Outfitting an entire office space can seem daunting at first.

Confronting a budget in this scenario is particularly complicated. And in times like this, it can be easy to want to find a way to cut a few corners and save some cost.

But finding cheaper (emphasis on the cheaper) products to outfit the new space is not the answer. UL approved products offer more than just efficiency – they offer safety.

WHY ARE NON-UL APPROVED PRODUCTS RISKY?

There is a very good reason why Underwriters Laboratories came to exist. In a world of ever-expanding products, inventions, and evolution, this organization took upon itself to ensure that there is a set of safety standards to protect the users.

With an influx of manufacturers (and a need to keep costs low), it has become increasingly more important to abide by the vigilance of UL. Products that sell for lower prices must be made with lower quality – and it is these products that are less safe. The use of inferior products creates hazards for workplaces housing expensive equipment and easily ignitable material. The cost savings of purchasing non-UL material doesn’t match the risk imposed on the company, equipment and employees.

UL discovered what materials, layouts, and other design elements encouraged electrical safety in particular. Their standards protect users from potential fires, electrical shock, and personal injury hazards. Whether the products are office furniture, additional power or charging accessories, UL set a code of standards for various levels of safety based on their testing.

UL VERSUS ETL

You may see companies carrying a UL listing, an ETL listing, or both. Here’s what you need to know to distinguish the two certifications.

UL: Underwriters Laboratories, or simply known as UL, writes safety standards and tests products to ensure they meet the requirements of the written safety standards. In order for a product to be UL certified, a product sample must be tested and complete all safety regulations put into place by the UL.

ETL: Electrical Testing Laboratories (ETL) includes the safety testing for a variety of electronic components and their associating products. ETL differs from UL because ETL doesn’t test products according to their own set of standards. Products undergoing ETL testing are held to published standards of safety such as ASME, ASTM as well as UL.

For more information and to discover specific details surrounding UL listings, browse the full catalog here. Learn more about UL Listed vs UL Recognized products as well in this helpful blog.

 

 

WHAT IS WIRELESS POWER CHARGING?

The word “wireless” is often associated with wifi – but in this case, it’s simply not the same. Wireless power is simply the transfer of energy without the use of connecting cords or cables. In other words, wireless power enables charging smart devices without the need to plug them in.

In reference to this blog about charging, wireless charging accomplishes the same goal through a different method. Broken down into simpler terms, wireless charging is created by the transferring of an electrical current.

A few common examples of wireless charging include pads on desk surfaces for charging phones, phone cases that charge, and electric toothbrush stands. In order to use wireless power properly, one’s device must be compatible. As you can see from the aforementioned examples, wireless charging can take different forms and is utilized differently in various spaces.

According to Power By Proxi, “by eliminating the use of physical connectors and cables, wireless charging provides a number of efficiency, cost and safety advantages over the traditional charging cable.” This form of charging is safer by eliminating trip hazards and potential fire hazards of using frayed cables. It is also cost-effective in the long run by accommodating more people with fewer products and only requiring one purchase (see examples).

 

 

Inductive Coupling

 

Inductive coupling might be the most commonly considered and used form of wireless power. This technology has been around a bit longer than other popular forms of wireless charging. In fact, it’s probably how you charge your electric toothbrush. A coil in the charging stand actually creates a magnetic field which ultimately charges the brush.

 

 

Resonant Wireless Charging

 

Resonant charging is slightly less common. Resonant coupling was discovered by studies conducted at MIT when searching for a better solution than inductive coupling. Unsettled that inductive coupling had to be in very near proximity in order to charge, the studies set out to find a form of wireless charging that didn’t require proximity.

The studies at MIT summarized that inductive coupling encourages efficiency whereas resonant coupling is all about convenience. Both have different applications, and you can discover more about them in this article. Both are entirely safe to be used in buildings (including schools and hospitals) as a means of providing power and charging without the cords and cables usually envisioned when planning the design of buildings requiring power.

HOW DOES WIRELESS CHARGING CHANGE POWER IN THE WORKPLACE?

Imagine an office setting that is no longer tethered to a 6ft cable. Now imagine a workplace scenario where smartphones can be left sitting out on pads and in troughs to charge. The future is here – and keeping up with this technology as it advances will be critical in not only improving the way people interact with your designs but also with how people interact with their devices and (by proxy) their passions.

With such a demand for charging in order to stay connected, workspace design has been confined to specific layouts. And while technology and design have both evolved into beautiful, efficient, and creative solutions, limiting the need for cords even a small amount opens up the possibilities that much more. Wireless power has set designers free – so start speccing with this incredible technology today.

