As a design engineer, it is tempting to provide the most sophisticated, energy efficient systems for every project. As a consultant, we need to provide what the client needs. Often, the client does not know what they need, and that’s why they pay us. Here are three questions to ask when helping a client evaluate their needs.
What are your goals for the project?
Does the owner want to own the building for 30 years or sell it before construction is finished? Does the owner want to pursue green building certifications? Will the hotel be considered high end or affordable?
Inquiring about the owner goals will help set a baseline for quality. You do not want to put a window air conditioner into a high-end hotel. Understanding the owner’s vision will allow you to present a design that will satisfy the owner and the building department.
What is the project budget?
Money, it’s something most people do not like to talk about. Get over it. If you design a system that doesn’t match the budget then you will not be in the next budget. Design engineers do not make great estimators, but a fundamental understanding of first cost pricing tiers is necessary. Metal pipe is more expensive than plastic pipe. Water source heat pumps are more expensive than vertical terminal air conditioners.
Large projects will often have contractors provide preliminary pricing. Request copies of the budget and review the line items. Familiarizing yourself with how budgets are prepared will pay dividends when an owner asks you to review a contractor change order request.
What do you think about…?
Present your initial design ideas to the client and solicit their feedback. Explain why you are proposing particular systems or designs. Have one or more alternate options for discussion and explain the main differences between the options, i.e. cost, energy efficiency, or maintenance.
Clients may have had a bad experience with specific systems in the past. Do your best to understand what went wrong and sympathize with their experience, but you should also stand behind your design ideas. We are paid to be consultants. Don’t be afraid to consult.