assisted living facility

MEP Design Considerations Unique to Senior Living Facilities

Since the last recession, the multifamily sector has contributed significantly to the boom in new construction.  The sector’s niche market — Senior Living — is a driving reason.

As Baby Boomers age, the demand for senior living options has dramatically increased.  For those who don’t design Senior Living facilities, it’s easy to assume the design is similar to any other multifamily facility with the exception of being age restricted. It is so much more! Senior Living design requires specific knowledge and expert know-how to address the needs unique to the facilities’ occupants and owners.

 

Special MEP Design Considerations for Assisted Living, Memory Care and Skilled Nursing Facilities

Assisted Living (AL), Memory Care (MC) and Skilled Nursing (SN) facilities provide specialized care to their residents, and thus require specific MEP systems to help deliver that care.  The MEP designer will take design cues from the architect and operator while also taking the building’s functionality into account.  They will likewise build their design to meet all relevant codes and state health department requirements.

These considerations and restrictions can present a challenge for the MEP design.  For instance, AL, MC and SN facilities frequently contain centralized plumbing systems to allow for more efficient maintenance whereas the mechanical systems often consist of centralized boiler/chillers, water source heat pumps or VRF systems to allow a more energy efficient system as well as a higher level of individual control for all occupants. The electrical systems typically include some degree of backup power to not only meet NEC requirements for essential Electrical systems but to give the operator the flexibility to run the facility during power outages and natural disasters, thus not requiring a relocation of the tenants.

 

MEP Systems Designed Specifically for Senior Living Facilities

The amenities and services provided in the facility, and any mixed-use of the building, determines the complexity of the MEP systems design. When facilities are mixed-use, it can include everything from commercial office space, restaurants, and retail areas to hospital-level care.  These different needs enhance the need for a well-thought-out MEP design that can accomplish the multiple goals and uses of the facility.

Regardless of the facility type, MEP systems should function flawlessly behind the scenes.  For this to occur, however, regular maintenance is required.  The goal is to perform this regular maintenance with little to no disruption to the facility’s tenants. This presents a challenge for Senior Living facilities as their systems should be designed to maintain a certain level of access control for those trying to enter the building and for those who reside within. Balancing the ease of maintenance with the individualized needs of the occupants is achievable with proper space planning and MEP systems in place.

 

Special MEP Design Considerations for Independent Living Facilities

There is, however, one type of Senior Living project that does closely resemble traditional multifamily design — Independent Living (IL) projects.  These facilities are typically designed as age-restricted apartment buildings.

Even though they are designed to follow the rules and codes of apartment building design, there are some differences from an MEP standpoint. Below are just a few we consider when designing the MEP system for IL projects:

  1. The hot water systems often use a centralized boiler system instead of individual water heaters in each unit. This allows the IL operator to more quickly and cost effectively manage and service the hot water system.
  2. Depending on the long-term goals of the developer and operator, the mechanical systems — from standard DX split systems and water source heat pumps with cooling towers to VRF systems — can vary greatly.
  3. The electrical systems can also vary significantly. For instance, for projects located in hurricane-prone areas, a back-up generator system may be essential to meeting the occupants’ needs. Another example involves metered electrical services.  IL facilities typically have single metered electrical services in lieu of multi-metered apartments. While this is dependent on the local jurisdictions and utility to approve, a single-metered system makes sense when there is no need to track individual electric consumption.

Having an MEP firm on the design team that is experienced in the nuances of senior living facilities can guide the entire team through many of the pitfalls that can, and do, occur during both design and construction. This ensures a smooth-operating facility that makes both the owner and the residents happy. Contact us and let us be your guide.

About VP Engineering

VP Engineering is a full-service mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering firm, serving clients throughout the U.S. and around the world. With experience in a wide range of building types, from housing to commercial, our MEP engineering services help keep projects on budget and achieve your goals. Learn more at vpce.com.

VP Engineering employees

Looking Back:  15 Lessons We’ve Learned During Our 15 Years in Business as an MEP Consultant

Next month, our 15th year in business will officially come to a close.  To celebrate this milestone, we thought we’d recap all the invaluable lessons we learned over the years.  We look forward to the next 15 and thank all of you who have made the first 15 possible!

