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Reliable power – switching on from off [part 2]

restaurant power

Power loss protection (part 2)

inclement weatherIn part 1 we discussed the straightforward method of closing out tickets, sending the credit card batch, and closing early as a method do handle power outages in your restaurant. In part 2 we will discuss a stepped up approach to power management and a way for your restaurant to be the “go-to” place whenever inclement weather hits.

Can losses be avoided

With some forward thinking and a few pieces of electrical equipment a power outage doesn’t have to stop your restaurant in its tracks. Making a few electrical changes to your restaurant could help it be the top revenue producer in the area during a power outage, and the “go-to” place whenever the weather is threatening. Inclement weather may become your best friend!

You need to become the power company.

power 2Well, maybe not the company itself, but you need to get into the power generation business with a small exterior generator. The size of the generator will be dependent upon your electrical load in the restaurant. We will talk about load shortly. There are many different styles of generators with differing uses.

A natural gas generator typically is a smaller generator in terms of power generation output, but has the advantage of not needing fuel storage tanks.

A gasoline generator can handle larger power generation needs, but the engine goes out of tune more frequently, and the gasoline can lose it’s octane rating over time in a storage tank.

A diesel generator is the most reliable generator type and can provide sufficient power generation to meet the needs of your restaurant. With a belly tank (a fuel tank that the generator sits on top of) a diesel generator has a surprisingly small footprint outside the restaurant. The only drawback is the fuel heater that keeps the diesel fuel flowing. For medium sized restaurants I would lean towards a diesel generator. – but that’s just me. Here is what a restaurant diesel generator looks like:


Don’t let the thought of diesel fuel costs push you away from this solution. Yes, diesel fuel is more expensive, but you go a lot further with diesel than with Gasoline. I used to do a full load test at a data center every week with a diesel generator that had a 300 gallon belly tank, and I only had to top the tank off once per quarter (about 50 gallons of fuel). That diesel generator was easy on the fuel.  Diesel generators are also easier to keep running, and that means lower maintenance costs.

What is required for installation of the generator

Commercial generators are self-contained and best installed at ground level. The company that you purchase the generator from will likely pour a small concrete pad for generator stability, and set any conduit that is necessary for your installation. The generator will come on a flatbed truck and be lifted onto the concrete pad and bolted down. To run the wires between the generator and the static switch will take the better part of a day. This is because the wires are thick and hard to work with. Once all is hooked up, the local electrical inspector will come out for an inspection and that’s it.

How do I connect the generator to the building?

electrician2The simple answer is your electrician will perform all electrical hookup to your building. When working with high current systems, it is a good investment to have a commercial electrician perform all the connections necessary for installation of your generator.

The process of connecting the generator into the building power systems is accomplished through what is called a static switch. This device is just what it sounds like – a switch. It switches between power sources. Power either comes from the street (your power company) or the generator you’re installing. The job of the static switch is to make the determination that street power is lost and then to start up the generator and switch to the generator for power. The static switch has a little circuit board that keeps track of the street power so that when street power returns the static switch will switch back to the street power and shut down the generator.

The advantage of all this is that you, the restauranteur or your manager on duty, will not have to intervene in the power outage process and go “turn on” the generator. There is a programmable delay of up to 10 seconds after street power is lost before the switch connects the building to the generator and the lights come back on. I used to set our generators to a three second delay, but you can set it longer. A static switch physically looks a metal cabinet with metal conduit entering and exiting from the sides.

To install the static switch takes a couple of days and to install the generator about a day. If you add some fluff time you are looking at a week to do the install and get it inspected.

Will I still need standby UPS’s if I have a generator installed

The answer is yes. The generator is started up when power fails. So, it takes a failure to start the generator. That failure is long enough for the POS,and network equipment to fail before good power from the generator is available. For those few moments between power failure, generator start, and static switch cut over to the generator, the little standby UPS’s will provide uninterrupted power to your equipment.   note: If you have a generator you don’t need to oversize your UPS systems. You can keep them small which means that they can be unobtrusive at each POS station.

New construction/remodeling or retrofitting an existing building

If you are fortunate enough to be building new, then the architect has already provided electrical plans incorporating a backup generator (that is if you asked them to). These plans detail the sizing and placement of the generator in proximity to the building. Architects are paid by you to think through all the building issues before you build. Yet, I have seen many drawings and subsequent generator placements that are next to impossible or dangerous to service. If you are placing the generator in a parking space add bollards around the generator to protect it.

