Secrets of Success: A Guide for Furniture Electrical

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Secrets of Success: A Guide for Furniture Electrical

Charles Duvall

For many, discussing the electrical configuration of furniture projects can feel like sticking a finger in a socket.  Most people tend to want to shy away and put a safety cap on the outlet — leaving it for someone else to manage. 

When it comes to office design, electrical requirements should be addressed early in the project timeline.  It’s critical to correctly match furniture wiring configurations to the building wiring plant correctly to ensure a properly executed project. Ideally, the furniture project manager is engaged before the furniture has been selected. The earlier the project manager is brought in, the more options there are for flexibility, either in adjusting the planned building wiring plant or in adjusting the furniture selected. Simply put, if electrical doesn’t work, associates can’t work either, so the ability to conduct business can be jeopardized — a whole different ballgame than other possible mistakes such as the wrong color finish or fabric.

Furniture electrical 101

From a contract furniture perspective, it’s important to understand electrical terminology as it relates to National Electrical Code (NEC). With this foundation, project teams can ensure that furniture wiring configurations match the electrical engineer’s design of the wiring plant.

  • Dedicated
    • dedicated electrical circuit is one that serves only one electrical device.
  •  Isolated
    • An isolated ground circuit provides a noise-free ground for the connected equipment
      by having a ground path that is separate from the other equipment grounding. In plain English, this means that “noise” between wiring is eliminated. Isolation also prevents damage to circuits when one is under fault conditions.
  • Load
    • Any electrical component that consumes active electrical power. Load is measured in amps based on the power that the component draws.
  • 15-amp vs. 20-amp receptacles
    • Commercial furniture circuits are 20 amps, but 15-amp or
      20-amp receptacles may be used on any circuit.
  • Electrical Configurations
    • The furniture electrical system used must be compatible with the building’s power supply. Each manufacturer offers its own set of wiring configuration options, with multiple versions of 4- , 5- , 7- , 8- and 10-wire options available. For example, an  8-wire system can offer either a 4-circuit (3+1 and 2+2) or a 3-circuit dedicated neutral.

Tips to avoid mix-ups

In many cases, a dealer or manufacturer uses the term “dedicated,” but the correct term is “designated” — because the former is not in line with NEC verbiage.  A manufacturer “designates” what equipment should be plugged into what circuit. By doing so, the manufacturer assists with conveying the wiring scheme to the personnel using the receptacle. Using designated receptacles properly will achieve the balanced wiring plant sought by the electrical engineer.

By the same token, often a dealer or manufacturer uses the term “isolated,” but the correct term is “dedicated.” The latter is in line with the NEC verbiage of a dedicated electrical circuit being one that serves an electrical device.  The principle of isolation for the NEC is having an isolated ground to a specific grounding device in the facility. This condition occurs in less than 1 percent of all facilities today. Hence the disappearance of the previously used orange outlets as indicators of the dedicated circuit.

Balancing and designating the total amperage of all devices (i.e., the “load”) result from extensive analysis by the electrical engineer, and that is why wiring schemes must support the desired outcome. Receptacle amp ratings are driven by the load that a device can exert on a circuit. The max load for a device is typically 80 percent of the total amperage.  For instance, the max load for a 15-amp receptacle is 12 amps or 80 percent of 15.

Ever plug in a 10-amp vacuum cleaner at home, only to have the circuit breaker trip? You’re most likely resetting clocks, losing productivity and wearing out the breaker because of lack of planning for the electrical load. Now imagine a breaker tripping at the office and countless employees losing spreadsheets and other work! Does this all sound scary? It should, but the good news is that you can get your furniture project manager involved early to avert electrical missteps.

This primer lays the foundation for clear communication between furniture and building power. With so many options available as standard, plus additional custom solutions, it is vitally important that the furniture wiring configuration matches the electrical engineer’s design of the wiring plant. Because of the importance of electrical configuration, having everyone at the table as a team to sort through the details helps pave the way for success. If you need help navigating the furniture project management process, reach out — we’re here to help. 

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