 

  1. COMMUNICATION

Whether we’re designing a senior-living center or a new hotel, communication is essential for every project to be successful.

 

  1. COMMITMENT

If you commit to a due date, you must hit that due date.

 

  1. PROACTIVENESS

When issues arise, don’t bury your head in the sand. Step-up and help find a solution.

 

  1. LEADERSHIP

When things go well, it is up to the leader to acknowledge the entire team. When things don’t go so well, it is up to the leader to take responsibility and not pass blame.

 

  1. PICK-UP THE PHONE

Don’t hide behind emails. Sometimes it is best to pick-up the phone and have a conversation.

 

  1. MEET IN PERSON

Face-time is key. Today’s technology allows us to do a lot remotely, but often there is no replacement for a face-to- face meeting.

 

  1. DOCUMENTATION IS PARAMOUNT

Document key issues. We’re all expected to process a large quantity of information.  There’s no way to remember it all; documentation saves us from having to do so!

 

  1. HAVE A PLAN B

Always have contingency plans. Plan A doesn’t always work out, and it is important to have a back-up plan.

 

  1. DON’T ANSWER IN NEGATIVES

Instead of saying, “We can’t get that done by Friday,” say, “We can have that to you by next Wednesday” instead.  One is far more positive and likely to receive a better response!

 

  1. BREATHE

Take a deep breath. We can all be overwhelmed with our current “fire” of the day. Sometimes it is good to step back, process the situation, and approach it with a clear head.

 

  1. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

Everyone wants their “thing” right now. The key is to help manage their expectations and give them a realistic assessment as to when they can have it.

 

  1. TAKE OWNERSHIP

Be proud of your work and always perform to the best of your abilities.

 

  1. LISTEN

Listen to others. Don’t just hear the words, but absorb the meaning.  Sometimes you can find wisdom or guidance from the most unexpected places.

 

  1. BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP

IT backups, that is. There are a lot of individuals out there looking to harm your business. Or, sometimes, a computer just wants to crash on you. Be prepared.  Always have backups for everything. It will save you from going crazy.

 

  1. ENJOY YOURSELF

Enjoy the company of those you work with. We all spend 9+ hours a day / 5 days a week working with our co-workers. Get along and enjoy one another.

About VP Engineering

VP Engineering is a full-service architectural engineering firm, serving clients throughout the U.S. and around the world. With experience in a wide range of building types, from housing to commercial, our MEP engineering services help keep projects on budget and achieve your goals. Learn more at vpce.com.

pipes for plumbing

Top 15 Plumbing Design Considerations For Your New Facility

Written by: Adam Cross, Plumbing Design Controller

 

The construction of a new building requires the design and implementation of several sophisticated systems, many of which have significant overlap with the facility’s plumbing. To ensure that the design of these systems are correct, especially when the level of complexity is high, it is paramount to consider many items.  Below are just a few items that we assist clients with when it comes to plumbing design to ensure more efficient and sustainable water use and a more environmentally-friendly facility.

Top Considerations For Plumbing Design

  1. What is the building use? For example, is it a restaurant, an apartment building, or a senior living facility?  

Knowing the intended use of a building will not only determine the type of plumbing system, but also the need for any special equipment, like interceptors or sump pumps.  For example, a senior-living facility may need a central boiler system for more efficient delivery and maintenance of the hot water system, whereas a restaurant may require several water heaters ganged together for quick hot water recovery.

 

  1. What are the governing plumbing and natural gas codes for that location? 

The governing codes will determine the design and what type of systems/equipment may or may not be allowed by the Local Authority Having Jurisdiction (LAHJ). For example, the LAHJ may not allow a single grease interceptor for a multi-tenant retail building, in which case the design of multiple small grease interceptors should be taken into account.

 

  1. Where are the utility hookups for the domestic water and sanitary sewer services located on site?  

Usually, a plumbing engineer only extends the design 5 feet outside the building. Because of this, it is key to know precisely where to bring the domestic water and sanitary sewer services into and out of the building for connection to public systems.  This factor will drive the design.