Factoid: In reviewing your plans be certain to think of the repairman that will be servicing the generator. Make sure there is sufficient clearance around the generator for repairs to be made. Never have a roof spill water near the generator and never place the generator where snow plow banks will impede access. Remember a happy repairman is one that does good work in shorter periods of time.


Remodeling as opposed to new construction

architectI recommend you engage an architect. An architect is responsible for understanding the local electrical codes, and is on the hook to specify a correctly sized generator and switch for your needs. The architect will come out and perform a series of inspections to include an electrical inspection. A series of electrical drawings will then be generated along with a layout for the generator and associated panels. A load schedule will be included in your electrical drawings and it will contain all the electrical loads to support the specification of the generator. The electrical plans are what you will get approved by the local permit issuers/inspectors and subsequently pass by a commercial electrician for a quote.

If you are remodeling on your own or just retrofitting your restaurant with a generator then you will need to hire an electrician to give you a load schedule of the existing building sometimes it’s called an “as-is” set of electrical plans. I would recommend that you use a commercial electrician and not a residential electrician. That’s just experience talking – I’ve had my share of hiring the wrong guy for the job so, learn from my mistakes. It will cost you a little more, but it’s worth it. Take the ‘as-is’ drawing from the electrician and go shopping for a generator. Often a commercial electrician will already have relationships with generator sales offices.


Its all about load…

electrical loadWhen electrical engineers look at powering a restaurant they calculate what the electrical load is going to be when the restaurant is at full capacity and all the lights are on. To determine the load, the engineer is going to review the electrical distribution panel(s) feed breakers and then measure the actual current being distributed by the panel. The engineer will apply some rules of thumb and then provide a load specification by phase. This is the value, along with the number of phases(sometimes called legs), that the electrician will give to the generator supplier to quote the right sized generator for your restaurant.


What can I do to start the process

Depending of the severity of your remodeling you can start right away. If you are just refreshing the paint and doing minimal interior construction then the first steps are somewhat straightforward. The first step to take is to think about load. Look at the ceiling and wall lights you have in use. Start replacing the older incandescent bulbs for LED bulbs and fixtures.

This process should already be part of your plan to control costs. The reason you should be thinking about LED bulbs is that they use a fraction of the current an incandescent bulb uses and they provide the same if not brighter light.

When selecting LED replacement lights you need to focus on lumens and not watts. A lumen is a measure of light intensity and is common between LED and incandescent lights. Here is a helpful chart to understand how many lumens you are currently using and what an LED bulb equivalency would be.

incandescent watts LED watts lumens

40,        4-5,         450

60,        6-8,        800

75,        9-13,     1,100

100,   16-20,     1,600

150,   25-28,     1,600

A wattage comparative example might be a ceiling lighting plan that calls for 50 incandescent flood bulbs at 75 watts each. The total watts are 82,500 watts. The same number of ceiling lights with similar lumen characteristics that are LEDs would use 650 watts. The difference in heat is also impressive. The 50 incandescent lights generate approximately 4,250 btu’s of heat and LED’s generate 170 btu’s. So, you say so what? The restauranteur is paying for almost 2 tons of cooling for just lighting the floor with incandescent bulbs. Each bulb, it seems, is a small electric heater and when added together they turn out to be a not-so-small heater .

Replacing the light bulbs with LED’s could dramatically change the size of the generator necessary to power the restaurant. So start now and replace your lights. Remember that LEDs come in different color temperatures. An incandescent light has a color temperature of 3200k and is considered a warm light. Most restaurants use warm lighting. Also, bear in mind that you will need to replace those dimmers you use for atmosphere. The LED lights that are dimmable require an updated dimmer to control them.


Next steps – an action plan

Starting the process means putting an action plan together.  Take out the trusted pad of paper and start writing down ideas.  Begin with lighting changes to LED lighting.  Which lights will you change, and will you change any light locations.  You may decides to relocate a table or two and change lighting to accommodate the change.  Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to remodel the restaurant to make it more power efficient – reducing electrical loads.

Using the pad and a list of your ideas is the beginning of your action plan.  Once you have your ideas on a pad, engage an architect to discuss your ideas and get their input.  Architects are very creative people and they have been trained to help with creating plans for upgrades.  They have also been through this before and can give great suggestions on how you can save money and still achieve your goals.  If you don’t want to do all the changes on your pad at the same time, ask the architect to help you with developing a schedule that is in keeping with your timeline.

The bottom line is that the architect is key in developing the budget you will need to determine how much you can accomplish in what period of time.  Having a comprehensive action plan is the difference between successful upgrades and failures.


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