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Craig, the Sponge and Investing in Your Career

I have been in the Electrical trade for over 32 years and I have had the fortunate experience of learning from a number of skilled electricians during my four year apprenticeship. I started in a company that had a large crew,  and I would have to say that the most significant journeyman I worked under was Craig.

The first day I met Craig on the job we were getting ready to start our task for the day, John, the foreman, stopped by and asked Craig “where is Sponge?”  Craig said he was on another job. John turned and said that Craig’s apprentice was nicknamed Sponge. John then told the story of how that came to be.

Apparently, Craig showed up on one of John’s previous projects along with Sponge and when they were assigned their task, Craig said, “Lets move out Sponge.”

John said, “What did you call him? Sponge?”

Craig replied “yes,” and then said to Sponge, “Tell him what you are.”

Sponge, who was really close to testing for his license at this point and had almost four years in the trade, said, “C’mon Craig, do I have to?”

Craig repeated the statement, “Tell him what you are!”

Sponge replied in a monotone response but nonetheless, well practiced, “ I am a Sponge.”

Craig asked “What do you do?”

Again Sponge said, “C’mon Craig, do we really have to?””

Craig raised his voice, “Tell him what you do.”

Sponge, back to the monotone response, “I soak up knowledge.”

To which Craig asked him, “And what are you?”

Sponge, “I am the luckiest apprentice on the face of the earth, perhaps, (Craig insists on the dramatic pause) the entire universe.”

Thirty two years later, I think of this often. I was very green when I first started and when John and Craig would talk, it was all electrician jargon. I didn’t know what they were saying and told Craig so. Craig told me to come to work a half hour early every day. Each night he would assign me the task of studying from the National Electrical Code definitions.

“We start work at 7am, you will arrive at 6:30. I will test you on the terms and if you’re wrong, you owe me (again with Craig’s dramatic pause) a dollar. At the end of the week, we will take the dollars and go to the supply house. You will then purchase a tool as this is an investment in your career and your trade.”

This tactic may not be favorable in today’s standards of Human Resources; I was not getting paid to arrive early every morning.  However, neither was Craig.  He took the time and the effort and most importantly, the interest, in making sure the next generation of electricians were  learning effectively.

To this day when I am asked, “who was the best electrician you ever worked with?” The question is quickly and easily answered  “Craig”

“I Thought That Was Included”

“When contractors meet with potential clients, we have many topics to discuss. Our conversation often starts with me asking a prospective client what I can do to fix their problem. Many things will come up throughout the conversation and as we talk the client’s wish list often grows, often inspired by the passion of the project or the excitement caused as two parties exchange ideas. As rapport and excitement builds and flows, I try to capture all of the information on paper and in my memory, knowing that this information will later be placed into the estimate, which will be reviewed later by the client.

Afterwards, I go to my office to create the estimate. If it is not an immediate reflection at our desk (and it rarely is), small details can be forgotten and pictures don’t always capture the proper depth perception on the computer. As I visualize the project, the steps and materials necessary, and everything the client wants, I put all of the information into the estimate. When I complete it, I present it to the client to review the estimate, which is meant to act as a “checks and balances”.  The client should do more than look at the bottom line; they should review the estimate in its entirety, ensure that all of their wants and needs are on the estimate, and that there is a price associated with them. If any of those things are missing, the client should inform me so that I can ensure that they get the accurate price for their project. Missing items are never intentional, as they are often a result of attempting to capture the flow of ideas on paper while walking a job site. After all is said in done, I want to make sure the client gets the most accurate price to avoid the “I thought that was included” when the project is finished and the balance is due. It is the contractor’s job to put everything into the quote, but it is the client’s job to review the estimate and ensure that they are getting everything they asked for. Working together with the contractor is the best way to ensure you get everything you want out of your project.

Outdoor “Sound Field”

Today’s Outdoor Audio System

When we think about outdoor audio, many of us envision two speakers mounted on the outside of the house on opposite sides of the back slider. Or maybe if it was an above average installation, there are a few speakers that look like rocks near the firepit. These old style systems have now been replaced with the “Sound Field” system.

What is a “Sound Field” system? The sound field system is a strategically placed system that has eight satellite speakers and an in-ground subwoofer. The audio on this is much more balanced and rich sounding, and can create an intimate area in which you can choose to have either nice background music or can completely rock out. The biggest benefit of the sound field is that it lessens the chance of “audio trespass” or as your neighbors might call it, “annoying and deserving of a noise complaint”. By surrounding your outdoor entertainment area or poolscape with the sound field, it allows you to keep the music intimate and balanced instead of trying to get two speakers on the house to cover your entire property.

