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The Smart Building Revolution
Here we are, already half-way through the summer, and over halfway through the year. The “dog days” are here, and I will mention how a “smart building” can adapt to these days as the topic this month in the editorial calendar of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine is “smart building.” First, let’s consider the definition of the word “smart.”
- Having or showing quick-witted intelligence
- (Of a device) programmed so as to be capable of some independent action
Obviously, the latter versus the former will be the appropriate definition related to a smart building. I do believe that systems have been “smart” for awhile now, but they themselves are getting smarter and the integration of various systems is making buildings more adaptive to the environment and its occupants than ever. Buildings of the future must connect the various pieces in an integrated, dynamic, and functional way to make the most impact.
A few months back, we talked about smart lighting. We should all be familiar with this because it is everywhere! Have you noticed as you walk down the frozen food aisle at the grocery store that the lights go on and off as you pass? Really, what is the sense of keeping the lights on if no one is looking at the products inside? The other day, I opened the door to the stairwell at the gym and as soon as I hit the first step, the lights got brighter. That’s smart lighting. It senses occupants and adjusts the lighting to higher levels when they are present and lowers it when they are not. The same is true with building skylights or windows. Daylight harvesting allows the use of ambient light instead of artificial light to save energy and operating costs for the building. That’s really what this is all about– comfort for the occupants, less wear and tear on building machinery, predictive maintenance based on data outputs, and ultimately energy savings which is good for the environment.
SMART BUILDINGS + CONTROL
A benefit of having a smart building is that a building owner or manager will ultimately have more control over the environment due to the information that is being generated by smart devices and programming. Needless to say, this information goes way beyond the traditional BMS (Building Management System) or EMS (Energy Management System) control systems and takes it a step further by taking inputs to change the control to operate more efficiently at each moment throughout the day.
Let’s take for example, the building HVAC system. In a traditional model, the HVAC system would have preprogrammed temperatures set throughout the day. In a smart model, the HVAC system will work with several data inputs to decide which action is best for the buildings’ occupants and the buildings’ energy efficiency goals.
Environmental air quality is a big issue in any building and the buildings CO2 levels are monitored for certain comfort levels. If those levels were in an “acceptable” range due to fewer occupants on a particular day, then why would the HVAC system have to take in fresh outdoor air and spend the energy to “condition” it? In a smart building, it wouldn’t unless it had to.
All of this can be achieved using software that can generate data to make informed decisions about many different functions. Imagine using the weather report to decide on how your HVAC is going to function? It makes sense though, doesn’t it? Think of those older buildings that are made with a lot of exterior glass. In a smart building, there would undoubtedly be solar shades that automatically open or close to help the HVAC system regulate the desired temperature. Cool, right?
Have you heard of devices called IoT or Internet of Things? They can be sensors, software or anything that allows you to collect data about your building’s operation. A simple example of this is an occupancy sensor that shuts the light (and even the power) off in an unoccupied room. Virtually any part of your building’s operation can be monitored and, if it can be monitored, there exists the possibility to save money. As a matter of fact, there is a trend of businesses increasing their investments in IoT, using smart technology to optimize energy use, improve wellness of its occupants, and reduce costs.
Another very interesting fact is that in smart building systems, machinery can be monitored, and failures can be predicted when the data deviates from the norm well in advance. This results in saving both time and money and, possibly, catastrophic failures. Where data exists, the possibilities for control are endless!
Admittedly, I have just scratched the surface of this very interesting topic. In a nutshell, smart building is about saving money through optimized operation and increased efficiency, while at the same time increasing the comfort of the buildings’ occupants resulting in less stress on the power grid. I do believe that we will be seeing more of more of this as technology continues to develop, making buildings smarter and more comfortable than ever.
Next month is the NECA Nashville pre-show check in! If you are anything like us, you are excited to be participating in either the live or virtual show! We’ll be there virtually and in-person at Booth 2207! Also, be sure to check out Marc’s latest podcast Electrical Estimating with Marc Candels. You can listen and subscribe to it wherever you listen to podcasts.
Finally, thank you for reading, and, as always, happy estimating!
Linda’s Midyear Construction Outlook
Where has the first half of this year gone? If you are anything like me, you are already looking ahead to fall activities such as the NECA Convention and Trade Show. If you are attending, come visit us at Booth #2207! Speaking of which, the topic this month in the editorial calendar of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine is the midyear construction outlook. Let’s look at some factors and what they might mean to you.
