Hotel Projects

Q&A Session: Adam & Daniel

We spoke with Adam Cross, a Plumbing Design Controller, and Daniel Payne, an Electrical Design Controller, here at VP Engineering about hotel projects and how they keep up with the most modern design. Keep reading to hear their answers and learn how VP approaches boutique and national brand hotel designs.

What different hotels have you worked on during your career at VP?

Adam: I’ve worked on quite a few during my time at VP. I have designed for the Landmark Hotel in Gainesville, Florida, multiple Springhill Suites, and the boutique Chancellor’s House in Oxford, Mississippi. I have also completed quality control for Hampton Inn.

Daniel: Similar to Adam, I designed for Landmark in Florida and completed quality control for the Hampton Inn in Kansas City.

What makes hotel projects different from multi-family building or senior living projects that we design?

Daniel: Usually they are very prototypical. Each hotel has their own standards like particular lights and fixtures that we have to design with. Whenever we design we always have to design to code minimum – but with hotels, because they are building so many and operating them, a lot of time their requirements are above the normal code.

Adam: A lot of times there is a lot more amenities than standard multifamily buildings including kitchens, commercial laundries, indoor/outdoor pools, spas, and fitness centers.

What are we at VP doing to make sure that we stay up-to- date with the latest technology available to hospitality design?

Daniel: We have lots of reps that come in frequently and show us all of the new products and give valuable presentations during lunch-and- learns. With hotel designing sometimes it’s as simple as staying up to date on their design standards. If their design standard is to put a nice, extravagant lighting control system in, we design to that. You can only be as up-to-date as the brand allows you to be. They are continuously vetting different ideas because they end up using it over multiple properties so if they have issues there will be multiple issues.

How is designing for a boutique hotel different from designing for a brand?

Adam: The Chancellor’s House was unique as far as overall design. It was a very compact building and was uniquely laid out. It was also very upscale.

Daniel: It was a lot more free-willing. The owner made the decisions rather than the brand. AS a designer you have a little more leeway and the owner is given the chance to do what he/she wants to do rather than being restricted to brand standards.

Do you notice the design of hotels when you visit them?

Adam: Yes. Being a plumbing designer I definitely notice how long it takes for the hotel water to arrive. I’ll notice the type of showerhead used and if the water is just dribbling out or if there is good pressure.

Daniel: I’ll usually notice if it’s hot or cold in the room or if I’m walking down the hallway and it’s awfully dark I’ll think ‘maybe it’s not a good idea to design lighting this way.’

What are some of the greatest take-aways that you’ve gained while designing for hotels?

Adam: The biggest challenge when designing for hotels is absorbing all of their design standards and making sure that you pay attention to the details that they expect. They (the hotel brand) see these things on a daily basis and we have to make sure we’re meeting their expectations.

What do you see for the future of hospitality design?

Daniel: You might see an increase in boutique hotels but I assume that the majority of hotels that are going to be built are going to be prototypical in nature. One thing that you might see, especially in larger markets where land is at a premium, hotels may start going up rather than out.

Adam: With building codes being ever-evolving, we are seeing that ASHRAE is ramping up their minimum efficiencies to make the buildings much more sustainable. I see all lighting eventually becoming LED and fluorescent lighting becoming obsolete.

people in large conference

17 Things You Should Know About Carolinas’ Economy

The 8th Annual Interface Carolinas Conference was held on June 1, 2017 in Charlotte and was, as usual, very informative. The Interface Carolinas Conference is a one-day affair that discusses the state of the Carolinas’ commercial markets. It focuses on retail, office, multi-family, and industrial sectors as well as capital markets.

I thought it might be helpful to share a few points that really stuck out to me during the conference. Continue reading for my greatest takeaways.

