Lancaster, PA Electrician Directory

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Homeowners need electricians to install new modern circuit breaker electrical service panels replacing antiquated fuse panels. You may need extra outlets installed in an older home that didn't have electrical receptacles installed in every corner of the home. Perhaps you're installing ceiling fans and need them wired to switch panels on the walls. Or, you want to add a hot tub to your backyard and need electrical service installed. You'll find electricians available for all of these services and more here on lancaster electrical .com.

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Special Equipment in Chapter 6
Special Equipment in Chapter 6 aconstanza Fri, 01/17/2020 - 17:14

Special Equipment in Chapter 6

This Article focuses on revisions in Chapter 6 of the 2020 NEC, “Special Equipment,” and it includes the requirements for special equipment such as electric signs and outline lighting systems, electric vehicle (EV) supply equipment, solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, equipment, fire pumps and so forth. This part of the series looks at a few significant changes in articles 600 through 695.

Section 600.5 Branch Circuits

Section 600.6(A) has been revised to clarify that a sign or lighting outlet is not required at entrances for deliveries, service corridors or service hallways. Section 600.5(B) addresses markings, and it has been revised to require all disconnects supplying signs or outline lighting systems that are remotely located must be marked with the identity of the sign or lighting system it controls.

Section 600.35 Retrofit Kits

A new Section 600.35 contains requirements for retrofit kits. Retrofit kits must be listed and installed in accordance with the installation instructions. During a sign conversion, any parts found to be damaged must be replaced or repaired. A retrofitted sign must be marked to inform people that the illumination system has been replaced. Signs that are converted to tubular LED lamps powered by the existing sign sockets must include a label to alert personnel that the sign has been modified. The label must include a warning not to install fluorescent lamps.

Article 625 Electric Vehicle Power Transfer System

Article 625 has been retitled “Electric Vehicle Power Transfer System.” The scope of Article 625, Section 625.1 has been revised to clarify that EVs can be connected for the purposes of charging, power export or bidirectional current flow. EVs can also now be used as a standby power source in a similar manner to the use of a standby generator or energy-storage system.

Section 625.60 AC Receptacle Outlets Used for EVPE

The term “electric vehicle power export equipment” (EVPE) is new and defined in Article 100. EVPE as defined is the electric vehicle serving as the source of electric supply. New 625.60 requires AC receptacles in electric vehicles intended to supply off-board utilization equipment to comply with 625.60. These receptacles must be listed, overcurrent protection must be provided and ground- fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection is required. Indication and reset capabilities for the GFCI device must be readily accessible.

680.35 Storable and Portable Immersion Pools

A new 680.35 provides requirements for storable and portable immersion pools. These pools are intended for ceremonial or ritual immersion of people. This requirement mirrors existing requirements for other pools mandating minimum distances from the pool and required GFCI protection.

680.45 Permanently Installed Immersion Pools

A new 680.45 provides requirements for permanently installed immersion pools. These pools also are intended for ceremonial or ritual immersion of people. This new requirement mirrors existing requirements for other types of pools mandating mini- mum distances, clearances and required GFCI protection.

690.12 Rapid Shutdown for PV on Buildings

The requirements in 690.12 have been revised to protect first responders. Rapid shutdown reduces the risk of electrical shock that DC/AC circuits in a PV system. To prevent PV arrays with attached inverters from hav- ing energized AC conductors within the PV array(s), the PV circuits must be specifically controlled after shutdown initiation. DC and AC circuits of PV arrays must be controlled without regard to their source of supply.

690.53 DC PV Marking

The marking requirements of 690.53 have been revised to limit the amount of information necessary, and the number of locations that must be labeled. The information on these labels must be available to qualified persons before servicing PV equipment. There are now three options for the placement of this label, including at the DC PV system disconnect, at the PV system electronic power conversion equipment or at the distribution equipment associated with the PV system.

Section 695.3 Power Source(s) for Electric Motor-Driven Fire Pumps

Section 695.3 requires fire pumps to have a reliable power source. Section 695.3(B) (1) recognizes that reliable power may not be available and permits two or more of the power sources identified in 695.3(A). The exception now permits a combination of power sources from 695.3(A), a feeder source in 695.3(C)(1) and a source in 695.3(A). Section 695.3(C)(3) has been revised to clarify that all supply-side overcurrent protective devices must be selectively coordinated.

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Cheers to Renewable Beer
Cheers to Renewable Beer aconstanza Fri, 01/17/2020 - 10:13

Cheers to Renewable Beer

World’s Largest Brewing Company Commits to 100% Renewable Electricity

Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), the largest brewing company in the world, plans to purchase 100% renewable electricity to power its 14 breweries in Western Europe, according to an article in Forbes. The brewer set commitments to procure 100% of its purchased electricity from renewable sources and reduce CO2 emissions across its value chain by 25% by 2025, according to its 2025 Sustainability Goals.

This is the largest corporate solar power deal in history, covering over 50 brands brewed and sold across 12 countries, according to an article in Solar Industry Magazine.

To make its 100% renewable electricity brewery operations a reality, AB InBev is working jointly with BayWa r.e., a German company that specializes in the renewables sector. The electricity for the 10-year virtual power purchase agreement will be supplied by two new solar farms being built in Spain, totaling 200 mW (AB InBev will receive 130 mW). BayWa r.e. will provide the funds for the new solar plants that are expected to be online in March 2022. One of the plants, dubbed the Budweiser Solar Farm, will provide 250 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity annually for AB InBev’s breweries, or enough to power nearly 670,000 homes. In the meantime, BayWa r.e. will provide 75 GWh of renewable energy from its wind farm in Zaragoza, Spain.

This is not the brewer’s first venture into renewables. AB InBev secured renewable energy deals for its operations in the United Kingdom and Russia, according to an article in CNBC.

A 15-year power purchase agreement with U.K.-based renewable energy developer Lightsource BP will enable AB InBev to brew Budweiser sold in the U.K. with 100% renewable electricity, the largest unsubsidized renewable solar deal in U.K. history. Lightsource BP will provide 100% of the purchased electricity for Budweiser’s two main U.K. breweries, which brew 17 million bottles and cans each week. The project will bring 100 mW of renewable capacity to the U.K. grid, enough to power 18,000 homes with electricity annually, according to a December 2019 blog post on AB InBev’s website.

By 2020, Budweiser sold in the U.K. will have a renewable electricity symbol on their labels for consumers to identify. Budweiser brewed in the United States is already made with renewable electricity generated from wind power.

In 2019, AB InBev Efes, a subsidiary of AB InBev, signed an agreement with Enel Russia to explore joint opportunities for renewable energy generation, according to a press release from Enel. Enel Green Power currently supplies renewable energy to AB InBev operations in Chile and the United States.

This commitment to green energy makes AB InBev the largest corporate buyer of renewable electricity in the consumer goods industry. The brewer’s global operations are involved in its renewable endeavor, including Australia, China, India, Mexico, Russia, the U.K. and the United States.

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Competence Is Knowing the Limit of Your Abilities
Competence Is Knowing the Limit of Your Abilities aconstanza Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:38

Competence Is Knowing the Limit of Your Abilities

Most contractors feel confident that they have the qualifications to install any fire alarm system, regardless of size or complexity. 

You likely already know that only an unfinished fire alarm system can delay the occupancy of a building. A building can open with the elevators not working, or no carpet throughout the building. But, without a complete fire alarm system installation, accepted by the authority having jurisdiction, the owner will not get their occupancy permit, so it’s important that you know what you can and cannot deliver. If you can’t provide what you’ve promised, your reputation and profits will take a major hit.

You may have already experienced this and have come to realize that no matter how well your other systems installations went, delayed fire alarm system acceptance will be what the customer remembers.

If you plan to act as a full-service contractor to your customer base, you must display competence in each service offering to that customer base. For example, if you only performed work in residential one- and two-family homes, you would not even think of undertaking a system installation in a high-rise building. After all, the fire alarm system requirements for one- and two-family dwellings differ widely from those required in the tall building arena. I do not mean limit your work. Rather, I want to emphasize the scope of each challenge you may encounter.

NFPA 72-2019, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, recognizes this. The code devotes Chapter 29, “Single- and Multiple-Station Alarms and Household Signaling Systems” to the specific subject. And in fact, states in section 29.1.3, “The requirements of Chapters 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 18, 21, “2 3, 24, 26, and 27 shall not apply unless otherwise noted.” [Emphasis added.]