CONSTRUCTION SPENDING AND PRICING
The good news is that construction spending is up 8.5% from 2020. However, part of that growth undoubtedly came from rising material costs. Have you seen the price of lumber and other wood products? At one time, you could go to a big box store and buy a sheet of plywood for around $35. Last time we checked that same sheet was approaching $100. That’s pure insanity and it makes me thankful that we are not in construction using lots of lumber! (Although at time of publishing, the prices are starting to come back down.)
Being in the preconstruction field, we do see a lot of material price fluctuations, especially with copper wire. As you know, when material pricing is rising higher and higher, you should qualify your bid and write in a material price escalation clause OR carry a higher number in your bid which of course makes you run the risk of not getting the project award. Weigh your options!
All this fluctuation and rising costs were predicated by the climb in producer prices, which climbed 6.6% in May alone, signaling the largest 12-month increase on record. One could say that we are in an inflation, a term where sustained increases in prices of goods and services are prevalent. Is this bad news? Not necessarily! To some, inflation signifies a struggling economy; others see it as a sign of prospering economy. Who’s right?
I always say that the truth lies somewhere in between. While prices are rising, the interest rates are either falling or steady, meaning the cost of borrowing is lower. It also means that the value of the dollar is less, which reduces purchasing power. However, at the same time, it encourages spending and investment now, rather than later, on things like capital investments. As a side note, investors are buying gold and other precious metals because they are less susceptible to inflationary fluctuations and are considered “safe” investments.
From what we can see, the real estate market is booming, and in some cases, there are auctions or bidding wars due to low inventory and such a high demand, particularly in places that are deemed desirable to live. Apartment and condominium complexes are common projects for our estimators.
At Candels, we have also seen quite a bit of retrofit work as buildings are being repurposed based on the change in workforce requirements following COVID. We are also seeing lots of infrastructure work on electrical substations, department of transportation facilities, and water/wastewater management facilities. We are seeing less and less of big box retail, but much more tenant fit outs.
OVERCOMING THE LABOR SHORTAGE
All this work that is still going despite inflation comes at a cost. The labor shortage is real. According to The Associated General Contractors, or AGC, 81% of construction firms are having trouble filling both salary and hourly craft positions. Interestingly enough, 72% of the companies surveyed anticipate that the labor shortages are going to be the biggest hurdle within the next year.
The good news is there are ways to address the shortage. Training current employees to develop new skills and move into a different position retains your current team and avoids them leaving to work elsewhere. Employee retention is key! Adaptability is also key, meaning workforce skills can be applied in a different way. Some companies are partnering with educational facilities to ensure workforce continuity as students emerge into the workplace. Other companies have found it beneficial to outsource certain tasks such as human resources, and, in our case, estimating.
PROMOTING THE TRADES
Over the years, there has been a major push to get high school students to advance their education by attending college. However, college is not for everyone and the trades could really use a boost in new, younger workers. We must lessen the stigma that university is the only career track for our students. It does work from some – but not everyone. Anyone new to a trade will almost always get paid for on-the-job training thereby eliminating hundreds of thousand of dollars in student loan debt. Yes, tradesmen do typically do classroom hours, but the cost of trade school is much less in comparison to university tuition. It is also important to mention that the graduate’s typically being earning a living wage right after they complete their program.
As we move into the second half of the year, remember the adage, “bid while you are busy.” We cannot stress enough how a good backlog can get you through the lean times. This comes with work and relationships, although any seasoned business owner is practicing this already.
Even the worst of times present opportunities – after all, most of us did just survive a global pandemic. Keep your eyes open, keep developing and maintaining good relationships with your general contractors and suppliers, and only bid work that fits your objectives. Now is not the time to panic. It’s time for smart decisions and moving forward with confidence.
I’ll check in with you next month as we unpack all things related to smart building. Be sure to check out Marc’s new podcast Electrical Estimating with Marc Candels. You can listen and subscribe wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Finally, thank you for reading, and, as always, happy estimating!
Bidding Renovation Projects
Welcome to June! The topic this month in the editorial calendar of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine is renovation and retrofit. Bidding a renovation project is not always straightforward. Let’s face it; the tricky part is that you will have existing items to remain, existing items to be relocated and of course new items. And, when you factor in possible “historical” elements like plaster walls or ceilings, the job gets that much more complicated.
