When setting up a data network in a residential or commercial building, the cable you choose can significantly impact performance and safety. Two of the most commonly discussed types of data cables are Plenum and Riser cables. However, not everyone understands the differences and why you might opt for one. In this article, we will delve into the distinctions between Plenum and Riser data cables and their respective pros and cons.

What Are Plenum Cables?

Definition and Construction

Plenum cables are specifically designed to meet stringent fire safety codes for air circulation spaces, also known as plenum spaces. These are areas used for heating, air conditioning, and ventilation within buildings. Plenum cables come with a fire-retardant plastic jacket, typically made from low-smoke Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) or Fluorinated Ethylene Polymer (FEP).


Because of their fire-resistant characteristics, Plenum cables are ideal for any setting where they must pass through environmental airflow areas. They are typically used in commercial installations where they pass through dropped ceilings, raised floors, or HVAC ducts.


Due to their specialized materials and rigorous testing, Plenum cables are generally more expensive than other data cables. However, this higher cost brings a higher level of safety, which is often required by building codes.

What Are Riser Cables?

Definition and Construction

Riser cables, also known as CMR cables (Communications Multipurpose Cable, Riser), are engineered for running vertically between the floors of a building but not for air handling spaces. These cables are less stringent regarding fire resistance when compared to Plenum cables and come with a PVC jacket.


Riser cables are best suited for non-plenum vertical applications, such as running cables from a data center to individual building floors. They can also be used within the feet but are not recommended for air-handling spaces.


Riser cables are generally less expensive than Plenum cables due to the lower fire-retardant requirements. They are the go-to option for many residential installations and are also commonly found in commercial settings that do not require Plenum-grade material.

Key Differences

Fire Safety

The most crucial difference between Plenum and Riser cables lies in fire safety. Plenum cables are engineered to halt the spread of flames and not release harmful fumes during combustion. In contrast, Riser cables have fewer requirements and are unsuitable for spaces that circulate air throughout a building.


Plenum cables use high-grade, fire-retardant materials for the jacket, while Riser cables often use standard PVC, which is less fire-resistant.

Installation Locations

While Plenum cables can be used almost anywhere, Riser cables are limited and unsuitable for air-handling spaces. Suppose you’re installing cables through an area that circulates air, such as above a suspended ceiling or below a raised floor in a commercial setting. In that case, Plenum cables are often necessary per building codes.


Cost can be a significant factor when choosing between the two. Plenum cables are typically more expensive due to their higher-grade materials and the testing required to meet stringent fire safety standards.


Choosing between Plenum and Riser data cables involves considering several factors, including installation location, fire safety requirements, and budget. While Plenum cables offer higher fire safety and can be used in more varied environments, they come at a higher cost. Riser cables are more budget-friendly but restrict where they can be safely installed.

Before starting any installation project, it is crucial to consult local building codes and possibly a professional to determine which type of cable is appropriate for your needs.

Understanding the difference between Plenum and Riser cables is crucial for any data network setup. Make an informed decision to ensure both optimum performance and safety.

Make the Switch to Structured Cabling

Structured cabling is the best solution to those outgrowing point-to-point cabling. Rather than tackling this project on your own, contact Progressive Office Cabling. Our professionals can upgrade your business to structured cabling with minimal downtime and interruptions to your business. Please get in touch with our office at (800) 614-4560 to speak with an agent about an upgrade to structured cabling.