All other chapters in the code state the requirement differently. For example, section 24.1.3 states, “The requirements of Chapters 7, 10, 12, 17, 18, 21, 23, 26, and 27 shall also apply unless otherwise noted in this chapter.” [Emphasis added.]

So, even the code indicates you must have greater knowledge of the code requirements when you install a fire alarm system in a high-rise occupancy than when you install a fire alarm system in a one- or two-family home.

All the above provides just one example of the differing levels of competency needed to install fire alarm systems in each occupancy. Even when given the examples in the code, many contractors look at a commercial fire alarm system as an easy and profitable add-on to their contract with the owner.

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U.S. House Introduces Comprehensive Clean Economy Bill
U.S. House Introduces Comprehensive Clean Economy Bill aconstanza Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:31

U.S. House Introduces Comprehensive Clean Economy Bill

This month, three members of the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce released the legislative framework of the draft Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act, with the goal of ensuring that the United States achieves net-zero greenhouse gas pollution no later than 2050.

“Record wildfires, flooding, heat waves and drought have spelled out a dire reality; the climate crisis is here, and we can no longer afford to address this crisis along the margins,” said Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ). “Today, we are providing the kind of serious federal leadership this moment requires. This plan represents our commitment to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas pollution.”

For the power sector, the Act proposes a nationwide Clean Energy Standard that requires all retail electricity suppliers to obtain 100% clean energy by 2050. The draft legislation stipulates that suppliers must possess a sufficient quantity of “clean energy credits” at the end of each year or make an alternative compliance payment. Suppliers may also buy and trade clean energy credits from one another or purchase them by auction.

The draft legislation intends to improve the efficiency of new and existing buildings and the equipment and appliances that operate within them. It establishes national energy savings targets for continued improvement of model building energy codes and leading to a requirement of net-zero energy buildings by 2030. It also provides assistance for states and tribes to adopt updated model building energy codes and support full compliance.

The draft also calls for the reduction of transportation emissions by improving vehicle efficiency and building the infrastructure needed for a clean transportation system. It also directs the EPA to set new and increasingly stringent greenhouse gas emission standards for light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The draft legislation establishes a Buy Clean Program that sets performance targets to steadily reduce emissions from construction materials and products used in projects that receive federal funding. The Buy Clean Program is also designed to reduce climate pollution by promoting the use of low-carbon materials and expanding the market for cleaner products.

The legislation is also designed to establish State Climate Plans that would empower states to complete the transition to a net-zero economy based on the existing “federalism model” in the Clean Air Act. The bill sets a national climate standard of net zero greenhouse gas pollution in each state by 2050, and then states are granted the flexibility to develop plans to meet the 2050 and interim standards based on their policy preferences, priorities and circumstances.

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DOE Launches Energy Storage Grand Challenge
DOE Launches Energy Storage Grand Challenge aconstanza Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:21

DOE Launches Energy Storage Grand Challenge

The U.S. Department of Energy have expedited plans to lower the country’s reliance on foreign sources for lithium-ion batteries by increasing the country’s energy storage capacity with the launch of the agency’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge.

The aim of the challenge is to create a domestic manufacturing supply chain for energy storage that will be independent of foreign sources of critical materials by 2030.

“Energy storage is key to capturing the full value of our diverse energy resources,” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in the agency’s Jan. 8 

The challenge will be comprised of research and development funding opportunities, prizes, partnerships and other programs aimed for the United States to meet the following goals by 2030:

  • Establish ambitious, achievable performance goals and a comprehensive research and development (R&D) portfolio to achieve them;
  • Accelerate the technology pipeline from research to system design to private sector adoption through rigorous system evaluation, performance validation, siting tools and targeted collaborations;
  • Develop best-in-class models, data and analysis to inform the most effective value proposition and use cases for storage technologies;
  • Design new technologies to strengthen U.S. manufacturing and recyclability, and to reduce dependence on foreign sources of critical materials; and
  • Train the next generation of American workers to meet the needs of the 21st century electric grid and energy storage value chain.

As a first step in the challenge, DOE will soon release requests for information to solicit stakeholder feedback on the key questions and issues the challenge seeks to address. Over the coming weeks, the agency will also host a series of workshops with key stakeholders to share information about various storage technologies, learn more about current barriers to deployment and help shape the work that will bring those technologies to market.

“This work will inform the development a coordinated R&D roadmap to 2030 for a broad suite of storage and flexibility technologies,” to be “guided by a set of use cases that describe ambitious grid applications that can be accomplished with advancements in these technologies,” the agency stated.

According to Recharge News, China produced 73% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries in early 2019, with the United States in second place at 12%. They explained, “Lithium-ion batteries--which account for around 90% of the world’s battery industry--require raw materials such as cobalt and nickel that are not produced at scale in the United States.” 

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Infrared Thermometers
Infrared Thermometers aconstanza Thu, 01/16/2020 - 11:57

Infrared Thermometers

To use a baseball analogy, the infrared (IR) thermometer is a true “utility player” for electricians, believes Richard Wexler, director of instrument marketing at Flir. IR thermometers are useful for identifying abnormal conditions indicated by changes in temperature.

“Also called spot thermometers, IR guns and spot pyrometers IR thermometers can make troubleshooting faster, safer and simpler by helping identify issues that have not yet resulted in equipment failure so that they can be repaired at a scheduled time and at a lower cost than a total replacement.” Wexler said.

Loose connections are a good example.

“A loose connection may have increased resistance, resulting in hotter temperatures than wires nearby that are in better conditions,” Wexler said. “Overloaded circuit breakers warm up noticeably and that temperature disparity can be detected by an infrared thermometer.

“Scanning electrical equipment with an IR thermometer provides a quick way to zoom in on trouble spots. And because they are noncontact, an electrician can inspect equipment at a safe distance, which is particularly useful around moving components, such as motors and mechanical equipment.”

Compared to earlier models, today’s IR thermometers have advanced in terms of better distance-to-spot ratios, so an electrician can stand at a safer distance from equipment without broadening the size of the spot measured, Wexler said. Newer models permit users to read a 1-inch spot accurately from 24–30 inches away, compared to 12–20 inches in older instruments.

“From a usability perspective, newer, colorful matrix displays with high-contrast white on black digits are easier to read in glare or dim lighting conditions than traditional green LCDs limited to seven-segment digits,” he said. “Newer screens offer users clearer menu navigation to settings and functions.”

In terms of durability, Wexler suggests looking for IR thermometers that are tough enough to survive drops off a ladder at heights from 6 to 9 feet. While some newer heavy-duty models are bulky and tougher to store among other tools, newer designs combine a compact shape with rugged performance.

Unlike thermal imaging cameras, infrared thermometers generally are easier to deploy out of the box, but learning is required for effective use, Wexler said.

A big source of confusion when using IR thermometers is emissivity. Different surface materials emit radiation with varying degrees of effectiveness, and an infrared thermometer needs to compensate for that. Factors that affect emissivity include whether the surface is reflective, metallic or painted. For example, a flat black surface has good emissivity.

“Some electricians use the old trick of putting black electrical tape on a shiny surface in order to provide a flat, nonreflective surface to measure temperatures,” Wexler said. “Higher level infrared thermometers today offer adjustable emissivity to help a user calibrate the tool to a given surface. It is time well-spent getting acquainted with a tool’s emissivity adjustments.”

If an electrician is using a device with nonadjustable or fixed emissivity, the measurement might not always be accurate. These should be used more for comparative measurements among related components than for absolute temperature readings.

Wexler said a notable application for IR thermometers relates to newer, more sophisticated energy-storage systems. The Tesla PowerWall for residential applications and the Tesla PowerPack for utility and business energy storage provide high-
capacity battery storage for energy from solar, wind or conventional sources during off-peak times.

Flir, known for thermal imagers, offers a wide selection of IR thermometers plus a hybrid spot thermal camera. This newer type of thermometer provides a visual display of temperature differences like a thermal imaging camera, but with a narrower field of view comparable to the measurement spot of an IR thermometer.

“These hybrids have generated a lot of excitement by equipping electrical contractors with the laser pointers of an IR thermometer with the added convenience of visual troubleshooting,” Wexler said.

Klein dual-laser IR thermometer
Klein dual-laser IR thermometer

Klein Tools Product Manager Sabrina Kalsi said the demand for IR thermometers is growing for electrical installation and troubleshooting, with equipment maintenance, indoor air quality and HVAC/R areas where an IR temperature meter can provide quick, easy and accurate temperature readings.