ALWAYS GO TO THE WALK THROUGH
There is only one way to fully understand a renovation project and that is to attend the walk-through.
Before you attend the walk-through, you should thoroughly review all the project documentation such as the invitation to bid, the scope of work (very important especially in a renovation!), the specifications noting “existing conditions” very carefully, and of course, the drawings. Some estimators might think that a cursory review of the electrical drawings will suffice. However, the architectural drawings will contain information that is just as important as the electrical. It will be critical to understand the existing conditions, as well as the ceilings and walls that will remain in place and those that will be removed as part of the renovation.
Attending a walk through is one thing; making the most of the walk through is another. We’ve just mentioned that it is important to review all the documentation before the walk through to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.
For example, if the switchgear is existing to be reused, note the location and condition. Take a photo of the name plate. Note if there are any spare breakers. Is there room in the existing electric room for new items or it is going to be difficult to place the new panels or transformers? Are there extra spaces for new breakers in existing panels? The reality is that not every possible existing condition is going to be shown on the drawings, so this will be your opportunity to fill in the missing pieces. Make the most of it.
The same is true of existing lighting. On many retrofit projects, you may be tasked with replacing lamps or ballasts that require it. However, this is very difficult to quantify, despite attending the walk through. You can either carry an allowance (outside of your base bid price) for the cleaning or relamping or you can give a per fixture unit price, again, outside of your base bid. Whatever you do, be sure to qualify it in your proposal letter. Pay attention to the ceiling types and if any are any that are going to be replaced. You want to qualify in your scope that you will not be responsible for patching existing ceilings or for replacing ceiling tiles.
Just as with lighting and switchgear, you should review all other existing systems, such as lighting controls, fire alarm, and tel/data to ensure that you can complete the job requirements effectively. Don’t forget to take photos of the control panels and note the manufacturers.
Whenever possible (unless noted otherwise), you can reuse existing circuits and conduits, even if it is only for temp power. Many contractors will take the time to trace and label the circuits for reuse but read the specs to ensure that this is permitted within the scope of work.
Finally, the last thing about the walk through is noting what will require replacement and demolition. Let’s address that now.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE SYMBOL LIST
Renovation projects will typically have a symbol list for items to be removed, relocated, or replaced. Some of the typical (Not all jobs are the same. Please refer to the symbol list of your project as the symbols may vary from job to job, and engineer to engineer.) symbols are “XR” which often means “existing to remain” in which case, you would do nothing with it. Other symbols are “XRE” which often means “existing to be removed” so you would carry labor to remove that item and often any associated wiring unless instructed otherwise.” You may also see items with “XRL” which often means “existing to be relocated.” In this case, you would carry labor to remove the item, and additional labor (and sometimes material) to relocate the item to its new location. Its’ new location sometimes will be noted by the symbol “XNL” (relocated, new location.) Finally other items may be replaced in their existing location. Those symbols typically are noted as “XREL” (existing, replace in existing location). In this case, you would replace the existing device with a new one in the same location. (As a side note, you may find that replacing small ticket items may be less expensive and time consuming than relocating an item such as a duplex receptacle.)
My advice is to pay attention to the symbols because often they can get confusing! As always, it is best to count each device with its note such as “duplex receptacle – XREL.” That should avoid some hassle when you are finally ready to input the information into your estimating software.
In terms of lighting, you may see a note in the demo pages for “clean and relamp” of existing fixtures. Be sure to carry enough labor and material to remove the existing lamps and replace with new, and time to clean the fixture. Note the existing lamp type and its’ replacement so you can carry the appropriate material dollars to cover this. You may also see where some new lighting may be added to the project with the note “match existing.” If the existing fixture does not have any manufacturer data, you have options. Carry the labor to install the new fixtures in your base bid and add an allowance outside of your base price for the fixtures themselves. That way you will be making your base bid more palatable, while not inflating your base bid price based on an unknown fixture type. Or you can exclude the fixtures entirely. Remember, you want to be as competitive as possible, and one way to do this is to separate the “unknowns” outside of your base bid and explain everything in your scope letter.
