When electrical contractors talk about (or are asked about) testing, one is usually not referring to the stress-inducing kind associated with obtaining the latest certification in the industry. More often than not, they are talking about one of two types of testing that are of the utmost importance when dealing with systems—testing a newly installed system or testing systems on a routine basis for maintenance and ongoing assessment.

Both types are important and essential functions of the industry that electrical contractors need to be involved in via firsthand knowledge and experience.

The first type involves thoroughly testing a newly completed system installation. Even though this type of testing is a commonplace project function, it is imperative for all involved to understand the need of such testing. In addition, this is a significant aspect of design and installation regardless of the system in question. In today’s highly technical world, where interoperability is key, properly installed and fully functioning systems are more important than ever.

Add to this mix the fact that it is not uncommon for each individual system to have been designed and installed by separate firms at varying intervals, and the point becomes even clearer as to why proper functionality is important. The second type of testing perhaps may be even more important, depending on your professional perspective and personal point of view. Many feel that routine, scheduled testing, as a means of maintenance, helps to ensure continual system performance.

As we have all been taught (and have thoroughly discussed in the past), maintenance is a required element for all systems. But, it is the outcome of preliminary testing that will dictate which system components need to be serviced, repaired, replaced or upgraded.

All critical systems need to be routinely tested. The four most vital systems within any given facility generally include the electrical, mechanical, communication and security systems. Though some may argue that security systems are not actually critical to operations, there is definitely a growing trend that disputes this theory and places security systems at the top of the list. In actuality, it is dependent on the type of business or facility in question, since some (such as prisons, government agencies and the like) require security systems in order to operate at all.

In addition, if the fire alarm is incorporated into the security system, then a whole other host of entities rely on this particular system for daily operation.

The critical function of electrical systems is one that electrical contractors understand all too well. Essentially all systems tap into and thus rely upon the electrical system in some form or fashion. As the old saying goes, “If you operate in the black, you operate in the red.” In other words, poor system operation can cause a direct hit to the good old bottom line.

There are some basic elements of testing. And by basic, we mean they are firmly rooted in common sense (at least common sense as far as electrical contractors are concerned).

It is inherently important for contractors to remain knowledgeable and trained in the most current test equipment and methodologies being utilized within the industry. Generally speaking, most electrical contractors remain at the forefront of testing by staying involved in organizations such as NECA and the educational opportunities that they routinely offer.

There are additional, product-specific testing requirements that are outlined directly by the manufacturer in relation to all required testing steps that needs to be taken for their specific product line or lines. One also needs to keep in mind that many warranty programs are dependent upon the results and reporting associated with testing.

Also, when dealing with the testing aspect of the contracting business, thorough methods of reporting need to be implemented and consistently adhered to. The most common type of test report is one that clearly outlines which components were tested, what the findings were, and what the suggested/recommended service needs are. This report is usually then delivered to the customer via hard or electronic copy.

Testing is a requirement. No ifs, ands or buts about it. A good way to remember this, and you may need to when it just seems a low-profit waste of time, is that due to the highly technical world that buildings and businesses operate in, it is important to understand that one flaw or fault in one system has the ability to cause a chain reaction and thus affect other systems. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.