Clocking In

One of my junior estimators asked, “What is a clock outlet?” So I wrote her back a simple answer. Yeah right. Me? A simple answer? Ha!

Within the two worlds of electrical engineering and actual construction, the definition of an outlet can vary. Much depends on how well the engineer has specified and designed the project. An outlet typically means any installation where electricity or a low-voltage signal, wires or cables are (or can be in the future) made accessible to the end- user and are coming out of a wall, box, receptacle, equipment, etc. Basically, an outlet is any place that allows something to come out.

So, a clock outlet can be one of a few different things, depending on the actual scope requirements of the project (e.g., rough-in only or 100 percent install). It can be a “rough-in only” J-box and mud ring (drywall application) for future installation of cables. It can be the same as above but not “future,” meaning the clock cables are installed and made accessible at the location where a clock will be connected to these cables and hung on the wall. Or it can be a device a 120V clock plugs into. This actually is a 120V single receptacle that is recessed, so it becomes a flush device inside the box, allowing the clock to plug into it and hang flat against the wall.

And just what exactly is a clock?

There are many different types of clocks. Some clocks are 120V but typically are 24V, while some clocks run off batteries. There are global positioning system (GPS) clocks, wireless GPS clocks and plain wireless clocks.

They come in many shapes, sizes and styles. There are digital clocks; LED clocks; old-fashioned, classic school clocks; and Mickey Mouse styles. They come in 8-inch, 12-inch, 24-inch and super-large, such as in a clock tower. Size matters, especially if you are responsible for installing them. Never assume all clocks take the same amount of labor to install.

In the case of “wireless” clocks, there may not be anything required at all. You must check all the specs, details, manufacturer info, etc., to find this out. If these clocks are truly wireless, there are no wires feeding them, and therefore, no outlet box or associated rough-in conduits should be required, right? Be careful!

The term wireless may simply mean they receive a wireless signal, which sets the time only and does not actually power the clock. They may still need 24V or 120V power to run them, which means they will need a rough-in conduit and wire/cable system.

GPS clocks are not necessarily wireless clocks and vice versa. There are non-GPS wireless clocks that require a transmitter panel. In fact, it is possible that a GPS wireless clock system also will have a clock control panel or main transmitter located in the admin building. There also are signal booster panels, typically located throughout larger campus designs, sometimes one in every building. In this situation, you may have multiple feeder conduits and cable systems running underground throughout the campus. You don’t want to miss these.

Wireless clocks also can be flush installations and, therefore, require a flush back-box, which needs to be installed (and perhaps furnished) by the electrical contractor. Then the clock system subcontractor (maybe the electrical contractor) comes along later and installs the clock equipment.

Coordinate your time and takeoffs

When working with multiple estimators on the same job, you must coordinate with your team to ensure clock outlets (if 120V or other) also are shown on different system sheets. Avoid the duplication of takeoff, but also avoid the assumption that somebody else has it covered.

Always make sure you know what the clocks systems actually are (spec check), and you must follow what the engineer tells you to do in the plans, risers, details, etc. Also, on every job with clocks, you must know the following:

• Who is responsible for furnishing and installing the clock system cabling? If 120V, the electrical contractor always is responsible.

• Who is responsible for furnishing the clocks?

• Who is responsible for installing the clocks? If it is truly wireless and no programming is involved, the electrical contractor could simply get a parts-only quote and install the clocks itself. But what about the control panel and programming?

Like every other system you estimate, it is important to know your company’s complete contract scope and compare it to any clock system subcontractors or suppliers you may be working with. So you must schedule enough time during your take off to fully understand the clock system. What you don’t know can hurt you, and time will tell you whether you got it right or not.

SHOOK is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 or

About the Author

Stan Shook

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at or contact him directly

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