  1. Unemployment is down across the country. However caution should be exercised as a person is considered “employed” if they have worked only 1 paid hour in a given week.
  2. Migration across the country is at its lowest rate since World War II. Despite this, the southeast has had good population growth.
  3. GDP is expected to grow 1% in 2017 and 2.7% growth is projected for 2018.
  4. The inflation rate has been temporarily depressed due to a flood of merchandise requiring liquidation for retail store closings – this is temporary.
  5. Tax reforms are projected as the GOP needs something for mid-term elections.
  6. Two interest rate hikes are expected for 2017.
  7. Manufacturing has gained momentum.
  8. The Carolinas are one of the fastest growing areas in the country; however the growth is concentrated in the MSAs (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) and along the coast.
  9. Nationwide, 15 urban areas have accounted for almost all multi-family construction since the recession ended.
  10. Home ownership is projected to increase for the next 10 years as the millennial cohort average age reaches 37 years. This is the age where home ownership really takes off.
  11. From 2010 to 2016, 150,000 people have moved to Charlotte.
  12. Retirees are moving to the Carolinas in increasing numbers. 10 more years of strong growth for retirees is projected for the Carolinas. The Wilmington MSA has had the strongest growth.
  13. 105,000 jobs are forecast to be added to the Carolinas in 2017.
  14. The South Carolina single-family home market has recovered well and is not at pre-recession levels.
  15. The North Carolina single-family home market is more anemic as it is only 2/3 of pre-recession levels.
  16. HB2 did not have much of an immediate impact on job growth. The impact probably won’t be seen in statistical numbers until 2018 – 2019 due to the lethargy of corporate relocations.
  17. Mixed-use retail is doing really well. However, growing online retail sales are projected to deeply impact retail centers with an increasing pace of center closures expected.

In general, we are very fortunate to live in the Carolinas. The economy is humming along and indications are the immediate future will be bright.

common hotel space with a man working

Does Your Building Have a “We” Space?

When the general public became familiar with the internet in the early 1990’s, change seemed inevitable. What no one knew was how granular and ubiquitous those changes would become.

A prime example of this is social media. Through Facebook and Twitter (and countless other sites), we can tell the world as much or as little about ourselves as we want, while becoming entrenched in other people’s lives at the same time. We’ve become incredibly nosey, living a private life in a public (virtual) space, and expecting the same from others.

What is a “We” Space?

While living a private life in the public space started virtually, the phenomenon is now manifesting itself in the real world. It’s called the We Space trend.

A hotel is the perfect example of a We Space in action. Gone are the days when the hotel lobby’s main function was to check guests in and out. It’s been remade into a large, open expanse with Wi-Fi, electrical plugs, and food and drink. The tastefully decorated lobby invites the business traveler to pull out his laptop, order dinner, and work. It invites the soccer parents to meet and socialize between tournament games while their soccer stars huddle with their teammates and play on their phones. It’s where teenagers go to escape the watchful eye of their guardians and to be alone in a public place.

The We space trend isn’t limited to the hotel lobby, it’s also evident in the exercise room. No longer an afterthought tossed in the basement or tucked in the back corner next to linen storage, exercise rooms have become larger, brighter, and command a prominent location. They offer multiple TV’s with the ability to stream your favorite workout, allowing you to do your own thing among everyone else—who are also doing their own thing.

Another hotel We Space is the rooftop. While people like to socialize in bars, they LOVE to socialize in high places with a view. Operators have discovered that the revenue generated by rooftop bars and restaurants far outweighs the additional construction costs of those spaces.

Your Business Needs a “We” Space

Savvy owners and operators are starting to jump on the We Space trend and incorporate it into their hotels to increase guest satisfaction and generate more revenue. If you own a hotel, now is the time to add a gathering space or risk losing out on business. If the social media trend is any indication, We Spaces are about to become more popular than ever.

senior living design trends

Senior Living Design Trends to Implement Today

It’s easy to see that senior living facilities are thriving: just look at the demographics and industry numbers. The anecdotal evidence is there too – I pass three new senior living construction projects during my commute to work. As the Vice President of Business Development, my personal knowledge of senior living design has become limited to attending conferences and reading articles. While these are great opportunities to gain insight at a broad and higher level, there is a large difference between that perspective and what goes on in day-to-day designing. In an effort to stay well-rounded, I recently sat down with two of my Project Managers to get specific details on the current state of senior living and how we at VP Engineering are preparing for and reacting to the “boom.”

What different senior living projects have you worked on during your career at VP Engineering?

Zach: “I have participated as both a designer and project manager for senior living, memory care, and independent living for about eight years. The most memorable projects I have worked on are The Blake at the Grove, The Veranda, Mebane Ridge, and Chatham Ridge.”

Sanjay: “The first senior living project I worked on was in 2009/2010. It was Westinghouse, an independent living facility designed with Narmour Wright. I have also worked on Mebane Ridge, Chatham Ridge, and multiple Wellmore projects. We have been designing for senior living consistently ever since I started at the company about nine years ago.”

