When High Voltage Meets Low Voltage, Are There Sparks?

The relationships between the various trades on a jobsite form a complex web of inter-dependencies. The two that are arguably the closest are the electrician and the AV pro.

That makes sense, since on even small AV jobs the AV pro needs to specify locations and load capacities for the electrical outlets required for the AV system. On large, complex projects, the AV pros and the electricians have to work together very closely on the interplay between the automation and everything in the building that is both powered and controlled.

Close relationships aren’t always smooth sailing though; they can go through rough patches. Conflicts can arise for any number of reasons, although poor communication between AV pro and their electrician counterpart is the most common.

Conversely, it’s because of the parallels between the high voltage and the low voltage categories that we’ve seen cross-pollination (if you want to call it that) occur between the two disciplines.

To some degree, there’s an impetus for AV pros to conclude that as their projects get larger and more sophisticated that they either need a licensed electrician on their payroll or an extremely close partnership with an amenable contractor to ensure that their needs on the jobsite are met.

At the same time, electricians can see what AV pros are doing, not just with things like lighting control, but also with audio and video, and conclude that these are products and services that they’re more than capable of delivering on.

If you visit any of the outlets of the large international wholesalers, like Eecol Electric, who cater to electricians, you’ll see not just high voltage lines and equipment, but a range of AV distribution and smart home equipment that might surprise you.

That shift among electrical distributors is notable, at least partly because there’s not a corresponding shift where AV distributors are branching out into high voltage equipment.

Instead, what’s more apparent is at the installation level of the channel, where AV pros are taking at least some ownership of high voltage, if only to ensure that their equipment is properly serviced with the loads they need in the building.

It’s still far more common for AV pros to have a preferred electrical contractor or two that they prefer to work closely with, it’s becoming less unusual for them to have an electrician on staff. There are certainly more now than there were five or ten years ago.

Not that some AV companies haven’t taken the plunge. A few have gone further still: not just employing licensed electricians in-house to serve their projects’ needs, but building out a new division to offer full electrical contracting to the builders.

In that way, they’re going after the electrical side just as electricians are pursuing the AV side. Diversification like that parallels what the electricians are also thinking: there’s a demand in the marketplace, why not get into the business yourself?

What does it all mean? What are the long-term implications that need to be considered?

Is this an increase in competition, cutting the pie into smaller pieces for everyone? Or does this mean newer, greater opportunities as a result?

I suppose we’re going to find out.