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Keeping up with the different electrical codes across states (and even cities) isn’t easy. And if you’re not an electrical engineer, making sense of what’s actually allowed can get pretty tedious and confusing. So let us break it down simply in this video:

WHAT’S THE CODE IN CHICAGO?

Well, it’s not what it was just a few years ago. Chicago’s electrical codes previously allowed only hardwired power, but things have changed a bit—for the better, we think—and you now have more options.

But because adding power and data units into Chicago spaces is still tricky business, it’s important to remember the following rules:

CHICAGO DOES NOT ALLOW THE USE OF MODULAR POWER SYSTEMS AT ALL

Think cubicles and other panel systems arrangements. When modular systems products are used in any Chicago design, a licensed electrician is required to install hardwire electrical components into each furniture partition channel. Of course, hiring a licensed electrician may mean additional costs, but safety is the driver here. And it’s the law.

UL Listed outlet boxes are available for use in office furnishings that slide onto mounting brackets. But again, these can only be installed by a licensed electrician.

So, how can you move power away from the walls in Chicago? There are a few ways, actually…

CORDED AND DAISY CHAIN-STYLE UNITS MAY NOW BE USED ON FREESTANDING FURNISHINGS

If the tables in your room layout are height adjustable—with a hand crank, for example—then you may use a corded Furniture Power Distribution Unit or FPDU. (Specifically UL962A.) Actually, they’re allowed on any listed freestanding furnishings that can be repositioned by users—such as training tables, wheeled carts, etc. The maximum cord length on a FPDU is 9 feet, and you must have a circuit breaker when using 4 or more simplexes.

Corded accessories also include Interlink and IQ power centers, as shown below. They’re a great way to power multiple workstations away from a wall and stay compliant in Chicago.

FPDU’s actually allow up to (8) 15 AMP simplexes—and as many charging USB’s as you’d like. But again, don’t forget the circuit breakers.

ALL OTHER POWER AND DATA ACCESSORIES MUST BE HARDWIRED

In all other instances of room design and planning—beyond the freestanding furnishings mentioned above—power and data accessories must be hardwired.

WHY DOES THE ELECTRICAL CODE MATTER TO DESIGNERS AND MARKETERS?

Electrical codes aren’t simply important to engineers, architects, and interior designers. These professions may be the most affected because of the impact on room layout and design, but fields like marketing should also be in on the rules.

Consider, for example, that you’re running an ad campaign targeting Chicago interior designers for a new product launch. It’s crucial that any marketing collateral, as it relates to power, is both accurate and helpful.

In general, understanding electrical codes in the city of Chicago is a key part of delivering comprehensive work space solutions there. And in a time when customers can choose from furniture suppliers around the globe, this knowledge will help set you apart as a stronger resource.

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) has quickly become an expected technology included in any new tech hardware. From smartphone chargers to flash drives and printer to computer connections. But what is the difference between the two most common USB versions, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB 4.0?

5 KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN USB 2.0, USB 3.0 AND BEYOND

USB 2.0 was released in 2000 whereas USB 3.0 was released in 2008. In those 8 years, 5 major innovations improved the usage of USB 3.0. Coming in 2019, USB 4.0 will be released to address higher data transfer rates.

1 Key Difference

 

Transfer Rates (Speed)

 

USB 2.0 has a transfer rate of 480 Megabits per second (Mbps). Its counterpart USB 3.0 has a transfer rate of 10x that, offering a transfer rate of 5 Gigabits per second (Gbps). More recently, USB 3.2 offers a transfer rate of 20 Gbps and in 2019, we can expect the ratification of USB 4.0, which will offer 40 Gbps.  These transfer rates allow quicker uploads of data.

 

2 Key Difference

Physical Changes

 

In order to offer an increase in the transfer rate, the USB Type-A/B connector for USB 3.0 and higher requires more pins than USB 2.0, increasing from 4 to 10. To accommodate the physical updates, USB 3.0 required the design of new USB Type-A/B connectors.  Additionally, the arrival of the USB Type-C connector has 24 pins and allows for inverted insertion.