“IR thermometers provide a safe, noninvasive method for detection of potential electrical system failures by detecting hot spots in electrical panels or systems, and, while performing maintenance on motors and equipment, they can detect the first sign of problems,” Kalsi said. “The advantage of the IR thermometer is the user does not need to touch the surface being measured. Live circuits, fragile computer circuitry, moving belts/gears, out-of-reach ducts or high heat are not a problem for an IR thermometer.”

Kalsi said IR thermometers today are more affordable, durable and convenient than previous models.

“Some professional products offer a dual laser and the two points help to accurately define the temperature measurement area to the customer. We offer products that combine two core tools that make an IR thermometer also a pocket tester,” she said.

Other new products offer features like a Type-K thermocouple measurements, or a relative humidity measurement for more accurate indoor air quality measurements.

While IR thermometers are considered simple, easy-to-use devices, Kalsi said users need to understand several things to ensure the best accuracy.

“A common misunderstanding is that IR thermometers measure the temperature of the surface only and not the internal temperature,” she said.

Users should also consider the distance-to-spot ratio.

“The distance-to-spot ratio defines the size of the area being measured relative to the distance between the measurement location and the IR sensor. The area being measured becomes larger as the distance from the IR sensor increases,” Kalsi said.

She also explained that because IR thermometers measure surface temperature and emissivity and different types of surfaces emit thermal energy at different efficiencies, different emissivity coefficients must be considered in order to make accurate measurements when reading the temperature of different materials.

“Professional IR thermometer models allow the user to set the emissivity for the type of material being measured. Charts are usually provided for guidance to estimate the emissivity,” Kalsi said.

Finally, she said, “IR thermometers are not good at measuring liquids or gas temperatures.”

Klein offers a range of IR thermometer models based on application requirements that include a single-laser, fixed emissivity IR thermometer and noncontact voltage tester; combination noncontact voltage tester with a single target laser, a temperature range of –22°F to 482°F (–30°C to 250°C), with fixed emissivity; and professional IR target guns with dual target lasers and adjustable emissivity and broader temperature range capabilities.

Milwaukee 12:1 Infrared Temp-Gun
Milwaukee 12:1 Infrared Temp-Gun

Milwaukee Tool Senior Product Manager Troy Marks said the most significant change has been the improvements in size. Infrared imagers continue to get smaller and more compact. In addition, the micronization of the sensors has allowed manufacturers to boost the capabilities of the tools without having to sacrifice on that size.

“Electrical contractors most often use IR thermometers for predictive maintenance and troubleshooting,” Marks said. “Common applications include inspecting electrical connections, checking for unbalance in circuits and identifying damage to cabling or cable insulation. This is done to detect early warnings of failure, potential safety hazards and where energy loss is occurring.”

He added the most common equipment that is inspected in these applications include switch gears, breakers, bus ducts, fuse clips, transformers and capacitors.

Marks notes in shift in the IR thermometer and thermal imager markets.

“An infrared thermometer is a valuable tool anywhere that heat or temperature variations can signify a problem,” Marks said. “But thermal imagers have long been considered the step-up from IR thermometers due to their imaging capabilities.”

“High distance-to-spot ratio infrared temperature guns are starting to overlap in price with low-cost thermal imaging products, and users who need high distance-to-spot ratios are ideal prospects for low-cost thermal imagers because they benefit from the visual thermal image created while still providing accurate measurements at long distances. The availability of more affordable thermal imagers has made these tools more accessible to all electricians, so it’s no longer a specialty application. We’ve developed solutions that don’t sacrifice pixel resolution for cost. These solutions are easier to use, more compact and have similar features as higher-end units.

“With more affordable high-quality thermal imagers like these, service electricians in particular now have a tool available that allows them to be a key player in determining issues,” Marks said.

Milwaukee offers a range of temperature guns for professional, residential, commercial and industrial applications with varied temperature range and distance-to-spot ratios from 10:1 to 30:1.

IR thermometers are becoming more sophisticated with a growing number of features and modes, and they’re becoming increasingly popular.

Citing forecasts from Grand View Research, San Francisco, Wexler said infrared thermometers represent the fastest growing segment among thermometers overall. Persistence Market Research, New York, places the North American market for infrared thermometers to be valued at $200.4 million and nearly doubling to $400 million by 2026.

“One factor driving more demand is that more and more electrical contractors are getting familiar with IR thermometers.  Along with a mainstay of HVAC/R and mechanical contractor tool buckets, more and more electricians see the value of faster and safer heat detection,” Wexler said. 

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Flir TG54 24:1 spot IR thermometer

Doing the HR Math
Doing the HR Math aconstanza Thu, 01/16/2020 - 11:45

Doing the HR Math

I recently came across a YouTube video showcasing a Canadian electrical contracting firm. An electrician, Joel, says he plans to stock up on supplies at the office before leaving for a job site to finish off his terminal panels. As he goes into a supply room, Joel passes a colleague who had just finished a workout in the company’s “Zen Room,” where anyone can exercise, practice kickboxing, yoga or other wellness activities. Yes, this is an electrical contracting firm.

ECs often work at a different location every day. For Joel, going downtown one day and to a suburban office the next is made possible by the technology and policies at his company.

“We can go to our job sites without coming to work, since all our servicemen take our vans home with us,” Joel said. “We have about 50 service trucks here […] so of course this is the only way this would be possible.”

Like many electrical workers nowadays, Joel is at the vanguard of the mobile workforce, which performs best when there’s a positive environment to support it.

Achieving and managing such a workforce requires innovative tools and technology.

App driven, centrally managed

Workers can install phone apps to give them a secure pipeline to a central data repository or human resources service center where all their data is coordinated and stored. This includes schedules, benefits, training information, contacts, license information, wage information, tax information and other data that follows the worker through their career in the company.

Mark Mitchell is the managing director of HR shared services for American Airlines, Fort Worth, Texas. His company uses SAP SuccessFactors to help manage and serve its dispersed workforce located at numerous places within airports around the world. The app is a gateway to the company’s HR service centers to support American’s highly mobile workforce.

According to Mitchell, American Airlines was not concerned whether the implementation was plain for all to see or not visible at all in their daily work. The company wanted the transformation to be seamless and not distracting. It didn’t want employees to notice.

When the company rolled out the technology, employee buzz was all about the useful and efficient employee service center; the culture seemed to have changed for the better.

HR math: H+O=HXM

Human resources apps are going beyond the management of objective and operational data. They may also be part of a larger means of measuring the employee’s “experience,” or how they’re feeling. Are they overworked or stressed? Are issues at work not being addressed? Do they have a common beef and nowhere to express it?

Technology helps provide management and leadership with an indication of the employee experience. Combine this measure with the operational factors of being an employee in the firm, and this gives rise to a whole new paradigm of managing a scattered workforce.

It paves the way for a new brand of corporate culture—one where the employee experience (X) meets human resources operations (O) to create a new flavor of HR leadership: human experience management (HXM). Technology is the accelerator.

That’s how SAP’s SuccessFactors explains it, based on the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs at leading U.S. companies.

SuccessFactors’ goal is to use HR tools and technology to boost employees’ careers, with better management of their employee posture and worker experience by continuously building a company culture that supports the employee’s experience, ultimately leading to excellence.

Joel’s EC firm is forthright in saying that creating excellence in the work environment means it can look back on their many hours of work and stand proud knowing they made a difference. The YouTube video asserts that the company is family and it is “a place of our accomplishments, our challenges and our triumphs.”

If it sounds noble, it is. And it is the reason many firms are turning to technology to achieve it. They are finding ways to better manage employees, using technology, to lead to accomplishments, challenges and triumphs.

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Shutterstock/ Curiosity/ Wan Wei

Pro Tips: Point, Snap, and Fall
Pro Tips: Point, Snap, and Fall aconstanza Wed, 01/15/2020 - 15:46

Pro Tips: Point, Snap, and Fall

First Place

Don’t get the pointNeedle Tip Probes

For anyone who has ever been stuck by the sharp tips of the needle tip probes when using a multimeter, this one’s for you. The protective rubber tips that come with the probes are usually lost soon after you start using the probes. This solution will prove more permanent. Take a piece of No. 14 wire with rubber insulation (neoprene from SO cord works great) and strip off two 5/16-inch pieces and slide them over the tips of the probes. Slide the rubber pieces back toward the handles to expose the sharp tips. When not in use, slide the pieces back for safe storage.

--Tony Tonon
San Francisco


I find it helpful to take pictures and videos to record installation and retrofitting processes for training purposes. This saves time, and we use these photos and videos to help new technicians learn the steps, processes and safe shortcuts on the job.

--Dan Lapine
Portland, Ore.

