Archive for September 2016

Are old light switches and power outlets costing your business money?

Do older light switches and power outlets actually use more electricity? To our knowledge, that’s not an issue. But older switches and outlets have caused serious grief to several of our clients recently, especially for some of our commercial clients in Edmond and Oklahoma City.

Many of these clients have an internal maintenance staff who helps perform much of the routine building maintenance. This helps these properties keep their overall costs down, and we typically step in to help with large projects and times when licensed professionals are required.

But we’ve seen dozens of cases in the past year where something as simple as an old light switch or power outlet failing caused a waste of time, energy, and resources for the clients.

A broken light switch could make it appear like the light bulbs, light fixtures, or the ballasts aren’t working properly. Often the internal maintenance team may spend an hour or two trying to solve the problem before calling out an electrical contractor. What did that two hours cost our client? What else could their staff have been doing?

A faulty power outlet can make all outlets wired in that circuit appear to be inoperable. Potential causes could be a breaker that’s tripped, or even a GFI outlet that needs to be reset. We have again seen cases where building maintenance has spent one to two hours trying to diagnose the problem internally before referring to an electrical contractor. And in most cases, it’s a waste of internal resources.

Potential solutions

Light switches and power outlets are typically designed to last for ten to fifteen years. Many properties have devices and outlets in place that are much older than this. It’s inevitable that they’ll deteriorate over time, so eventually replacing them is the necessary solution.

The cost of each device is relatively small, and the amount of labor needed to change each switch and outlet is minimal. For a well-planned project where all materials are purchased in bulk and the workflow is planned, the cost per device replaced could be very reasonable.

Having a licensed contractor come out and replace them one at a time, however, can become quite a costly proposition. Most contractors have a service fee or trip charge in place, and paying that on each visit can be a nuisance. The contractor may also have to spend additional time determining the specific device causing the current problem. A skilled electrician can do this in a matter of minutes.

Do you need a licensed electrical contractor for this?

That’s a tough question for us to answer. We don’t make laws, and we’re not legal experts! You’d probably get five slightly different answers if you asked five different electrical contractors, none of them a simple “yes” or “no.” Some places we know of with very capable building maintenance have used internal staff to change out aged outlets and light switches and had a lot of success.

Whether you should outsource this or handle it internally is a decision for each organization to make themselves. We think you should base that decision on how much faith you have in your internal staff and whether or not this is an efficient use of your resources.

In the past, we’ve helped several clients with projects like these, modernizing aging devices and preventatively addressing those imminent future issues. If you’d prefer to use a licensed electrician for this project, give us a call.

Protect your electronics from power fluctuations

The line between electricity and electronics has become blurred over the past decade, as many of us are increasingly relying on modern electronic devices for virtually every facet of our lives.

While most of us have become somewhat dependent on electronic devices, they’re still just appliances that need electricity to function.

Without power, a company’s fleet of electronic devices becomes stoic pieces of plastic, and many highly productive corporations would see their back operations come to a screeching halt.

The average home will have about five to ten of these devices operating at a time, but many commercial buildings will have dozens or even hundreds of them. Downtime caused by power fluctuations is more than just a nuisance—it can cost big money in lost productivity and revenue.

A power fluctuation occurs when the flow of electricity to and from a device is interrupted. The two main causes of these power fluctuations are power surges and intermittent power losses.

Power surges

Power surges are relatively common, and affect both residential and commercial buildings. The potential damage is often much higher for a commercial property, though, since there are often many more devices on their electrical systems.

Power surges can originate from internal or external sources. Smaller surges tend to be caused internally, and there can often be dozens of undetected small surges each day. Appliances with motors that start up and shut off can divert electricity to and from other appliances.

These small surges can still damage sensitive electronics and circuitry on machinery and appliances over time.

To prevent this, we recommend surge protection for the property. Having two levels of surge protection is ideal—that means protection at the breaker box or electrical panel, where power is distributed, as well as where each device connects to the electrical system.

Having two levels of surge protection is a good choice in commercial venues with a lot of sensitive equipment, machines, or electronics.

You can purchase surge protection for individual devices online or in retail locations, but you’ll need a licensed professional to install surge protection at the breaker box.

Intermittent power losses

Another common cause of power fluctuations is intermittent power losses. These can occur for a number of reasons. Often they’re due to something related to the utility provider. Other times it could indicate some issues with the electrical system, but we find this to be the case much less frequently.

We’ve been notified by some clients in Oklahoma City and Edmond of losing power for a few seconds several times per week. These sudden losses of power aren’t good for the electronics, appliances, and machines in many homes and most businesses.

If you’re experiencing intermittent power losses in your home or business, here are two things you can do: install an uninterrupted power supply (UPS), or use a generator.

An uninterrupted power supply (UPS) is essentially a large battery backup to provide near-instantaneous protection if a loss of power occurs. We commonly see these in data centers and office buildings with lots of computer equipment. Depending on the size of your need, you could use one or more UPS devices. Small UPS devices can be found for under $100, and larger commercial ones can be several thousands each. We have some in our office and they’ve certainly been worth the investment.

Generators are a good option if a power loss would be crippling to your home or business. These power backup systems can be custom-designed and installed to power all of a property or just some of the desired crucial components. While these solutions can be very expensive, the investment could be relatively small compared to the potential costs associated with downtime.

If you have further questions about how to address power surges or losses in your home or business, give us a call.

Commercial and residential HVAC systems: What’s the difference?

