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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Why Are We Asleep At The Switch?

Why Are We Asleep at The Switch?

            Are you like me, you're watching that movie and that one person who should be attentive to the one job they were asked to do, they don't do it?  I'm now yelling at the screen, dummy wake up, what's wrong with this guy?  He ignores his one responsibility and now we have cataclysmic destruction, annihilation, fires, floods and list goes on.  That one guy who could have prevented all this failed the folks who depended on him.  That's the movies and we all know that's the setup for the hero and victory, yeah!

            This week hackers from Russia shut down a pipeline that traversed from Texas to New Jersey.  This pipeline supplied 2.5 million gallons of oil per day to the eastern seaboard of the US!  The hackers insisted a ransom be paid giving the company back their control of this rather important pipeline. Now let's think about this, a computer savvy group of whoever using a computer and the internet was able to navigate around firewalls, passwords and other security boundaries and shut down a vital component of our energy infrastructure...

              I am afraid to say, our country is at risk!  The list of those looking to destroy our way of life and security is quite extensive.  For us here in the U.S., this is not a political party issue it is a national security issue.  We need to get ahead of this and create an impenetrable means of keeping us safe.  I have been squawking about the quality and lack of security concerning our electrical power grid for some time now  A power grid that supplies electricity affecting every aspect of our lives.  Whatever your political identity maybe, we all agree electricity lights up our life.  We all enjoy and take for granted the ability to always have power at our fingertips.  For any of us who have experienced the Sandy flood or the most recent Texas power outage this winter, life can be extremely altered without electrical power.  Consider this, your loved one is in the hospital and wheeled into the OR, maybe you're on a train after work heading home to your wife and children, and your Mom is visiting her sister in an elevator heading to the 23rd floor, all of a sudden the power goes out!  We pray the generator starts in the hospital, the fire department evacuates you from the train and your Mom is rescued from the elevator.  These are real scenarios when the power goes out.  Do you really believe hackers can't get to our national power grid?

            We are currently relying far too much on foreign entities to provide replacement parts for our power grid.  I soke of this concern in a previous blog.  Would it be too naive to think that the components in a power generation plant can't be hacked or taken down?  Think about that for one moment, how would your life be impacted????  Recently, a national listing agency responsible for testing and approving all material required for safe installations invited me to participate on a national standards panel for "Power Monitoring Equipment".  Like many other panels I have worked on, I checked the roster list for who would be participating.  One contributor seemed quite alarming, the gentleman was located in China and worked for a Chinese manufacturing firm!  So, I would be providing industry knowledge pertinent to power monitoring to a company located in China?  I could not believe this and I chose to decline this invitation from this national standards organization and I question their objectives!

Why Are We Asleep at The Switch?   

            The federal government has set up a Homeland Security Division to address cyber terrorism.  Cyber terrorism is a real and present danger facing all of us here in the US.  Clearly our enemies are relentlessly looking for the weakness in all our infrastructures.  Previous to this most recent hack, I thought we were in good shape to fend off these attacks, boy was I mistaken!  The private sector companies generate our electricity, deliver our gas and oil, provide our internet services and the list goes on and on.  I pray these companies begin to step up their game to fend off these cyber attacks and not wait for any assistance from the Feds.  Speaking of the Feds, the president has mandated we move to a "green" economy eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels.  Let's look at this a bit more, the electric car industry manufacturing these electric cars use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.  Quess who is the number one manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries?  You got it, China who continues to have larger GDP right now than the U.S.  So, our dependence on China again bolsters their economy with our "green" mandate!  Let's increase our GDP and utilize the "green" mandate to grow our manufacturing here in this country!

Why Are We Asleep at The Switch? 

            I don't know about you but a lot of these decisions being made today is like the guy I spoke of earlier, the guy in the movie.  Decisions that clearly don't see the long term effects of dependence on others who clearly don’t have our best interests at heart.  The greatest and most revered aspect of freedom is Free Enterprise.  A system of ownership where profits are made by a person creating a reliable product or service for a good price to the consumer.  This revered principle encourages better creation, better manufacturing and better quality.  We need to encourage and support manufacturing in our country  Our dependence on foreign and potentially dangerous enemies diametrically opposed to our way of life needs to stop.  We need to manufacture and provide all the components for a "green" economy.  We need to manufacturer and provide the required components for our power grid.  We need to let the American free enterprise system do what it does best, dream, create and distribute allowing us be independent and free.  This mindset will catapult us to where our companies, our workers and our people flourish. 

