Doing It Yourself
by Edouard A. Szajna

Part 4 - Checking the Building's Systems

"Good design can't fix broken business models" - Jeffrey Veen

So far, our DIY series, you've weighed your experience and skill set to see if you could take on the job, measured the space and checked it's utilities. Now, in one of the last steps of Ed's property inspection articles, he guides you thorough inspecting the building’s basic structure.

Once you have measured the space and noted on your rough sketch the location of all the utilities and where they come into your space, it's time to inspect them up close to determine their capacities.

circuit braeker photoStarting with electrical service, check that the space has at least one main electrical box (it's called a main disconnect) and, depending on the size of the space, may have two or more supplemental boxes. However, we are going to assume that the space you are inspecting has one panel as the rules really don't change with more.

First, if the panel looks un-kept, or the cover is not on, or you see
exposed or loose wires dangling about, by all means don’t touch it!

The smart thing to do at this time is have the landlord get a Licensed Electrician in to evaluate the panel and the wiring throughout the entire space. As the bumper sticker says “Electricity is not a hobby”.

The electrical panel should look in good order, with a well-fitting cover, all circuit breakers labeled and their respective loads identified. Depending on the type of business you are starting and equipment being installed, you should be able to determine by looking at the box if the current load to the space is going to be adequate.

If you have any concerns, you should always consult with a licensed electrician about the equipment manufacturer's specifications. Bear in mind that upgrading the electrical service can be a very costly line item.

Make note of any possible required upgrades and try and negotiate with the Landlord to have them do it (because it could be a Capital Improvement to the building, they may actually get the tax benefit from it anyway).

When designing your layout, don't forget to indicate on you plan where you will need electrical outlets (and don't forget computer cabling, unless you plan on going wireless).

Finally, take a few photographs of the box and include close ups of any and all labels or conditions that might concern you.

Plumbing: Confirm the water line size to your space. Typical sizes range from ½” copper to 1” or 2” copper tubing, measured from the outside of the pipe. Naturally, the bigger the pipe's diameter, the more water can usually flow through it to things like dishwashing stations, post-mix drink fountains, sinks, etc.

Your water line should always adequately accommodate your business's needs. If you are considering a freestanding building, the water line should have an RPZ (reduced pressure zone) device attached to it or, at a minimum, a double check valve.

The purpose of an RPZ or double check is to ensure that in the event there is a reduction in the water pressure to your building, the water does not flow back into the main water supply and possibly contaminate it.

An inline space in a shopping center or multi-tenant building usually has water lines to each space that come off of a main line somewhere within the building and that should have an RPZ installed on it.

If you have a “dry” use (a clothing store, an office, nail salon, etc.) and no public restrooms, your water demands should be met with a ½” to ¾” line. If you have a “wet” use requiring numerous sinks, washing stations and patrons who will utilize restrooms, the water demand will naturally be higher and a 1” or 1 ½” line (or larger) may be required.

As with the electrical service, if an upgrade is needed, try to get the Landlord to do it or include it in your Tenant Improvement Allowance.  

NEXT in Doing It Yourself

Fire Sprinklers and HVAC systems
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