Fall in place

When using a micro USB cable to charge your cellphone, or any measuring device, you must plug the cable in at the correct direction. It usually has an indicator on the plug end, and plugging the cable upside down could destroy the receptacle. To fix this problem, I cut a small piece of colored adhesive tape in a contrasting color and applied it to the plug. This ensures proper placement and does not cost extra.

--Barry caesar
Palmer, Neb.

Share ideas that have saved you time or money on the job with readers of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. Your fellow electrical professionals would like to hear about them. Be sure to include a good photo of your idea if you can; hand-drawn sketches may be hard to interpret. Note that some similar ideas are sometimes submitted by more than one person. In these cases, the one that is more clearly written and includes a photo is given precedence. 

Each published author in Pro Tips receives a $50 Lowe’s gift card. In addition, the first-place winner will receive a $100 Lowe’s gift card. 

Use the online submission tool at to send your tip and photo, or email it to or send a letter and photo to Pro Tips Editor, ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR, 3 Bethesda Metro Center, Suite 1100, Bethesda, MD 20814-5372.

DISCLAIMER: The ideas presented in this article are for consideration only. Neither ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR nor Lowe’s, Inc. assumes any liability from your use of these or any other ideas. 


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2019 NECA Showstopper Winners
2019 NECA Showstopper Winners aconstanza Wed, 01/15/2020 - 10:41

2019 NECA Showstopper Winners

Innovative connectors, powerful cordless tools and wire raceways—the 2019 NECA Showstopper judges evaluated a broad range of entries. In the end, they selected 25 products as 2019 Showstoppers. Sponsored by ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine, the Showstopper showcase is a popular feature of the annual NECA convention and trade show. Anonymous judges, experienced and active in the electrical industry, carefully evaluated entries to select winners. To be eligible, products or services must have been exhibited at the 2019 NECA show, introduced to the market during the previous 12 months and be currently available for purchase. Winners are listed alphabetically. Product descriptions are based on information provided by the organization submitting the entry.



The one-piece design of the DBI-SALA strut anchor is simple, lightweight and compact for easy installation in a single step. It provides an overhead fall-arrest anchor point on strut material and a visual indicator showing the anchorage is installed correctly. Anchorage connectors are critical components used in fall protection and must be attached securely to the personal fall protection system at the anchorage point. These anchorage connectors can be fixed, mobile, permanent or portable.



The new Steel City RPT8 series recessed poke-through floor box provides five gangs in a round floor box that fits into an 8-inch diameter hole. The five gangs can be data communications or power. Contractors like the core-drilled design of this floor box because it eliminates errors that can result in costly mistakes when jackhammers are involved or when making repairs with poured concrete. The center compartment is rated for wiring devices to 50 amps.



The seventh-generation 34 motor tester uses patented, proven technology, providing instant answers about a motor’s health. It looks beyond vibratory, temperature and ultrasound test methods to take patented dynamic stator and rotor signatures. Tests take less than 3 minutes and can detect faults at their earliest stages before motor failure. Tests can be performed from more than 1,000 feet away.



Contractors often must locate the position of buried utilities or confirm locations of previously marked pipe or cable. Amprobe’s UAT-620 underground utility locator kit can pinpoint depths of buried utilities to 20 feet and detect their presence to depths of 100 feet. The kit’s components include transmitter, receiver, test leads, batteries and additional fuses that are stored in a protective duffel bag. The transmitter can be safely connected directly to an energized line up to 600 volts in a CAT IV environment.


Arlington Industries

This T-box for suspended ceiling grids is a cost-effective method of mounting a fan or fixture. It can be positioned on the grid at the cross of the T-rails or on the straight away. Boxes install easily by cutting around the ceiling tile and lowering the box into place on the grid where it is held securely in place. For use on premium/reveal edge ceiling tiles, the box height adjusts by removing the tabs with pliers. It’s UL-listed and available in two sizes.



Patented Mighty-Seal EMT duplex transition connectors and couplings easily connect two JMC/TECK cables to a knockout or transition from rigid or EMT conduit in exposed locations. The 695-DC2 is good for rooftop and parking garage installations. The 4195-DC provides a transition solution between rigid and JMC in public infrastructure installations and stadiums. The 5195-DC makes it easy to transition between EMT and JMC for solar applications.


Current Tools

The 6,000-lb. cable puller is mounted on four flat-free tires for easy maneuverability. The equipment’s patent-pending design allows fast, one-person set up. All puller components are mounted on the carriage, which eliminates the need for time-consuming assembly and disassembly between pulls. A heavy-duty, two-speed motor provides a rated pulling force up to 6,000 lbs. Reach is 8 feet when fully extended.



Metalux RBG Ribbon LED recessed slot luminaires are elegant, 4-inch aperture fixture options for architects, engineers, contractors and designers. Available in three fixed lengths, they can be recessed, surface- or suspension-mounted and strategically placed throughout a space. Fixtures have three selectable lumen levels and color temperatures. Applications include open and traditional offices, classrooms, coves, corridors and retail stores.



This digital torpedo level provides accurate readings that are easy to read on the oversize display. The self-calibrating level has six measuring display modes, including slope level and angle finder and an inspect mode that allows users to zero out the level, which is ideal when bending conduit. A best-in-class magnet holds the level firmly in place. The tool’s battery provides 60-plus hours of runtime.



Electricians can visually identify and find the source of many common issues in electrical systems with the TG267 thermal camera. This infrared guided measurement tool has a temperature range of –13°F to 716°F (–25°C to 380°C) and provides context to help accurately target potential faults, troubleshoot repairs and record images to monitor maintenance history and document problems that have been resolved.


Fluke Corp

Test equipment provider Fluke Corp. has introduced a new line of 11 insulated hand tools that include basic electrician tools. Manufactured from state-of-the-art German steel, all are rated at 1,000V and are individually tested to more than 10,000V. Each has multilayer insulation and an ergonomic design. They are compliant with globally recognized safety standards established by European regulatory agencies to ensure greatest safety when working in live environments.



The new Smart-Way floor raceway is an on-floor wire management system for offices, conference rooms, collaborative work environments or anywhere wire management is needed. Smart-Way is only 0.6-inches high and installs quickly and easily on top of any flooring. Raceway compartments provide ample space for power, communications and A/V connectivity with capacity to hold 14 12 AWG power conductors, nine Cat 5E or 5 Cat 6A data cables.



Feather Weight FR coveralls offered exclusively from Cintas are classified ARC 2 and UL 2112 certified and are constructed of 5.3-ounce GlenGuard fabric for comfort and durability. The Carhartt coveralls made of GlenGuard fabric are lightweight, fade-resistant and moisture-wicking to keep wearers cool and comfortable. They are made using solution-dyed fibers that increase color retention and a proprietary Wickzz Moisture Management System to keep wearers cool and dry.



The PM 30 MG multiline green laser is well suited for electrical layout work. Three 360-degree, green horizontal and vertical lines increase the speed and accuracy of indoor layout jobs. The sturdy and easy-to- adjust magnetic bracket provides precision directional alignments, and the B12 battery ensures long run times and short charge times. Its green laser is four times more visible than red. The product has a 20-year warranty for repair or replacement of defective parts.


Ideal Industries

The Twisted ProFlex wire connector delivers the widest wire combination range with the highest voltage rating in the industry and provides dependable, everyday performance. A flexible skirt provides improved protection and adapts to tightly fit in electrical boxes with limited space. Its swept wing design with SureGrip overmold makes it comfortable to use and provides the leverage and torque needed to make fast connections.



The custom, patent-pending design of the Flex Wire Cart enables it to carry up to 10 2,500-foot spools of wire, 20 500-foot spools of wire or coils and up to eight wire packs. Bars can be placed to achieve maximized capacity and job site flexibility. Its compact design allows it to fit through doorways, but it also provides a stable footprint to assist in providing maximum payout. The cart is made in the United States of global components.



The new Flip-Blade insulated screwdriver is two drivers in one tool. The auto-eject mechanism works with a twist, quickly and easily flipping the No. 2 Phillips to the ¼-inch slotted end of the blade. The handle’s cushioned grip with bright orange coating provides protection from electric shock and is flame- and shock-resistant. Klein insulated tools exceed the ASTM F1505 standards for insulated tools and are clearly marked with the official 1,000V rating symbol.



Keep a metal tape measure in a Kwik-Draw holster, and it’s always available when needed. The wide, 4-by-5-inch pocket clips securely attach to a belt or tool bag and holds a universal tape measure or other small tools, pens and pencils. A stainless-steel locking cap keeps everything in place, and an improved, “kwik” release lock opens easily with the thumb release for access to contents. Kwik-Draw holster products are made in the United States.