 

  1. What is the domestic water pressure coming from the street?  

Correct pressure ensures that each plumbing fixture operates properly. Obtaining proper pressure is important to avoid a domestic booster pump, adding cost to the project.

 

  1. What size does the building’s incoming water line need to be in order to meet the maximum GPM (gallons per minute) on all the plumbing fixtures inside the building?

It’s critical that the incoming water line is the right size so that all the plumbing fixtures in the building get an adequate supply of water to operate.  It’s also important to ensure that the incoming water line is not larger than the size of the site water line coming from the street. If this were to happen, the site water line would not provide an adequate amount of water per the building’s requirements. It is incumbent upon the building engineer and site civil engineer to coordinate the correct sized lines.

 

  1. What size does the main sanitary lateral need to be in order to properly discharge the sewage from the building?  

Just as it’s critical that the incoming water line be the correct size, the outgoing sanitary main needs to be the proper size as well  to ensure it can handle the building’s total sewage flow.  If the sewer line is inadequate, the building’s sewage could potentially backup into the building.

 

  1. What is the invert of the public sanitary main coming from the street?  

The sanitary sewer system is drained by gravity.  A proper design ensures that the plumbing comes out of the building at a level that won’t inhibit this.  If the design fails to do so, a sewage pump might be required in order to pump the building sewage to the same height as the site main, and result in more cost.

 

  1. How will you heat your water?  

The hot water system design varies depending on the facility and its intended use.  If it’s a senior living facility, then a centralized water heating system where all the water heaters are in a single room will offer a level of control and safety.  Apartments can also use this system, but typically residents like to control their own water temperature, so a water heater is typical in each unit.  The hot water system design for each type of building is different, so talking with the building owner about their plans for the building’s use and operation is important to help select the best system design.

 

  1. Will the HVAC system use gas or electricity for energy?  

If the HVAC system uses natural gas, your plumbing engineers must know the gas consumption of the equipment and where the equipment is located. The further away from the building the gas meter is, the larger the pipe size must be in order to deliver the required BTUs/hr.  It’s also imperative that the engineers know the delivery pressure the gas utility company is using to bring gas to the site.  The larger the delivery pressure, the more BTUs can be delivered through a given pipe size.

 

  1. How will rain water be drained from the roof?  

You might overlook roof drainage as scope of work under a plumbing engineer, but it’s an important component. A gallon of water weighs approximately 8.3 lbs.  The structural design does not take that weight into account, so draining the water from the roof is paramount.  Roof drains are usually the solution and the code listed rainfall rate for the location and capacity of the drains drives the design.

 

  1. What piping material is the domestic water and sanitary sewer piping going to be?  

All piping material has its advantages and disadvantages.  CPVC and PVC are cheaper than copper or cast iron, but it cracks easier.  The selection often comes down to the expense a contractor incurs to install it. Having a plumbing engineer paying attention to the specifications and alerting you to the best piping material for your project/location can save in repairs down the road.

 

  1. Who selects the manufacturer and model number of the building’s plumbing fixtures?

Typically, standard makes and models are listed on the plans, but the actual selections depend on the project.  Sometimes an interior designer or owner requests a specific model after the plumbing design is complete. If the chosen model does not match the specifications the plans were based upon, it can impact the project. It is helpful to have this information at the start of the plumbing design process to avoid any changes after the fact.

 

  1. If the project is an apartment building, where are the handicap accessible units (ADA units) going to be?  

Handicap accessible units usually have a different bathroom layout than standard units of the same type in order to achieve the clearances required by accessibility code.  The location of these units could impact the routing of the pipes because the fixtures and walls that the piping comes down in might not line up properly. Asking this question early on allows the plumbing engineer to encompass this need right from the get-go.

 

  1. If the project is a dental office, will there be any nitrous oxide?  

When designing a dental space that utilizes nitrous oxide to sedate patients, MEP engineers account for this by first adding the oxygen and nitrogen lines to the dental chairs and ensuring the lines are the right size.