BE READY FOR ANYTHING
After reviewing the bid documents, attending the walk through, and completing your take-off, there still may be some “unknowns” especially in terms of a renovation project. In this case, I would recommend giving yourself some contingency money “just in case” and of course qualifying everything that you have included in your price. You would be amazed at how many contractors do not prepare a comprehensive scope! The GC will make assumptions if you do not accurately describe what is included in your price!
BIDDING AS THE PRIME
One thing that we should mention is that for some renovation projects, you may have to bid as a prime contractor. A prime contractor is the contractor who is responsible for the completion of a project, under contract with the owner of the job. For example, if there is a project where the owner of the job wants to replace all the lighting and all the ceiling tiles in their building, the electrical contractor would act as a prime and would complete the electrical work and usually hire a sub-contractor for the ceiling work; the whole project would be under the direction of the electrical contractor as the prime contractor. (Conversely, a ceiling contractor could be the prime and hire an EC as the sub.) Please be aware of this when reviewing the scope of work. The prime contractor cannot exclude anything from the scope of work.
TO BID OR TO WALK
Renovation projects can be tricky at best, especially if you have a building of older or historical significance. That is entirely different ballgame – and, a whole different blog topic! However, when reviewing a renovation project, ask yourself the following: Can you realistically do what is being asked? Is it going to be worth it to bid it? Can you make a profit? Can you complete the job on time?
Remember that the AHJ, or Authority Having Jurisdiction, may require additional work, even if it is not within the owner’s scope. Always get to know the AHJ in your area! Like I’ve said countless times before, it’s all about relationships! Having a good one will undoubtedly help with these types of projects.
I hope that you have learned a bit more about renovations! Don’t forget to subscribe to Marc’s new podcast, Electrical Estimating with Marc Candels, wherever you listen to podcasts! And, as always, Happy Estimating!
Bidding (and Winning) Safely During COVID
This is my fifth monthly blog post of the year. How did it get to be May already? If you are anything like me, you might still be stuck in March of 2020 when this crazy pandemic turned everything upside down. As much as we thought that the dawn of a new year, 2021, would somehow magically put things back to “normal,” we are dealing with a “new normal” and one that does affect your job as an estimator or business owner.
The topic this month in the editorial calendar of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine is safety. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, my focus would have been different than what I am going to focus on this month. My current focus is how the pandemic has affected the workplace and things that you should be doing as an estimator or business owner to ensure that all your costs are covered.
OSHA + YOU
Let’s start with OSHA. Most people know OSHA as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an organization under the umbrella of the United States Department of Labor. In short,
“The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. In addition, the Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5 (a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
Of course, as an employer, you should have been complying with OSHA standards all along, but the pandemic added extra responsibilities to you, the employer. It’s something that hasn’t been seen before. Things like Exposure Risk Level Assessments, Job Hazard Analysis, and updated Standard Operating Procedures all came about regarding handling the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protecting the American worker.
While employee training is a normal course of action, employers must now ensure that their employees are trained, not only in doing their jobs safely, but also in mitigating the spread of the virus all while adhering to OSHA requirements. Things that we never thought about are being addressed now. It is a different workplace.
THE 2021 WORKPLACE
The workplace of over a year ago has been replaced with one that is quite different, and that difference has come at a cost. Have you thought about that? The time and the actual costs? The exposure may surprise you.
One of the best ways to ensure that all employees understand the procedures put in place to keep them safe is to continue with Toolbox Talks and Safety Meetings. The costs to conduct these meetings are not free. What do I mean by that? Every time, one or several of your employees is not working on a job-related task, you are paying for non-productive time. Depending on the number of workers and the time spent, this unproductive time can add up, causing a loss in revenue. A word of caution: be sure that the required information is disseminated in a timely and understandable fashion so that employees comprehend it and can return to work as quickly as possible.
You may have found that it is the best course of action to appoint a Health and Safety Officer. Granted this could be a current employee of your company, or a new employee hired to handle these important tasks. Again, COVID safety comes at a cost.
Another cost is flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices. Unfortunately, some of those stricken by the COVID-19 virus get so sick that they are out of work for an extended period with some even needing hospitalization. This is the time when some employer flexibility can go a long way in building employee goodwill. No one wants to or should be penalized for getting sick. Now, I am not saying that you must extend paid sick leave to an uncomfortable point, yet this is the time when you would rather pay someone to stay home than to come to work and infect the rest of the team. A policy promoting staying home would be money well spent in the long run. If you have time, reach out to an HR professional, or read helpful blogs from Gusto Payroll to find out what others are doing.
