Office buildings focus on air quality, energy efficiency, electrical systems

Designing office buildings in a post-COVID world is a challenging task with engineering variables. Read about electrical, power and lighting systems

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer February 16, 2021


  • Elena Bollas, PE, Mechanical Engineer, Page, Austin, Texas
  • Timothy J. Hedrick, PE, Principal/Electrical Engineer, RTM Engineering Consultants, Schaumburg, Ill.
  • Dan Luzius, LEED AP, Principal, DLR Group, Seattle
  • Jon Silhol, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Mechanical Engineer, SmithGroup, Phoenix

What are some key differences in electrical, lighting and power systems you might incorporate in an office building, compared to other projects?

Timothy J. Hedrick: In an office building, automatic lighting and receptacle controls are more common than what you would see in other markets. Lighting design, light levels and controls are more focused on the office staff and how to improve their working environment and productivity. Certain controls are used to save energy, such as daylight harvesting with dimming and occupancy sensor zones based on square footage in an open office environment. Vacancy sensors are used in enclosed spaces, such as private offices and huddle/breakroom rooms to cut down on lights being used when rooms are not occupied. On the power side, its very common in an office building to have pre-wired office furniture. Providing power and/or data to these furniture systems can be done by poke-throughs, floor boxes or even a built-in floor trough wire duct system which is more common in office buildings than other markets.

How does your team work with the architect, owner and other project team members so the electrical/power systems are flexible and sustainable?

Timothy J. Hedrick: This type of coordination is typically provided during a kick-off meeting with the architect and owner at the beginning of a project. As an engineering consultant, we need to provide the architect and owner with design requirements based on code, including energy codes, during the schematic design portion of a project. Some of the larger scale office projects we have been involved in, includes a MEP schematic scope narrative before design development even starts. On the electrical side of this coordination, information usually involves lighting design, lighting controls, power usage needs, information technology/audiovisual requirements and fire alarm design.