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Slow Down & Take the Holistic Route

After decades of research, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman determined that people make most decisions after thinking fast, a process governed chiefly by instinct or habit or both.  Slow thinking, in contrast, may yield better decisions.  Slow thinking, as Kahneman defines it, requires stepping back, looking at the big picture, and acknowledging biases. Kahneman’s research aligns with my own experience as an architectural engineer.  When we work too quickly, we think fast, and this can work to our detriment.  An example of fast thinking in our business is to look at first costs rather than value.  For the most... Read More

Hybrid Ventilation – Bringing Biophilia to Child Care: The Child Care Center at Hort Woods

[The following is an excerpt from Volume 23 of The ReeSource, which was published in August of 2012. This volume was a special issue which focused on the innovative design features of the Child Care Center at Hort Woods – the first Penn State University building ever awarded a LEED Platinum Certification. An online version of this project feature is still viewable on the Penn State University Sustainability Institute’s website at www.sustainability.psu.edu/hortwoods.] Without even accounting for microclimate, our energy model identified a potential reduction in annual cooling energy of nearly 45%. However, up to this point, potential was all we... Read More

Want Fries With That?

When cooking up a new kitchen design, key ingredients to consider are the proper ventilation and conditioning of the space. Balancing the heat output of the kitchen equipment, managing odor migration to other spaces, preventing smoke roll-out at hoods, and maintaining a comfortable working environment requires a carefully designed mechanical system. The heat output from the fryers, griddles, ranges, ovens, and steamers in a typical full service kitchen is substantial. The primary method of removing this heat is via exhaust hoods. By exhausting air in large volumes, exhaust hoods not only capture fumes and control cooking odors, but they also... Read More

Hung Out Too Dry? Humidify!

The average American spends up to 85% of each day indoors. Whether at home, work, or school, our spending the majority of our time inside places tremendous importance on maintaining a comfortable indoor environment. Consequently, building heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems must be designed to promote occupant health and comfort. Several factors can influence occupant comfort levels including temperature, humidity, air speed, clothing level, and metabolic rate. While temperature tends to be the most obvious factor, humidity also plays a major role in determining the perception of an environment. The saying that ‘you can’t please everyone all of the... Read More

Six Feet Under: A Geothermal Systems Overview

Due to the current global energy pinch, alternative and more environmentally friendly methods of heating and cooling our buildings have been developed. One such system, the geothermal heat pump system, uses an alternate and renewable energy source – the Earth – as a means of heating and cooling a building. Our planet stays at roughly 55 degrees year round and has an almost unlimited ability to absorb, store, and give up thermal energy. Therefore, geothermal heat pump systems use the Earth as a huge heat sink to pull heat from and reject heat to. “…the geothermal heat pump system uses... Read More

Chilling Out with Refrigerants

Up until the mid-1980’s, the type of refrigerant to be used in a building’s cooling system was, at best, an afterthought of the consulting engineer and building owner. But increasing awareness of the harm that once-common chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants were causing to the ozone layer forced the industry to find alternatives. Part of the industry’s response was to use hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants, such as R-123 and R-22, which have a much lower impact on the ozone layer compared to CFCs. However, the Montreal Protocol, signed by over 190 countries in 1987, called for the eventual phase-out of HCFCs due to... Read More

Venting About Dryers

There is more to know about cleaning laundry than separating whites and colors. While it is easy to overlook what goes on behind the scenes, a ‘hands off’ approach to laundry functions can lead to higher operating costs and safety concerns. Dryer exhaust systems function to remove irritating and potentially harmful moisture, odors, and exhaust gases. A typical residential dryer can remove up to one gallon of water from a single load of laundry. Without exhaust systems, high concentrations of moisture in laundry rooms would promote mold and mildew growth, leading to health and possibly structural problems. “Signs of dryer... Read More

Cooling Towers: Behind the Screens

The cooling tower is often the forgotten component of the cooling system when it comes to maintenance. During design a tremendous effort is made to ensure that the cooling tower is unseen and unheard. As with many mechanical components, the “out of sight, out of mind” concept compliments the architecture and environment of the facility but can be the beginning of serious operational problems. Health concerns and rising energy costs make a preventative maintenance program essential to keeping the cooling tower operation safe, efficient, and in good quality. Several simple procedures can increase safety and prevent loss of efficiency by... Read More

A Round on Energy Recovery Wheels

As energy costs continue their upward spiral, Owners and Engineers are renewing their efforts to find ways to reduce building energy consumption. Consequently, the Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) is increasingly becoming a standard feature in heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) design. Energy recovery ventilators are used to precondition outside air, using recovered building energy to do so. While useful on any building type, an ERV is most effective on those buildings with very high outside air requirements, such as schools, nursing facilities, hospitals, and laboratories. “Energy recovery ventilators are used to precondition outside air, using recovered building energy to... Read More

Getting SEERious for the Moment

Starting January 23, 2006, the Department of Energy (DOE) will begin to enforce legislation that will increase the minimum SEER required for residential air conditioners from 10 to 13 SEER, thereby instituting a substantial reduction in the energy consumption of residential air conditioners. The last time the US government increased minimum energy efficiency requirements for residential air conditioners was in 1992. At that time, SEER requirements were raised from 8 to 10. “The Alliance to Save Energy believes that increasing the minimum SEER rating to 13 may save the country as many as 150 new power plants.” SEER stands for... Read More