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.

engineers meeting over plans

15 Questions to Consider When Designing Your Facility’s Electrical System

If there’s one piece of advice we would give our clients before they embark on any new project, it would be to stress the importance of prioritizing their MEP design early in the construction process. The reason is simple: adjusting plans and specifications is far easier and considerably less expensive than modifying existing buildings. With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to compile 15 questions we recommend considering when designing your facility’s electrical systems.

General Electrical Design

  1. Is the building a high rise? If so, elevators, fire pumps, etc. must be on generator.
  2. Is a fire pump required? Is the utility considered a reliable source of power? If not, your fire pump will need to be on back-up generator and/or a diesel-powered fire pump will need to be installed.
  3. What codes are enforced, including year and any state or local amendments, i.e. NEC, energy code, etc.? Depending on the year of the code and any amendments, the design of a system can vary drastically.
  4. If the building has an elevator, is it a required means of egress? If so, it must be on a back-up generator.
  5. Coordination with utility (i.e. service voltage, transformer locations, etc.) It’s always good to do this upfront before any design has started. The available service voltage, transformer quantities and locations can dictate the type of power distribution the building will have.
  6. How will the building be electrically metered? Will there be a single meter? Will the owner then handle payment or will each potential tenant have their own meter? Depending on the arrangement, state and utility requirements regarding the single meter vs multi-meter has different design impacts as well as operational impacts.
  7. What type of mechanical system will be used? What HVAC system is in the building? There are a multitude of options from which to choose, ranging from heat pumps, electrical strip heat, water source heat pumps, variable refrigerant flow (VRF), and chiller/boilers. Depending on the system and the electrical service size, distribution and metering can vary.
  8. What plumbing system is best — gas vs. electric? If gas — Does it require any type of electric ignition? Will there be recirculation pumps? Should individual tenant water heaters vs. ganged banks of water heaters be used?
  9. Is there an interior designer on the project (have lights, outlets, etc been coordinated)? The sooner the ID can be on board the better. Depending on the scope of their work, it can completely change the lighting layouts, power consumption and device locations.
  10. Is there a low-voltage designer (LV) assigned to the project? What is the LV’s scope? Coordination between the electrical and LV plans is critical to the overall successful implementation of the electrical design plan. For example, have the power requirements, data outlets, etc. been coordinated? If there’s no LV on project, what level of LV design is expected on the electrical drawings? Typically, generic device locations with performance based specifications are included.
  11. What site lighting options are available? Will they be utility or owner provided? Are there any local lighting ordinances of which to be aware?
  12. Does the building occupancy type and count require a fire alarm system? Does it require a voice evacuation system?

 

Multi-Family Electrical Design

  1. Are all inaccessible units considered adaptable? If a unit is considered adaptable, this will dictate how the design is altered, specifically for fire alarm adaptability. In adaptable units, be sure to wire the space for fire alarm devices that are required in accessible units, otherwise it could result in a very costly expense down the road if the unit isn’t prewired.

 

Senior Living Electrical Design

  1. Are any of the rooms considered limited-care? If so, the electrical design needs to be more in line with that of a hospital.

 

Hospitality Electrical Design

  1. Does the hotel have brand standards? This is a simple question that can drastically impact the design, the budget and the schedule. Design standards can vary dramatically from one brand to another, and often, within the same brand as well, depending on location.  It’s important to know the parameters you’re working within from the start.

 

It’s these kinds of questions and more that we ask our clients at the start of a project. When we have input in the design processes early on, we can often save our clients time and money. It’s important to think of MEP design as a critical component of your building and not an afterthought. Even engineers have a hard time fitting a square peg into a round hole! Contact us to learn more about how preliminary MEP design services can benefit your project.

shopping mall interior view

The Value Of Forward-Thinking MEP Design In Retail Environments

Retail design comprises a large portion of our work portfolio. In fact, it’s occupied a sizeable percentage since VP’s very inception. We’ve designed across the entire retail spectrum over the past 15 years and have subsequently witnessed the rise of several retail trends from big-box power centers and the advent of discount retailers to the upsurge in frozen yogurt storefronts. Market forces driven by ever-changing consumer taste start, grow and mature these same trends in an ever-repeating cycle where each builds on the foundation of the last. However, the life of a retail trend is often finite. When it plateaus, it must find the means and the measures to overcome the lack of continued support. To achieve this, the trend must utilize new technology, new attitudes, new markets, new demographics or even a new trend to support it.