The Fliptoggle anchor’s simple, effective tilting mechanism provides trouble-free installation and heavy-duty holding power in drywall, plaster, hollow concrete blocks and other wall materials. Available in 3/16- and 1/4-inch diameters, they are twice as strong as regular toggle bolts of the same sizes. They may be used with any screw length to 33/4 inches. If necessary, the fixture can be removed and reinstalled without requiring a new hole location.



ProLock electric extension cords have patented locking connectors that prevent accidental disconnects that could result in a disruptive loss of power causing costly delays in work. Standard extension cords can be plugged into the ProLock connector simply by inserting the male end into a ProLock connector and pushing together to lock in place. The pull strength is 80 lbs. Housing and collars are made of impact-resistant polycarbonate.



Managing and moving materials and tools with the new Packout dolly and mounting plate is easy because wheels roll easily with heavy loads. Compatible with Milwaukee’s Packout storage system, the mounting plate secures and stabilizes loads. Constructed of an impact-resistant polymer, the dolly has a weight capacity of 250 lbs. The mounting plate also is made of impact-resistant polymer with metal-reinforced mounting and tie-down points.


Patriot Industries

Patriot NextDay nipples for connecting conduit runs to main power supplies and equipment are available in standard and custom lengths. Patriot provides fast production of custom orders and overnight shipment of UL-listed and NSF-certified products. Custom lengths and custom packaging are among the company’s specialties. NextDay nipples are part of Patriot Industries’ extensive line of U.S.-made conduit, nipples, elbows and couplings.



This new Romex Boxjaw wire stripper is a patent-pending method to strip wire fast, efficiently and safely. The flat head’s design and large, curved cutting blade allows stripping wire flush against electrical boxes and hard-to-reach spaces rather than trying to use a conventional stripper or knife. By stripping and shearing at the same time, the tool saves time and labor. The handles are spring loaded. The Boxjaw stripper is made in the United States.


SP Products

This new patent-pending four-way conduit and box support plate for horizontal or vertical installations eliminates the need for conduit clamps and can save more than an hour with less material per installation. It supports 4-by-4-, 41/2-, or 5-inch square outlets and 6-by-6 and 8-by-8 junction boxes. For vertical support, small tabs are bent to accommodate rods. For horizontal support, rods go through the center hole. Available in 18-gauge galvanized or stainless steel.


Underground Pipe Solutions

The BulletMole offers an effective, economical way to install conduit under sidewalks and driveways without the need for electricity, air or water. The sharp point of the head is manually driven forward and can penetrate soil, rock, roots and other obstacles. Tool design directs impact to the sharp point of the head and produces a hole larger than the shaft. Conduit is pushed or pulled through the hole. The system does not require tools to assemble or disassemble.

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2020 Construction Outlook: 2020 Vision Required
2020 Construction Outlook: 2020 Vision Required aconstanza Tue, 01/14/2020 - 13:47

2020 Construction Outlook: 2020 Vision Required

Dodge Data & Analytics reports that total construction activity in 2019 fell 1% ($809 billion), a marginally different result from the flat growth economists forecast last year. Projections for 2020 show a reduction of 4% ($776 billion) (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Economists from ConstructConnect saw 2019 starts fall 1.6% but predict a small gain of 0.8% this year. For perspective, even Dodge’s pullback projections represent solid performance seen in recent years. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) projected 2020 put-in-place (PIP) capital spending from flat to 4–5% growth (AGC/U.S. Census Bureau). PIP numbers—a measure of the actual work being done—almost always come in higher than starts (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Richard Branch, chief economist of Dodge Data & Analytics, said that, although the recovery in construction starts that began in 2010 is coming to an end, 2020 will not see a repeat what the industry experienced during the Great Recession (approximately December 2007 to June 2009).

“Economic growth is slowing but is not anticipated to contract [in 2020]. Construction starts, therefore, will decline, but the level of activity will remain close to recent highs. By major construction sector, the dollar value of starts for residential buildings will be down 6%, while starts for nonresidential buildings and nonbuilding construction will drop 3%” (see Figures 1 and 3).

Figure 3

The 2020 Dodge Construction Outlook was presented at the 81st annual Outlook Executive Conference held by Dodge Data & Analytics in Chicago on Oct. 31, 2019. ConstructConnect brought together its own chief economists along with others from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and AGC in a webinar, “CAUTION: Uncertainty and Disruptors Ahead” on Nov. 8, 2019.

Looking broadly, 2019 brought some slowing in some sectors and levels of growth in others. We should be in for more of the same in 2020.

Construction in general

“I don’t think the economy is teetering on recession,” said Ken Simonson, AGC chief economist. “It may slow but construction is still quite positive and adding jobs at a higher rate than the rest of the economy. Job openings in construction are at record levels and have been for the past 16 months, though some slowing is starting to show. Overall, the market is still quite favorable for construction” (see Figure 4).

Figure 4.

Simonson said PIP spending, the total dollar value of construction work, peaked in February 2018 (see Figure 2). Last year, numbers represented a 3% decline from that peak. Looking year over year (September 2018–2019), overall residential spending was down 4 to 6%. Single-family construction did enjoy -double-digit spending growth in the first half of 2019, followed by a midyear slump.

Builder confidence, however, remains high for newly built single-family homes, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. Interestingly, Zillow, the popular online aggregator of real estate pricing and market, sees a recessionary period for housing this year based on a poll of 100 real estate experts and economists. Dodge and ConstructConnect starts, however, are not poised at recessionary levels.

Addressing other sectors, Simonson reported nonresidential PIP spending was off 5.7%, landing at 2% growth. Within that, public construction performed strongly, gaining 6.6%.

Looking to this year, Simonson expects a breakthrough for single-family PIP spending, achieving a possible 5–10% gain, thanks to lower interest rates, continuing job growth and record stock market performance giving confidence to homebuyers. Multifamily could maintain between 0–5% PIP growth, partly through rental and condo construction .

Simonson projects overall 0–4% PIP spending growth for nonresidential: public construction (0–5%) due to activity in pipeline construction and on- and offshore wind energy construction; street and highway construction (5–10%); and supportive work from transit projects, including commuter/high-speed rail (particularly airport projects) and some port activity (see Figure 5).

Figure 5.

Kermit Baker, chief economist, AIA, shared 2019 Architecture Billing Index (ABI) statistics showing what construction (nonresidential) might look like this year. Late last year, architecture firms reported a 6.5-month project backlog.

“Firms in general found 2019 to be disappointing (flat or some growth). We are seeing a slowdown in design activity,” he said.

The ABI score in September 2019 was 49.7. Any score below 50 indicates a decrease in billings. In December, the ABI rose to 51.9%.

“All major sectors are slowing. Multifamily saw slight declines in 2019, pretty much the same in commercial/residential activity. Institutional showed a bit of a decline, too. Over half of firms reported uncertain construction costs or concern about the economy affecting current projects in 2019,” Baker said.

ABI scores regionally showed the South with the highest ABI of 51.1 (compared to 53.5 in 2018), followed by the West at 50.2 (51.5), the Midwest at 49.0 (53.1), and the Northeast at 47.3 (49.9).

The U.S. economic picture

Cristian deRitis, Moody’s Analytics deputy chief economist, presented at the 2020 Dodge Outlook Executive Conference. His view of 2020 is “cautiously optimistic.”

“We’re coming off a historic expansion,” he said. “A lot of things are going right but there are an awful lot of risks.”

Pointing to things “going right,” deRitis highlighted overall healthy household wealth, citing Federal Reserve stats that show $16.4 trillion (+4.7%) in disposable income year over year, $107 trillion net worth and a lower outstanding debt ($15.2 trillion). Consumer sales grew 4%.

DeRitis viewed the job market as “pretty good” but slowing. Unemployment as of November 2019 stood at 3.5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For construction-specific data, see -Figure 6.

Figure 6

Wages and salaries rose 2.9% year over year. Jobs added in October 2019 stood at 128,000, surpassing an expected 85,000.

Meanwhile, gross domestic product (GDP) reached 3.1% in the first quarter but was expected to settle close to 2.1% by the fourth quarter. Dodge attributed much of the first quarter performance to “a boost from inventory accumulation as firms ordered more goods to use in the future, possibly fueled by fears of imminent tariffs.”

“The GDP target nowadays is 3% or higher, it seems,” added Alex Carrick, chief economist, ConstructConnect. “In the past 19 years, we hit 2.9% and higher on seven occasions. Consumer spending is now 70% of GDP. So, it is imperative that consumers be happy and confident.”