MAKING A PROFIT WHILE BEING COMPLIANT
Every good estimator or business owner knows that to make a profit on any project, all your costs must be covered. I would suspect that there are some out there that haven’t considered that new policies and regulations affect their estimate and associated job costs.
Some of these items could (and should) be applied as a line item to your estimate, including face masks (or cloth coverings) and regular replacements; gloves when required (not work gloves); hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes; cleaning of tools and equipment; and cleaning and disinfecting of company trucks and vans. These are a few of the many PPE and safety protocol items to consider.
Watch for project requirements during the bidding and contract process because many jobsites are requiring special safety screenings and staggered deliveries. How will this affect the flow of your work? Remember, time delays result in wasted money, so account for this in your estimate.
AVOIDING RISK IN YOUR PROPOSAL
With new jobsite safety requirements, contractors of all trades should consider the language they’re using in their proposals.
Many job specs in this pandemic require staggered work schedules, alternating workdays, or extra shifts to reduce the number of workers on site at the same time. The truth is all these come at a cost whether direct or indirect. If you require an employee to work an “off” shift, you typically must pay a shift differential, which is a direct cost to your company. Also, with staggered shifts, there may be a labor inefficiency for the disconnect between workers, or for the simple fact that it’s an atypical shift time which is proven to affect worker productivity. Extra shifts will cost you overtime, and these costs must be covered in your estimate.
Better yet, to fully protect your company, develop some terms and conditions that exclude staggered work schedules, alternating workdays, or extra shifts until you know the exact work schedule. If awarded the contract, watch out for ambiguous shift language, and be sure to take exception to that in the contract because it will be cause for a change order later. How can you anticipate costs if you do not know exactly what the GC will require? Again, your job is to cover all the costs!
As for GC’s, there are items that should be within the scope of work of the GC, not yours, as the electrical contractor. These costs include cleaning and disinfecting of jobsite lavatories or break areas used by all trades, as well as provisions for no touch trash receptacles.
As the trades move forward and the pandemic does what it will do (because who really knows?), it will be a good idea to stay ahead of the costs. If a new requirement is presented, make sure to cover in your estimate as either a direct job cost or part of your overhead, depending on what it is. As always, the estimator’s role is to determine the true cost of the project, and the many new ones that have come about because of the world we live and work in today.
For more information on COVID-19 jobsite safety, refer to the links provided within this article.
Stay alert! Stay safe! Stay informed and, as always, Happy Estimating!
Getting Smart with Lighting
The focus of this month’s blog is smart lighting. As I stated before, I am writing my monthly blog with the subject matter being in line with the monthly editorial focus of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine. For more great articles about smart lighting, I encourage you to visit www.ECMag.com to check out their April 2021 issue.
Before anything else, let’s first talk about the definition of the word itself. Smart. /smärt/ adjective (of a device) programmed as to be capable of some independent action. In other words, smart lighting is capable of various actions depending on the programming. When I think of the word smart, I also think of the word intelligence and intelligence comes into play in smart lighting systems with their data-gathering capabilities. Smart lighting really has and will continue to be, much more prevalent in the years to come. Now let’s dive into exactly how lighting can be smart and the benefits of that.
A BRILLIANT IDEA
One of the simplest things that can be smart is a light bulb. Yes, you read that correctly, a light bulb. Smart light bulbs can be controlled with voice, and smart home devices such as the Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings, Amazon Alexa, and Google Home products. These smart lights and other devices connect to your home or business WiFi network and then communicate with the previously mentioned products connected to the same network. In addition to WiFi connections, you will see connectivity via Z-Wave or Zigbee radio antenna for wireless connectivity as well. Last, you will also find connectivity options with brand-specific hubs that will also communicate to their brand-specific mobile apps. Most of the smart bulbs on the market will even inform you of their energy usage, while others have a color-changing option. The possibilities and widespread feature sets are endless and really come down to what the end-user is looking to accomplish in their smart home or office. There are a few things to look for in a smart bulb, and the first thing is lumens. Just as with non-smart bulbs, the higher the lumens, the brighter the light. So, if you are looking at a cozy bulb for your home, choose a bulb that has lower lumens. The same goes for the color temperature of the bulb. The higher temps are harsher; the lower temperatures are more conducive to relaxing.
