Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Visiting California

I spent a couple weeks in Northern California, San Diego and Los Angeles, calling on Mechanical Engineers with our sales reps. And after hitting 20 different engineering firms, and over 140 practicing mechanical engineers in S California, Sacramento and the S.F. Bay area, while I expected to get a lot of feedback on the new technologies being advanced across the US, with some expectation that California would be leading the way in innovation, that wasn’t the case.

What I found was a healthy respect for jumping into new technology without knowing all the ramifications of that jump. Many engineers either had or knew of bad experiences with new technologies and had already faced the issue of complex building systems’ inability to be properly installed or maintained.

On the whole, the concerns were less about the technology than about the ability of the technology being installed properly in the buildings they were designing. The more complex the system, it seems that there is a higher likelihood that something critical would be overlooked.

California, much like the rest of the country, has experienced a high flux in opportunities for mechanical engineers, and lots of shuffling of personnel is apparent. Everyone seems to have worked somewhere else recently. The result is a lot of cross pollination of ideas and experiences. And there is a bit of conservatism in designs. Having heard horror stories on every type of system imaginable, it is no surprise.

Apparently tried and trued HVAC designs (VAV, overhead well mixed air delivery) either has a greater safety factor or is simply the most familiar system, but seems to be less troublesome in commissioning and operation. It is certainly the more familiar installation.

While other system approaches have the potential, at least, to be more energy efficient, and can be less expensive to install, often it is not the case. I suspect what we are seeing is a lack of coordination between the Owner, General Contractor, and installing trades. All need to be on the same page, especially with complex technologies.

There was also a surprising (at least to me, in California of all places) push back on the advantages and general endorsement of LEED. Many see LEED as a time consuming endeavor for which they don’t get paid. Worse, I discovered that the LEED required (per ASHRAE 62.1, which is a prerequisite) Charcoal Ozone mitigation filters are never specified in LA County, which is clearly an Ozone “non-attainment” area under the EPA rules. Nonetheless, a number of buildings in LA are LEED certified without these items. One has to wonder what else that is LEED mandatory is overlooked.

Authored by: Dan Int-Hout, Chief Engineer Krueger