We Control The Switch and We Are The Hero!

 - Kevin J. Breen

       May 2021 


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Made In America Means A Whole Lot More.....NOW!

Made In America Means A Whole Lot More...NOW!

                        "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work"     - Thomas A. Edison     

               In 2010, we were performing the electrical work for a 30,000 sq ft. catering hall and restaurant.  The work included a new building service and distribution to each floor.  An order to the local supply house for 3 inch conduit straps was placed.  The next day my electricians installed about one hundred or so straps on the strut we installed.  Fast forward to the electrical inspection and the inspector goes into the ceiling and looks at our installation.  The inspector takes out a flashlight and like Sherlock Holmes zooms in on our pipe straps.  What could he be looking at?  Sure enough, the inspector comes down off the ladder and informs we "I have to write a violation"!  

               Covid-19 has exposed many deficiencies due to our reliance on foreign countries for the essential items we require.  From face masks to required parts for ventilators, from prescription drugs to protective equipment our dependence is scary and places us in a very precarious spot!  What is particularly disturbing for me, that dependency far transcends medical and hits the electrical industry and the nation's entire electrical grid!   
                As the electrical inspector handed me the violation, I recognized rather quickly that the straps he looked at closely had no regulatory labeling required for installation according to the NEC.  I had purchased fake pipe straps?  I, me had been the victim of a counterfeiter?  I'm from Brooklyn, NY, counterfeits only exist in handbags for women and fashion related items but electrical supplies too?  Little did I know, it appears the counterfeit industry is quite diverse.  So diverse, circuit breakers, light fixtures, connectors, wiring devices are just a small part of the huge counterfeit market.  Our dependency on foreign manufacturers makes it quite easy to penetrate even the electrical industry.  These foreign made components navigate around the regulations required here in this country.  Going around the requirements puts the public at risk and may lead to fires, damage, injury and death.  For a responsible, licensed electrical contractor your word and reputation is everything.  We don't want to expose ourselves or the public to inferior foreign made components that could perform poorly and pose a great danger.

               The power utilities companies throughout the United States provide the necessary power for the comforts we enjoy.  Many of us for the most part turn on a switch and get light or we plug in the blender and we get bread.  To say, we take our comforts provided by electricity for granted would probably be a huge understatement.  Imagine what life would be like if you couldn't charge your phone, turn on a TV, and the big one, no social media!  I jest, but stop and think what life looks like in the critical care areas such as hospitals, nursing homes and the like without electricity.  Try and get your head around how the US Gov't would be impacted, the Defense Dept, Homeland Security, FBI etc. The more savvy electrician or engineer at this point wants to yell out generator, generator and other alternate backup power sources.  These sources will never generate the electrical requirements needed, long term!  Our dependence on foreign manufacturing impacts our electrical grid distribution far too much.  Many of the control devices required for monitoring and switching are manufactured elsewhere.  This makes our national distribution grid susceptible to ransom, insecurity and unreliability.  We need dependence on US manufacturers for the integrity and security of our electrical grid.

               We have always been the example for the whole world.  Many of our previous generations in our own families supported their own working in manufacturing plants all throughout this country.  We were the source of quality and dependability because "Made in America" always meant more.   I suggest, especially now, we eliminate our dependence on foreign imports.  Manufacturing in the USA is absolutely essential now!  As a victim of counterfeit products requiring me to replace the fakes with real and an American concerned about the security and livelihood for my children and grandchildren foreign dependence has no future for US, LET'S GET BACK TO WORK!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Do I Really Need To Hire A Licensed, Professional Contractor?

                               Do I Really Need to Hire A Licensed, Professional Contractor?