Last summer, a temporary inverted yield curve made a lot of noise in economic circles. When short-term rates shoot up over longer terms, the curve inverts. An inversion is considered a signifier of a coming recession.

“It freaked out a lot of people, so the Fed lowered interest rates,” Carrick said. “The inversion was short-lived, and I think somewhat inadvertent. Inflation has not been a problem, but the rates lowered anyway. Inflation is low due to commodity prices being low [metals, gas, agriculture products and oil and gas]. They are the building blocks of everything” (see Figure 7).

Figure 7

In other positives, interest rates remained low. The Fed lowered its rate by 0.25 basis points in July 2019 and again in September, after raising interest rates nine times between 2015–2018. Arguments have arisen over whether the Fed should have employed this action during the relative health of the economy. DeRitis said time will tell.

The Fed held rates in December and predicted no lowering would occur in 2020.

Federal funding also played a role in feeding the economy. Congress agreed to $19.1 billion disaster relief in July 2019. The debt ceiling was increased through July 2021. A two-year budget deal increased defense and nondefense spending by $320 billion. Though appropriation bills (unfunded at this writing) will determine dollar allocations, the Department of Transportation, the Army Corps of Engineers and others could see slightly higher funding for 2020.

In November 2019, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grants for infrastructure projects. Totaling $900 million, the grants were awarded to 55 urban and rural projects in 35 states that included bridges, highways, ports and other transportation.

Finally, deRitis shared a perplexing phenomenon: Consumer confidence dropped in the early half of 2019, then rebounded the rest of the year, while real spending softened. Nonetheless, “Consumers are telling us they are enthusiastic about the economy,” he said.

Risks to the economy

DeRitis and others see several warnings on the economic horizon. Carrick of ConstructConnect said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever found so many caution flags as I do for 2020.” (see Figure 8).

Figure 8

Externals appear to be the biggest stressors due to trade disputes and a slowing global economy, particularly the trade war with China. An interim deal was still pending in December. If it falls through, a 15% duty on goods from China (roughly $111 billion) would remain with a potential 5-point increase (25-30%) on $250 billion worth of goods. A 15% levy on another $150 billion worth of goods could be added. To date, China has retaliated with $75 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods. If tariffs remain, Dodge sees a “dampening” of GDP with growth shrinking to 0.5–1.0%.

Dodge expects economic momentum to wane in 2020 “as negative influences on the economy begin to overwhelm the positive, slowing growth,” Branch said.

Figure 9 tracks the initial report for nonresidential projects in the planning stages, which has trended lower since fall 2018.

Figure 9

Branch and deRitis agree that sentiment and uncertainty, i.e., consumer confidence, will challenge the next 12 months.

“If consumer confidence is affected, we may have a problem,” deRitis said. “Next tariffs may be more consumer-related. Hopefully, we strike a deal, maybe in phases. We need to address this trade issue sooner than later.”

China aside, in October 2019, the United States approved tariffs against the World Trade Organization on certain goods, including 10% on airplanes and 25% on foodstuffs and single-malt scotch whiskey. Related to construction, the tariff would also apply to certain European-made hand and pneumatic tools and self-propelled backhoes. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has approved the United States--Mexico-Canada (USMCA) deal. The Senate vote was pending at the time of this writing. Meanwhile, NAFTA remains in place.

“Have tariffs improved the U.S. trade deficit? Not in the least,” Carrick said.

The weakness in U.S. manufacturing may also build to a larger negative for the economy, Dodge reports. Other possible threats to U.S. economic health in 2020 are a growth slowdown in Canada and in Eurozone industrial output.

Carrick identified additional caution flags, including decelerating job growth. For its part, Branch projects employment growth to half in 2020, signaling a pullback by employers.

Also, “the stock market is increasingly having real-world impacts,” Carrick said. “Worldwide economic performance can impact its numbers. Consumer confidence can also be affected, based on pension plans and mutual fund performance. It’s true stock markets have increased remarkably with NASDAQ up 500% and Standard & Poor’s up 300%. But these indices reached their peak a couple years ago. The stock market has been moving sideways over the last 1.5 to 2 years.”

Carrick’s other caution flags include the size of the U.S. national debt: $23 trillion. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned lawmakers in November that the ballooning federal debt could hamper Congress’ ability to support the economy in a downturn.

“Are we going to have a recession?” is the question economists get asked most. “It depends” is their honest response.

“There is no need to panic; things are not falling apart,” deRitis said. “A recession is highly unlikely in the next 12 months.”

Carrick, Simonson and Baker agree. A trade agreement with China and older millennials ready to become homebuyers are two potentialities that could keep economic growth going (see Figures 8 and 10).

Figure 10

“Looking back as far as 1994, then moving forward, fundamentals suggest the next recession won’t be severe,” deRitis said. “We modeled likely severity. Given the current fundamentals, [a recession] would likely be the shortest, least severe recession on record. I would expect a duration lasting maybe three to four consecutive quarters.

The wildcard is whether fundamentals are the only driver. Changes in fiscal policy could be a spoiler. A world of negative rates is untested. Policy could make a recession worse than it must be. I would add nothing says we couldn’t keep growing. Look at Japan [which had a 28-year stretch of economic growth].”

Sector Performance and Forecasts for 2020

Starts information is supplied by Dodge Analytics, followed by ConstructConnect, unless otherwise noted. Due to differing market categorization between the two forecasts, performance numbers can diverge. We try to reconcile those differences or cite them when they occur.


Holding its own

Residentional construction won’t likely recover to pre-Great Recession heights because those numbers reflected an overheated market. Today’s single-family market is maybe 40% smaller compared to prerecession activity, giving it lots of room to grow. During this expansion, the strength of multifamily helped carry a residential recovery. The single-family sector has been steadily recovering too, but slowly. Total housing starts reached a peak in 2018 (1.375 million units/$330 billion). In 2019, total starts were expected to fall 6% (1.29 million/
$314 million).


Figure 11

Let’s put the best news first. While AGC found PIP dollars for single-family fell 5 to 7% in 2019, it sees a rebound this year with growth between 5-10%. It attributes expansion fueled by low interest rates, rising income and wealth. Branch said that growth in -single-family construction usually happens after a recession. The United States is at half the market of 2005. There is a lack of entry-level single-family homes.

This year, Branch expects housing starts to fall (765,000 units) 8% below their 2018 peak and, in dollar values ($217 billion), 6% below peak (see Figures 11 and 12). Dodge terms this 2020 downturn as mild and likely short-lived. The National Association of Homebuyers’ (NAHB) numbers are more optimistic for 2020, showing an increase over 2019 (873,000 units). Low mortgage rates are expected to average 

under 4% for 30-year fixed. While higher personal incomes and wages give this market room to grow, the tight housing supply, demographics and the need for a larger construction worker pool continue to challenge this sector.

Figure 12


Multifamily has been a strong performer. In 2018, this sector reached 542,000 units, an increase of 298% from 2009. Representing a $100 billion achievement, starts rose ($443 billion) (see Figure 13).

Figure 13

“Millennials and boomers drove this, including senior housing,” Branch said. “The years 2015–2018 roughly saw the same level of growth. Multifamily starts have however followed a slowing economy in 2019.” 

Last year, Dodge found starts fell 11% (485,000 units). Dollar values dropped 9% ($91 billion). ConstructConnect placed 2019 dollars lower ($75.5 billion). Of note, NAHB (383,000 units) for 2019 was almost 100,000 less than Dodge. A contraction is expected in 2020. Dodge anticipates 15% fewer starts (410,000 units/$78 billion). NAHB 2020 unit estimates (385,000) are closer to Dodge.

“Demand and supply have matched up over the past years,” Branch said. “Within this sector, assisted living and senior apartments in planning look very promising. Recent tax changes will also help support multifamily housing with investors. Together, these will help cushion multifamily, even if planned work doesn’t all come through” (see Figure 14)

The share of multifamily projects over $100 million remains above normal thanks to New York, Branch shared, adding. “High rises over 16 stories is also driven by New York City and notable projects in San Francisco and Dallas.” 

Figure 14


Enjoying its round up

We may be enjoying what will be the zenith for commercial construction in this economic cycle. Square footage growth probably peaked in 2017 at 770 million square feet (msf). Dollar value (before adjusting for inflation) likely peaked in 2019 ($126.6 billion). Starts were expected to retreat 2% last year (741 msf) or 4% below 2017. Dollar values gained 3%. Figure 15 measures stores, offices, warehouses, hotels and parking garages. This year, Dodge expects a decline in square footage and dollar value. Commercial square footage will lose 10% (670 msf) and fall 6% ($119.5 billion).

