Tag Archives: how to start a micro brewery

Hammering out the Electrical Details … its sometimes a 4 letter word!

Actual Conversation that took place at 9am Friday morning:

Matt: What about the following Electrical items:

8.1c-3, 4.32b-1, 8.0a-9

Iain: Where is that in the plans?

Matt: I can’t find them, do they even exist?

Iain: Here they are. A 5 horse power pump 3 phase 220 volt and 2 outlets

Matt: Those outlets and pump aren’t in my plans

Iain:  They are in my plans, but they are in the wrong spot

Matt: Where is the number for the engineer, I need to call him.

Get used to hearing these kinds of things when it comes to putting electrical infrastructure into your building. The work requires continuous attention to detail, and meetings between your electrician, electrical engineer, general contractor and the end-users (us)! There are lots of false starts and errors, so prepare mentally for this. Getting as much correct as you can early in the process will mean fewer change orders, which ends up saving you a lot of cash.

One of the biggest challenges we have had around the electrical work is the process. It is an inexact science and one that is full of frustration and teeth grinding. The process kind of goes like this:

  1. Pick your equipment and finalize this before anything else can start.
  2. Determine the power needs of that equipment.
  3. This is a chicken or egg thing. On much equipment, you can choose what kind of power it will take, which means you need to know what kind of power you have available. For much of your equipment you can have it made to the power you want to provide.
  4. Convey this information to the architect and electrical engineer who produce drawings for your electrician.
  5. Determining the exact location of the equipment on the floor plan. You need to have this buttoned down, so that all the information can go back up the line to everyone that needs it
  6. Make sure that all this stuff meshes with the latest version of your layout. Sometimes you electrician is working with non-current plans, which means that different tables and arrangements will result in different locations for power needs
  7. Making sure that the workers who are going to do the work know what is going on.
  8. Check back with everyone to make sure that all is ok.

Clearly, this is an inexact process. It is one that seems easy at first, but when you really look at it during the process, it is really hard. Trying to coordinate all of this is so difficult. We have had meetings where people literally leave steaming mad because they have been given the wrong information, or their workers haven’t followed the changes … there is a lot of coordinate.  Moreover, if you get anything wrong in that process you literally need to spend an hour push up and down the line to everyone else, explaining what happened and what the new plan is.

It is also important to get equipment using 600V where possible. In short, using a higher voltage makes electric motors more efficient, as there is less current needed. We are lucky in the sense that we have the power available to do this, after we are spending a bunch of money to upgrade the service from the street.

There is always going to be the stuff that people have overlooked. For instance our electrical engineer missed a couple pumps in our layout, so it was never discussed again until we found this out. When this happens, everyone scrambles to find these on the plans, and when you don’t you start to question what has happened and what you can do.

To help make this process easier, you should always try and work with professionals and engineers who are supreme communicators. You will need to be in constant contact to ensure that everyone is on the same page and everyone within their teams are also on the same page. It also helps that the electricians who are doing the work are committed to the job. If they can’t have someone at the brewery all day 4 days a week, you should look elsewhere.

Don’t forget to plan for power outages, and share the plan for renovations with everyone and every sub-trade. People need to know when power is going to be cut, when deliveries are being made and when floors are being coated. If you don’t coordinate this information, others will waste time and become increasingly frustrated with your job, potentially leading to bad outcomes down the road.

It becomes so apparent through this process that things like the electrical upgrade, floor issues, seismic needs, and sprinkler additions/installation are huge costs and enormous burdens to have to deal with. It is one of the reasons I have always told people who are interested in starting a brewery to make sure you find a space that has some of these things done. You may not be lucky enough to find one with everything completed, but the more of these major items completed, the quicker and cheaper your retrofit will be.

 

 

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The Damn Electrical Nightmare that is our Space

Just when you think all is well, and you are about to move onto making things work and realizing your dream, something comes up that threatens to derail all that we have worked for …. for the time being.  We have recently discovered that we don’t have enough power to our space.  We thought that 400 amps was going to be enough, but it appears that we will need more than this.  What does this mean to our ability to lease this space?  What does this mean to my dream?

The process of leasing a space is filled with many potholes and roadblocks.  Finding a space in the right location, with the right layout, at the right price, with a landlord that wants a brewery in their space, for the right amount of term, in a city with limited quantity and quality of commercial space is not unlike finding a 4 leaf clover:  Tough on the best of days.

We really thought we had found the right space for our project.  We found a commercial space that is located exactly where want to be, with the perfect amount of space for our operations, a decent rate, with an amazing landlord, who would like us to be there for up to 20 years.  It felt really good to find this space.  We negotiated a lease for the better part of 4 months, and finally came to an agreement on terms about 4 months ago.  Our agreement allowed us a 3 month period that we could apply for a DP, and carry out some due diligence on how this space would work for us.

Our first hurdle was to apply for a Development Permit, which we have successfully done.  Though we haven’t officially heard back from the City of Vancouver on the outcome, we don’t see any reason why we can’t move ahead.  Our second hurdle was the floors.  Oh yes, the floors.  Essentially, the substrate of our floors was subsiding, which means that our floor is dropping and dropping.  Like all problems, you can fix anything if you throw enough money at it.  We had some contingency in our retrofit budget , so we figured that we could overcome the flooring problem with more money.  About $30,000 to be exact.

Well we just came across our third hurdle, and it is a little bigger of a nut than our second.  We thought we were free and clear with the electrical in the building.  We have 400 amps available, and we always thought it would be enough for our needs.  In the past week it has become apparent we need at least 500 amps and preferably 600 amps.  It would be simple to say why the hell didn’t you know that 400 amps was insufficient?  The problem is until you make choices on your space, you don’t know what your exact load is going to be.  Draws on power are HVAC, Refrigeration, Tasting Room, Offices, Kitchen, etc.  The problem is that we made assumptions for this power based on a 6,000 sq ft space.  Now that we are entertaining a space about 9,000 sq ft, you can basically multiply all your power needs by about 1.5.  You can see how we ended up here.

OK, so no problem for a power upgrade but just running more power to the building from the pole out back!  Wrong.  The power poles that supply our building already have 3 transformers on the pole, which means that this pole is maxed out.  Crap.  This leaves our option to get additional power either putting in a Pad Mounted Transformer for about $120,000 or putting one on the roof of the building for even more.  What the F#$%!  This absolutely blows.  So now, after all the time and work (never mind money) we have put into this space, it looks like we are about to walk away.  While we would like to make this space work, we just can’t afford an extra $120,000 bill.  We might be out about $30,000 so far, but it is worth it to lose this money in order to not lose our shirts down the road.

So we now have a huge decision to make!  Option A is to drop another $120,000 and push ahead with this space, realizing our dream.  Amortizing $120,000 over 20 years is only $6,000 per year, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that much.  Option B is to walk away and find a space without the number and cost of upgrades this space needs.  We would go into this process knowing full well that it could be another 6 months before we find another space that works really well for us.

We have another 2 weeks to make our decision, before the subject period on our lease expires. In other words, our landlord will want us to piss or get off the pot with regards to his space in 14 days.  Looks like there will be a lot of sleepless nights coming up.  If you have any advice for us, please contact me to pass it along.  It would be greatly appreciated.  Until next time …..