               The big box home improvement stores have empowered many people all over the country and taught many that performing home improvement projects and repairs are simple and always save you plenty of money.  These same stores conduct "how to clinics" that show how simple installations and repairs can be.  These "clinics" are conducted by store employees who show customers everything you need to know for a safe reliable installation.  Really?  Thirty-seven years in the construction business and one thing I have learned, I'm still learning!  Yes, changes in technology, construction codes, material and labor have all created an open canvass in order to learn more.  Can a Saturday afternoon "clinic" provide the knowledge and years of experience a tradesman learns over many years in order to provide you with a truly safe and reliable installation?  I have often made the analogy that preparing your own taxes instead of paying a licensed professional could potentially cost you thousands or more in money you may be entitled to.  That pain you're experiencing in the back of your mouth is there a "how to clinic" to remove that tooth?  of course not, sounds ridiculous, but performing work in your home doesn't have the same reaction, why?   Two very obvious reasons, a homeowner will hire a "so-called" contractor and have a very bad experience, so what do they have to lose doing it themselves next time.  Secondly, the desire to save money diminishes their belief that something dangerous could be created doing it themselves.  In each case, the homeowner or business owner needs to remember, "You don't get something for nothing!

              I suggest a homeowner or business owner educate themselves on just how to hire a professional contractor and get the most for what they are paying.  I suggest following these steps will prevent many of the pitfalls associated with a bad experience with your upcoming project and the hiring of your contractor.

  1. Define the scope of work needed to be performed - write down exactly what work you need done and be ready to convey that to the potential contractor
  2. Research for those contractors in your area that perform your scope of work
    • check the internet and obtain a list of 6-8 contractors in your area who perform this work
    • ask your friends and relatives for recommendations
    • search contractor websites for listings and reviews,, etc.
    • check your city's website or call to verify licensing and any disciplinary actions exist
  3. Begin the interview process using the phone
    • if they don't call back in a timely manner, cross that contractor off your list!
    • ask the contractor, "are you licensed to perform work in your area and do you hold the license?
    • Do you have liability insurance and worker's compensation insurance?
    • Describe your scope of work, Is this something you can perform and get finished?
    • Are you overwhelmed with work?  I would like to start next week is this possible?
  4. Narrow your list of contractors to 3-5.
    • call the prospective contractors and book an appointment to meet
  5. In person, interview and vet your contractors
    • describe your scope of work to the contractor during your interview
    • listen to what they say and recommend, is this consistent with your scope?
    • have you performed work similar to what I am asking you to perform?
    • can you provide names and numbers of folks I can speak to you performed work for?
    • will you be filing and securing a permit and inspection for this work?
    • ask for a written proposal, with payment terms, start and completion dates
  6. Collect 3-4 proposals and review
    • does the proposal show license numbers and qualifications?
    • does the description of work match the scope you have defined?
    • make sure you fully understand everything on this proposal.
    • are the price and terms agreeable?  Important, pay as he performs!
    • make sure in the proposal, a procedure for extra work approval is described and you agree
  7. Evaluate the price, scope of work and your instincts you developed thru your vetting process
    • does the price match the scope as you described?
    • is the time frame acceptable?  Start and completion dates?
    • are you comfortable with the payment terms?  Payments must match the milestones of completions!
    • call the contractor and ask questions, are you, contractor comfortable with the time frame?
    • will you provide me with a written guarantee and adequate sign-off indicating that the inspection has passed?
    • insist on a minimum 10% retainage, payable only upon successful completion and sign-offs
    • if the contractor provides a rather lengthy document, ask a lawyer to review the contract
  8. Make you decision and meet in person to sign and initiate the work
    • if required, get a copy of the permit
    • obtain a certificate of insurance with you as the certificate holder for GL, Disability and WC
    • keep your signed copy of the proposal or contract
    • define a start date and what will take place as work is performed
    • discuss how you will communicate as the project progresses
  9. As the work progresses, document the progress and evaluate the schedule
    • document your progress with pictures and notes
    • is the contractor on schedule?  Is he communicating reasons for delays?
    • is the contractor on site to monitor his employees and progress?
    • are you satisfied?  remind contarctor daily for the need to complete on specific date!
  10. Upon completion of your project
    • obtain the necessary signoffs or city approvals for inspection
    • obtain all product manuals, maintenance documents and paperwork necessary for your safe keeping
    • with the mutaully agreed completion obtained, pay the retainage, 10%
  11. After completion, recommend your contarctor on the various internet sites with positive and specific comments you felt were important

            Congratulations! You got your work done a described, it was a positive experience and it wasn't as bad as your friends described.  You know how to do it!

