Integrating Electrical Rooms

Aug. 25, 2003
Increase Floorspace, Improve Profits
What do America’s top retailers, restaurateurs, and hoteliers have in common?They’re hiding in their closet the latest trend in retail electrical systems design – the secret to increased profits.Electrical rooms are a necessary evil for retailers and commercial building owners alike. Housing the building’s electrical, climate control, and security infrastructure, electrical rooms are built to very specific code regulations designed to maximize the building’s safety. To increase personal safety, National Electric Code (NEC) changes now require more space around the equipment in the electrical room, presenting a dilemma for architects and contractors hoping to maximize usable floor space.Even with these new code requirements, facilities ranging from large department stores to chain restaurants are converting square footage previously used for electrical equipment into revenue-producing sales space. By standardizing electrical components and integrating the electrical devices into fewer structures, manufacturers have been able to reduce the size of the electrical room equipment, helping building professionals reduce the size of the electrical rooms and increase retail floor space.In some cases, manufacturers have been able to combine lighting control timers, transfer switches, panelboards, switchboards, and transformers into one structure. Often these enclosures are placed on one wall of the electrical room, as opposed to two or three. Because there are fewer structures, the electrical room is smaller, and more floorspace can be dedicated to generating revenue. Other building control systems, including telecommunications, fire/life safety, security, and environmental controls, can also be integrated into the design depending on the customer’s needs.Additionally, integrated structures reduce labor. Typical electrical rooms are assembled out of several different component parts that need to be wired together and mounted on the walls of the electrical room (stick built). This is a very time- and labor-intensive process. Integrated electrical structures are typically pre-wired during manufacturing. This means when they arrive on the jobsite, the contractors need only to put the structure in place and run the main service cable to the structure.In some cases, code changes have led to new developments that further help shrink the size of back rooms. For example, the NEC permits the use of remote-controlled breakers in place of commonly used space consuming lighting control systems. Remote controlled circuit breakers contain a solenoid allowing the breaker to act as a switch. When connected to time clocks or other programmable lighting control devices via a 24V DC control, remote controlled breakers act as the lighting control system. Because these breakers have dual roles (lighting control and electrical fault mitigation), contractors can limit the number of enclosures needed in the electrical room, freeing up additional space.Dennis Dowiak is marketing manager, Commercial Facilities, at Eaton’s Cutler-Hammer Group (, Pittsburgh. He has over 14 years of experience in the electrical construction industry in various roles, including systems engineering, major project sales, strategic planning, business development, and marketing management, and is associated with various industry trade groups.

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