Figure 15

ConstructConnect measures commercial with fewer markets (e.g., offices, parking garages and transportation terminals) and so its estimates are not a complete match to Dodge. As such, its 2019 starts showed a 9.1% increase ($41.1 billion). ConstructConnect, using fewer sectors, projects a total start increase of 8.1% ($44.4 billion) this year.

Stores and shopping centers

Online retail is truly disrupting the retail landscape. The U.S. Commerce Department reported e-sales reached $146.2 billion in 2nd quarter 2019 compared to 3.2% growth for traditional retail. For perspective, e-commerce represents just 10.7% of all retail sales. Capital investment, however, favors e-commerce. Last year, retail starts were expected to drop 18% (66.5 msf) with dollar values decreasing 14% ($14.7 billion). ConstructConnect concurs. In 2020, starts are projected to fall another 3% (64.4 msf) and 3% in dollar value ($14.3 billion) (see Figure 16).

Figure 16

Recent tariffs on Chinese imports could dampen retail construction and consumer spending. U.S. Bancorp (USB) estimates tariffs could put $40 billion in sales and 12,000 stores at risk. AGC’s Simonson added that retail’s distress is compounded by a record number of store closings. Business Insider reported more than 7,000 store closings were announced last year. Coresight Research, a consumer analytics group, anticipated numbers 

to rise to as many as 12,000. Companies closing stores included Gap, Victoria’s Secret, J.C. Penney and Abercrombie & Fitch. Amazon is counterintuitively—or shrewdly—adding investment in its bookstores and other bricks-and-mortar concepts, including Amazon Go convenience stores.

Dodge reported U.S. retailers’ expansion of store footprints has also “dramatically decreased.” Walmart is still the largest constructor, followed by Target and Aldi, Branch said. An upside to a lack of new construction in retail is a steady amount of store renovation (see Figure 17).

Figure 17

“Approximately 40-45% of retail starts are now renovation,” he said.

Commercial warehouses

Warehouse construction was off to the races between 2011 through 2017, increasing by double-digits each year (510%). Starts began to slow in 2018, showing a 2% decrease in activity. Vacancy rates remain low and regional distribution centers are driving growth, Branch said. Last year, dollar values rose 7% ($25.3 billion), but square footage contracted 2% (288 msf). ConstructConnect showed $19.1 billion. In 2020, a 10% contraction in dollar value ($22.8 billion) is projected, including a decrease of 13% in square footage (251 msf).ConstructConnect projects $17.3 billion.

The largest warehouse starts have generally come from online retailers such as Amazon, but brick-and-mortar has entered the warehouse space to service online business. In the first nine months of 2019, 34 warehouses broke ground sized at least 1 msf representing a total of 48.3 msf. This, however, was an 8% decrease from 2018. Of note to ECs, many retail and warehouses and distribution centers are becoming increasingly automated, providing new power installation opportunities beyond lighting and HVAC. In addition, warehouses are increasingly accommodating e-grocery shopping.

“Amazon may change how it builds warehouses,” Branch added. “For same-day delivery, urban warehouses that are smaller (500,000 to 1 million msf) are emerging. Amazon and other firms are also renting warehouse space instead of building.”

Four of the top five warehouse projects were for Amazon (Prime Air Hub at CVG Airport, Hebron, Ky., $750 million, 3,350 thousand square feet (tsf); Project Arrow, Oak Creek, Wis. (2,600 tsf); and distribution centers in Bakersfield, Calif. (2,600 tsf), and Stone Mountain, Ga. (2,463 tsf), all for $200 million).

Office buildings

Office construction continued to show strength in 2019, building off 2010–2018, where starts grew 140% in square footage (137 msf) and 186% in dollar value ($48.2 billion). Last year, office construction grew 2% (139 msf) and advanced 6% in dollar value ($50.9 billion). ConstructConnect evaluated the private-only office sector at $28 billion. This year, Dodge expects square footage to retract 4% (133 msf) and dollar values growth of 2% ($50.1 billion) (ConstructConnect, $30 billion/private office) (see Figure 18).

Figure 18

Branch ascribed some of the growth in office to data centers. In the first nine months of 2019, construction began on 57 data centers. Dodge labels data centers a “structural change” to the office sector.

“Through September 2019, $6.1 billion of office starts were data centers,” he said. “Virginia, Texas and Iowa lead in data centers with many pursuing green power.”

ConstructConnect’s Carrick said that office growth may be helped by the rise in high-tech jobs. In “United States Office Outlook–Q3 2019,” commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle reported, “High-growth tech, creative and life sciences tenants continued to drive occupancy gains.” Also, “Despite new supply hitting the market, vacancy currently rests at just 14.2% nationally.”

Hotels and motels

Between 2010–2018, hotel starts climbed 368% (nearly 80 msf) and dollar value 440% ($19.1 billion in 2018). After a 10-year expansion, growth weakened in 2019 as business and leisure travel softened. Hotel square footage dropped 6% (75 msf) and 4% in dollar value ($18.4 billion). In 2020, expect a deeper pullback to 15% (63 msf) and dollar values reduced another 11% ($16.3 billion). ConstructConnect, $18.1 billion.

“Occupancy rates are good, but revenue growth is negative,” Branch said. “So, hotel construction is starting to slip back but remains strong. Its decline puts it back to where it was in 2016-2018, which was strong. RevPAR (revenue per available room) is now affecting this sector” (see Figure 19).

Figure 19

Statista, a German statistics database, reports RevPAR in the U.S. lodging industry increased by roughly 3% from 2017 to 2018. Between 2019 and 2020, RevPAR is predicted to advance 1%.

The largest projects were the TSX Broadway Hotel in New York; Broward Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Las Vegas Circa Resort.

Branch added that, as the economy slows, so will convention center development, which often has associated hotels.


Back by public demand

Whether it’s a school, hospital, airport or rail terminal, the institutional sector is buoyed by public sector money or hurt by lack of it. Last year was solid for institutional, which gained 2% ($142.7 billion) and backtracked 1% in square footage. Starts this year are expected to be flat ($142.5 billion) with square footage declining 4% (323 msf) (see Figure 20).

Figure 20

Education buildings

Education construction starts in 2018 rose appreciably by 8% ($62.9 billion) and in square footage 3% (140 msf). Last year, starts remained positive but slowed to 3% ($64.6 billion) while rising 1% in square footage (142 msf). This year, expect growth at 2% ($65.7 billion) marking the slowest pace since 2013. Square footage will fall 2% (139 msf). ConstructConnect’s numbers were $71.8 billion for 2019 and a projection of $74.1 billion for 2020 (see Figure 21).

Figure 21

“I see growth in K-12 supported by bonds,” Branch said. “Demographics will hold this back in the future. Public school enrollment is strongest in South and West, negative in the Midwest and Great Lakes, but that doesn’t mean construction is stopped. There is demand despite lower enrollments.”

Dodge reported nine of the 15 largest projects breaking ground in 2019 were senior high schools, citing the $247 million renovation/addition of Belmont (Mass.) High School. Three of the four largest projects are in Massachusetts.

Community college, university and laboratory/museum/library starts declined. The largest project was the Wellesley College (Mass.) Science Center ($159 million).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics projections, K–8 schools will see a smaller growth over the next few years, reflecting that millennials over 30 are waiting longer to marry and have children.

Branch finds growth in college enrollments won’t offset a projected easing in endowments.

Bond measures continue to support the education sector. During the November 2018 election cycle, voters in California and Texas approved bonds, $17 billion and $5 billion, respectively. This year, California will put forward another bond measure ($15 billion) to renovate aging facilities.

Healthcare buildings

Healthcare construction remains weak. In 2019, square footage fell 6% (76 msf) but gained 1% in dollar value ($27.6 billion). ConstructConnect saw starts differently, 

dropping 13.9% but with a high dollar value ($33.2 billion). This year, square footage will lose another 3% (74 msf) but dollar values will advance 3% ($28.6 billion). ConstructConnect, $36.1 billion.

In 2010, 13% of the U.S. population was over the age of 64. By 2030, it will reach 20%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Longer lived boomers will have medical problems, which could lead to more medical facilities.

“There is a pent-up demand supported by demographics and new tech,” Branch said. “Construction of clinics and nursing homes are the greatest share of healthcare starts as hospitals pull back. This move is broad-based across the country.”