 

  1. If the project is a restaurant, where will the grease interceptor go?  

One of the main differences in designing a restaurant from other facility types is the presence of a grease interceptor (GI).  Greasy discharge from commercial kitchen sinks cannot drain directly into the building’s sanitary sewer system.  This is due to the fact that once grease cools, it begins to solidify, creating blockages in the sanitary system.  To combat this, grease waste must first pass through a grease interceptor.  The interceptor will separate the grease, so it’s not present in the sewer system.  One key factor in determining the design of the facility’s grease waste system is where the GI is located.  It needs to be accessible for cleaning, so for that reason, it’s usually preferable to have them outside.

 

As you can see, there is a lot of thought that goes into the plumbing design of any facility. Having your MEP engineer on board at the inception of the project can avoid costly re-design and change orders down the line. We utilize a team approach to facility design to ensure that all systems work together and that a well-planned, economical building is delivered to you, the client.

 

About VP Engineering

VP Engineering is a full-service architectural engineering firm, serving clients throughout the U.S. and around the world. With experience in a wide range of building types, from housing to commercial, our MEP engineering services help keep projects on budget and achieve your goals. Learn more at vpce.com.

macs speed shop

The Mechanics of Mechanical Engineering: 15 Things to Consider When Designing Mechanical Systems

Contributing Writers: Mike Grose, Sanjay Patel, Nicholas Pappas

 

The science behind efficient heating and cooling systems is complex.  Understanding this from the outset is crucial to identifying the best systems for your facility.  Below are answers to 15 questions worth considering when designing your facility.

 

What category does the project fall into? Retail? Entertainment? Multifamily? Senior Living?

The category the project falls into will determine the type of HVAC system that is best suited for the project as well as budget. For example, multifamily projects are typically provided with a dedicated HVAC system in each residence, but an entertainment facility typically has rooftop HVAC units that serve large areas. The level of quality of the HVAC equipment will be determined by the owner’s budget and long term plans for the building.

 

Is there natural gas available on site?

Depending on the geographical location of the project, the availability of natural gas will determine if a gas heating or a heat pump system will be used as the primary heating source.

 

Will the duct work be exposed or concealed above a ceiling?

The answer to this question will determine whether rectangular vs spiral ducting will need to be used and how the duct work will be laid out for the project. If the ductwork is exposed, it is important to understand the design aesthetic of the space being served. Spiral duct is usually preferred in higher occupancy spaces, while exposed rectangular duct may be acceptable for back of house areas. Concealed ductwork should be designed with routing efficiency, structural coordination, and cost in mind.

 

Will the duct work be internal or externally insulated?

This answer, too, will help determine what type of duct work will be used for the project. Internally insulated ductwork provides better sound attenuation and preserves the look of exposed spiral duct. Externally insulated duct is typically more cost effective.

 

Where will the HVAC equipment be located?

The type of HVAC system used for the project, as well as the type of project, will ultimately determine the locations of the indoor and outdoor equipment. For example, multifamily projects typically use split systems with air handlers in closets and condensing units on the roof or ground mounted. The location of the condensing units will depend on roof type and project budget.

 

What type of supply and return air distribution devices are needed?

Ultimately, this is determined by several factors, including, but not limited to ceiling type, duct work locations and end user preferences. The face of ceiling mounted devices varies greatly. Plaque style diffusers complement a clean aesthetic, and multi-louvered devices complement commercial and industrial designs.

 

Does the building and scope lend itself to individual system design, or, a central system design?

This question would be verified during the conceptual stages of design.  Typically, the type and size/scope of the project will best determine the most cost-effective solution.  Also, it would be determined by the budget, both first cost and operational cost. Hospitality projects tend to feature central systems since the building owner is responsible for the utility bills. Multifamily projects tend to have individual systems that can be turned on and off with occupancy. Senior living projects vary between the two styles depending on the owner’s preference.

 

What are the space constraints for the project?

The mechanical engineer needs to consider both the needs of the occupants and the owners/architects when deciding the system type, ductwork routing, pipe routing and any items that would be visible to the occupants.  The occupants are understandably more concerned with comfort whereas the owners and architects want to maximize the amount of usable space. It’s our job to find the healthy medium to achieving everyone’s goals for the project.

