Electrical Contractor or Electrical Engineering Company?

by Fransic verso
Electrical Contractor or Electrical Engineering Company

People unfamiliar with the world of electrical contractors and electrical engineers often confuse the respective focus of these two professions, especially in the domain of commercial electrical installations. Indeed, as an electrical contractor in San Antonio, TX, our company receives calls from local manufacturers and large building owners who would first need the services of an electrical engineer.

We thought it could be useful to clear up the differences between an electrical contractor and an electrical engineering company, what they work on, and at what stage of a project they respectively intervene.

An electrical contractor and an electrical engineering company serve distinct roles within the field of electrical systems, and their functions often complement each other.

Here are some key differences:

Scope of Work

  • Electrical contractor: Primarily involved in the installation, maintenance, and repair of electrical systems.

    Their work is more hands-on and involves direct interaction with electrical components.

    Examples:

    Residential: Installation of lighting fixtures, wiring for home automation, and setting up electrical panels.
  • Commercial: Installation and maintenance of commercial lighting, HVAC electrical systems, and fire alarm systems.
  • Industrial: Electrical work for manufacturing plants, including motor controls, industrial ventilation systems, and high-voltage distribution.
  • Electrical engineering company: Focuses on the design, planning, and simulation of electrical systems.

    They work on creating electrical schematics, layouts, and plans, often using software tools for simulation and analysis.

    Examples:
  • Residential: Design of home automation systems and energy-efficient electrical layouts.
  • Commercial: Design and planning of building management systems, energy audits, and electrical load analysis.
  • Industrial: Design of complex electrical systems for manufacturing, including PLC systems and industrial automation.

Expertise

  • Electrical contractor: Employs licensed electricians skilled in implementing electrical designs, troubleshooting issues, and ensuring code compliance.

There are several levels of skills and certifications for electricians:

  • Apprentice electrician: Assists in basic tasks like wiring, conduit installation, and electrical fittings.
  • Journeyman: Can work independently on installations, repairs, and can interpret electrical codes.
  • Foreman: Oversees a team of electricians, ensures code compliance, and liaises with other construction professionals.
  • Master electrician: Responsible for design, planning, and ensuring overall compliance with electrical codes and standards.
  • Electrical engineering company: Employs electrical engineers who specialize in designing systems, calculating loads, and ensuring that the designs meet engineering standards and codes.

Electrical engineers work on projects like designing energy-efficient buildings, developing renewable energy systems, and creating electrical layouts for large industrial complexes.

Project Phase

  • Electrical contractor: Usually involved in the latter stages of a project, where the actual installation, testing, and commissioning of electrical systems take place.

In a residential project to build a smart home, the electrical contractor would first review the plans and specifications provided by the homeowner or architect. The initial phase involves installing the main electrical panel, followed by the rough-in wiring for outlets, switches, and light fixtures.

Specialized wiring for home automation systems, security cameras, and HVAC would be next. Once the walls are closed, the contractor installs outlets, switches, and makes the final connections to the electrical panel.

After completing the installation, a series of tests are conducted to ensure everything is up to code and functioning correctly.

Finally, the contractor coordinates with local authorities for inspections and obtaining the necessary permits to finalize the project.

  • Electrical engineering company: Engaged in the initial phases, including feasibility studies, design, and planning. They may also be involved in oversight during the implementation phase.

In a commercial project to build a smart office building, an electrical engineering firm would first conduct a feasibility study and create the electrical design, including energy-efficient lighting and building management systems.

Once the design is approved, the electrical contractor would come in to install the electrical systems, lighting, and automation controls as per the engineering plans.

The engineering firm would then validate the installations to ensure they meet the design specifications and regulatory standards.


For a commercial project like setting up a retail store, the electrical contractor would start by assessing the electrical needs based on the store layout and functions.

The first task would be to install a commercial-grade electrical panel capable of handling higher loads.

The contractor would then proceed to install specialized circuits for point-of-sale systems, security systems, and lighting.

Energy-efficient LED lighting systems with motion sensors could be installed to reduce energy costs. Special attention would be given to emergency exit lighting and fire alarm systems to comply with safety regulations.

Once all installations are complete, the contractor would perform a series of tests to ensure that the electrical systems are safe, efficient, and compliant with local and national codes.

The project concludes with a final inspection by local authorities and the issuance of compliance certificates.

Services

  • Electrical contractor: Services may include residential and commercial wiring, lighting installation, electrical panel upgrades, and emergency repairs.
  • Electrical engineering company: Services may include system design, load analysis, energy audits, and consultation services for specialized electrical applications like industrial automation.

    For example:
  • Consultation: Providing expert advice on electrical system optimization.
  • Design & Planning: Creating electrical layouts and plans for new constructions or renovations.
  • Energy audits: Assessing energy consumption and recommending improvements.

Regulatory Compliance

  • Electrical contractor: Must adhere to local, state, and national electrical codes during installation and must often secure permits for the work.

    For instance, in the San Antonio, TX area, Permits can be pulled from the Bexar County Fire Marshal’s Office and the City of San Antonio’s Code Enforcement Department.
  • Electrical engineering company: Responsible for ensuring that the electrical design complies with engineering standards, codes, and regulations.

Role of NEC:

Both types of contractors must adhere to the National Electrical Code (NEC) for ensuring safety and compliance.

While electrical contractors focus on NEC for installation and repair work, electrical engineering companies use it as a guideline for designing safe and efficient electrical systems.

Business Model

  • Electrical contractor: Often operate as independent businesses and may bid for projects, either as subcontractors or primary contractors.

Type of clients an electrical contractor would look for:

  • Homeowners: For home renovations, new builds, and emergency electrical repairs.
  • Real-estate developers: For large-scale residential and commercial construction projects.
  • Retail businesses: For setting up and maintaining electrical systems in stores, malls, and shopping centers.
  • Industrial firms: For specialized industrial electrical work, including machinery installation and maintenance.
  • Government agencies: For public infrastructure projects like schools, hospitals, and municipal buildings.
  • Property management companies: For ongoing maintenance and emergency electrical services for apartment complexes and commercial buildings.

  • Electrical engineering company: May operate within larger engineering consultancies and offer multi-disciplinary engineering services, including but not limited to electrical engineering.

Type of clients an electrical engineering firm would go after:

  • Architectural firms: To collaborate on designing energy-efficient buildings.
  • Manufacturing companies: For designing complex electrical systems for automation and production.
  • Utility companies: For projects related to power generation and distribution, including renewable energy projects.
  • Consulting firms: To provide specialized electrical engineering expertise for various projects.
  • Government and NGOs: For public infrastructure projects that require detailed electrical engineering, such as airports, public transit systems, and water treatment plants.
  • Tech companies: For designing data centers, server farms, and other technology-intensive facilities.

About the author:

All Star Electric is an electrical contractor in Antonio, TX. The company specializes in electrical remodeling, conversion of home electrical systems to energy-efficient systems, installation and upgrade of electrical panels, and any electrical repair work. The team of All Star Electric is also a Tesla Certified Installer of Level 1 and Level 2 chargers.

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