 

3 Key Differences

Bandwidth

 

USB 2.0 offers one-way communication between devices. This means that it can only handle data transfers one direction at a time. With USB 3.0, they contain two unidirectional paths, allowing them to maintain transfers in both directions at the same time. While the USB-C connector adds two more data paths for a total of four.  These are key innovations for improving data transfer load times and improving efficiency.

 

4 Key Differences

Power

 

While simultaneously sending data, USB 2.0 provides a maximum of 500 mA when charging devices. USB 3.0 offers up to 900 mA – cutting charging time nearly in half while sending data.  The categorizing of USB power has evolved and new standards have been released for power delivery.  Depending on the connector and wire type, up to 5A at 20V or 100W can be delivered to a device needing a charge. 

 

5 Key Differences

Compatibility

 

The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) maintains that their revisions are always backward compatible.  This means that USB 2.0 devices are compatible with USB 3.0 – though only at USB 2.0 speeds.

If you are looking to learn even more about the USB versions available, be sure to check out our USB 101 blog.

 

The Universal Serial Bus was originally developed to be an industry standard connection between communications, computers, and other devices. Dubbed the USB, this technology quickly replaced previous standards that hadn’t been regulated across devices. It became the gold standard, the Lingua Franca of the technological boom.

5 MAIN USB VERSIONS AND WHAT THEY DELIVER

There are dozens of different types of USBs, from 1.0-4.0, A-C, and even minis – and it’s tough to keep track of which ones perform what.

USB 1.0

USB 1.0 Capabilities

 

USB 1.0 was originally designed in an effort to streamline connection between all devices. After arriving on the scene in 1996, USB 1.0 became the go-to standard between brands, technologies, and devices.

 

USB 2.0

USB 2.0 Capabilities

 

After USB 1.0 took off in popularity, USB 2.0 set out to increase speed for connecting, charging, and sharing. USB 2.0 went through several iterations over a multiple year span, becoming a critical innovation from 2000-2010 that ushered in a new age of expected speed and accuracy for syncing devices, charging rapidly, and sharing downloads and uploads seamlessly.

 

USB 3.0

USB 3.0 Capabilities

 

USB 3.0 was developed basically to shame anyone who thought 2.0 was truly an upgrade (kind of). It introduced the USB “SuperSpeed” capability, as well as improving data transfer and charging speeds. USB 3.0 ports are denoted with a blue color code (or the super sweet SS initials).

 

4 Key Differences

USB 4.0 Capabilities

 

USB 4.0 was developed to improve upon data transfer rates up to 40 Gbps and interoperability with Thunderbolt.  This capability will available on the USB-C connector and cable.

 

5 Key Differences

USB Type-C Capabilities

 

 

USB Type-C is backwards compatible with USB 3.0 and 2.0, eliminating the compatibility with Type-A ports. Almost any device that supports USB 3.1 use USB-C port. Both ends of the USB cable are the same which allows a device to be connected with reversible plug orientation, so you never have to worry about plugging in your device the wrong way. USB Type-C delivers more power which gives the opportunity to charge larger electronics, such as laptops.  

 

WHY DO THE DIFFERENT USB VERSIONS MATTER?

Each USB version delivers different speeds and works with different ports.

It’s important to understand which USB versions work best on which power levels. In order to incorporate USB ports into designing spaces and furniture, it is critical to know what USB version will fit most efficiently. Whether you are looking for a fast charge to keep people moving along, a trickle charge hoping they’ll stick around longer, or the ability to sync and share between other devices like printers and computers, you’ll need to know each capacity.

An easy fallback is to assume that USB 2.0 ports will work well when incorporating into furniture. While USB 3.0 is even better, USB 2.0 is still internationally the most compatible option. In theory, USB 3.0 was developed to work on 2.0 ports and for 3.0 ports to also accept 2.0 charging and data transfers.

As always, the supplier of your tech will know best – don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, they’re there to help you succeed.

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).

 

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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 Coupling

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.

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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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?

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Office Settings:

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

Dissecting California Title 24 Part 6 - 2

Hospitality Guest Rooms:

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

Dissecting California Title 24 Part 6 - 3

Open Office Spaces:

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

Dissecting California Title 24 Part 6 - 4

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.