 

What are the requirements for energy conservation by the owner?

The locally adopted energy code will provide the bare minimum standards for energy efficiency for the HVAC system; however, it is always a good idea to determine from the outset what the owner’s requirements are, whether it’s a third party certification and/or energy rebates provided by the local utility company or government. Knowing this valuable information allows us to provide a complete picture in regard to cost.  For example, some programs may initially require a larger financial investment upfront that would ultimately payoff further down the road.

 

Where is the project located?

Selecting the best type system for the location is of key importance for energy usage and operational life of the equipment. For example, heating loads will be of greater concern to those in colder climates than those who live in warmer locales such as the South.  Systems used in coastal applications also require special considerations such as corrosion protection.

 

What do you do when the owner proposes a type of system that may not lend itself to the project?

We always listen thoroughly to our owner’s needs and wishes for a specific system.  They may have encountered issues with a particular system or manufacturer in the past or they may wish to maintain a consistent design throughout their facilities in order to minimize the learning curve for their maintenance staff.  That said, our owners come to us for our expertise.  If after listening to the owner’s reasons for wanting a specific system and we believe it isn’t the best choice for the facility, we feel it’s our duty to suggest what we believe is right and why.  Our goal, always, is to find the balance between making our clients happy while meeting code requirements.

 

Does the owner plan on owning the property for more than 5 years?

The owner will be more likely to invest in higher quality equipment if they will own and operate the building for the foreseeable future.

 

Are there any areas with a required design aesthetic?

The architect or interior designer will likely want a specific aesthetic that complements the company’s brand.  For instance, a cutting-edge tech company might wish to feature exposed ductwork whereas a long-established law firm may prefer to showcase a more classic appearance where the duct work is concealed.

 

Does the local code authority having jurisdiction have any special requirements?

Some areas publish amendments to the adopted codes that need to be reviewed carefully. We will contact the local authority before starting design work to confirm the applicable codes for the project.

 

Is the project classified as high rise?

There are many additional code requirements for high-rise buildings that need to be incorporated into the building design. Smoke control systems and a more sophisticated fire alarm system are two of the requirements that impact MEP design. These requirements will affect multiple disciplines including architecture, structure, and civil.

 

About VP Engineering

VP Engineering is a full-service architectural engineering firm, serving clients throughout the U.S. and around the world. With experience in a wide range of building types, from housing to commercial, our MEP engineering services help keep projects on budget and achieve your goals. Learn more at vpce.com.

group doing a fist bump

15 Reasons Why VP Engineering Loves Our Clients

We consider ourselves fortunate to work with the clients we do.  They’re the best in their fields.  So to honor them and further celebrate our 15 years in business, we thought what better way to express how grateful we are for their continued partnership than to list the top 15 reasons why we love them.
  1. They Share Our Team Mentality.
    Rather than functioning as separate entities, our clients recognize that if we work together as a team, the project will be better for it.
  2. They Push Us to Be Our Best.
    Our clients expect us to be on top of our game. If there is room for improvement, they won’t hesitate to send suggestions our way. In fact, this is something we encourage!
  1. They Make Our Lives Easier.
    Being the middleman between our company and the project owners, our clients filter through the details and send us only the important ones.
  1. They Have Our Backs.
    When a problem arises, they don’t point fingers. Instead, they jump on board to help us come up with a solution.
  1. They’re Fun to Be Around.
    Whether it’s at a networking event, grabbing a beer at a local brewery, or at a site visit, they’re a good time. We even choose to spend time with them outside of work!
  1. They’re Quick to Compliment.
    If something is going particularly well during a project, our clients are sure to let us know. It’s a fantastic way to keep the team encouraged and on track.
  1. They’re a Great Source of Knowledge.
    Our clients are among the greatest thought-leaders in our industry. Their years of experience and innovative thinking make them incredible resources.
  1. They’re Great to Golf With.
    But let’s face it, the architects always win.
  1. Their Offices Are Inspirational!
    With interior designers and architects on staff, our client’s offices are at the forefront of design and architectural trends. We love taking inspiration from their exceptional spaces!
  1. They Trust Us.
    While MEP systems aren’t typically the “fancy” part of the projects, it is imperative that they work. Our clients trust that not only will we send them solid designs, we’ll provide them with great service at the same time.
  1. They’re Artists.
    If you left architecture up to an engineer, all buildings would likely be rectangular boxes.
  1. They’ve Got Skills.
    People skills, that is. Our clients are great at bringing together design and construction experts to create projects of which we all can be proud.
  1. They Take Us to Places We’ve Never Been.
    Our clients come from all over the world.  We’re thrilled when a project takes us to a new location, whether its Turks and Caicos or the California coast.
  1. They Share Our Values.
    Honesty and openness. Professionalism. Empathy and respect. Integrity. Responsiveness.  These values guide us, and our clients, too.  It’s how we’ve accomplished all we have together in our 15 years in the M/E/P business.
  1. They Ignite Our Enthusiasm.
    Our client’s passion for their work is contagious.  It ignites our own excitement, propelling us to deliver the exceptional results our clients deserve.
VP Engineering employees

