Data center construction costs are down, according to a study by Environmental Systems Design

September 15, 2009 |



The current economic crisis has an upside for owners of mission-critical facilities: on average, it costs less today to construct a new data center than it did in late 2007, according to a study by Environmental Systems Design (ESD).

In today’s economy, owners are likely to find significant savings on labor, data center equipment and building materials, and transportation of building materials and equipment. Most notably, ESD found that the prices of feeder and cable have dropped by more than half, major data center equipment by 12%, labor and materials by 19.6%, and shipping and handling by 15% from the fourth quarter of 2007 to July 15, 2009.

“Our analysis shows that for any company anticipating the need to build or expand a data there is currently a window of opportunity to realize considerable savings,” said Raj Gupta, President and CEO, Environmental Systems Design.

ESD compared live project estimates using as baseline contractor bids for a 60,000-sf greenfield data center comprising 20,000 sf of raised access floor area at 150 watts per square foot and 10,000 sf of office space, with the following criteria for uptime and redundancy: Uptime Tier III for most components; 2N infrastructure for concurrently maintainable operation; dual utility; N+1 generator installation; 2N centrifugal chiller system; and a standard CRAC unit installation.

During the study period, ESD observed significant reductions in the costs of copper cabling (55%); feeder, both overall (55%) and for copper (48%); copper-based utility transformers (19%); and steel joists (18%). 

In contrast, ESD found that the price of UPS systems, HVAC equipment (i.e., CRAC units and chillers), pre-case tilt-up concrete building systems are stable; and the market for medium-voltage switchgear remains competitive, although prices have slightly dropped (4%).

Similarly, the study showed that that prices of other equipment have remained stable, while delivery schedules have significantly changed for better or worse. For example, the price of batteries fell slightly (3%), but delivery schedules remain long. The price of generators has fallen only moderately (8 to 12%), but delivery schedules are significantly shorter (40%).

The estimates are based on historical data, which are continuously updated based on actual bids on data center infrastructure equipment. ESD records historical trends for large equipment purchases (generators, UPS, switchgear, chillers, etc.), labor costs, and delivery schedules. In addition, the company considers geographical markets for construction materials and labor using figures form RSMeans and other industry benchmarks. Since September 2008, in particular, ESD has closely monitored the pricing and delivery of major data center infrastructure components in recognition of the need for possible reductions due to the economy.

Founded in 1967, Environmental Systems Design ( has provided design solutions on hundreds of buildings in the United States and on major projects throughout the world.  The firm offers consulting engineering services in mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, LEED®, sustainable design, commissioning, and technology.  ESD supports a diverse range of markets, including commercial, health and science, education, mission critical, residential, assembly, cultural, theaters, energy plants and transportation. Its clients include architects, developers, property managers and Fortune 1000 companies with whom it works to restore the buildings of the past and create new buildings of tomorrow.

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