Don’t Let Lead Times Create Bad Times

If you are considering a new building or a major renovation in 2024, you are already too late.  You may even have difficulty finishing in 2025.  For structural materials, mechanical equipment, electrical gear, and many other critical building components, the time from when it is ordered until it arrives on site has increased dramatically since 2020.  The global pandemic, along with conflicts in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, have all negatively affected lead times for material goods.

For example, these key building components have lead times as follows (current as of this publication):

  • Pad-mount service transformers, 110-130 weeks
  • Generators (100+ kilowatts), 36-48 weeks
  • Low voltage drawout switchgear, 70-80 weeks
  • Automatic transfer switch, 45-80 weeks
  • Boilers (gas or electric), 10-50 weeks
  • VAV and DOAS air handling systems, 10-20 weeks
  • Rooftop air handlers (25+ tons), 20-40 weeks

This is a sampling of the more extreme lead times, but these are the parts of a building project that can cause significant delays if the procurement process is not done right.

So, what can you do about it?  This depends greatly on the details of your project and your team.  If a component, like an air handler, has a lead time that will be slightly longer than your desired construction schedule, consider pre-purchasing the unit.  In other words, order the unit directly from the factory distributor instead of waiting for the mechanical contractor to do it.  This can save four to eight weeks of processing submittals, but it also puts the risk on you for anything that might go wrong.

If you need something with an even longer lead time, like a service transformer, you may want to consider a temporary solution using a refurbished transformer.  Because of supply chain issues over the past four years, there is a growing market for reconditioning used transformers.  These units are tested and often come with a guarantee just long enough for your new permanent transformer to arrive.  Of course, this market is also starting to experience shortages, so you will want to confirm if this strategy is right for you.

Larger generators also currently have long lead times, and some types of generators are not available at all.  To help alleviate lead time issues, renting a portable generator for a few months may solve your schedule problem.  The National Electric Code now requires means for connecting a portable generator anyway, so why not use it to your advantage?  Just remember, like so many similar markets, portable generators are seeing higher than normal demand.  Finding one for your project may prove more challenging than you expect.

Like anything, the success of your project comes down to proper planning.  Allowing for current lead times in your construction schedule can help alleviate a lot of the pressure that is common as your project nears completion.  If you have questions about equipment lead times or need guidance in developing a strategy for bringing your project in on time, we can help.

Feel free to contact Richard I. Koval, PE, LEED AP at 814-237-2180 or with questions about any items covered in this article.

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