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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

craft brew in charlotte nc

The Rise of the Queen City’s Craft Brew Industry

After riding the wave of the recession, we at VP Engineering have been privileged to experience the growth of construction and building in our region, and, in particular, here in Charlotte.  An unexpected yet wonderful offshoot of this growth is the rise of the Queen City’s Craft Brew industry.

A boom in craft brewing.

Since Olde Mecklenburg Brewery started just over 6 years ago, Charlotte has become a regional mecca for craft brewing and garnered national attention as far west as Washington State. Currently, Charlotte has just over 20 breweries with an equal number in various stages of pre-opening.

One brewery that wisely recognized this trend early-on was Birdsong Brewery. Originally located in a 4,500-square-foot at 2315 North Davidson Street and started in December of 2011, Birdsong recently relocated to a new facility.  Their new digs at 1016 N. Davidson St. is more than triple the size of the original brewery.  VP was proud to have worked alongside Watts Leaf Architects to turn an old Mitchum potato chip factory into Birdsong’s new taproom and film Wonder Woman 2017 now

The evolution of brewing.

Brewing has come a long way since its discovery 7,000 years ago in Mesopotamia.  Brewers no longer ferment beer in large clay jars and use wood fires to heat the mash. They have graduated to stainless steel brew kettles and steam boilers.

Today we enjoy the libations in cool beer gardens and tap rooms surrounded by our friends instead of on the hot plains of Mesopotamia looking out for wild animals.  Modern breweries are either new or refurbished industrial buildings with offices, brew floors and tap rooms.

MEP meets the brewing industry.

Talking about MEP design can, admittedly, be a little boring, but if we’ve done our job right, you’ll never even know we did anything at all!  MEP design for breweries is a mix of office, restaurant, storage and industrial design.

Mechanical systems are designed to provide a comfortable environment while meeting the different outside air requirements of the various use areas.  Electrical systems are sized to accommodate the design loads and, if the brewer is ambitious, any future expansion loads.  Lighting in the brew areas need to be bright while lighting in the tap room is more subdued.  The water service needs to be large enough to supply bathrooms, kitchens and the brew process while allowing for washdown of the equipment.

Our success as design engineers rests on the user’s satisfaction.  People want the lights to work when the switch is flipped and the AC to run when it’s hot.

It pays to trust the experts.

When it comes to MEP design, we are experts in our field.  When it comes to the beer, we leave that to the other experts: Birdsong Brewery.  So, next time you’re enjoying a Birdsong Jalapeno Pale Ale, let’s cheers to how lucky we are to be living in the new craft brew mecca of the South. A place where someone thought to combine two of God’s greatest gifts: beer and jalapenos.  How cool is that?