Learn more about how wireless power has changed and will continue to change the design of spaces in this blog.

Have you ever Googled “what is charging”? The funny thing is, it seems like such an obvious question until you see the answers.

THE BASICS OF CHARGING YOUR DEVICES

Your phone battery is essentially a tiny compartment of chemical energy. Every time you plug your phone in to charge, you’re basically the catalyst to reset a chemical reaction which inside the battery. For those of you who passed chemistry, charging is the transfer of electrons from the negative end of a battery to the positive end (and for those who liked chemistry, electrons passing from the negative anode to the cathode).

Most smartphone or smart device technology now includes a Lithium-ion battery. Charging works the same way with these batteries, despite slightly modified components within the battery. But we won’t get into the details.

HOW AMPERAGE, VOLTAGE, AND WATTAGE WORK TOGETHER WHEN CHARGING

Amperage is the strength of an electric current often used to measure charging. In fact, amperage is the difference between a lightning quick full charge and an all-day trickle. Amperage is the defining factor of how quickly your device will charge.

Voltage, on the other hand, is the unit of current. Interestingly enough, it is actually a function of pressure – and in this case referencing the chemical reaction that creates charge. In simpler terms (kind of), voltage is equal to the pressure that pushes electrons through their conductive loop (or from the anode to the cathode).

Wattage, on the other hand, is the rate at which energy is either created or spent. Watts represent energy per unit of time. As an example we’ve all run into, when buying light bulbs, a 100W light bulb means that the light bulb will last for 100 Watt hours.

These three concepts tie together in this formula defining charge:

Watts = Amps x Volts

So, for example, a phone charger delivering 5 Watts = 5 Volts x 1000 mA.

According to this in-depth article from Wired:

“For example, consider these charging scenarios for the Retina iPad mini. You could use a Lightning connector plugged into a computer (via USB), an iPhone charger connected to a wall socket, or an iPad charger connected to a wall socket. A PC USB charger delivers 2.5 Watts of power (5 volts at 500 mA). An iPhone charger delivers 5 Watts (5 volts at 1000 mA). A Retina iPad mini charger delivers 10 watts (5.1 volts at 2100 mA).

“While all of these will charge your iPad, using the USB connected to a PC will charge your Retina mini four times slower than if you used the iPad charger it came with. Conversely, if you use a tablet charger for your smartphone, it’d charge up faster than normal (Note: Some devices like the iPhone will only draw up to 1A of current no matter the charger). If you play mix-and-match with these types of chargers like this, don’t worry – you’re not going to blow up your phone or anything crazy like that. And the myth that charging your device at a faster rate will reduce the life of your device’s battery is false. For some older devices, the higher specced charger just won’t work at all, while newer devices will just charge faster.

“Ultimately, it’s really the amperage that determines how fast a charger will supply power to your device. If you want quicker charging, look for a wall or car charger that delivers 2100 mA of current at 5 volts (or whatever voltage the device you’re trying to charge is specced at).”

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND RECOMMENDED WATTAGE, AMPERAGE, AND VOLTAGE WHEN CHARGING?

The age-old question: how fast of a charger is too fast? As you’ve noticed, the larger the brick, the quicker the charge.

Larger bricks accommodate for larger chemical reactions and pressurization – charging phone batteries even quicker. Naturally, an iPad requires more reaction to charge. Accordingly, an iPad charger will charge your iPhone quicker whereas an iPhone charger could equate to a trickle charge for your iPad.

The best way to know that you are protecting your devices and charging properly is to check their tags or manuals. If you don’t have either handy, a quick Google search will keep you on the right track.

But to reiterate the point from Wired’s article, it’s a myth that you will reduce phone battery life or blow up your phone by charging at a higher wattage than its standard charger offers. Newer, higher wattage chargers simply speed up the charging process.

When designing a space with electrical outlets, it’s always important to assess ways to improve the safety of the space. Whether you are designing a brand new start-up facility or even if you are just remodeling your own kitchen at home, it is imperative to arm yourself with safety knowledge.

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a unique device developed for just that reason. GFCI shuts off an electrical circuit if it detects that the current is flowing through an unintended path. And in spaces with water and people for example, this device can be life-saving.

3 BENEFITS OF GFCI OUTLETS IN YOUR DESIGN

Reduces Chances of Human Injury

 

Electric shocks can cause a lot of harm to a person. With possible injuries ranging from severe burns to heart problems, GFCI truly can be a life-saving preventative measure taken.

