getting power.” 

Because the code does not address the method by which the “open door” signal reaches the unit, many professionals believe that it doesn’t matter whether the signal is hardwired or wifi-based – as long as that device is permanently installed in the unit.

“It could be interpreted either way,” says Arnold. “This is the biggest concern: let’s say my wife and I go out to dinner and leave the kids home with a babysitter. [If] there’s an emergency and the babysitter has to let somebody into the building, there needs to be a device in that apartment that allows the babysitter to buzz in emergency personnel.” 

There is a way to make everyone happy. “What most of my buildings have done is installed, basically, hybrid systems,” says Ira Meister, president of Matthew Adam Properties, a management company. “They offer people the option to put a unit in their apartment where they can work through their phone [or] from a mobile device. I have somebody who just did two jobs for us. Both of them went with similar systems. They kept the older system in place, and they gave people the option. They gave everybody the panels in their apartment, plus they gave them the mobile version.”

So there is a way to have your wifi and hardwire it, too.

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