What makes senior living projects different from the multi-family buildings that we design?

Zach: “The life safety aspect is very different. With limited care facilities, you are required to have an essential electrical system with a life safety branch and critical care branch.  The code is specific with regards to what goes on each branch, so care needs to be taken to design them properly. That also includes the nurse call system as well as a generator for emergency power.”

Sanjay: “The amenity areas are a lot like multi-family, but it also has a lot of back-of-the-house necessities such as a full kitchen. It’s a lot more like a hotel than it is a multi-family building.”

What new trends are you seeing in senior living design?

Zach: “The number of projects is increasing because of the baby boomers. A lot more projects are coming in because of the need.”

Sanjay: “The facilities are becoming increasingly nicer. Even when comparing to the one the project that I designed in 2009, it’s much more luxury and top-of-the-line. Owners are asking for dining areas with dance floors, almost like a cruise. They have nice hair salons, therapy rooms, awesome gyms, entertainment areas for movie nights, and bars.”

What are we at VP doing to make sure we stay up-to-date with the latest technology available to senior living design?

Zach: “We’re attending conferences and reading industry white papers. We are constantly looking for and learning about systems that will give owners the optimum balance between life-cycle and cost. Best bang for the buck.”

Sanjay: “We focus on comfort. Owners are leaning to more high-end systems than they’d even have in a hotel. Instead of just putting a PTAC on the wall, in assisted living units they are putting VTAC units similar to hotels. They really care about the comfort. I could foresee eventually going with VRF systems for higher-end buildings. They are willing to spend the money necessary to ensure comfort for their residents.”

How has designing for senior living changed in the last 5 – 10 years?

Zach: “We are designing a lot more because of the baby boomers. Also, the operators are much more involved than they used to be. They now participate in meetings and give us insight on their needs and new trends. Facilities are also much larger because of the number of amenities.“

Sanjay: “The designs are no longer institutional. It has the same requirements, but it is now more of a luxury resort-style. These new senior living facilities are larger buildings with fewer floors. We’re designing for nicer finishes, so you have to take particular care when designing – especially in the common spaces. We meld our systems to coordinate with interior designers. Interior aesthetics are extremely important now to the extent that they affect the MEP systems and where they go. They don’t dictate the function, but they do dictate the location.”

What do you imagine for the future of senior living design?

Zach: “It doesn’t seem to be slowing down. It’s getting nicer and nicer. It’s become more like resort living. People are living a lot longer, so we’ll be building for longer stays.”

Sanjay: “The end of the baby-boomer generation isn’t for another 12 years. They will continue building up new facilities until that time. Following that, I think we’ll move on to renovation. Even after the baby boomer generation, people will continue needing facilities. Perhaps they won’t be building as more, but I expect a lot of renovating.”

Zach Joyce is one of VP’s Project Managers is an Electrical Designer. Zach has been in the industry for 16 years and has been a part of our team since 2009. (link to bio)

Sanjay Patel is one of our Project Managers and a Mechanical Designer. Sanjay is a Professional Engineer in NC, has been working in the industry for ten years, and has been a member of the VP team since 2008.

senior living mep engineers

How Lighting Illuminates More Than A Room

Picture this: you’re at your desk, working on a project, stressing about the deadline. The phone rings, emails come in; it’s a typical day at the office. At some point, you look up from where you’re hunched over and glance outside. It’s beautiful. Cloudless and sunny. Instinctively, you feel the pull to go outside, to get away from the chaos of the office for even just a few minutes.

So out you go.

The sun is bright; the air is warm, the rich green color of the trees contrasts amazingly with the sky. Within seconds you feel better, more alive, a bit more at peace, and the stress seems to ebb a bit. What you’re experiencing is biophilia, the hard-wired human need to connect with nature.

Thirty years ago, we didn’t have the technology to conduct the studies to acquire the data to tell us what we already knew – that being outside is good for us. Now we do, and the information coming out is fascinating. Interacting with nature, even in an indoor environment (think greenhouse and bio walls), provides a great many benefits. Lower blood pressure, better sleeping and eating habits, greater cognitive abilities, reduced stress, stress hormone reduction and improved cognitive performance are just a few of the quantifiable effects of exposure to nature.

How does this happen?

