Warehouse Specific Considerations: Backup Generators

The Logistics of Leasing

Backup generators are what you use to build in redundancy so that you prevent downtime and disruption in the event of power failure. While some businesses have backup generators more as a practical way of protecting themselves, others most have them in order to satisfy industry regulations and licensing.

Backup generators are gasoline-powered engines that switch on when the building electricity goes off. You probably already have all the information you need for sizing up your backup generator because you had to put together a list of all of the power requirements of your existing machines and equipment when putting your preliminary needs list together. It is now the time to take that list and separate the essential from the non-essential because it is not practical to have your entire building connected to the backup generator. You really only want to backup as little as possible because it is expensive to purchase, install and wire generators. It may not be as much as you think. You’ll want to discuss this with your team as they may have their opinions on the matter.

When thinking through what part of your operation needs to be connected to the backup generator it is useful to know that your decisions here will have further design and cost implications. You will find that everything that needs to be connected will have to have its own dedicated outlet. While this applies to lab equipment within climate-controlled areas, it also applies to machinery and even applies to the HVAC systems. You will have to decide if you really need to have your HVAC system backed up. If you do, you will also come to realize that the properties you are considering might have different HVAC systems. You will have to decide if your system is practical to backup or if you have to design a new system. This is where single tenant and multi-tenant buildings can differ. Some Flex and R&D buildings will have one large shared system that cannot readily be separated or backup in a cost conscience manner.

The backup generator’s location is your next practical consideration. The most common area to place a backup generator is outside of the back of the warehouse near the trash enclosure. The second most common location is on the side of the building in what was once a landscaped area. If this is the right place, you will need to think about rerouting water supply and drainage and pouring a pad and possible enclosure. The third best place is in the parking lot in place of a standard parking space.

A backup generator will need usually need a foundation, an electrical connection to the power panel, and possibly an enclosure.

The foundation can be 6’X6′ upwards of 10’X10′, so it is helpful to have that in mind when you are looking at the back and side of the building. Some buildings only have 3′ or 4′ width of landscaping from the building’s tilt-wall panel to the curb. Some don’t have any room because they have a shared drive aisle, tight truck loading area or no landscaping. When looking at the back of the building, you want to look at the grade level and dock-high loading doors and make sure that the backup generator won’t impede access and or get in the way of your trucks or your neighbors.

The whole purpose of a backup generator is to connect power back to the building. Therefore, the generator must be close to the power panels. This practical limitation may reduce your potential location to only one or two places on the property based on how far you can practically run wire from the generator to the power panels.

The parking lot is the next location if you cannot find space next to or behind the building. Taking a parking stall away from the parking lot may not be an issue, but you may need to trench through the parking lot and have a longer length of concrete and asphalt to travel to get to the power panel.

Some cities will not require an enclosure, while others will mandate it and will cite you for code enforcement issues if you do not have one. The more modern and newer the industrial neighborhood, the more likely it is that the city requires an enclosure. It is worth going down to the city and talking with the city planner or looking up the city code online to double-check.

You will undoubtedly be shocked by the cost of the backup generator, construction and wiring and this cost can sometimes be enough to teeter a shaky 20,000 SF deal into not happening. It is always worth taking this into consideration upfront to minimize expense here and maximize utility. No pun intended.