Ask the Electrician: How Do You Match an Electrical System to Your Business Needs?

| June 20, 2018

by John Sloane

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could grab the ear of an expert? You’re just about to close a deal but need a gut check on a few key points? You’re planning to expand your business and are not sure what the impacts will be? Good news, we’ve got the expert right here! For nearly four decades, John Sloane has been archiving knowledge, some of which we are happy to bring you in our first installment of Ask the Electrician!

My business is moving into a new space. How do I know how much power I need?

Taking the time to figure out your business’ electrical needs could save you thousands of dollars over time. The best place to start is working with a licensed electrical contractor to audit your electrical system before you sign any lease or mortgage agreement. Assessing your power demands requires you to determine how much power you need now and how much you will need to meet the demands of your business as it grows. A layman might think that they can anticipate all the variables now and in the future, but the devil is in the details. An oversight early in the process could easily cost many times more than a professional consultation with a commercial electrician before you sign the lease.

Defining the demand factor.

A qualified electrician can map out likely scenarios to help you define your electrical demand factor. Take a machine shop with 30 machines. They need 30 machines for what they produce, but only three are running at any one time. The maximum number used at once might be nine. You want to make sure you can accommodate your maximum needs with some additional leeway. You’ll have overcapacity if you plan around running all machines at once, and you won’t have enough if you plan around your typical run rate.

When there is too much power . . .

It is possible to have too much power in a space that you lease, and that can cost you money. When transforming power from 480 to 208, a transformer is added to the project, and transformers create heat. This may come up when a business of a different use moves into a former manufacturing facility. A client may be in the situation where they’re relying on oversized transformers to generate a fraction of their capacity. This situation may result in inflated electrical usage due to a bad power factor, a measurement of power efficiency.

Don’t forget the simple things

Sometimes the simplest electrical solutions are overlooked until it’s too late to come up with an inexpensive alternative. Location of your electrical source in relation to your demand points is one of them! Electricity is like water in a pipe: As distance from the source increases, your wire size increases. When you engage an electrician early in the planning process, suggestions will be made to ensure that power sources are closely situated to power equipment. As with all areas of facilities planning and construction, it is much less expensive and quicker to change a drawing than it is to knock down walls.

Your business runs on electricity. Make sure that your electrical needs are at the forefront of your planning and not an afterthought. You’ll be glad you did.

John Sloane / ShupeStudios


John Sloane is regional vice president, Massachusetts Service, Interstate Electrical Services and is an active member of the Construction Institute.

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