Switchboards for Commercial Buildings: Purpose and Function

Within your facility lies a powerful device that works tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure every piece of equipment and electrical system in your commercial building has the power it needs. These devices are switchboards, and they function as the heart of your facility—pumping power to every appendage and corner of your operation.

In this exploration of switchboards for commercial buildings, we will dive deep into the purpose and function of switchboards. You will gain insights into the installation process, best practices for maintenance, and even some of the regulatory standards governing these unsung heroes.

If your facility does not already have a switchboard, you will learn how to select just the right fit and install it without any issues.

To learn more about switchboards, contact our team to see how we can help.

Table of Contents:

Switchboards for Commercial Buildings: Purpose and Function

Understanding Switchboards for Commercial Buildings

Commercial buildings come with their own unique electrical needs. At the heart of their power systems lie switchboards, complex devices that manage the flow of electricity throughout a facility.

A commercial switchboard, in simple terms, is like the heart of your electrical system. It directs current to the various appendages of your facility to ensure smooth, continuous operation. Without it, none of your lights, equipment, or offices would receive the power they need to operate.

Each component of your commercial building has its own specific energy requirements, and the requirements of an HVAC system are different from that of an elevator. A switchboard makes sure each part of your facility gets exactly what it needs.

The Magic Behind the Scenes

Switchboards in commercial buildings are different from those in residential applications because they handle larger currents. As such, commercial switchboards are built with more safety features that protect against serious hazards like fires and short circuits.

In other words, these are not your average circuit breakers but do not let that intimidate you. If we imagine electricity as water flowing through pipes (wires, in electricity’s case), then switchboards are like an intricate system of valves that control when and where the water flows.

Safety First: Why We Need Switchboards

Not only do switchboards make the flow of power more efficient and structured across various components of a commercial structure, but they also provide crucial safety protections against electrical hazards like overloads and short circuits.

When it comes to dealing with electrical equipment, OSHA prioritizes safety over everything else. Switchboards play a vital role in maintaining safety by acting as gatekeepers that safely and reliably distribute power throughout a building.

Customized For Your Needs

No two organizations or buildings are the same—neither are their switchboards. Commercial switchboards are not one-size-fits-all. Rather, they can be customized to the specific needs of each building or business operation, from small retail outlets to massive data centers.

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) outlines some best practices for designing these systems. Their specifications emphasize efficiency, reliability, and—primarily—safety.

Key Takeaway:

Switchboards are more than just circuit breakers—they function as part of an intricate system to manage power flow and protect against serious electrical hazards. Switchboards can be customized to a buildings’ specific needs.

Key Features of Commercial Building Switchboards

As the heart and brains of a building’s electrical system, commercial building switchboards come equipped with specialized features that set them apart from other types of devices.

Diverse Power Distribution Capabilities

Since diverse types of equipment have different power needs, commercial building switchboards must distribute power in a structured and organized way. A commercial building switchboard ensures every corner of your facility gets the electricity it needs—not too much and not too little.

Since commercial building switchboards distribute power in an organized manner, they reduce the chances of a costly and dangerous overload or short circuit. They can also help you manage your energy usage more effectively, leading to long-term cost savings on your utility bills.

Built-In Safety Measures

Switchboards are designed with safety at their core. These panels include circuit breakers which cut off power during surges or overloads, effectively preventing fires and other hazards.

Certain models even offer additional protective measures like arc fault detection that can detect potential fire risks before they become a bigger problem.

Fault Isolation Feature

Despite the best preventative measures, hazards do still arise. In the event of an issue like a short circuit or line fault, commercial building switchboards can isolate the affected zone without disrupting power elsewhere within your facility.

That means if a fault occurs in one area of your facility, other areas can still retain full functionality. Your lights stay on, and your business continues operating while you fix what needs fixing.

Variable Load Requirements

In our digital age, every area of technology has been transformed by new, intelligent designs. Switchboards are no different—smart switchboards come equipped with remote control capabilities, allowing you to manage and monitor your energy consumption from a distance.

Switchboards are not just about turning the lights on and off. They are also about understanding usage patterns for better management through connected systems.

All these features combine to make commercial building switchboards an indispensable part of any modern commercial structure. They bring together safety, efficiency, and convenience under one enclosure.