Electric shocks can cause a lot of harm to a person. With possible injuries ranging from severe burns to heart problems, GFCI truly can be a life-saving preventative measure taken.

 

 

Prevents Some Instances of Fires

 

Electrical fires can be caused by a number of accidents, including when a live wire comes into contact with a metal conduit. Electrical fires are devastating and can burn down entire buildings. Implementing GFCI outlets into your design may help prevent such accidents.

 

 

Required By Code in Certain Places

 

The National Electrical Code (NEC) is continuously updating to ensure the safety of people in spaces where electricity applies as our lives continue to shift.

GFCI OUTLET REQUIREMENTS IN THE NEC

The NEC divides its requirements for GFCI outlets between commercial buildings and dwellings as follows:

NEC Requirements for GFCI Outlets in Commercial and Industrial Buildings

Aimed at preventing water from tampering with outlets, these particular outlets in these particular rooms must always be GFCI protected in commercial and industrial buildings.

The total list of spaces that must have GFCI protection on electrical outlets is crazy long and changes as new revisions are released. For example, the 2017 revision includes; bathrooms, kitchens, rooftops, outdoor outlets, outlets within 6 feet of any type of sink, all indoor wet locations, locker rooms with shower facilities, garage service bays and boat hoists.

In regards to NEC standards, check with your local authorities. Not all states and municipalities adopt the standards as soon as they are released, and some may make modifications. Check out our ChicagoSan Francisco and other blogs for further clarifications.

NEC Requirements for GFCI Outlets in Dwellings

In residential buildings, the NEC has slightly different rules surrounding GFCI outlets. And this is critical knowledge for any furniture designer, interior designer, or home remodeling contractor. Make sure you know which outlets and rooms are required to be protected for any upcoming DIY home projects you may have in mind as well!

All of the following spaces require protection with GFCI outlets for all 15A and 20A, 125V outlets:

  • Residential bathrooms
  • Garages, unfinished basements, or any shed used for storage or as a workspace
  • Outdoor outlets
  • Kitchens and wet bars
  • Outlets located within 6 feet of any sink
  • Boathouses
  • Bathtubs and shower stalls
  • Laundry areas

One last caveat: there are some very exact exceptions to some of these “requirements,” but they are very limited and when dealing with the safety inspections. It’s always best to err on the side of being too safe than the opposite.

If you’ve been browsing this blog (or other helpful resources around electrical components and products), then you’ve probably come into contact with the phrases “UL Listed” and “UL Recognized.” But what do they mean? And which one is more important?

But first of all, what is “UL?”

UNDERWRITERS LABORATORIES STANDARDS AND TESTING

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is a global company that focuses on ensuring safety and standards for all design, production, and marketing. As innovation of technology (and accordingly design and production) sweeps the world, UL is invested in protecting the safety of the users, with the primary focus of North America (cULus).

According to UL, they “connect people to safer, more secure, more sustainable products, services, experiences and environments” by developing and disseminating testing for viable products.

A well-known example of UL testing and standards are fire resistant fabrics that are commonly specified for vertical applications – such as drapery or furniture panels. While the fire-resistant fabric is not law, it is so commonplace among designers that it is essentially expected.

It is also particularly important for electrical components such as those involved in power and data units in commercial, industrial, and residential buildings to be UL tested. But what do UL Listed and UL Recognized mean?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “UL LISTED?”

UL Listed means that samples of the specific product or component have been tested and found to safely meet at a minimum all applicable UL standards. Essentially, the specific product on its own is a UL Listed product.

For example, a UL Listed power unit has passed all UL testing in order to become listed. This product can be used on its own.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “UL RECOGNIZED?”

In some cases the power unit itself may only be able to be UL Recognized. In those cases, the whole desk, with integrated power (the system) will need to be tested to become a UL Listed system.

In simpler terms, when the power unit is UL Recognized, the desk it is incorporated into is will need to be UL Listed as an entire system. Certain installation standards must be met that are outside of the confines of the UL’s actual labs, such as the setting and other elements that can’t be control elements in testing.

WHY UL IS IMPORTANT TO DESIGNERS AND MARKETERS

Today, most people expect a level of corporate responsibility and sustainability. UL holds corporations to a higher standard by pushing the envelope for safety. Any time you specify a product without a UL mark, you are increasing the risk of injuring the end user.

A UL mark of any kind denotes a higher standard for your product. To people who understand UL’s importance, it means your company cares. And in an age when we all are caring more and more about the world around us, this can only be beneficial.

UL ensures that products are made to be safe, are made with safer components and in safer conditions. For designers, this means showcasing your firm’s corporate responsibility. And for marketers, this means boasting about your company’s care for its people and for people at large.

