Home construction in Baltimore delayed by nationwide shortage of electrical equipment – Baltimore Sun

2023-02-19 02:17:45 By : Mr. zhengjun li

A newly renovated rowhome sits empty in East Baltimore with marble steps and a picture window with dentil molding. It has a newly finished basement, granite countertops in the kitchen and two bedrooms on the second floor.

The home, just a few blocks from Johns Hopkins Hospital, is under contract and the renovation was expected to finish in mid-December. Passive And Active Electronic Components

Home construction in Baltimore delayed by nationwide shortage of electrical equipment – Baltimore Sun

But no one has been able to move in due to a global shortage of dull gray, metal boxes. They’re called meter cans or meter sockets and they house the electric meter — the device that measures electricity used by a home. While they don’t look like much, meter cans are essential to connect a new or renovated home to power.

Jake Wittenberg runs Edgemont Builders, the contractor that renovated the vacant home. It’s one of a handful his company has renovated, but couldn’t finish on time because of the meter can shortage.

“What good is a house without power?” Wittenberg said. “It’s a big problem.”

When a home is built or renovated in the Baltimore area, it typically needs an upgraded meter can. Those meter cans are supplied and installed by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., the private utility company for Baltimore and the surrounding area. It used to take a few weeks for an installation. Lately, it’s taken months.

An electric meter in east Baltimore sits in its "can," the surrounding metal case. Builders are experiencing problems obtaining electric meter “cans,” without which they can’t turn on electricity in homes they've built. No one knows when the shortage will end. February 10, 2023 (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

Chris Haas, an electrician who runs Haas & Sons in Pasadena, can’t recall a shortage this bad. Some projects are slowing down or on pause, he said, and higher-end meter cans that can handle 320 amps are almost impossible to source.

“We call it a unicorn because you’re lucky if you find one,” he said.

Haas said he spoke with an employee of BGE’s metering department last month who told him the utility had 1,600 meter cans on back order and installations were six to eight weeks behind.

“It keeps us from being able to complete our jobs,” Haas said. “This is the entire BGE network.”

BGE acknowledged that it has a backlog but declined to say how many electricians and contractors are waiting on new meter cans.

Jake Wittenberg, president of Edgemont Builders, stands at the back of a home his firm remodeled in East Baltimore. The home can't be occupied because it is missing a "meter can," which holds the home's electric meter. The cans are in short supply these days. This home was finished and ready for occupancy in mid-December, but still can't be occupied because there can be no electric utility hookup without the "can." He has no idea when one will be available. Builders are experiencing problems obtaining electric meter “cans,” without which they can’t turn on electricity in the homes. February 10, 2023 (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

“BGE received material this week and is aggressively working the jobs backlog, which we expect to be resolved by the end of February,” BGE spokesperson Nick Alexopulos said in an email.

This isn’t just a Baltimore problem or a BGE problem, but a global problem, according to Josh Bone, executive director of ELECTRI, a trade association for electricians. Shortages of electrical parts are causing construction delays everywhere, he said, and only a handful of companies manufacture meter cans.

“They’re catching up, but it’s still a problem,” Bone said. “They’re still projecting it to be a pain point for the next few months.”

BGE buys its meter cans from Milbank, a manufacturer based in Kansas City, Missouri. Milbank CEO Brad Skinner said the company is working through a backlog that could take months — or longer — to overcome.

“We have just been flooded with orders,” Skinner said.

It all began with the coronavirus pandemic, he said, when the economy appeared to be teetering on a knife’s edge. Skinner said for the first few months, demand for meter cans dried up. But by June 2020 there was a swell of new orders, he said, which quickly turned into a torrent that hasn’t let up.

Because of the virus, Milbank was forced to run at partial capacity, Skinner said, meaning the company began to fall behind. Even when its three manufacturing plants — in Missouri and Arkansas — were fully operational, vendors from overseas often couldn’t supply parts, he said.

Now, things are looking up, Skinner said. Vendors are more consistent and his company is hiring new employees nearly every day. Milbank shipped more meter cans in January than in any month in the company’s history, Skinner said, but there is still a massive backlog to work through.

Skinner hopes the company will catch up in a few months, but stressed that this depends on the supply chain’s stability.

Joe Wilner, operations manager of Edgemont Builders, places his hand on an electric meter "can" on the back of a house his firm remodeled on the city's east side. Builders are experiencing problems obtaining electric meter “cans,” without which they can’t turn on electricity in the homes. They have no idea when more cans will be available. One of the houses they built on this block has been ready since Dec. 15, but because they can't get a "can," the house can't get electricity and can’t be occupied. February 10, 2023 (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

“We feel like we’re in a lot better place right now,” Skinner said. “We’re shipping a lot of product out.”

In the meantime, Baltimore’s homebuilders are feeling the pinch.

Robert Myers, who oversees acquisition and construction for Baltimore Washington Home Solutions, said his company is losing tens of thousands of dollars as it waits on meter cans for five Baltimore homes.

“I’m bleeding money on houses,” Myers said. “We need a solution, right? If the city wants us to continue to bring homeowners into Baltimore or into the county, we need a guaranteed workaround.”

Myers said BGE should allow contractors and electricians to buy their own meter cans from third parties.

“Why not? A meter can cannot be more than a couple hundred bucks at best,” he said. “Let us find a workaround and let us get these houses and projects completed.”

Developers of every size are affected.

Alexander Cruz is a partner at CR of Maryland, a company that has bought and renovated hundreds of vacant homes in Baltimore, selling them as turnkey investment properties. Cruz said his firm has been waiting months on meter cans for nine homes in Baltimore.

“I can’t do anything with them,” he said.

Tzuriel Fenigstein is a much smaller operator. He works alone, flipping houses one at a time. He needs to sell a home in Homewood before he can start his next project, Fenigstein said, but he’s stuck waiting on a meter can. He said his electrician tried to get a meter can in July, but eventually told Fenigstein it was too difficult and that he was on his own.

“I’m at the mercy of BGE right now,” Fenigstein said. “I won’t be able to sell the house. That’s a lot of money.”

Back in East Baltimore, Wittenberg is breathing a sigh of relief. BGE installed a meter can Tuesday on the home near Johns Hopkins Hospital. Wittenberg had been waiting for it since Thanksgiving.

Home construction in Baltimore delayed by nationwide shortage of electrical equipment – Baltimore Sun

Discontinued Integrated Circuit “Problems happen in construction all the time, but not knowing when the problem will resolve or abate can be infinitely frustrating for everyone involved,” Wittenberg said. “Now that we have permanent power, everything is in our control to finish the house.”