Power and connectivity are the keys to supporting operations and maintaining an efficient workplace. The National Electrical Code® (NEC) has many requirements and guidelines governing commercial construction power needs, including the amount of voltage and amperage for specific uses, the number of outlets per foot, and much more.
Sometimes, however, the minimum code requirements fail to meet the growing needs of businesses, especially as they adapt to hybrid workplace models or need to rearrange workstations for added capacity.
What’s surprising to many project owners is the major role that furniture selection and placement plays in determining power and utility needs for commercial building construction.
Utilities and Furnishings Considerations
The placement of networks, smart devices, IoT equipment, HVAC systems, and other connected devices are common technologies that need to be included in construction and electrical specifications. In addition, there are undoubtedly technologies on the horizon that we’re unaware of that will someday need to be implemented.
As technology advances and workforces become more flexible and adaptive, their power requirements need to be adaptable, too.
So, where do commercial furnishings come into play?
Furniture planners do more than select finishes and ensure a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing work environment. They will collaborate with architects to recommend where power and data needs to go in relation to the furnishings and intended uses of the rooms. Without this critical communication, there will likely be costly mistakes and rework.
The Importance of Furniture Placement
Some believe furniture selection and placement can wait until later in the construction process, but it’s best to determine furnishing needs before a project goes to bid. Understanding how rooms will be used and where furniture will be placed is critically important when deciding where and how much power will be needed.
For example, a meeting room may need power access in the middle of a conference table for laptop plugins, microphones, or video conferencing capabilities. Without foresight, an outlet won’t be placed in the floor to accommodate those technical requirements.
Likewise, will electricians know where a workstation or desk unit will be placed in a reception area in order to provide power and connectivity for computer monitors, phone service, internet, and other networks? What about waiting areas or executive offices? Something as simple as the desired placement of bookshelves or storage cabinets against a wall could significantly limit access to power.
Running power cords and data cables across the floor is not only unsightly, it’s unsafe and might not meet code. Concealing power in walls or under the floor is ideal. But if the floor is made of concrete, the costs to drill through it to make the changes later will be significant. Even a floor made of conventional joists and underlayment will require extensive work and disruption.
Another consideration is the amount of power needed. A row of tables in a training room will need multiple plug-in module units. The power will be daisy chained together and run discretely underneath the length of the tables in a cable management system, where it is then plugged into the wall. Knowing ahead of time where those tables will be placed is critical, not only for the location of the wall outlets, but because the electrician will likely need to install a circuit with additional amperage to accommodate multiple users.
Something as simple as placing an L-shaped desk in an office can become an issue. Because of ADA accessibility requirements, the desk unit will need to go on a specific side of the room, as will the power to accompany it.
While electrical wall outlets and other connections are a given for the foreseeable future, it’s difficult to know the “next thing.” The most flexible option is to select furniture with power accessibility built into it.
The traditional solution for managing cables and cords was to drill a large hole through the top of a desk and cover it with a grommet. This method is not only unsightly and takes up valuable work space, it limits where computers and cords can go. Herman Miller is one company that’s addressing this issue. Their workspaces have a clean, sleek design with a one-inch gap in back that runs the entire length of their desk units, allowing cables to plug in anywhere.
Today’s workstations may need USB plugs, but will that still be the standard in 10 years? It’s hard to say, but many furnishings are now equipped with power modules that are templated and can be swapped out later if something changes. This kind of innovation helps companies ebb and flow along with technology rather than buying a system that’s etched in stone.
If you’re planning on open-concept, panel-system work stations, they typically have channels in the base where data and electrical cabling run, along with power outlets. A whip (not a standard plug-in) connects the panels to power in an architectural wall. A furniture planner needs to determine the layout of a panel system far in advance to identify where workstations will be, which ones need power, and what type of power will be used.
Minimizing Change Orders
Sometimes a project is sent out to bid without the general contractors and subcontractors having an understanding of how a space will be used. When an electrician places outlets and power access at standard intervals in an empty room, there’s no way to know whether those placements will be conducive to the work being performed there.
When data inputs or power outlets need to move once construction begins, it’s considered a change order. If you have 30 offices with power in the wrong locations and it all needs to move, every one is considered a change order. By working with a furniture planner, you can avoid costly change orders and scope creep.
Taking a holistic approach to commercial construction planning requires a big-picture view of the project, including furniture selection and placement. The team at The Samuels Group has extensive experience serving the needs of commercial clients and can work with you one-on-one or partner with an existing general contractor, architect, and designer to provide furnishings and other needs. You can also benefit from our all-in-one services — from the initial scoping, groundbreaking, and general contracting to interior design, furniture selection, and more.
Be sure to ask about their approach to power and data planning, along with other questions outlined in the guide below. Need further help determining your needs? Contact The Samuels Group for a complimentary consultation.