It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little.
When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that's all.
When you pay too little, you sometime lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.
The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot - it can't be done!
If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.
                                                                                                                              - John Ruskin

Kevin J. Breen ©


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Corporate Data Centers - Are You Ready?

                  Some years ago, back when modem cards were the rave and were actually installed inside the box of a computer, I remember trying to get on the Internet and all I got was "no connection".  I remember going through every diagnostic within the computer but still "no connection".  Finally, I checked the line, I had dial tone but I did notice some discoloration or what looked like burning on the RJ-11 on the modem card.  Yes, it was a burn mark and the night before we had a terrible storm but could lightning have found its way into MY computer?  After all, I was the expert, who was protected against surges, strikes and hits but oh yes, lighting had in fact found its way into my computer via the phone line which became the least resistive path to ground!

                 Just like that little 14.4 baud modem card, lighting hits are all but one of the enemies facing the corporate data center.  Data centers which house millions and millions upon millions of bits of information can be wiped out by a number of threats lurking just outside that rather secure data room or facility.   Just how does an owner, a corporation, or facility plan, evaluate and maintain the level of protection required?    Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, not in the data center, keep your enemies far, far away!

                                        Let's first define your enemies: 
          •    power surges
          •    power reductions, brown outs
          •    power outages
          •    voltage fluctuations and inconsistencies
          •    poor or loose connections
          •    AC to DC power harmonics
          •    improper sizing of distribution equipment and wiring
          •    grounding and bonding issues creating noise
          •    failure to isolate critical power from building power
          •    communication/data protection and isolation
          •    inadequate cooling
          •    inadequate data center space requirements
          •    poor or inadequate maintenance procedures
                 The data center designer/engineer/contractor must impress upon his client the importance of eliminating the "enemy" as defined above.  Education is the first line of defense in helping the end user understand the strategy.  I found more and more data rooms are poorly planned from the beginning.  Simple items are usually not considered, facility managers wrestle with data center managers, space is a commodity especially in NYC!  Poor planning in terms of space can lead to a shutdown!  Cooling and power requirements are two major factors influenced by space.  The average power requirement for data centers is 375w/sq-ft.  What might start out as six racks of servers with power and cooling may end up with eighteen racks with inadequate power and cooling.  "Don't paint yourself into a corner."
                   In any computer sensitive environment, a major cause of problems can be traced back to "grounding" issues.  Havoc/electronic noise could be caused due to improper and inadequate grounding issues.  Centralizing all of the required "grounding" concerns in any data center is paramount.  We have always created a "ground bus" within the data room that is connected to the buildings "Grounding Electrode".  The ground bus allows us to bond each piece of metal to the main grounding electrode.  Metal raised floor posts, cabinets, electrical panels, isolated ground bars, non-current carrying conductive members of fiber cables, etc are just some of the required items needed to be bonded to the ground bus in the data room.

                   Lets discuss the critical power requirements.  Every data center that is properly planned requires backup power generation and a Uninterruptable Power Supply, UPS.  The UPS basically eliminates voltage inconsistencies during surges, brown outs and the brief time needed before a generator comes up to speed and frequency.  Many homeowners today use the small UPS under their desk to ride out the short time power outages or power fluctuations occur.  Many large size commercial facilities install UPS units in every rack where servers exist.  But is UPS rack scenario a plan to fail?  Well, in the homeowner scenario the batteries will last for a brief period of time and unless their home generator kicks in their computer is kapput!  In a well planned commercial scenario, the UPS allows the servers to ride out the brief time needed because the batteries in the UPS have been sized for the servers in each rack, once the generator comes up to speed/frequency, BANG, the emergency power is transferred and the UPS is cleaning the power once again.  This BANG is transparent and seamless to the sensitive computer equipment. But what do we find in most cases, the rack mounted UPS batteries are not serviced and their DEAD!  Therefore, the UPS never had the ride time power to transition them onto the generator!  This is why I design a centralized UPS to be installed as part of the initial design.  The single UPS, centralized and sized for the entire data center becomes more reliable while reducing maintenance and material costs.