15 Reasons Why VP Engineering Employees are the Best

Earlier this year, VP Engineering reached a major milestone as a company — the 15th anniversary since first opening our doors as an MEP consulting firm!  We’ve accomplished (and learned!) a lot since that time, and thought it was only appropriate to create a campaign around the number “15” to celebrate. Since our employees are the reason we’ve been in business so long, we thought it was only appropriate to start with this blog highlighting all the reasons why they’re the best employees around. We hope you enjoy!

  1. Their Sense of Humor: At any given time, laughter is ringing throughout the office. It’s a clear indication of how much we love what we do and who we do it with!
  2. Dedication to Their Craft: Design is always at the forefront of our designers’ minds.  There’s no better example of this than how something as simple as a beer after work can lead to an in-depth discussion on the MEP design of that brewery or restaurant.
  3. Loyalty to the Company: We recognize that our employees are our greatest asset and our employees reciprocate this mentality by investing years of their lives into our firm.
  4. Willing to Share Opinions and Ideas: Our employees are smart (and we’re smart to hire them!).  They openly share their thoughts and opinions to provide our clients with the best possible experience and results.
  5. Their Diversity: We’re a melting pot.  Our employees hail from many different cultures, all of which add to the richness of our own company culture!
  6. Putting up with Those Pesky Bosses: Our three principals are as different as night and day. Navigating those distinct personalities can be challenging, but no less entertaining.  Besides, our employees are engineers.  Overcoming challenges is in their wheelhouse!
  7. Friendships In and Outside the Office: Our employees are just fun, plain and simple.  There’s no better indicator of this than how frequently our employees choose to spend time together outside of their regular 40+ hour work week.
  8. Always Looking to Improve: MEP design is a moving target.  Our employees appreciate this and actively research opportunities to build upon their already impressive skillsets.
  9. Open to Constructive Criticism: This builds upon #8.  Our employees understand there’s always room for improvement and graciously accept critiques and suggestions for that reason.
  10. Treat One Another Like Family: When you spend as much time together as we do, it isn’t surprising that our employees have become like family. They laugh; they argue, but they always support one another—just like family!
  11. Great Conversationalists: Our employees are both witty and sarcastic, making for some pretty humorous conversations throughout the day.
  12. Their Friendly Faces: This is at the heart of it all.  Our employees are genuinely gracious and approachable people.  They extend those characteristics to whomever they’re interacting with from their co-worker in the next cubicle to a client during a site visit.
  13. Their Fashion Style: Several of our employees are style mavens; some so much they look as if they walked off the cover of a fashion magazine.  Way to make us look good!
  14. Passion for Sports: As dedicated as they are to our clients; our employees are as equally dedicated to their sports. You will often find them gathered in a conference room during lunch watching the Olympics, ACC Tournament or most recently, the World Cup.
  15. Never Needing IT Support: Oddly enough, our employees’ computers almost “never” require IT assistance, especially for anything that could be a user-error.