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Keeping an Eye on Outside Power Opportunities

Keeping an Eye on Outside Power Opportunities Download PDF

Andy Douglas takes a quick but succinct look at the sort of things electrical contractors and installers need to consider in order to maximise their work opportunities in these difficult economic times.

Feeling the recession? Tempted to dig in and hope you are still there when it’s over? Or do you subscribe to the idea that the time to dig a well is before you are too thirsty?

With up to 70% of new business gained through recommendation and word of mouth, you need to make sure that people are talking about you – and saying good things. Assuming that you are not Ireland’s answer to Brad Pitt, people are probably only going to talk about you positively when
you’ve just done a decent job for them. So look for the work that is there to be had now – and a good place to start is outdoor power and lighting, where you can offer a relatively inexpensive job that will have very obvious user benefits that people will notice and talk about. Do the job well that they can afford now, and they will be back for more later.

Outdoor wiring accessories and lighting continue to offer new opportunities as, perhaps surprisingly given our climate, we all head for the gardens and patios as soon as it stops snowing. Here, we want to use an ever-growing range of gardening equipment, tools and other ‘toys’, and we need help to use them safely and economically.

In commercial premises, the smoking ban has changed the way we look at the adjacent open spaces, and good old-fashioned security lighting will always be needed.

PIR lighting
For most domestic and small commercial properties, the familiar automatic PIR light is still the easiest, and usually the most effective, way of ensuring that lights are only on at night and when there is someone there. However, this is only true if they have adjustable light level detectors and detection fields and are installed in the right place by someone who takes the trouble to make sure they are set up correctly.

An adjustable detection field means simply that the PIR detector can be swivelled up and down / left and right to provide the right coverage (beware low-end models with detectors moulded solidly to the body of the light). Setting these lights up properly means walk testing, so look for a walk test mode that enables you to do so in daylight, before switching to normal operation.

Remember that low energy light bulbs may not be the best choice for PIR switching because the initial power surge required to light a low energy bulb is relatively high, and you can use more energy during start up than you save. There is a balance to be struck. If it does fall on the side of using low energy bulbs, then you need to rate the PIR detector accordingly. A ‘headline’ rating of 2000W is required to switch just 500W of low energy lighting

Outdoor sockets and switches
There is plenty of choice here, whether you want just plain sockets or those with integral timers or RCDs.

While it may be hard to think of an outdoors socket as having a ‘WOW factor’, there are features to look for that will impress the customer. To start with, they really do not have to look as if they were built for a prison wing. There are some new designs around that are very sleek looking that offer useful extra features. You can now find sockets with full-size see-through lids that let people see at a glance whether
appliances are switched on or not, or whether an RCD has tripped or not without needing to open the lid.

When it comes to opening the lids, check that the hinge and catch mechanisms are easy to use – sometimes the need to weatherproof the sockets means that opening them is bit like doing Rubik’s cube – try them out at the wholesaler if you can. If you cannot click them open and shut them easily, don’t expect your customer to be able to do so either.

Think safety and security too – perhaps a padlock boss is a good idea for commercial premises or places where the public will have access. How about an automatic power cut out if the lids opened?

Think too about the real needs. There’s no point in installing a single weatherproof socket if the lid will be left open so that a multi-way adaptor can be plugged in to it. Install double sockets or look for weatherproof boxes that house multi-way adaptors, and make sure they are built to have room for transformers when securely closed.

Look for lots of knock outs – replaceable ones are an advantage in case the customer (who is always right!) changes his or her mind about the location.

Know your IP ratings
A quick reminder: IP stands for Ingress Protection. The first number indicates the protection against solid objects, the second number shows the level of protection against liquids and, in our damp and wintry climate, it is probably this number that matters most when choosing outdoor sockets and controls. It is also important when choosing a product to consider the type of use that the customer will put it to.

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