A New Integration Opportunity Right Under Your Feet… the Floor?
The turnkey PowerFlor raised flooring system includes a cable management system and installs predictably for $15 to $40 per square foot.
Jason Knott · February 19, 2013
Over the years CE pros have branched into multiple product categories in an effort to provide a complete turnkey solution for their clients. Products and systems like lighting control, motorized shade control, seating, furniture, thermostats and central vacuum were once far afield from integrators’ core business. Today, they are important subsystems.
The same can be said for installation disciplines like line voltage electrical work, drywall repair and even painting. Some integrators do it all themselves or act as a general contractor for partner subcontractors. In the end, it’s all about being in control of the client. You want to be the contractor who the customer picks up the phone and calls when they need an upgrade or want a new home theater or great room chair, drape or shade, LED light bulb, etc.
But possibly the last part of a home or office on the mind of an integrator is the floor. Yes… the floor. Sure, some dealers dabble in radiant heat wood floors, but there is a new business model developing around selling and installing turnkey raised flooring for the purposes of running wire and cable. Every dealer has probably done a commercial installation in a computer room or other IT environment with a raised floor, usually in an order building.
Typically, the end user or general contractor hires a contractor to come in and install the floor with some consideration for exactly where the electronics will be placed, but never exactly. Aesthetically they can be unattractive, creak and move when you walk on them, and have a bouncy trampoline effect. Also, despite the best efforts of end user during the design phase, the floors often still end up amassing a tangle of wires and power strips on top of the raised floor.
$15 to $40/Square Foot Depending on Variables
Jim Norton, president of Custom Products & Services Inc. in Inver Grove, Minn., is a believer. His company installs the PowerFlor Cable Management System, a turnkey cable management and flooring system that has several unique features:
- It does not require plenum rated cables or fire detection underfloor because, unlike most raised floors that are 6 inches high, it is only 2 inches.
- Its modularity allows for individual tiles with outlet grommets to be moved or replaced. Any type of jack or plug can be accommodated
- It is not connected to the walls or the floor. It “floats” with each piece being a standalone piece of the puzzle.
“Installation is quite easy and fast for the trained installer,” says Norton. The other benefit is the predictability of the cost. Cost is purely based on the size of the room, the number of data and power outlets, the number of ramps, and the type of carpet.
Norton recently installed a 950-square-foot classroom at the University of Iowa with 26 power outlets, 33 data outlets, two ramps and premium carpet for $38,000 ($40/square foot). About $5,000 of the cost was freight. A three-man crew did the job in three days. A room with no freight and no outlets goes for $15 to $18/square foot.
“The pricing we provide is based upon a truly “turnkey” process. From the initial design and shop drawings through the final installation, we typically handle it all with little or no involvement from other trades. The only involvement the outside trades will have with PowerFlor involves the electrician (to wire the main circuit drops into the room, stubbed out through the wall near the floor level) and the IT guys who will also stub out the IT lines through the wall at floor level,” says Norton.
“With virtually every other raised floor style system, multiple trades and vendors are required throughout the process; therefore, it’s nearly impossible for the customer to get an up-front, firm cost until the project is totally completed,” continues Norton. “The sad truth is that most companies who have had any experience with contractors are well aware of cost overruns, and they simply accept that as part of the process. We have tried to break the mold as it relates to this issue. For example, if we have quoted the customer a two-day installation, but it takes us two-and-a-half or three days, we absorb the extra labor costs, assuming the extra time was not due to delays directly related to something the customer did to slow down the installation.”
Plenum-rated Cable Included; Home Theater Application?
The low 2-inch rise makes the floor also potentially useful in a basement level dedicated theater, especially if the integrator plans to construct risers or a floating floor anyway. The pre-manufactured tiles are made of polycarbonate plastic—the same material used in bulletproof glass—and covered with carpet. There is no PVC content, says Ed Franz, president of PowerFlor.
The system also comes with Tyco AMP Netconnect Ethernet cable wrapped in Greenfield sleeving. The cable is fire rated, even though it is not required. Of course, integrators can select their own cable brands if they desire.
Because the system is turnkey, integrators can eliminate multiple other contractors for their commercial clients. No electrician is required to locate power outlets prior to the floor being laid, or to trim out the the outlets post-installation. Also, there is no separate carpet contractor necessary.
“When fairly compared with what it costs for carpet, electrical and labor for other systems, our system is less money, faster to install and will save money later if the end user needs to make changes to the room layout,” notes Franz.
PowerFlor has a team of authorized installers across the nation that can do an installation in two days typically. Of course, integrators can choose to do the installation themselves also. In some cases, local labor laws have required the end user to use particular union contractors. In all cases, PowerFlor sends a company representative to assist in the installation.
“What will take an untrained crew two weeks will take us only two days,” notes Norton.
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at [email protected]
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