One way is how the body processes natural light. Natural light, with its spectrum of wavelengths, causes specific hormonal cascades in the body which we perceive as emotional and physical well-being. Fluorescent lighting doesn’t come close to replicating this outdoor environment. Color changing LEDs and other specialty light sources, with the proper controls, can be used to better reproduce the outdoor environment for seniors. This is a bit of the knowledge that has come out of the biophilic design field and was presented at EFA (Environments for the Aging Conference).

Savvy senior living designers are starting to incorporate biophilic design principles into their projects, and savvy developers and operators are starting to insist on them. Biophilic design bridges the gap between the holistic, aesthetic, and touchy-feely mentality of architects and the focused, quantifiable mentality of engineers.

efa conference

Lessons Learned from the Environments for Aging Conference

Photo Credit: Environments for Aging

For those who design senior living facilities, the Environments For Aging (EFA) conference is a must-attend. As an academic conference, those who attend learn about the latest senior living design trends and the data that set and guide those trends. Of all the conferences I have attended over the years, the EFA conferences stand out the most.

Like all other conferences, EFA has networking and business opportunities. What sets it apart is the sense of caring you get from the attendees. I don’t mean care in the sense of learning to design better buildings – that goes without saying. I mean the kind of care that comes from understanding the magnitude and responsibility of what you’re undertaking. As we age, our health fades. Some lose vision, hearing, and mobility. Some get struck with disease. The ravages of dementia return many seniors to child-like states and they need to be in places which are as stress and anxiety free as possible.

Taking care of these people is an awesome responsibility that doesn’t start with caregivers, but with the building designers. This is the type of care you sense at EFA: a deep seated obligation and determination to make the last years of life for our seniors as normal, comfortable and anxiety-free as possible. In my opinion, that is an example of the best of the human condition.

If you’re interested in more of what I learned, please contact me to discuss!

mep senior living charlotte nc

Aging Boomers: Exploring Senior Living Expectations

The senior living industry is at the start of a renaissance in both growth and design. This is based on two simple factors: numbers and taste. First, the numbers: Members of the boomer generation were born between 1946 and 1964, and make up 76 million of our current US population. Ignoring the death and immigration rates (immigration far outpaced death), that 76 million number becomes conservative. The boomer generation started to retire, unofficially, on January 1, 2011, at a rate of approximately 11,500 people per day. It is also the wealthiest generation in American history, having earned roughly 3.7 trillion dollars, over twice that of their predecessor generation. In short, more people with more money are starting to retire, and they’re likely to spend it.

Now on to taste: Boomers will eventually face the same medical issues that generations before them faced – and traditional nursing and memory care will continue to be essential for those instances. In the meantime, however, they will demand better living, social, and amenity spaces. They are a more active and social than previous generations, and this has an increasing effect on their expectations. The boomers won’t accept the institutional senior housing projects that their parent’s generation retired to. They are expecting more. Boomers going into senior facilities want multiple dining options, gyms, spas, clubrooms, bars, and pools.  Senior living projects now rival hospitality projects in the amenities they offer. These projects stand in stark contrast to the more antiseptic facilities designed a decade ago. Biophilic design principles have gained traction in recent years, primarily because they complement the boomer’s social and active lifestyles.  Perkins Eastman wrote an excellent white paper about this if you’d like to read more.

These nascent trends must be considered when designing senior facilities for boomers. Having extensive knowledge in multifamily, hospitality, and traditional senior living designs will greatly assist in shifting senior living into a more modernized experience.

At VP Engineering, we look forward to doing our small part in helping our elders realize the retirements that they so richly deserve.

Zach Joyce Project Manager MEP

Q&A Session: Zach Joyce

We are proud to highlight another member of our management at VP Engineering. Zach Joyce has been with the company for 8 years and has experienced great growth within VP, moving up the ranks of designer levels to currently hold the position of Project Manager.

Formerly in the Air Force, Zach brings a strong work ethic while always being able to put a positive spin on even the most stressful situations. We are lucky to have him as a part of our team!

VP: Before working at VP, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
Zach: “I was in the Air Force. I was a part of the military police force that guarded nuclear missile silo sites in three different states out west.”

VP: How has VP helped in your career development?
Zach: “I came to VP as an electrical designer. Over the course of 8 years, I have continued to grow as a designer and also have stepped up into a manager position. They have continued to help with my training and understanding of the code as a designer and then with the role of project manager.”

VP: What advice do you have for future VP employees?
Zach: “Work hard and ask a ton of questions.”

VP: What are 3 words to describe VP?
Zach: “Diverse, fun, and family.”

