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So my irrigation system has 4 cables which each contain 6 bundled wires. To make things worse, the 6 bundled wires are the same color between the four cables (red, green, blue, yellow, white, black) and all have the same sheathing color. I'm going to be replacing and relocating the controller, but in the interim due to the way the wiring is routed, I will need to disconnect and re route all wires, so it will be very difficult to keep which one is which straight.

I could individually label each one, but this sounds like a massive pain -- and possibly not reliable because no matter how I attach the labels, it's highly probable at least one would slip off the wire as it is being pulled through interstitial space in the walls.

I could just "test" each wire when it's done. I know in each bundle the colored wires go to sprinkler heads while the white is the common wire, but this sounds like a pain in the butt.

Does anyone have a good way to keep track of these wires?

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    Very resilient labelling: Some offcuts of thin heatshrink tubing, shrunk on tight. In different color, width or number. If whatever you are pulling the cables through can rip that off, it is also a threat to your wiring insulation. – rackandboneman Apr 21 '17 at 17:30
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Label each bundle when you disconnect them. Then pull them through the conduit one at a time; if you lose a label, you can replace it right then, while the other three wires are known quantities.

For the individual colored wires, you might try a "telco" crimp connector. These are made for indoor telephone wire, likely similar to the low-voltage, low-current wiring in your control bundles. Each crimp can be used to attach a short loop of wire that runs through a tag of some sort (even buttons, if you have a button jar you almost certainly have 24 distinct buttons to use as tags). Even better, they don't require special tools to attach; just put the wires in the holes and squeeze the crimp with plain pliers. You can clip and restrip the wires when you're done needing the labels, of course.

  • Good things, I would add giving the bundles of wires a colour coding with a bit of coloured string in addition to the other marker/s. You can often feed the coloured string through the bundel of wires, but if not, tie it around the bundels in different spots. – Willeke Apr 20 '17 at 19:17
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You could take a picture of the current state of the attached wires. That would let you record which color of which wire goes to which connector. (I can't fully visualize your setup or issue, so this might not work for your situation. But for the situation I am picturing, it works great!)

enter image description here

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If you can designate each bundle 1, 2, 3 and 4, and record the connection of each color per bundle, then all you really need to do is mark each bundle, right? If it's light colored sheathing, giving the end of each one a corresponding number of rings with a permanent marker should survive a trip through walls, conduit, etc. If not light colored, you could snip a corresponding number of small notches into the end of each sheathing.

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I'm not entirely sure how your setup is, but when I was working with an electrician, we would attach the new wire to the old wire, therefore allowing us to pull the new wire into position just by pulling the old wire out, if that makes sense.

You could wire in each run that's being replaced by removing the old wire and attaching the new wire one at a time. For example:

  1. Starting at "(a)" attach the new wire to the old unattached wire one at a time (depending on your situation) - beware - if the wires detach halfway, you can't pull the old wire back (tip: add some string that stays attached to the old wire, you can then reattach the new wire to the string if it separates):

            Start            Middle            End
            <Old---------------------------------<<New--<
                                                 (a)
    
  2. Pull the old wire out, which pulls the new wire through where the old wire used to be:

            Start            Middle            End
            <Old---------------------<<New-------<
    
    
            Start            Middle            End
            <Old----<<New------------------------<
    
  3. Disconnect the old wire and replace it with the new wire, one at a time at (b):

            Start            Middle            End
     <Old--<<New---------------------------------<
          (b)
    

How to attach the wire to each other to pull them through depends on the situation. The most robust way is to solder the ends together so the old and new wire become one big wire; you can de-solder once it's been pulled through. If the runs are light/short, with little snagging expected, then taping them well (the same way as you would to solder them to stop snagging), and gently pull.

Getting someone to push/"feed" the wire while you pull helps a lot.

Doing it that way, you can swap like for like, wire for wire at each end. The only problem is if the old/new wire connection come apart, which is important to get right first time as you can't "undo" and put the old wire back to where it started easily.

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Why do you need at all to label the bundles? It is very easy to differentiate them after stretching all the wires.

At one end of the cables, short circuit the red and a given color from the same bundle. On each of the other ends test which color is short circuited with the red wire, and you'll know exactly which cable that is. (You state that you have 4 cables, and with short circuiting the red wire you could recognize 5 cables. By carefully selecting which color to short circuit you could extend this system to match a lot of cables)

Know you can properly label the cable for future use or historical reference.

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