Commercial Vs. Industrial Space

By Kathleen Fasanella.

In the middle of writing a sure to be rousing, crowd pleasing multi part series on –wait for it– continuous fusing machines, I find I need to do a short post on zoning. This will be useful for two groups of people, those looking to upgrade equipment or would like to and those looking for new digs. If you’ve never leased a business location before, it would be awful if you were locked into a place only to discover you couldn’t use it for the purposes you’d envisioned. The electrical power at a location you lease or buy can determine the kind of equipment you can use. So, if you’ve been pinning your hopes on a space in order to buy better machines, realize that many of these machines will not run on power available at a commercial location. You probably need an industrial space.

First, the terms industrial and commercial are not interchangeable, each mean something different. There are several kinds of commercial properties but these are typically stores, offices, restaurants and even malls. Industrial space ranges from light industrial (apparel and woodworking) to heavy, such as automotive or a steel mill. The costs between commercial and industrial locations can vary a lot. Some commercial properties are really fancy, designer touches, nice carpet while industrial spaces can be quite spare. Industrial space has a different class of amenities. Simplistically speaking though, industrial spaces cost less than commercial per square foot.

Industrial space will offer you a lot of amenities that you may not realize you need yet. Industrial spaces have docks and overhead doors. Nifty those, you never know how useful those are until you get stuck with a stiff rate charge from the freight company because they had to send you a truck with a tommy lift. Another amenity available with industrial space is three phase power (the whole reason I’m writing this post). That’s not to say that every industrial space has three phase but it is easier to find small industrial shop space with three phase than it is to find that in a small commercial property.

Oh, what’s three phase and why would you need it? I’m so glad you asked because electrical power options is the real subject of this post. Most people are familiar with 110 and 220 voltage. Most households in the US runs on 110. An electric dryer or electric stove runs on 220 because hot things draw the most power. In industrial space, you can have a third option called three phase power or 233v. In spite of only that little difference of 13 between standard 220, you could think of three phase as 220 on crack. The reason you might need it is for sewing machines or as it happens, fusing machines (subject of the upcoming posts). You can fairly easily modify a 233 sewing machine to run on 220 but you can’t do that with a fusing machine. So, the end result is that you may want to get an industrial space because three phase power is fairly easy to get in even a small industrial shop.

If your location is otherwise perfect but doesn’t have three phase, you might want to consider adding that service. However, this will not be a free installation otherwise it would have already been done. Still, one of the reasons most cities establish zoning requirements is so that service infrastructure (like power) is designed to facilitate that sort of service upgrade. Any industrially zoned area will have the appropriate infrastructure to readily upgrade power service.

Now, in the event you’ve gotten this far and think “okay, so I just need three phase, I can add that on to my house”, let’s have a little chat, you and I. Unless you have deep pockets or a spouse who is frothing at the mouth to get three phase to supply his own (expensive) hobbies at a shop building out back on your property, this isn’t going to happen. You can -theoretically- add three phase power to existing service at your home but it is costly because these costs go way beyond the install of another separate pole, service line and box; these are long term.

When I was in the Brewhouse (my previous residence -an industrial “loft” when I started this blog) I paid industrial electric rates which are much lower than consumer rates, the latter is what you’re likely to be charged at a house. Power comes in at 480 and “steps down” via a transformer. A three phase transformer isn’t “free” like the ones hanging up on poles in neighborhoods; you have to pay for the power processing that this transformer does. The electrical processing that my transformer did, alone, amounted to 65%-70% of my total electric bill. In other words, I don’t know what your existing rates are but tacking on the costs of a transformer (before you even run one piece of equipment that draws power) the costs are considerable. Another thing is that you have to consider resale factors. Will you ever resell the property? Unless you’re setting up some kind of permanent industrial type building on the property that would be a selling feature to another buyer, you can be sticking future buyers with a hefty rate charge. Assuming they don’t or can’t (for some reason) turn off power to the building that is. At the Brewhouse, it was all or nothing. If the transformer wasn’t on, I couldn’t power a night light.

Now back to what I said before about adding three phase to an otherwise perfect industrial location that didn’t have it, you might get a discount from your landlord so negotiate that (get an estimate from the power company; one party in the forum estimates this cost at $10,000) because this is a considerable improvement to his/her property. As it is, the cost difference between otherwise identical spaces one having three phase and one not, is usually negligible. The benefit to the landlord is that the three phase unit will always rent over the other one without it.

Oh and girls, you may have a hard time getting fellas to call you back on industrial space, or they’ll only hear “fashion” or “apparel” and nothing else you say and continually try to steer you into one store front after another. I have had the worst time getting men to call me back when calling about industrial space. One guy just wouldn’t hear me so I took out a piece of paper and wrote “INDUSTRIAL, LIGHT MANUFACTURING” in block letters and told him I didn’t want to see anything that wasn’t this. He said (literally) “oh, you want industrial space”? Yeah, I did.

Ideally, the best space to get is a space that was previously occupied by an apparel manufacturer because it is likely to be set up in an amenable fashion for your purposes. This is important because a lot of industrial space (particularly warehousing) is not climate controlled so unless you want to be known as a literal sweatshop, you need heat and air conditioning. Another thing you’d be lucky to get is “raceways” or overhead power hung from the ceiling. The function can be loosely described as multi outlet power strips except these don’t have outlets; you need a special kind of plug. You need raceways for cutting.

There is one last option, that being phase converters but I don’t know anything about them. A phase converter is a box you install that modifies the electric service to meet the power demands of the equipment. Supposedly you can run a 220 machine on 110v with one. Still, I don’t know about running a 233 phase machine that gets hot (like a continuous fusing machine) off a converter box, maybe it’d be okay with a three phase sewing machine. I don’t understand converters enough beyond knowing you need a rotary type so a dealer is going to be your best adviser as to whether a converter box would compromise the equipment long term and wear it down.

In summary, a location you lease or buy can determine the kind of equipment you can use so if you’ve been pinning your hopes on a space in order to buy better machines, realize that many of the machines that do the best work run on three phase so you should shop industrial space carefully.