Exterior lighting can also be smart – and add a layer of protection for the exterior of your property. Outdoor lighting, with systems like Ring, can provide security lighting at the fraction of a full-blown security system cost – these typically have subscription fees associated with them but from what we have found, they are quite minimal.
Technology is evolving every single day. Imagine for a second what the future will hold. Will all things be smart at some point?
IT’S ALL ABOUT CONTROL
Lighting control systems can do a lot more than turn lights ‘on’ or ‘off.’ Nowadays, lighting control systems can sense the presence of daylight and use the daylight instead of the fixture lighting. This is achieved through sensors that can trigger the dimming of the lighting fixtures while harvesting daylight. Occupancy sensors and vacancy sensors can also detect the presence or absence of people in a room, thereby dimming or shutting off the lights when not needed, providing energy savings. Lighting control systems can also be integrated into building management systems for ultimate control and energy savings across all building systems. The smartest thing, pun intended, to remember is that you really need to plan out what your goals are for your smart system before you even begin designing it. Once you have your goals in place, time to start doing some digging on how to best achieve it. As I like to say, Google is your friend – especially here!
EVEN CABLE IS GETTING SMART
The advances in technology go beyond fixtures, bulbs, and control systems. Even the cable is getting smarter, faster, and more reliable.
A new hybrid cable can provide both power and control of a single cable. Southwire’s version is called MC-PCS Duo™ Cable; AFC’s cable is referred to as MC Luminary® Cable. Prior to arriving on the market, Estimators would have to anticipate both power and control requirements separately, but not anymore. This cable saves time (and money) because of the integration of both power and control together. This new technology eliminates the need to run a separate power and control circuit for each light fixture.
Some projects may still require the use of CAT-5E or CAT-6 cable for some controls, but the cable is evolving with technology as well. The speeds are getting faster and faster, and the bandwidth is getting bigger, resulting in less noise and more reliability. Watch for the introduction of CAT-7 and even CAT-8 cable. You’ll be amazed at the technological advances. (Of course, from an estimating standpoint, be sure to carry the current cost of these cables as pricing services may not even have these in their systems yet!)
EVEN CEILING GRID SYSTEMS ARE GETTING SMART
I never thought I would see the day when a structural element, like a ceiling grid system, would power not only the lighting that is installed within it but also can provide power and control to speakers, security cameras, thermostat sensors, HVAC controls, overhead projects, and even mobile charging stations.
The ceiling grid system can be found in Article 393 of the National Electrical Code. I would urge you to review this section when you first come across this in one of your bids. According to 393.2, this is a “system that serves as a support for a finished ceiling surface and consists of a busbar and busbar support to distribute power by utilization of equipment supplied by a Class 2 power supply.”
This all comes because of project requirements for spaces to be healthier, more comfortable, and more technology-enabled than ever before. All these things are achieved through smart devices that can learn or, even better, be intelligent.
TECHNOLOGY MEANS BIG GROWTH
The final piece of technology we are going to discuss in this piece is PoE or Power over Ethernet. PoE is a means of carrying electrical power through data cables. With PoE-enabled devices, electrical current passes through the ethernet cable along with the data already carried.
What does this mean for smart buildings? PoE will undoubtedly help intelligent building growth and is really at the core of the digital building revolution.
Again, customers are demanding customizable, comfortable, and smart building experiences more and more. This can be achieved through smart HVAC devices keeping the building comfortable when occupied yet providing energy efficiency when it’s not. Other PoE devices include occupancy sensors, switches, smart thermostats, smart LED lighting, motorized shades, and more. All the control is achieved through an IP-based twisted pair cable.
As a result of a data cable being used to achieve all this functionality, data is also being continuously collected, which enables monitoring and the control of energy consumption of each device. This can identify potential problems and opportunities for more money-saving products. PoE is very reliable, cost-effective, and easy to deploy.
PoE devices can also integrate with security systems. In my research, I learned that some schools are using PoE devices for gunshot detection and then use the lighting controls to change the lighting schemes in the event of a school emergency. In our office, we use PoE to power our VoIP door phone so that we can easily greet and provide access to delivery personnel or guests. This has helped tremendously during the early days of the pandemic by not needing to physically go to the door and potentially be exposed to the virus.
