The Columbia University definitions for permanent equipment are:
"Equipment" is defined as an item having a unit value of $5,000 as well as a useful life of two or more years. It is important to adhere to this definition when preparing sponsored project budgets. Many agencies, including all federal government agencies, do not allow indirect costs to be charged on equipment. Items costing between $500 and $4,999 are considered "supplies" or "minor equipment" and indirect cost will be charged against them for budget purposes.
Computers, including laptops, are ordinarily considered general office equipment (i.e., their use is not exclusively for the project being considered for funding). Therefore, if funds for computers are requested in a budget, a justification explaining the use of the equipment vis-à-vis the research to be carried out must be included. The justification must also assure the agency that the computer equipment will be used exclusively for the research. Federal sponsors sometimes require further justification, in the form of a letter requesting an exception, for computer and software purchases.
Equipment is further categorized as "special purpose" or "general purpose". Special purpose equipment is usually considered to be items that only can be used for research. General purpose equipment has utility that is not limited to research. The distinction between these two categories becomes important when discussing rebudgeting authorizations, which vary from agency to agency.
It is important that each item of equipment being requested is clearly identified and priced (including shipping and installation) in the proposal. (If possible, specific manufacturers and model numbers should be used.)
Care must be taken to include all the items of cost associated with the acquisition of equipment, such as shipping and installation costs. These latter costs may be substantial on larger, more specialized equipment items, where special power, insulation, shielding, water and/or cooling requirements must be met. Contact Columbia University Facilities to have these costs assessed.