Integrated Design Process and Electrical Components

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Integrated Design Process 

Traditionally, within most building projects, a defined set of process steps are used throughout the design stage in order to deliver the needs and wants of the client; this is known as a formal system, beginning with the owner, then the architect. Once the architect completes the design, it passes onto the structural, mechanical and electrical engineers. Complications tend to arise with this type of system usually due to a lack of communication between the owner, the architect and the engineers, resulting in delays on the project.

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In a different manner, Integrated Design Process (IDP) provides a holistic approach to the design of a building, involving a synergy of team skills throughout the design stage. IDP includes energy conservation measures and leads to a high level of system integration, to effectively minimize costs and meet agreed performance targets. It is a collaborative process that focuses not only on the design, but the construction, operation and occupancy of the building over its complete life-cycle. IDP is designed to allow the client and other collaborators develop realistic functional, environmental, and economic objectives (Public Services and Procurement Canada, 2018).

Overall, IDP results in a design methodology mainly focused on a collaborative process requiring the input of all team members commencing during the identification phase of the project, as well as involving participation and commitment throughout all phases of the projects delivery. In most cases, through employing these strategies at a holistic approach, sustainable buildings can be constructed at a much lower cost compared to conventional buildings. (Public Services and Procurement Canada, 2018).

Electrical Components

Core and shell buildings contain electrical systems that are considerably more complex in comparison to traditional methods of construction. It can be difficult to implement electrical services, as the systems need to be designed to service tenants which are unknown. Electrical engineering includes life safety systems such a fire alarm systems and power distribution, which are two key elements within a building.

Types of Systems, Location and Sizing

Electrical systems found in basic core and shell buildings can be very strategic in terms of controlling electricity throughout each floor. Existing in every building is an electrical transformer, a meter, and a panel or switchgear that distributes the power to the interior wiring that services the building (Allen, 2017). The location and sizes of these components vary considerably depending on the size and purpose of the building, the electric service provided, local code restrictions, and other factors (Allen, 2017). Typically, for reasons of efficiency, electric utilities will transmit electricity at high voltages which then allows the transformers to reduce this to lower voltages in order to directly utilise it throughout the building (Allen, 2017). Generally, a building uses 120/208 volts, however with some types of lighting fixtures or heavy machinery, it may increase up to 480/277 volts. Generally, a commercial office building of up to 2500 m2 will buy electricity at lower voltages. The utility company provides the transformer, which may be mounted overhead on a transmission pole, on the ground, or where transmission lines are wired underground (Allen, 2017). A meter is installed where the service wires enter and the distribution within is a series of panels with circuit breakers that are usually located in an adjacent space (electrical closet). Electrical closets consist of one or more secondary transformers, which are smaller and used to step down to a lower voltage for receptacles and machinery (Allen, 2017). In the case of a Class A Commercial building, one option would be to bring electricity to the building at 13,800 volts and then step it down to 480/277 volts using a large primary transformer or multiple transformers at the electrical service entrance.

The Importance of Transformers

Primary transformers are known to be very heavy and require a deeper supporting structure in comparison to the rest of the building. They may be located either outside or inside the building depending where space is available, but an outdoor transformer mounted on a ground-level concrete pad provides more advantages (Allen, 2017). This is because it is less expensive, cools better, easy to service, transmits less noise to the building, and is safer in terms of fire protection (Allen, 2017). These transformers do not need to be fenced except for reasons of visual concealment, in which there must be a clear space of 1.2 m all around the pad, for purposes of ventilation and servicing (Allen, 2017). Another requirement is having the concrete pad located within 30 ft (9 m) of a service road, as well as providing a service lane of 6 ft (1.83 m) wide between the transformer and the road (Allen, 2017). When dealing with larger buildings, multiple outdoor transformers can be used at intervals around the perimeter of the building to supply electricity as close as possible (Allen, 2017).

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Within dense urban settings, it is mandatory that the primary transformer or transformers be located within the building. Utility companies will often provide oil-filled transformers for large buildings which must be placed in a transformer vault, known for being a fire-rated enclosure with two exits (Allen, 2017). Another customary strategy is to have the transformer vault placed under the sidewalk, covered with metal grating to promote ventilation (Allen, 2017). Considering transformers and switchgear give off massive amounts of heat, they must be properly ventilated. The best location for them is against an outside wall so that high and low convective ventilation openings can be supplied. In the case where this isn’t possible, ventilation can also be achieved by access ductwork and fans connected to outdoor air louvers (Allen, 2017). It is mandatory to include access panels or doors for servicing/ replacing switchgear and transformers. Several large conductors run from these transformers to the switchgear and from the switchgear to the vertical and horizontal distribution components that feed electrical closets located throughout the building (Allen, 2017). Some examples of sizes for transformer vaults and switchgear rooms are given to the right.

Where it is important to maintain a continuous supply of electrical power, service can be brought to a building from two or more independent electric substations and routed through separate transformers and switchgear at the site, resulting in the building being less vulnerable to power outages caused by a single point of failure (Allen, 2017).

Power Generating Equipment

Throughout many large commercial buildings, on-site equipment capable of generating power during the event of disruption is also required. This equipment supplies emergency power for building systems essential to life safety, which includes alarm systems, fire detection, fire pumps, elevators, and emergency communications. It also provides standby power for less essential services (Allen, 2017). The electrical generators in this equipment are driven by engines fueled with natural gas, propane gas, diesel, or gasoline, with natural gas being the most beneficial in terms of its emissions. Power-generating equipment is best located on the ground outside the building, near the switchgear room, and fabricated weather resistant housings are available for this reason (Allen, 2017).

Overall, operating and maintenance personnel in large buildings need plenty of space in order to work, therefore, offices should be provided for operating engineers and maintenance supervisors (Allen, 2017). It is also important to consider space for a central telecommunications room, which can be located on the ground floor, and configured with ease of access, promoting maximum flexibility.


  1. Public Services and Procurement Canada. (2018). Integrated Design Process. Retrieved September 5, 2019, from,
  1. Allen, E. (2017). The Architect’s Studio Companion (6th ed.). Retrieved September 5, 2019.


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