3 Things to Consider When Specifying Outdoor Power for Your Customers

Posted in: Features, March 2017

An explosion in technology is changing the way people live, work, and use space. Wi-Fi, cell phones, and tablets have blurred the lines of where people connect for work and leisure – inside, outside, it no longer matters. As a result, people are spending more time outside for work and leisure activities, and they’re bringing their mobile devices with them. This presents homeowners, businesses, and facility managers with a new challenge – providing the convenience of safe, permanent, and dependable power sources for outdoor events or for charging cell phones, tablets, and laptops outside.

outside-lights.jpgFacility managers discovered that delivering safe, reliable, permanent power to their employees and guests creates an environment promoting longer stays, better productivity, and more positive experiences. Let’s face it, people love being outdoors; and now they want all the power they need, right where they need it. This is a business development opportunity for contractors with customers who are managing corporate or educational campuses, hospitality facilities, parks or green spaces, town squares, Main Streets, farmers’ markets, or open air retail areas – anywhere people gather outdoors.

IDENTIFYING THE RIGHT SOLUTION

There are a variety of electrical solutions for the residential and commercial markets, but some options are safer and more visually appealing than others. The most common permanent power option found in residential and commercial applications are ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles with waterproof covers. While this works well for the homeowner, this has not been the most robust, reliable, and safe alternative for commercial and public spaces. Oftentimes, when outdoor power is needed in public and commercial settings, facility managers are using makeshift solutions. Most of these temporary workarounds are unsightly, unproductive, and often hazardous. Extension cords, homemade outlet box solutions, or a temporary generator is a stopgap, not a solution.

Here are three questions you should ask yourself when specifying an outdoor project:

  1. How will the power be used?
  2. Where will the electrical receptacle be located?
  3. Is it safe for outdoor use?

Your answers will help you recommend the right permanent power solution to fit your customer’s application.

HOW WILL THE POWER BE USED?

Identifying how your customer intends to use the outdoor power will help you determine the appropriate solution, voltage needs, and gang and outlet configurations for the application.

If you discover that a customer wants to install outdoor power in a public space so employees, students, or guests can charge their cell phones and laptops, a charging pedestal with a combination of USB ports and GFCI receptacles will do the trick.

If facility managers are asked to supply power, data, and A/V hookups for an event space, hospitality facility, sports venue, or open public space and they don’t want the general public to use the receptacle, a permanent in-ground power box with a lock-out feature may be the best solution.

WHERE WILL THE ELECTRICAL RECEPTACLE BE LOCATED?

Facility managers and electrical contractors frequently voice concerns about the durability and safety of outdoor electrical receptacles. Because many outdoor electrical boxes are on short posts or lay on the ground, they get hit with groundskeeping equipment and sustain damage and are susceptible to weather, vandalism, and abuse.

When recommending an outdoor power solution, the physical location of the receptacle should factor into your specification. Power for public use to charge a mobile device is best provided with pedestal charging stations. If the power is for the facilities use and located in an open public area, it is best located in a housing installed flush with the ground to minimize incidental damage and prevent a tripping hazard. If the outdoor power solution will be installed in a high traffic area, it should have a Tier 5 load rating – meaning it can stand up to a 5,000-pound load – so it will survive the occasional vehicle contact and run-in with the lawn tractors.

You should also consider the climate and weather conditions and select an outdoor receptacle that is durable enough to withstand prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, rain, snow, and extreme temperatures. If you’re skeptical about the product’s ability to stand up to the elements, ask the manufacturer to explain the technology that is used to keep the electrical connections dry. If you’re still not a believer, ask for the results of the product’s cover impact, water submersion, and load tests.

IS IT SAFE FOR OUTDOOR USE?

When evaluating outdoor electrical solutions, safety is the top priority. One of the challenges is finding a solution that is UL rated in use. There are products on the market that are weatherproof and weather-resistant but are only UL listed for use when the receptacle cover is closed – in other words, when it’s not in use.

Based on consumer demands, electrical manufacturers have developed new permanent outdoor solutions that are safer, more convenient, and more reliable than previous outdoor electrical products.

When considering your permanent outdoor mobile device charging options, look for a solution that is rated NEMA 3R, meaning that it’s safe to use in all weather conditions and climates.

If a permanent in-ground box is a better solution for your customer’s application, request a product that is UL 2996 listed and maintains a NEMA 6P rating while in use – meaning the wiring enclosure can withstand “prolonged submersion” in water – and complies with NEC and local codes while in use.

EXPLORING CROSS-SELLING OPPORTUNITIES

Most of your customers already recognize the need for outdoor power, and they may be using cumbersome and unsafe methods to provide it. New permanent outdoor power solutions open the door for cross-selling opportunities in both the residential and commercial markets.

The next time you’re working on a new construction or renovation project, take the time to talk to the facility manager about the value of investing in outdoor spaces to improve employee creativity and morale. Or communicate to a retailer, bar, or restaurant owner how installing outdoor charging stations on the patio can attract more customers and keep them longer. These additional product sales can create new revenue streams for you and your customers.

Steve Killius is the vice president of contractor industry affairs for Legrand.