As building systems continue to evolve, electrical contractors are increasingly filling a unique role as integrated systems contractors (ISCs) — a rapidly growing subset of the $130 billion electrical contracting industry. ISCs comprise 70% of electrical contractors who now specify, design, install and service fully integrated, high-performance building systems in commercial, industrial, institutional and residential markets.
As buildings become more technically sophisticated and interoperative, they are increasingly dependent on the low-voltage systems that create a secure, productive and environmentally friendly atmosphere for occupants, including fire, life safety, security, communications/connectivity, voice-data/fiber optics/premises wiring, lighting controls and total building automation. ISCs offer the unique expertise to synthesize these various low-voltage systems with the facility’s traditional electrical power supply.
“As building systems are rapidly transforming, only the electrical contractor can make the critical connection between the various low-voltage systems and its traditional electrical power supply,” says Andrea Klee, publisher of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine, which has created a bimonthly supplement to meet the needs of this highly specialized audience.
“As building systems are rapidly transforming, only the electrical contractor can make the critical connection between the various low-voltage systems and its traditional electrical power supply.”
Leading manufacturers are also reporting changes in how they’re working with ISCs along with growth in connected products and systems.
“We find that integrators move faster to deliver their solutions and have a high degree of ownership in the final solution since they are in control at every step of the way,” says Gene Pecora, business leader industrial fire, Honeywell Security & Fire. Pecora said that his company sells mostly to integrators primarily through specialized distribution.
“They are able to deliver a customized solution quickly and in many cases more competitively than more traditional paths to market,” Pecora says. “The challenge is they need deeper in-house resources and capabilities that make it possible to deliver these integrated solutions.”
On the residential side, Lutron Electronics referenced a Business Insider article reporting that connected home devices will grow at a compound annual rate of 67% over the next five years, and that growth will be led by broader consumer adoption of home-energy equipment such as lighting controls, shades and thermostats.
“These are the connected products that homeowners already use every day — often several times a day,” says Brian Donlon, vice president of sales, North America, Lutron Electronics. “Because these systems can have the greatest impact on the comfort, energy and efficiency of their homes, they also represent the greatest opportunity for expanded sales and service.”
Donlon also referenced a recent survey reporting that more than 64% of Americans said they were more inclined to outsource projects than in years past.
“Not only is connected home technology driving business, so is the emergence of the DIFM, or ‘Do It For Me,’ consumer,” Donlon adds. “More and more frequently, busy, time-strapped customers are embracing the chance to get the job done quickly, and get it right the first time by handing their projects over to a professional.”
“Not only is connected home technology driving business, so is the emergence of the DIFM, or ‘Do It For Me,’ consumer.”
Three Primary Drivers
Klee says the ISC trend reflects three primary industry drivers: the perception of a building itself has evolved as an integrated system, replacing the older siloed systems; how buildings are designed and delivered has changed; and the building owner’s increasing demand for single-source responsibility for all systems — traditional power and low voltage.
Historically, the various electrical subsystems — security, lighting, fire, life safety, etc.— were individually optimized and separate; they operated independently much like in a silo or vertical system — such as fire — that has limited or virtually no communication with another sister system, such as security.
The silo method wasn’t the most efficient, productive, secure or cost-effective setup for the building owner. It also required multiple subcontractors since much of the specifications, installation and service functions for individual low-voltage systems were done by a system-specific vertical market contractor. Additionally, an electrical power supply that is clean, reliable and uninterruptable is critical to the proper functioning of any low-voltage system. Without that factor in place, all building systems simply will not function as designed.
Replacing the traditional design-bid-build construction approach, construction professionals now prefer more efficient, participatory, and collaborative project delivery methods such as design/build (DB), Building Information Modeling (BIM) or integrated project delivery (IPD). These preferred methods have given primary subcontractors, including electrical, a significant seat at the system design and specification table as part of the design/build team.
To increase efficiency and minimize disputes, today’s building owners increasingly demand as close to single-source responsibility for the integration, installation and maintenance of their facility components and systems.
“The ultimate beneficiary is the building owner,” Klee says. “They’re increasingly demanding as close to a single-source provider for as many different processes within their facility as possible.”
Published by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine reaches 80,000+ electrical contractors and more than 68,000 electrical contracting locations, more than any other industry publication. Contact: (301) 657-3110 / www.ecmag.com / Twitter @ECMagdotcom / mobile app available through the iTunes Store, Google Play and the Amazon App Store in iOS, Android and Kindle versions.