Smart Functionality

Low voltage boards manage lighter loads (typically less than 1,000 volts), while medium voltage boards can take care of heavier demands.

Your choice of a switchboard depends on the power needs of your commercial building, and no two buildings are alike.

Key Takeaway:

Switchboards are the powerhouse of a commercial building, ensuring power is distributed in a safe, organized, and efficient manner. Modern switchboards come equipped with inbuilt safety measures like circuit breakers and arc fault detection, as well as smart functionalities that allow for remote monitoring.

Types of Switchboards Used in Commercial Buildings

Since each commercial building has its own power needs, different buildings may use several types and combinations of switchboards. Depending on the needs of the building, these can range from quite simple panel boards to complex integrated systems.

Panel Boards

A panel board, often found in smaller businesses, is a component that distributes power to different circuits within a facility. It is a compact and cost-effective power distribution system but has its limitations when it comes to large facilities with more significant power needs.

Main Distribution Boards (MDBs)

The heart of any large commercial building’s electrical system is the Main Distribution Board (MDB). MDBs control all the electricity coming into a building and distribute it among smaller sub-distribution boards (SDBs).

MDBs include important safety features, like the ability to quickly shut off during emergencies or maintenance.

Power Control Centers (PCCs)

Power Control Centers (PCCs) are used by industries like manufacturing plants and data centers that require high-load electrical equipment.

PCCs not only distribute energy to specific pieces of equipment, but they also control how much energy each piece of machinery gets—an important energy management tool for industrial buildings.

Remote Power Panels (RPPs)

Just like PCCs, Remote Power Panels (RPPs) efficiently deliver power to specific equipment.

RPPs are equipped with specialized features like power distribution units and protection devices that make them well-suited for commercial building applications like data centers and manufacturing facilities. Beyond being a crucial safety tool, an RPP can prolong the lifespan of powered equipment by minimizing unnecessary wear and tear.

Integrated Switchboards

These specialized switchboards are all-in-one solutions for large commercial buildings with diverse power needs. Buildings like restaurants and retail stores benefit from integrated switchboards because they combine multiple types of switchboards into one unified system.

Key Takeaway:

Commercial buildings use several types of switchboards to meet their power needs. Smaller businesses may use compact panel boards, while large-scale commercial facilities may use more complex integrated systems. Some of the most common types of boards for commercial buildings are Main Distribution Boards (MDBs), Power Control Centers (PCCs), and Remote Power Panels (RPPs)—the right choice depends on your building’s size and unique power requirements.

The Installation Process for Commercial Building Switchboards

Installing a commercial switchboard is not as simple as plugging in a device. The multi-step process of integrating a switchboard into your electrical system requires planning, expertise, and strict adherence to safety standards.

Selecting the Right Location

You must identify the optimal location for your switchboard. The spot should be dry easily accessible, but away from the flow of general traffic. Depending on the type of switchboards you use, their proximity to certain areas or types of equipment could be another factor you should consider when placing your panels.

Purchasing Quality Equipment

Electricity is powerful and dangerous, so it is important that you obtain high-quality circuit breakers from dependable producers. The durability and reliability of your equipment is essential for the continued operation of your commercial space.

Hiring Professional Installers

It is important that your switchboard is installed correctly the first time—there is no room for error when it comes to managing power. Professional installation teams equipped with expertise and proper tools can help you avoid costly errors and potential danger down the line.

Scheduling Regular Maintenance Checks

Maintenance checks are essential post-installation because they ensure longevity and smooth operation. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests regular inspection schedules based on factors like usage and environment.

Key Takeaway:

Installing a switchboard in a commercial building is not just about connecting wires and flipping switches. It is also about creating an electrical hub that powers your business operations safely and efficiently.


Maintenance and Troubleshooting of Commercial Building Switchboards

It is crucial that you keep your commercial building switchboards in good working order. It is not just about keeping the lights on—it is also about safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.

Routine Maintenance

Regular maintenance checks are essential for avoiding potential problems down the line. This includes regularly inspecting all connections for signs of wear and tear, cleaning dust from the switchboard, and ensuring the equipment is performing as expected.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even with a diligent maintenance routine, occasional issues will still crop up. Identifying the root cause of these issues is essential to prevent them from turning into more serious problems.