In many ways, the sound field is comparable to having an exterior home theater. Tied into a Sonos system or other means of audio distribution, you are given control right on your smartphone or tablet. Imagine having the ability to listen to your favorite music, ballgame, podcast, or audio book when floating in your pool or sitting by the fireplace, being able to switch between any of them easily on your phone. The sound field system has truly revolutionized outdoor audio.

Caution with LED integrated fixtures

Integrated LED Light Fixtures


           Many of the LED light fixtures we see today are called integrated fixtures, meaning that the light source is built into the fixture itself. These fixtures are known for their great quality and the amazing source of light they provide, there is an underlying problem that tends to stop me from using them myself.

            Nothing lasts forever, no house, car, computer, cell phone, and no light fixture. Many light fixture manufacturers offer exceptional warranties, some even a lifetime, but these are never a guarantee. In today’s day and age, we see businesses come and go almost daily, so we know that not every company offering a lifetime or particularly long guarantee will be around when it comes time to use it.

            And if the company lasts, does that ensure the specific fixture is available in the next 5 or 10 years? We see this in businesses constantly- the latest and greatest products are forgotten within a couple of years and replaced by something even greater. With these integrated fixtures, if the fixture style is discontinued the consumer has to change the entire fixture or even all of them instead of making a simple change in the lamp, for example.

            Even in the landscape, where the look of the fixtures may not be imperative, the actual color of the light output from the fixture is. Manufacturers are always looking to improve the light output of the LED, which means today’s integrated fixture is not likely to have the same light output or even look the exact same as tomorrow’s integrated fixture.

            I almost always lean towards a fixture where the lamp can be changed instead of the entire fixture. It doesn’t make sense from an economic or design standpoint to throw out an entire fixture when you could simply change the lamp. So make sure, when choosing a fixture, you are making an educated decision.


The Area of Refuge

Make your Yard a Personal Area of Refuge

The “area of refuge” in a building is a specific area designed to protect occupants who cannot leave. Whether it’s a raging hurricane or an active shooter, the intent is to provide safety until help can arrive. In today’s chaotic times, wouldn’t it be nice to have an “area of refuge” in our own homes? A comfortable place to escape the hustle and bustle, and never ending demands on our time?

When we work with fellow contractors and designers on an outdoor space, we are indeed creating “areas of refuge”.  Simply being able to get away for a little while can make all the difference in the world. “Me time” is not a selfish concept, it is critical for our personal well-being. As humans, we need to sometimes retreat to a place where we can “reboot our systems.”

As an electrical contractor, how do I help? I don’t do it alone. The construction of a “personal area of refuge” requires the joint effort of a few different services, starting with a landscaper who has designed the space according to the client’s needs, wants and desires. My job is to compliment the space; with proper lighting design, my team creates the rhythm of the space after the sun goes down (after all, you are most likely to be using your “area of refuge” after a long day of work). Arriving home and walking outside, you can leave the world behind for just a couple of hours. When the sunsets, the area you have created becomes your own personal resort. Properly lit, you can enjoy your refuge well into the night.

To unwind, you don’t need to plan an expensive trip a year in advance, grind it out to that predetermined time, and fight the travel monsters to get to your vacation. You can simply come home, pour a glass of wine, turn on some outdoor music, and relax in an Adirondack chair. The area of refuge could be right in your yard, just a few footsteps away.

Service provider or something more?

We received a distressed call from a fine restaurant last month. “Please help us, we have a bank of lights in the dining room that are not working. We made it through last night but need the lights back on for the dinner rush.”

We went out to the job, assessed the situation. It was a defective dimmer switch. We changed the switch and the lights came back on.

“Thank you so much” they said. “We would have been crushed tonight without these lights.” I assume that this is not really true but they were still emotional at that point.

So, a month has passed and the unpaid service call invoice is still open. The defective switch is no longer an “emergency” for them. That stressful day has long since been forgotten. Now it is simply an annoying bill on the accounts payable pile. “We only pay our bills once a month. You will have to wait. I am sorry but that is our policy.”

What is not apparent to them is that we did not simply change a switch.

We provided them the ability to continue business as usual. Almost instantly I might add.


We kept a customer from falling down and suing the restaurant.

We allowed someone to try their new “favorite restaurant”.

We gave the restaurant a new lifelong customer.

We allowed someone the ideal place to propose to their future wife or husband.

You see, it was never about changing a switch. It was always about keeping the experience of the restaurant alive.