Warehouse Specific Considerations: Machines and Electricity

The Logistics of Leasing


A manufacturing operation consists of machines and equipment that people use to create finished goods. Manufacturing can be automotive, aerospace, industrial supply, apparel, food (which we’ll handle separately), plastic mold injection, and more. All manufacturing industries need to bring in raw materials, process, assembly, package, store, and then distribute their goods. They also have machines that need footings, installation, calibration, certification and wiring.

When it comes to machines, before installing machinery, you need to know precisely where they should be. I’ve seen companies that have moved some of their machinery several times as they expand and rework their process. I’ve also seen aerospace manufacturers that haven’t touched a thing for twenty years. JBA’s Bob Barry has the mantra “improve while you move.” Every time you relocate your warehouse, you can improve your process and invest in your future.

Slab thickness is vital for manufacturing. You will find with larger stamps, presses, and printing machines that they require pouring footers. Footers are thicker concrete pads that replace the standard concrete slab to provide an adequate foundation for heavy machinery. It’s important to know what kind of slab you have, its age, its thickness and potentially the soils conditions underneath the slab.

Underwriters Laboratory is a global safety certification. Some machines will require calibration after being moved. This calibration and certification take time and talent, and an experienced project manager and industrial engineer will help you. Machines also require extensive electricity distribution which we cover below.


When it comes to electrical work for industrial buildings, the most common electrical work that is needed has to do with machinery, equipment, forklifts, and office workstations. The main issues are the number of amps, type of voltage, distribution of electricity, backup generators, and transfer switches.

Understanding electricity is one of the facets of industrial real estate that confuse team members and is, frankly, ignored. Ask anyone on your team the difference between 120/208 and 277/480 volts to see if they understand electricity, and you’ll find 9/10 people think you are speaking a foreign language. 1/10 people will have so much experience that they speak as if it is common knowledge. It doesn’t take much time though working with your facility manager to realize how nuanced the electrical needs are for companies that have machinery. I don’t pretend to be an expert here but I have worked with enough experts to know when I need to bring them in and what to ask to help clients.

Amperage is the quantity of electricity available within the building. The most common question you will ask your broker, your team, and the landlord is, “does this building have enough power for my business?” All leases are oriented in the manner of buyer beware meaning that it is the tenant that has to satisfy themselves that the building has everything that they need. They can rely on their own professionals to help them ascertain such, but it is not the landlord’s job. The reason is that the landlord cannot know all the details of a tenant’s business.

There are times when the building does not have enough power. 90% of the time, a shortage of power is enough to kill a deal on the spot because the cost of upgrading power to the building is cost-prohibitive. The order of magnitude in Southern California figures ranges from $10,000 for the smallest of the small warehouses, up to +$100,000 in medium and large warehouse. As the size of the building goes up and the price of an electrical upgrade compared to the monthly rent goes down, the prospects of adding power increases.

Bringing more power to the building is a question for the local electrical utility. Getting the utility involved means you are entering their bureaucracy and playing by their rules. The crux of the issue often has to do with where the electrical lines come to the property. Power can enter the property through good old fashion power lines overhead. The 1980’s are when most power lines began being installed underground in Orange County, CA. Underground power lines are great for the image of the property and can be less accessible for the few people who ever have to add electricity to their building in the future. In many cases, the power is running through the ground near the sidewalk and street. The electric utility may need to saw cut the asphalt from the road, the concrete of the walkway, the parking lot, and the building, in order to dig trench down to access the electrical lines.

After digging, there is the installation of the electric lines, filling in of the trench and restoration of all of the exterior surfaces and landscaping. Once you have run your new lines, you can shift your focus to the upgrades necessary on the inside of the property. These include new breaker boxes, panels, subpanels, fuses, switches, and conduits.

A great example comes from an interview I did with Bob Barry of JBA:

“We really encourage clients to do is look at their power requirements. When you go into a building, you might have a beautiful building that you get very excited about it, but it may have 600 or 800 amps and you may need 1200 or even more. The power requirements are both potentially a cost issue and a timeline issue because then the power departments – whether it’s in San Diego, Orange County, or LA –  have a tough timeline. Without knowing, some clients will say, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to take five months to upgrade the power”, so I think it’s really important that people are looking ahead. It’s awesome if they have a year or more to complete an upgrade, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”