From an industry standpoint, it is expected that PoE will grow over 14.9% over the next 10 years. The obstacle here now lye with integrating IT, or information technology, professionals with OT professionals. The IT professionals are used to computer technology and controlling hardware and software while the OT professionals focus on devices the control physical items, rather than data. Although related, these to professionals are two different animals, and one that is currently being worked out as this technology continues to emerge.
DO YOU FEEL SMARTER ABOUT SMART DEVICES?
In this ever-changing world of technology, we have learned that just about any device can be smart. Smart devices enable a lot of good things – user control over their environment, energy efficiency, and technology enablement, just to name a few.
Smart technology is relatively new, so watch for new advances as time goes by. From an estimating standpoint, if you see something “smart” on your next bid, be sure to investigate it fully to be sure that you have your material and labor costs covered. Also, never be afraid to use your favorite Internet search engine to dig for items that you may not have seen before. Finally, remember, your job as an estimator is to determine the “true cost” of the project. If you find that you are having trouble with an item, just remember that you can make an educated guess to cover the cost because it is an estimate – not an exactimate!
Happy Estimating! Until next time…
Demystifying Electrical Control Systems in your Estimate
This is my third monthly blog post of 2021. As I was preparing the post, I realized that I haven’t explained where I am getting my inspiration for these posts, so I thought I would share with you now. As some of you may know, Candels has advertised in Electrical Contractor Magazine since 2005. It’s hard to believe it has been 16 years! Each year, the magazine publishes an editorial calendar with a different focus for each month’s issue. This month’s focus is Cabling and Controls. This topic inspired me to discuss the fact that more and more estimating control systems are not well documented, sometimes barely shown, on project drawings. Our team of estimators sees and mentions this issue far too frequently!
So, the real question is, what do you do when you encounter this on your next project? First, I would recommend ensuring that the estimator has the experience and knowledge to be able to handle the task at hand because it will be a difficult task for a less experienced estimator. Seasoned estimators know how to apply material and labor costs for these systems, even when the individual items of a control system are not shown on the drawings, or very little information has been provided. This experience factor plays a huge part.
The next item on the agenda is to determine whether there is a riser diagram for the control system. A control system could be for lighting, building automation, refrigeration, or pretty much any system that has components required to work together to make the system work.
For this piece, let’s use an example of a lighting control system. I must admit that I, myself, found taking these systems off scary in my early estimating days! Nevertheless, when it all comes down to it, a control system is simply the components, pipe, and control wire of some sort. That’s it! When you break it down in a systematic way, as we do here at Candels, all you need to do is breathe, check out the riser, and get started.
Now, how would you tackle the take-off of a lighting control system? First, it is important to realize that only some of the components are shown on the drawings, but not all of them. So, what do you do? Don’t panic! It really isn’t complicated when you break it down.
I am a firm believer that it is always best practice to start with the specifications. They should give you valuable insight into the system components and how they work together. Again, when a system is not fully shown, you, the estimator, must dig for information to ensure that your estimate covers all your costs. If there are no specifications, which is highly unlikely but possible, you can always refer to the manufacturer’s website for additional information.
A lighting control system will typically have some sort of control panel that controls other devices such as room controllers, scene controllers, keypad controls, modules and more. As I stated before, many times these devices are ONLY shown on the riser and not on the floor plans. What’s the next step?
Really, it is quite simple. First, run the power feed to the lighting control panel. Be sure to include labor to install and mount the panel, and terminate the wires, just like you would do with a regular panel. Next, if the devices are not shown on the plans, count each of the different types of devices on the riser. In many estimating software programs, you can either take-off a “similar” item or you can make a “special” item and carry the labor required to install. You can also carry a small amount of material for the mounting but remember lighting control systems are quoted by your lighting vendor. In terms of the necessary amount of cable. That said, make sure you review the floor plan and see what might work for an average footage per device. I typically use between 100’ and 200’ per device for the control cable. If the specified cable is not included in your estimating software, you can do a quick Google search to determine the typical per foot cost of the cable. Alternatively, you could take off a similar cable, to ensure the labor is correct, and then add in the material cost per foot of the specified cable.