                The cooling requirement is an absolute necessity in each an every data room, large or small.  It is clearly the most overlooked part of the initial design.  I have seen countless data rooms fail due to inadequate and undersized cooling!  Once again plan the room with cooling units, chillers, VFD's, controls and pumps as an integral part of the critical power scenario.  How many times have I seen data centers running on critical power but without cooling because one pump is on the non-critical building power and now the whole cooling system is down in the data center!  Plan for expansion, keep the room cooler, wear a sweater if you have to but don't skimp with the cooling.

                 Seeking out a good electrical contractor is an absolute necessity for the data center to be reliable, efficient and functioning properly.  The 2011 NFPA 70, National Electrical Code, Art 645 - Information Technology Equipment, will be just one article used by the licensed, qualified electrical contracting firm.  This specific article and others in the NEC will define the minimum requirement  the electrical contractor must follow to insure that the data center is wired and installed properly.  Third party commissioning of the completed data center is a requirement!

                 A few important notes to consider:
  1. the EPA estimates data centers account for 1.5% of the total U.S. power consumption.  This will double in the next five years!
  2. the designer/contractor may need to consider medium voltage distribution, 4160v, where chillers, UPS's, generators and other equipment can be purchased for more efficiency allowing for less material construction costs and better return on investment, ROI
  3. Utilizing the European voltage distribution scenario may benefit us here as well, transformers 415/240v/60hz can be used with any electronic equipment, no need to go 240/110v/60hz.  Arc-Flash concerns for workers do need to be addressed with the 415/240v scenario
  4.  "green technology" is already impacting designs in data centers.  The "low power usage effectiveness", PUE needs to be addressed in design

Please Note: Electrical wiring and installation requires trained and skilled electricians working in a licensed electrical contracting firm.  With all installations, please check with the Authority Having Jurisdiction, AHJ to insure all work is installed correctly.

Kevin J. Breen, is a licensed master electrician in the NYC/NJ area.  He works as a consultant and expert witness to the legal community and a design/installer for many private and municipal clients.  With over 33 years in the field Mr. Breen can assist you with any electrical/fire/low-voltage/security need you may have.  He can be reached at 718 499 7363 or

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Home Security Systems - Hardwired or Wireless?

Home Security – Hard Wiring or Wireless
                                                                                                - Kevin J. Breen
            This question seems to be a never ending quagmire for those considering a quality home security system.  Consider this, how do you control your TV, a garage door, your connection to the internet, or even your air conditioner?  If you answered, a remote, you are a benefactor of wireless technology!  Let’s consider hard wired applications, your TV, your garage door, your internet connection and your air conditioner all require a hardwired connection as well.  My point, a home security system utilizing both modes of connection is what’s best!
            Now that wired versus wireless is no longer an issue.  What defines a good home security system?  Consider your current living scenario, are you renting or in a temporary location?  Here, you might want to opt for a complete wireless scenario.  The wireless installation is faster, cleaner and portable.  The portability of the system is probably the most attractive feature as you can take it with you when you leave.  The trade off with wireless components they are a bit larger and obvious.  Remember, hard wired connections are still necessary, connection to a receptacle for power and a telephone line for 24 hour monitoring. 
You just bought a home or condo and you want a home security system.  Consider this, the sensors and detectors for windows and doors utilizing hard wiring are less obtrusive than the wireless components.  As an owner, you are always looking to increase the value of your purchase and what looks better is what is hidden.  The wireless components are just a bit more bulky and obvious.  A licensed security professional will “hide” the wiring and recess the contacts or sensors.  A professional hard wired installation will clearly add to the value of your home.  Even in this “hard wired scenario” I find the wireless smoke/carbon monoxide detectors still work great.
Many times we move into new homes and apartments and we inherit an existing security system.  The security system manuals and maintenance records for the installed system are lost or unavailable and we don’t know what to do.  Hiring a licensed security professional will help provide the manuals and aid you in evaluating changes you may want to incorporate.  After evaluation, then wireless and/or a hard wired add can clearly be identified. 
Budget, budget and budget, that’s what determines the design and subsequent installation of your home security system,  the money you have available to spend will define what is hard wired and what is wireless.  Your budget may define a certain level of security allowing you to add components at a later date. 
Life safety devices whether hard wired or wireless detectors should always be installed in your home or apartment.  Please incorporate these life safety components, smoke/CO detectors first in your design and installation.  Please follow all necessary building codes and inspections with the authorities having jurisdiction.        
Whether wireless or hard wired please be safe and protected!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Carbon Monoxide Detectors in the Home