It’s important to have a comfortable environment in your home, but for a business, it’s absolutely crucial. For a business, a broken air conditioning unit can mean lost revenue in addition to physical discomfort.

For our Edmond and Oklahoma City area clients, this is especially important as warm weather and high humidity sometimes linger well into the fall.

Clients often ask us about the differences between common residential and commercial HVAC systems. The underlying mechanical principles are the same, but there are several important differences between the two types of heating and cooling systems.

Size, scale, and type

Residential HVAC units typically have a cooling capacity of 2-5 tons. (Tons is used as a measurement of cooling capacity here.) The commercial units we commonly see can have a capacity of 25 tons and even larger.

Most residential systems cool all of one home, or a large part of it. But commercial systems are designed for much larger areas. Because of that, they remove a much larger amount of heat. The cooling needs for a 2,500 square foot home with 4-5 residents is very different than that of a 5,000 square foot restaurant with a capacity of 225 guests.

The residential systems we typically see in Central Oklahoma are known as split systems, combining an outside condenser unit with an inside furnace/blower unit connected with a system of ducts. But many commercial systems come in prepackaged units, where all the components are housed within one unit.

Many commercial properties will require several HVAC systems to keep the environment comfortable, while many of the residential homes we service have just one or two systems.

Location of HVAC equipment

We typically see the outside condenser units for residential clients installed next to the home—usually along the side or in the backyard. The inside unit is typically in a closet or the attic.

Commercial HVAC equipment is typically installed on rooftops or outside the property in some type of enclosure, especially since commercial HVAC units are large and noisy.

Design and maintenance

Residential units are designed to work at a fixed capacity under ideal installation conditions, and not to be modified. But commercial systems are designed for flexibility.

Prepackaged commercial HVAC units are often modular, meaning extra components can be added to increase the heating and cooling capacity as needs of the space change. You can also remove power in some instances to accommodate changing needs of the commercial space.

While maintenance on residential units is generally recommended, it’s a must for commercial HVAC equipment. Due to the large size and scale of the equipment combined with greater heating and cooling needs, more in-depth maintenance is required to keep commercial systems operating efficiently.

Replacing a residential unit could be an investment of $5,000-$10,000, but a replacement for a commercial venue could be at least 5-10 times that amount.

Temperature control

Residential homes usually have one or two thermostats to control temperature, but many commercial locations we service have much more complicated temperature monitoring and control systems. These control systems in commercial buildings will often integrate with other crucial components of the building, such as the lighting and security interface.

We’re staffed with specialists for residential and commercial systems, whether you need repairs, installations, or planned preventative maintenance. If you’d like to talk about what that could look like, give us a call!

Limit your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

Most people know that carbon monoxide can be dangerous. But there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what carbon monoxide is, when you may be at risk, and what you can do to prevent that risk.

Unfortunately, we see multiple news stories every year about Edmond and Oklahoma City residents who have passed away due to carbon monoxide poisoning. There are ways to prevent this!

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that blends in with normal air. It’s difficult to detect, which makes it especially dangerous. Carbon monoxide is an inevitable byproduct of burning fossil fuels. Here’s what you need to know to keep your family safe.

Where does it come from?

Most of us in Oklahoma have a natural gas or propane utility service, which means that there’s a level of risk already present in your home or business. But don’t worry—thanks to ventilation systems, this gas is typically safely expelled from your environment.

However, if the ventilation isn’t installed correctly or if there are leaks, that can cause carbon monoxide to enter your living space.

In addition to your furnace, fireplace, stove, oven, and water heater (all of which have ventilation systems) there are other commonly used items that may create carbon monoxide but don’t have ventilation systems.

  • Grills (propane or charcoal): Of course, you wouldn’t grill indoors, but even a mostly enclosed space can create problems!
  • Vehicles: A parked car running in a closed garage can be extremely deadly.
  • Space heaters: Both gas and propane powered heaters will produce carbon monoxide that can accumulate at harmful levels without ventilation.
  • Mowers and lawn equipment: If it uses gas, don’t turn it on indoors or in a closed garage.
  • Portable generator: These aren’t for indoor use, period. That can be deadly. When we install standby generators, we ensure they’re a safe distance from any windows, because the risk for carbon monoxide entering the home is high.

What are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide stifles oxygen in the bloodstream, essentially slowly smothering the victim. That leads to fatigue, nausea, dizziness, an inability to think clearly, and difficulty breathing. Eventually loss of consciousness and, in extreme cases, death can occur.

If you find that people in your home or business are suddenly becoming ill with any of these symptoms, your first step is to get out into fresh air. Then contact your utility company or a service and repair company to investigate the source.

What can you do?

The two main things you can do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning are installing carbon monoxide detectors and having your system maintained regularly.

Carbon monoxide detectors are inexpensive and should be installed anywhere carbon monoxide is being produced. Common locations include utility closets and rooms, near attic furnaces, and in the kitchen near your hood vent. Some types can be plugged into an open outlet. But many of these detectors are battery-powered, so be sure to check them regularly.

Trained technicians can locate signs of deterioration and perform diagnostic tests to check for carbon monoxide levels near the burners for your furnace. Carbon monoxide detectors reduce risk, but they aren’t foolproof! The best way to determine how safely your furnace is operating is to have a professional perform a combustion analysis of your furnace.

We take the safety of our customers very seriously. If you’d like to have a professional install plugs or run power for carbon monoxide detectors and alarms, we can help.

And if you don’t have a trusted HVAC company you can call out for routine HVAC maintenance, we’d be happy to talk with you about how we do things.