San Francisco Electrical Codes, as you can expect, follow the California Title 24 rule as well. By following California’s electrical codes, San Francisco in turn follows the NEC.

There is one major difference in the city’s electrical codes from the state level.

As stated in Article 356 of the San Francisco Electrical Codes, “LFNC [Liquid Flexible Nonmetallic Conduit] shall be permitted to be used in exposed or concealed locations for systems not exceeding 50 volts.” In simpler terms, this means that the power infeed to a modular power distribution system must be inside metallic sealtite.

While that is limiting in some respects, the up side is that it’s the only unusual requirement.

In San Francisco, corded power and data units are acceptable to be plugged into a modular power distribution system, as long as the power infeed to the modular power distribution system is metallic sealtite. This allows for easier design and construction of modular furniture and systems with electrical capabilities.

Corded units also add the benefit of being easily transported. For example, in situations such as classrooms where furniture may be moved from year to year (or even on a class-dependent basis), it’s far easier to unplug and rearrange furniture as necessary. Your only limitation is the length of the cord rather than the original construction of the room and outlet dependency.

This also makes open workspaces much easier to design and plan around. As an office grows and new workstations are added, it’s simpler to add corded power and data accessories rather than to plan around hardwiring layouts.

Largely because they’re easier to design and configure spaces around, corded power and data accessories are also far simpler to find. So, not only are they easier to use in design, but they are also easier to find in your exact preference.

In San Francisco, the sky’s the limit… As long as you’re following all other California Electrical Codes, including the lighting and receptacle codes as detailed in this blog.

Lighting accounts for roughly 18% of energy consumption in non-residential buildings across the country. Following heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, this is the second-highest contender in energy use in commercial buildings.

In states like California with dense populations and concentrated commercial and industrial areas, that number reaches roughly 30% – which is staggering. (Reading that makes me feel like the old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn, only I’m yelling to turn off your lights.) But the reason isn’t entirely due to population: it is also because California is more temperate so citizens don’t use as much energy on HVAC.

When tasked with discovering a solution in California, rather than compromising the power or quality of lighting, the state decided to implement and enforce Title 24 Part 6 in its California Code of Regulations in 1978.

In an effort to reduce energy use across the state, these continually updated standards became known as the Building Energy Efficiency Standards. Title 24 Part 6, specifically, contained all of the codes which addressed improving energy efficiency in lighting systems and HVAC systems.

These standards, updated on a 3-year cycle, effectively ushered in a new era of lighting in California non-residential buildings. As of January 1, 2017, California enforced the 2016 sustainability standards.

DISSECTING CALIFORNIA TITLE 24 PART 6

Put simply, Title 24 Part 6 requires that all lighting systems and HVAC systems in non-residential buildings (with limited exceptions) require switching or control capabilities to turn off when unoccupied. This is accomplished by either an occupancy sensor or a scheduled controller with an override capability

The same is true for electrical outlets.

The focus of Title 24 Part 6 is to reduce energy usage by limiting HVAC usage, light usage, and other device usages when space is not occupied.

And if you’re reading this and telling yourself that this doesn’t affect you, here’s why you’re wrong.

HOW DOES TITLE 24 PART 6 AFFECT INTERIOR DESIGNER AND FURNITURE MANUFACTURING?

When designing spaces, whether conference rooms, office spaces, university lecture halls, hotel rooms, or any other space designed around humans, lighting plays an imperative role. You could be designing for a romantic mood, a state of flow for focused work, or any other tone – but you define that tone with lighting.

So what does Title 24 Part 6 have to do with your designs and spaces?

 

Office Settings:

A controlled outlet must be located within 6 ft of any uncontrolled outlets.

 

Hospitality Guest Rooms:

A minimum of half of the outlets in each hotel or motel guest room must be a controlled receptacle.

 

Open Office Spaces:

A controlled outlet is required in each workstation in addition to the rules for Office Settings.

 

Exceptions:

Only clocks installed higher than 6 ft, IT equipment such as printers, and refrigerator or water dispenser outlets do not require controlled circuits in non-residential buildings.

Even as a non-designer or non-engineer working for a design-related company, it is crucial to understand California Title 24 Part 6. Knowing your audience when planning upcoming product launches, marketing material, website content, and product innovation requires that you not only speak the language but that you understand the language. So immerse yourself.

And it’s worth mentioning that California is just the beginning. While these rules may seem remote to you as a designer in Massachusetts, Michigan, or Florida, your state could be next.