Enhanced DIY skills are a boon for any entrepreneur or small business owner. The more you save by doing it yourself, the more you can invest into growth. There are some things, though, you just can’t do. One of them is upgrade your office building’s electrical service.
It’s the sort of thing that can only be done by a licensed electrician – and not because of any collusion between the electric companies and the electrical repair industry. Electricity is dangerous. It will kill you. While you’ll need a professional to make the actual upgrade to your service, you can determine if it’s necessary yourself.

Starting fresh

There is one important thing you should do if you’re about to buy or lease a commercial space. Hire a reputable electrical contractor to do an inspection. Be ready for questions about the kind of equipment you’ll be using, your plans for expansion, and your thoughts on renovations or additions.

Since you’re investing in this new space, consider bringing in a professional to audit your electricity needs. Even with age, the wiring, receptacles, and switches may be fine. Remember, though, that the service panel feeds them all, and a steady increase of usage may exceed its capacity. The audit creates what’s known as a load calculation estimate. It’ll help you understand how much you can grow your company before you outgrow the electrical service panel.

Cherchez la panel

Your building’s electrical service isn’t hidden, but it is protected. It distributes electricity to other branches and sub-branches. OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and NFPA (the National Fire Protection Association) codes require its location to be easily accessible, but still out of the way. It also must have what’s known as a “dead front,” which protects you from exposure to live electricity.

This is what may need to be replaced if your electrical needs exceed the service the panel can distribute. Here’s what tells you it’s not keeping up.

  1. Tripped circuit breakers can mean lose wires or connections, but it also means you’ve exceeded your service capacity. If building lights dim or flicker, or switches and outlets stop working, you’ve got more signs.
  2. If you plan to bring more lighting into a building with few windows or to upgrade an older structure, you may need a bigger service panel.
  3. Newer “energy-efficient” office machines and electronic equipment do not necessarily use less electricity – they just use it more efficiently. An under-rated panel won’t give them what they need, and they’ll start to give you problems.
  4. Group work areas or modular cubicles don’t cut down on the need for electricity; they just make that need concentrated in one place. Areas of your office that experience frequent electrical glitches are signs that your service panel may need more branches and sub-branches.

Make a note of these signs, but talk to the building owner (unless it’s you) or management company before you contact a licensed electrician and start the process of replacing or upgrading the service panel. It may be something covered as part of your lease agreement.

There’s no getting around the need for electricity. A growing number of small businesses and medium-sized companies have discovered that there are options about where this electricity comes from. They’re joining together and becoming members of our solar gardens.

These companies are up to 10% annually on office utility bills. They’ve also locked in a static rate for the next 25 years. Cost savings and the reliance on a stable source of electricity isn’t their only reason, though. Solar energy is clean and renewable. Read more about it here.