He said the gap widened in the 1990s as a shift toward private clinics took hold. It narrowed in the recession but has since widened again. See Figure 22 for the top 10 states in healthcare starts.

Figure 22

Meanwhile, healthcare policy remains turbulent, affecting construction growth. With the House of Representatives controlled by Democrats, it seems unlikely the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be repealed. What traction Medicare for All holds remains unknown.

Transportation buildings

These past few years have delivered strong in transportation starts. Many have been $10 billion or more since 2016. Though starts fell some 40% in 2018 ($13 billion), they did include a $2.1 billion reconstruction project at Denver International Airport and the $1.4 billion Terminal One project at Newark International Airport. In 2019, starts increased again by 4% ($13.5 billion) with square footage jumping 17% (29 msf) (see Figure 23). ConstructConnect placed starts lower at $7 billion. Continued strength is predicted for 2020 with 5% growth ($12.8 billion) but with a drop of 8% in square footage (27 msf). ConstructConnect predicts $9.2 billion.

Figure 23

“This sector is stabilizing based on Fed policy,” Branch said. “Rising air traffic and revenue is also spurring airport rehabs, which grew 4% (2018), though they may slip 5% this year (2019). Fed funding is generally positive.”

The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 maintains the FAA through 2023. Within this, the Airport Improvement Program will fund $3.35 billion in grant dollars for airport improvements. The act also provides discretionary grants 

of more than $1 billion for small to medium-sized airports. An additional $17.5 billion was set aside by Congress for the FAA. It also introduced a bill for another $10.6 billion/FAA’s FY2020 budget.

Recreation buildings

In 2019, starts dipped 12% (43 msf) and dollar value dropped 9% ($18.4 billion). Unlike Dodge, ConstructConnect doesn’t include campus athletic and student centers under “Recreation.” As such, its dollar value for 2019 stood at $8.3 billion. A slowing economy and dampening demand for business and leisure travel will hit this sector this year. Square footage will lose 12% (38 msf), and dollar value of starts will recede 8% ($170 billion). ConstructConnect sees largely flat growth.

Other factors contributing to declining starts is a depletion of big projects. In 2018, construction of convention centers drove growth. Total starts increased 12% ($20.2 billion) adding 3% square footage (49 msf).See notable projects in Figure 24.

Figure 24

Public buildings

Public building construction includes capitols, courthouses, police and fire stations, and other public administrative facilities. This sector has had difficulty gaining traction. Last year brought good news. Starts rose 5% (20 msf) and 8% ($10.5 billion), a peak during this recovery. This marked the first time in almost 10 years where this sector’s dollar value surpassed $10 billion (see Figure 25). ConstructConnect had larger start numbers though a contraction of –3% ($18.5 billion). Some modest declines are expected this year. Square footage will fall 3% (20 msf) and lose 1% dollar value ($10.4 billion). ConstructConnect expects growth of $19.5 billion.

Figure 25


Facing a struggle

With the U.S. Department of Energy’s $6.5 billion uranium processing facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., project in the rear-view mirror, 2019 manufacturing starts in square footage declined 16% (71 msf) and dollar values fell 29% ($23.1 billion). ConstructConnect placed starts at double that of Dodge ($54.8 billion). This year, starts will decrease 2% ($22.7 billion). ConstructConnect expects a drop but a healthier number ($36.9 billion) (see Figure 26).

Figure 26

The trade war, slower GDP growth, and decelerating economic growth in Canada, the European Union and China crimp this sector. During the first nine months of 2019, the production of motor vehicles fell 5.4% year over year. Nondurable goods dropped 1.4%. Manufacturing capacity utilization went from 77.3% in 2018 to 75.3% by September 2019.

In better news, the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) Foundation surmised capital growth and higher exports boosted 2019 manufacturing, allowing for a projected production growth of 3.9%. This year MAPI forecasts lesser growth at 2.4%.


Public works and power utilities

Figure 28

In important ways, the public works and power utilities sectors stand alone as a construction sector. More than economic trends, this sector is influenced by legislation and regulations. Last year, they worked in this sector’s favor. In 2019, electric power/gas plant starts soared 83% ($44.2 billion), in part thanks to liquefied natural gas (LNG) 

construction. For several years, this sector’s poor performance held back overall construction performance totals. Public works in 2019 did decline 4% ($157.9 billion) due to some weakness in bridge and pipeline construction. Public works will gain 4% ($164.3 billion) in 2020. Power/utility starts will fall back to a respectable 27% gain ($32.2 billion). Total nonbuilding starts will drop 3% ($196.4 billion) this year (see Figures 27, 28 and 29).

Figure 28

Figure 29

Street and bridges

Construction starts for streets and bridges slipped 2% ($75.8 billion) in 2019. ConstructConnect had stronger numbers ($89.5 billion). In 2020, street and bridges will see a rise of 2% ($77.5 billion). ConstructConnect,  $94.7 billion.

This year marks the end of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, though the U.S. Senate has proposed America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019. It would authorize $287 billion over five years (+27%). That vote (as of this writing) is still pending. More investment is needed.

In lieu of wavering federal funds, a dozen states have raised their gas tax to boost transportation infrastructure spending. 

Environmental public works

Environmental public works involves water supply, sewers/hazardous waste, and water resources. Construction starts for this sector rose 5% ($41.2 billion) in 2019. ConstructConnect has a narrower sector definition (water and sewage treatment). Their starts were thus lower ($29.9 billion). This year will see another 2% gain ($42.2 billion). ConstructConnect, $31.8 billion.

Environmental public works construction starts were helped by a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill passed in June 2019 targeting flooding, damage from tornadoes and hurricanes and other natural disasters. Under the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA), was the reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which approved $3.7 billion for the U.S. Army of Engineers to use in dredging, flood control and other projects. AWIA also provides funding for state revolving loans funds. Though more comprehensive funding for environmental public works is needed, additional pockets of funding have helped. The Army Corps of Engineers received an additional $43.3 billion for flood and hurricane protection projects. Also, the EPA got $349 million to improve resiliency for state water systems vulnerable to natural disasters.

Other nonbuilding

The other nonbuilding sector includes pipelines, rail lines and large sports venues without roofs, strangely enough. Robust pipeline activity (2016–2019) is starting to weaken, which softened total nonbuilding starts. Rail line activity showed some strengthening. Last year, this sector fell 14% ($40.9 billion). ConstructConnect captured pipeline starts ($25.6 billion). Things look better in 2020 as nonbuilding will have a 9% increase ($44.6 billion). [ConstructConnect, $24.7 billion (pipelines only)].

Notable projects in 2019 included the Landside Access Modernization project at Los Angeles International Airport ($2.7 billion). Work also began on the Permian Highway Pipeline project ($2 billion) and a natural gas pipeline ($1.8 billion), both in Texas. In 2020, work is expected to begin on a Line 3 Replacement pipeline ($2.1 billion) across North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Beginning phases of a 420-mile Dallas-to-Houston High Speed Rail Project ($10 billion) should commence, as well.

Electric power and gas plants

It was a very good year for the electric power and gas plant sector in 2019. Starts rose 83% ($44.2 billion). ConstructConnect doesn’t specifically call out gas plants but captures work under “industrial.” Electric is under “civil’ as power infrastructure. So, the numbers did not fully match. As such, their 2019 starts were roughly $38.3 billion. This year will see a decline of 27% ($32.2 billion). ConstructConnect sees $70.3 billion (a rough calculation combining its industrial and power infrastructure).

Key projects last year included the Calcasieu Pass LNG export plant ($4.2 billion) and the Sabine Pass Trains 5&6 ($2.5 billion) both in Cameron, La. As of September 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved eight LNG projects with nine more applications pending.

Several renewable-energy projects, (notably wind) were expected to emerge as developers planned for the phase-out of the production tax credit (PTC) by the end of 2019. There may be a reprieve. On Nov. 19, the House Ways and Means Committee 

introduced the draft Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now Act, designed to maintain the wind energy PTC at 60% for five years and extend the investment tax credit for solar and offshore wind for the same duration. The American Wind Energy Association reported that, in 2019, wind generation totaled 3,667 MW, a 123% increase over the first three quarters of 2018.


Construction will see a slowdown but enjoy gains in most sectors. There’s plenty of work in the pipeline, so it is a time of opportunity. Focus on how you and your company can work smarter, faster and be more technologically proficient. Your customers may expect it. Training and finding qualified workers will also remain an ongoing effort. Expand what “qualified” can mean to your business. Finally, the more clearly you can see your project landscape (in hand and opportunity), the better you’ll navigate through a blurry 2020. Time to get a new prescription.

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