Carbon Monoxide detectors save lives!

              We all know the benefits of hard wired smoke detectors and the lives they save each year but are you aware of the dangers associated with carbon monoxide?  Every home using gas, oil, wood or any other type of fossil fuel in their home is in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.  Carbon monoxide is the result of incomplete combustion of burning any type of fossil fuel.  The carbon monoxide produced is odorless and colorless.  The CO molecules in the blood adhere better to the hemoglobin than oxygen does in the blood and is the reason death comes silently due to aspyhixiation.  CO poisioning sneaks up on you, just to give some reference, a smoker consuming 2 packs per day has approximately 40ppm of CO in their blood at any given time.  At 70ppm, the CO will cause headache, at 150ppm drowsiness and between 150ppm and 400ppm the dosage can be lethal causing death!

Here are some stats:

     1. 15,200 people were treated for accidental CO exposure from 2001 to 2003
     2. leading cause of gas fatalities in the United States
     3. more deaths occur due to CO poisoning in December and January than any other month of the year
     4. according to the Center for Disease Control, 408 deaths occur each year due to CO poisoning
     5. CO is naturally identical to air, the molecular weight of air is 29g/molecule and CO is 28g/molecule

         Many states are beginning to realize the importance of CO detectors and they are changing their building codes to require the installation of these detectors.  At the present time in NYC, every renovation or new construction project will require combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to be installed within ten feet of each bedroom.
         I would strongly suggest you contact your licensed electrician and let him/her install Carbon Monoxide detectors in your home. 

        NFPA 720 has been written to define the proper installation of carbon monoxide detectors in the home.  A link to NFPA 720 is
NFPA does allow combination smoke and CO detectors to be installed in the home, check local codes, manufacturer's specifications and your AHJ for requirements pertaining to installation.

Be Smart and Be Safe install hardwired Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Detectors in all Homes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yes, its Thanksgiving

Good Morning and Happy Thanksgiving!

I give thanks to live in a country where we are free!  Each of us has the ability to become the greatest person we can become based on the principles of freedom and free enterprise.  I also give thanks for all those men and women who so bravely defend our country.  May God Bless each of you and keep you safe!

Thanksgiving has always been my most favorite time of the year.  I have so much to be thankful for!

Even though we are experiencing probably the toughest of economic times my generation has ever seen, I give thanks for my trade and my business.  I truly hope you can honestly say that about whatever you do.  I have had many people ask, "how can you love what you do so much"?  If I may, I would like to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, "Let me count the ways".
  1. Jesus Christ was a carpenter, I would have loved to work with Him on a project.
  2. I got shocked when I was younger, don't tell OSHA
  3. I also learned that a toilet bowl is important in one's life , but a plumber, NOT
  4. Going from job to job, address to address, sort of makes the ADD go away
  5. "let there be light" that phrase was empowering
  6. Electricians know everything, right!
  7. Electrician or Doctor, easier to get a doctor!
  8. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the biggest characters in the world are electricians
  9. you have to work with your brain and your hands
Last but not least:

  10.   Tools, yes, Tools and plenty of them

Hey folks, hope you stay safe, work safe and enjoy each and every day!

May God richly bless you and your family!

Happy Thanksgiving.