VP: What have you gained from working at VP?
Zach:  “Experience in my field and friends for life.”

VP: How has the company changed since you first arrived at VP?
Zach: “We were a lot smaller then and have now tripled in size. The overall way we do projects has definitely evolved for the better.”

VP: What is your favorite part about working for VP?
Zach: “Working with all of the different cultures within the office.”

VP: What are three traits that define you?
Zach: “I strive to be honest, have good communication, and exhibit a positive attitude.”

VP: Where is the best place you’ve traveled to and why?
Zach: “Ireland. My wife and I went there 10 years ago to see my motherland since my family is from there.”

VP: What would you most like to tell yourself at age 13?
Zach: “Work hard and finish the job you started.”

Katie Cothern - vp engineering - director of operations

Q&A Session: Katie Cothern

In an effort to show our friends and clients just what kind of company we are, it only seemed natural to ask for help from the people that know us best – our employees!

It takes a special kind of person to understand and adapt to the variety of personalities you’ll find at VP. Katie Cothern, our Director of Operations, has been with the company for over 8 years and is a seasoned pro when it comes to managing the different opinions and characteristics that go along with such a diverse group of individuals.

Katie has her own opinions about what makes VP Engineering so special. Take a look at her thoughts and learn a little bit about the woman who wears a “gazillion” different hats.

VP: How has VP helped in your career development:
Katie: “I have learned so much at VP. Starting as a receptionist and helping in accounting, I never would have imagined I would be where I am now! When others have faith in you and you have a good support system, the places you can go and things you can learn and accomplish are amazing.”

VP: What advice do you have for future VP employees?
Katie: “Work here. We’re awesome.”

VP: What are 3 words to describe VP?
Katie: “1 – Loyal. To both employees and clients. 2 – Hardworking. Employees put in the time and effort to get work completed to make sure deadlines are met. 3 – Pranksters. Always know if you are going out of town for vacation or having a big birthday coming up, you will return to something! Would I do something to someone? Me? Maybe…”

VP: How has the company changed since you first arrived at VP?
Katie: “The company has grown! When I first started here there were around 8 employees. We are now up to 28. It has been amazing to watch the company grow and transform into what it is today.”

VP: What is your favorite thing about working at VP?
Katie: “My favorite part about working here is that I LIKE working here. Of course there are days that you may want to stay at home and be lazy but I have never had a day that didn’t want to come to the office because I didn’t like being here.”

VP: What is your personal philosophy?
Katie: “It changes by the day. I print out memes that mean something to me and I hang them up in my office. Some are encouraging like “A strong woman looks a challenge dead in the eye and gives it a wink.” Then there are some like “if Monday had a face, I would punch it.” Depends on my mood I guess.”

VP: How do you define success?
Katie: “Success is defined by those around you. Your work, your friends, and your family. As long as your surround yourself with good people, you will be successful.”

VP: What are your most overused words/phrases?
Katie: “I am told that I exaggerate a lot. Like a gazillion times a day.”

hand shake over business meeting

Is your MEP consultant covering everything you need?

Engineers are known for their innate problem solving skills, particularly their technical problem solving skills. We have the ability to tune out all background noise and focus like a laser on the issue at hand. We hammer away at the problem until it’s solved, then smile at our own ingenuity and bask in the warm glow of accomplishment.  But, like all things in life, there is a price to pay for this ability. Our focused problem solving skills have a holistic expense. Deadlines, attentiveness, coordination, responsiveness, and communication all tend to take a back seat for an engineer when he’s in problem solving mode.

Find a competent engineer by asking these questions.

It goes without saying that your MEP consultant has to be a good and competent engineer who can solve your problems. But, make sure their focused attention doesn’t cause other problems for you. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1.     Has my engineer given me a realistic deadline, and, most importantly, does she have a track record of meeting deadlines?
  2.       Does my engineer coordinate with the other trades in his office and 3rd party consultants?  Does he coordinate effectively?
  3.       Has my engineer thought about what he needs from me and my client and asked for that information in advance?
  4.       Is my engineer accessible and does she respond to my emails and voicemails in a timely manner?
  5.       Does my engineer apply communication critical judgement and know when to call and when to email?  Is the communication clear and concise?
  6.       Does my engineer prioritize well and allow time in her schedule for the unexpected to occur?

If you’re looking for a competent MEP consultant, we can help. Contact us today for more information.