The bottom line here is that you are trying to cover the cost of the installation of the items. The bill of material does not have to be exact because it is an estimate. Take a deep breathe, break it down in logical steps as we did here, and you will be in good shape.
Should you need assistance on a project, the Candels Estimators are here to help. Just click here to submit your project and you’ll typically hear back from us on the same business day.
The Workforce – Essential Workers, The Trades, and COVID
A meme I recently saw on Facebook prompted me to write about essential and non-essential workers which will eventually lead me to talk about the trades. Further, I felt a need to discuss what’s really happening and where I believe we are headed.
During this pandemic, we have learned that Hollywood starlets, professional athletes, and the like are no longer as important or relevant as they once were. In other words, the country goes on whether they act or play. Instead, the unsung heroes are the workers that are essential to the country’s functioning as a productive society. These are the tradespeople, retail workers, first responders, utility workers, transportation workers, and more. They are truly essential. Other essential personnel includes healthcare workers of all sorts, including doctors, nurses, aides, medical technicians, and so on.
One thing that struck me, and I am sure many others, is that many of the professions that I mentioned above are looked at as lower on the totem pole of societal success. More so, they are regarded as just a job – and not a career. While being a doctor or nurse is admirable, how many other medical jobs fall into the “just a job” category as well?
The underlying truth is that this country does not work without all types of workers. There is a career path for everyone and, as a result, University or College simply is not for everyone.
The Decision: University vs. Trade School
There has been a push over the last few decades to get high school graduates into universities, and away from the trades. This has caused the construction industry workforce to age. As a matter of fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, 69% of construction workers are in their prime working years, which defined as ages 25-54, with 42.5 being the average age. In actuality, the average age of a certain trade may be much higher. Unfortunately, when these older workers retire, there is a huge knowledge base that leaves the industry without anyone to pass the torch on to. The apprentice that devotes themselves to their program and is lucky enough to have the opportunity to work under one of these masters of their craft will learn more from them than anything that they will learn in trade school.
While university or college may be a good idea for some, we have already determined it is not for everyone. We all know someone who, for lack of a better term, has a ‘useless’ degree in something like humanities who then enters the workforce and becomes a realtor or some other path that doesn’t require a degree. Now there is certainly nothing wrong with being a realtor, but why would you spend years of your life and hundreds of thousands of dollars for a degree that has no impact on your future career – isn’t that the whole point? This is where the value of trades comes in. The programs offer low tuition costs to students that ensure they graduate with little to no student debt. Oh, and let’s not forget, they finish their program with a guaranteed job that pays well and has many opportunities and career paths as they gain more experience in their respective field.
Benefits of Being in a Trade
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has published that Construction tradespeople experience better overall employment. Possibly the best part of starting in a trade is that you “earn while you learn.” An electrical apprentice, for example, will work in the field and go to school at night to learn the theory part of the curriculum and get paid during the day for on-the-job training.
In doing research for this article, I determined that there are approximately ¾ of a million Electrician openings available in the United States, and that’s not even counting the demand for Electrical Estimators and Project Managers! I was also impressed to find out that the National Electrical Contractors’ Association (NECA) has a program to recruit young people into the electrical trade in underserved communities. It is truly great to see an industry organization actively working to recruit into the industry.
The COVID Effect on Trades
Since we touched on the trades, I thought I would give you an update on how the Coronavirus Pandemic has affected how business is currently being conducted. Although the remote workplace has affected mentoring and peer relationships, some good things are happening as well, and these things are saving companies time and money.
Pre-construction meetings and job walkthroughs are now being held via Zoom, thereby eliminating the time required to drive to the job site. In addition, bid openings and weekly job meetings are also being held via Zoom. Zoom and other teleconferencing platforms have been wonderful tools for companies of all types, enabling communication between employees, clients, and more. I do wonder if we’ll ever go back to the “old ways” of face-to-face meetings, and business as usual or if this is the new normal. We shall see.
I know I started this article discussing essential versus non-essential workers. Regardless of the situation, there will always be a need for tradespeople. That need will grow based on the aging workforce unless we continue to promote the trades as a solid way of living. When I think about attracting younger workers into the trades, all I can think of is how they embrace technology, like something as simple as these Zoom meetings. So, when your teenager expresses an interest in electrical, mechanical, HVAC, plumbing, carpentry, or the like, encourage them! It’s an honorable way to make a great living.