One common issue involves circuit breakers tripping frequently. This can be caused by an overloaded circuit or by faulty wiring that needs immediate attention. Other telltale signs include flickering lights, excessive heat build-up, and a burnt smell coming from the panel—all signs that could warn of an impending electrical fire, according to the NFPA.

The Importance of Professional Expertise

You may feel confident changing a lightbulb, but working with high voltages in an industrial system is a different ballgame. When it comes to high-voltage equipment like switchboards, professional help is not just recommended—it is essential.

Electrical work carries inherent risks like shock hazards, which require special training and experience to manage safely. A qualified electrician can diagnose issues with your switchboard and can help you ensure it meets safety requirements and operates properly.

Maintaining Documentation

Finally, keeping good records sets your maintenance team up for success. Make sure you have an updated record of all inspections, repairs, and upgrades performed on your switchboard. This helps to streamline future troubleshooting efforts by giving electricians a clear history of the maintenance activities.

Key Takeaway:

It is vital that you properly maintain your commercial building’s switchboard. Work with qualified professionals to perform regular inspections, clean various components, and troubleshoot common issues. And remember, keeping a record of all maintenance tasks is key.

Regulatory Standards for Commercial Building Switchboards

Navigating the maze of regulatory standards that apply to commercial building switchboards is a challenge, but it is an essential challenge. These regulations vary depending on location and application, but we’ll focus on the U.S. standards set by the previously mentioned National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

NFPA 70: National Electric Code (NEC)

NFPA 70, also known as the National Electric Code or NEC is one of the key guidelines that governs commercial building switchboards. This code provides practical safeguards to hedge against serious hazards like fires and electric shock.

One key component of NEC is that all switchboard components must be clearly and accurately labeled according to their function. It may seem trivial, but incorrect labeling can lead to dangerous mishaps down the line—your electric system is too powerful to leave up to guesswork.

NFPA 79: Electrical Standard for Industrial Machinery

In addition to the guidelines laid out by the NEC, NFPA 79 includes additional standards for commercial building switchboards. This standard lays out specific color-coding wires and the mandatory use of protective ground circuits, among other stipulations.

Underwriters Laboratories Standards

UL-891 is the most common standard for switchboards in North America. Its rigorous standards are specifically targeted toward switchboards with ratings of up to 600V AC.

Key Takeaway:

These regulations may appear daunting, but they serve an important purpose. Not only are they designed to ensure your switchboard’s safety and efficiency, but they can also help you avoid hefty fines for non-compliance.


Selecting the Right Switchboard for Your Commercial Building

A switchboard holds a crucial place at the heart of your building’s electrical system. The choice of a switchboard comes down to too many factors, including how well they balance safety and efficiency.

Power Needs

The first factor you should consider when choosing a switchboard is your building’s power needs. The switchboard is like a heart that pumps vital resources to every “appendage” within your facility, so an underpowered switchboard can fail to meet your energy needs.

Size Matters

Not only does the capacity of your switchboard matter but so does its physical size. Your switchboard must fit alongside your equipment without impeding the general flow of traffic in your facility.

Safety First

Your chosen switchboard must meet all local regulatory standards, as outlined in the previous section. Do not play fast and loose with regulations—they are there for a reason: to protect both people and property from potential harm from electrical hazards.

Look Towards the Future

Nobody can predict the future, but planning makes good business sense for your organization. When selecting a switchboard for your commercial building, consider any future expansions that might increase your energy demands, change your floor plan, or introduce specific power needs down the line.

Switchboards in Commercial Buildings FAQs


Switchboards in commercial buildings are more than just “switches.” They are power brokers, working silently behind the scenes to connect incoming power with the devices and systems that require it.

In this guide, we unpacked the key features of switchboards, as well as their function within a commercial facility. We also discussed some best practices for the installation process and established that switchboards are best left to trained professionals.

We explored the best techniques for maintenance and outlined the key regulatory standards that switchboards must adhere to.

Switchboards are powerful and complicated, but they do not have to be intimidating. Go ahead—take control of your building’s heartbeat!

Find out how Electronic Power Design can help with your switchboard project.