In the same 15-year period since VP’s founding, E-commerce has grown tremendously. Online retail now allows consumers to purchase anything from the convenience and comfort of their own house or phone. According to multiple industry articles, this ease in accessibility has spurred discussions on the impending (and potentially inevitable) retail apocalypse. Retailers fear that the growth in e-commerce is not merely a trend, but a new way of life that will not simply eclipse in-store retail, but dominate it.

However, a different picture emerges when general trends within the retail sector are examined more closely. Melina Cordero, the Director of Retail Research for the America’s at CBRE, did just that. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Melina speak as the keynote at a local ICSC event. In her presentation, Melina offered some surprising statements about the retail industry, backed those statements with hard numbers, and put the “bricks-vs-clicks” debate into perspective.

Below are just a few key highlights from her presentation :

  • The year-on-year e-commerce sales are over 3 times the year-on-year in-store sales. However, over 90% of retail sales still occur in-store. And in reality, nearly 50% of e-commerce sales go to brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Brick-and-mortar retailers are leveraging online sales: ~22% of Nordstrom’s revenue and ~53% of Williams-Sonoma’s is earned online.
  • An omni-channel platform is expensive; free delivery is anything but free, and returns cost even more.
  • Many brands, which got their start online, are now opening physical stores: Bonobos, Peloton and Untuckit to name but a few.
  • Millennials live and spend differently than the traditional consumer, preferring to spend on services and objects that allow them to live in the moment more fully.
  • The shopping mall is not dead. That said, landlords will need to rethink their tenant mix and what actually attracts shoppers, as well as re-examine the traditional tenant-landlord relationship.

So, what does all this mean? While consumer preferences are clearly changing, and more customers prefer to shop online, this doesn’t signal the end of brick and mortars. Rather, this ebb and flow is merely indicative of an age-old characteristic of capitalism. Business will continue unfettered regardless of fluctuating trends; it’s only in a company’s response to those trends that they will ultimately determine their success.

yes or no check box

Let Them Down Easy: The Art of Saying “No” by Saying “Yes”

In our 15 years as a Charlotte-based MEP design firm, we’ve come to learn and appreciate how truly critical flexibility is to our success.  It’s why we go out of our way to accommodate changes in a project’s scope, budget and timeline, even if that means shaving our fees, working late or rolling that extra conference room into our design. We always place our clients first—our objective to leave them with the best possible design, no matter if it’s a small restaurant or a LEED-designed multi-family high-rise.

There are times, however, when no matter how much we want to accommodate our client, no matter how much we want to deliver, it becomes impossible to meet their expectations.  When I’m placed in these situations, I’m faced with the potential of doing the one thing I hate doing — telling a client “No.” “No, I can’t meet that deadline”; “No, I can’t reduce our fee”; “No, I can’t design that.”  I loathe saying “No,” because “No” is a definite, in-your-face word of rejection which immediately creates an atmosphere of contention.  In the professional services industry, if you tell a client “No” often enough, they’ll find someone who will tell them “Yes.”

So, what do you do in a situation where circumstances dictate the only answer can be “No”?  For me, it’s simple. I say “No” by saying “Yes.”  This sounds as if I’m contradicting myself, but I assure you I’m not.  It’s all in the semantics.

Exactly how then does one disagree by agreeing?  You say “No” by saying “Yes” when you tell a client what you can do instead of what you can’t.  For example, a client calls to discuss project scope for a new senior living facility.  Eventually, the conversation turns to due dates and deliverables.  The client asks for plans on a date you can’t possibly meet and they’re waiting for you to respond.  If you tell them, “I can’t get you plans on Wednesday,” it will be interpreted much differently than if you tell them, “I can get you plans on Friday by noon.”   In the first statement, you blatantly tell the client they can’t have what they want, while in the second statement, you bypass that negativity by stating when you can deliver.  You come across as being agreeable and a team player.  You say “No” by saying “Yes.”  It’s a small linguistic difference, but it’s perceived very differently, and as they say, perception is reality no matter if you’re in MEP design or not.

 

helping mep client evaluate their needs

Helping Clients Evaluate Their Needs

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.

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.

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.