Earlier this year, I helped build a mini-mart. In a recent visit, the owner wondered whether a particular cooler was 'paying its' way.' That is, was he even making enough from it to cover the electric bill?
Well, I had purchased (from this site) the "Kill-A-Watt" meter. This $30 (or so) gizmo allows you to measure power consumption over time. Naturally, the longer the test period, the better the numbers are. Operation could not be easier; plug in the Kill-A-Watt, then plug the appliance into the Kill-A-Watt.
After I had measured the power used (I tested for an hour) in the cooler he was curious about, I decided to perform similar measurements on other coolers, just for comparison.
As luck would have it, the ice cream freezer was using 15 times the power of the first (soda) cooler. Even allowing for differences in refrigeration needs, that seemed wrong. A closer check of the freezer revealed it was leaking considerable current to ground. I suspect the compressor is going bad, and we made arrangements with the vendor to fix the problem. It was probably the first time this vendor has had the problem discovered before losing $1000 worth of merchandise.
No ... for the business part ....
It occurs to me that I might be able to offer this (appliance metering) as part of a general electrical survey for new customers. While I expect such a service would be a "loss leader," it might be a good way to develop future business. It would also give you some real numbers to use for proposing lighting upgrades, etc.
The problem with doing business with people who want to save money is ... they always want to save money. Everyone will want a free loss leader. You will be busy with that end of the business. Then, you will need to charge more your electrical work and they will go to your cheaper competition.
It would be better to do fewer surveys, for a reasonable price. Then, your customers will be paying customers and you won't need to recoup your loss leaders on your hourly rate.
The electrical survey is a good idea. I've done similar forms of it as power factor correction and thermal imaging. It's tough to sell because the results are hard to prove, especially if you don't find any problems.
Do you have thoughts about how to do a full survey?
The "surveys" I've done to this point have been more along the lines of being 'inspections.' For example, an established customer will want to move to a new location, and wants to know what will be needed before they move. They've been done at full rate, and there's usually some other work that develops.
I find myself almost always doing some sort of survey 'on the sly' on the TI (tenant improvement) jobs I do. Even if I'm just asked to, say, add a receptacle .... by the time the project is done, I've wound up tracing most of the circuits, etc., anyway. Doing it up front, at the start, has saved me a lot of grief. The notes also come in handy on future calls to that property.
On another forum, I had an exchange with a factory operator who was concerned about his light bill. I suggested that he first determine just which circuits were using all the power; perhaps it wasn't his lights. He didn't want to hear that - but two months later admitted that wherever his power was going, it wasn't into the lighting. Only now is he beginning to get systematic about it.
I'd like to be able to document the electrical of a building .... identify every circuit, every receptacle, and also know what uses how much power. For my regular customers, over the course of time, I've already done a lot of this.
Yet, in a few months my partner will be retiring, and I will have to go solo. The direction of the firm will change a bit; some customers will stay, others I'll cut loose. To counter these losses, I'll need to find additional customers. That's what led to my starting this thread: the idea that such a survey would help start a relationship. Something easy, low risk - and giving me an opportunity to show what I can offer them.
By 'loss leader' I did not mean 'free.' I did mean charging a lot less for it than my actual 'working' shop rate. I think we've been over the 'free estimate' topic a few times! Nor do I intend something 'shotgun;' that is, sent out in every direction. Rather, I'd like to aim it at particular parties whom I've already vetted, and think I might have a reasonable chance of being useful.
I guess I see the "survey" as the electrician's version of what the infantry calls 'reconnaissance.' As the army says, time spent on recon is seldom wasted!
Your timing for this service is good, with the cost of energy now on everyone's mind. I think the challenge is to produce a report that the customer views as a product, in itself.
My examples are thermal imaging, which produces a really nice report. The pictures are understandable by everyone and the hot spots are dramatic. Compare that to power factor correction, which can only be sold to an accountant.
So, I wonder what the survey involves. Ammeter or wattmeter reading? How much detail? How can a report be packaged so the customer understands it?
[quote] How can a report be packaged so the customer understands it?
I'm imagining a front sheet like a panel schedule with the panel shown graphically and the various branch circuits extended to balloons with the basic info: circuit #'s, appliance, etc.
On successive sheets each circuit is described in greater detail with rating plate type date or the type & number of troffers, (whatever). Then you have the planned/installed load amps and typical (or measured) actual amps... plug in your a KwH rate and THEIR useage patterns showing $/min and $/day.
This could be very useful to wonks.
Design-Build isn't supposed to mean design *as* you build.
The "Kill-A-Watt" actually displays kwh ... think of it as a poor mans' electric meter. I just take that figure, multiply by what the PoCo charges, and I have a $$$ figure. Multiply by the appropriate number of hours, and you have the monthly cost.
So, for example ... in yesterdays' example, most of the coolers cost the guy $14/mo to operate. The troublesome one came out as $75/ month. This, natura;;y, is enough of a difference to make you look at that cooler closer ...
It sounds like the perfect application for a data collecting laptop. If you could use a bunch of CT type probes you could survey a whole panel (or at least as many circuits as you have probes for) at one time. Hook this thing up, collect real time data for a while and print out a nice report of exactly where the power is going. In a future of $150 oil that might be a business in itself.
Good thread John, When I was with the PoCo here, I used to do "power analysis" work, which is to a degree what you have in mind. If you want to do this sort of thing with any authenticity (not to be-little the Kill-A Watt at all), you need to get a decent data logger that will interface with a laptop computer and give you real information.
The data logger I use will connect to any circuit at it's origin at the panel, it gives voltage and current at any given time during it's connection.
I have to also agree with the con-census here, people doing power analysis work are going to be in bigger demand over the next decade or so, this will not be a loss leader, especially if you get into some of the commercial buildings and factories that seem to waste a lot of power un-necessarily, your work will be paid for by lower power accounts, in a time where energy costs are going through the roof.
Doing this sort of thing at a residential level would however IMO be a waste of your time and money, think free estimate.
We've got several small portable data loggers that we use to monitor temperature, humidity, and co2. Ours are made by a company called hobo. I know the company also makes current data loggers. I believe they have a 15 channel data logger in the catalog. The advantage is you don't have to have a laptop tied up while you're doing the data collection and the software can calculate the "area under the curve" and give you total energy usage over many days or weeks.
You put the equipment in place and return later to dump the data onto your laptop where the report is generated.