Justin Garner, P.E., CxA, vice president, Engineering Air Balance Co. Inc., recently met with Herb Woerpel, editor-in-chief of Engineered Systems, to discuss the role testing, adjusting, and balancing plays in the COVID-19 pandemic; if COVID-19 can be spread through the air, the upcoming Associated Air Balance Council (AABC) Annual Meeting, and more. Here is a transcript of that interview.
Engineered Systems: Justin, thanks for your time today. Could you start out by introducing yourself to our audience?
Justin Garner: Sure. I'm Justin Garner. I'm with Engineering Air Balance Company and have worked for EAB for more than 18 years. I'm currently the vice president of the company, and I oversee our Houston office training center and San Antonio location.
Engineered Systems: You graduated from Louisiana Tech University in 2002 with a degree in industrial engineering. When did you ultimately decide that engineering was the right career path for you?
Garner: I think I was three or four when I started building things out of Legos or whatever else I could get my hands on. So, I think everybody knew from a young age that I was probably destined to be an engineer. So I went down that path. What I didn't see coming was my involvement on the HVAC side of things. I took a job here at EAB right out of school, not necessarily thinking that's what I wanted to do long term, but the HVAC industry has definitely proven to be the place the place for me and I've been tremendously blessed here, to be in this position and to be doing what I’m doing.
Engineered Systems: As you mentioned, you’ve been with Engineered Air Balance Co. Inc. for 18-plus years, and, in that time, you’ve worked you way all the way up the ladder. Can you tell us a little more about the firm and your role there today?
Garner: Engineered Air Balance Company is among the oldest and largest independent testing, adjusting, balancing, and building commissioning firm in North America. We were founded in 1956 and are solely based in Texas. We have offices in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas. Here in the Houston office, we have a corporate training center that provides a slew of training opportunities for not just for our testing and balancing folks but for those across the industry. I started out as a technician back in 2002 and worked my way through the testing and balancing side of the business. Once the company decided it wanted to get into building commissioning, I helped build that team within the company. And then, of course, I’ve since moved into a senior management role and now serve as the vice president overseeing our Houston office, San Antonio office, and our corporate training center.
Engineered Systems:How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Engineered Air Balance Co. Inc.’s work?
Garner:We've been truly blessed to be speaking on behalf of the frontlines of things. We've been asked by our health care partners and clients to come in and assist them as they try to combat the pandemic by making the adjustments to their facilities. We’re doing everything we can to allow them to treat more patients. We're really proud of that, even though we kind of had to put some of our folks in harm's way, so to speak. While we didn't really want to be in that position, our partners called upon us, and we're the folks who have to do that. We learned a lot by doing that.
Additionally, we've been asked by a number of our commercial and K-12 clients to help them go in and analyze their systems to look and see how they can increase filtration, ventilation rates, and things like that. We're extremely happy to be part of those solutions and to be able to help our clients, when we know so many people out there unfortunately have not had the opportunities that we've had as this pandemic has gone on.
Engineered Systems:You’re also a member of the ASHRAE Epidemic Taskforce – perhaps the built environment’s leading authority on how to properly handle the COVID-19 pandemic. Tell us about your current role and how you came to join that group.
Garner:Absolutely. So, I was asked by Wade Conlon, who is the chair of the Building Readiness Subcommittee to serve on that committee and provide input on testing, balancing, and building commissioning. I'm involved in a number of other ASHRAE committees with Wade. I think that's how I was picked, so to speak. I've been happy to bring my expertise of the test and balance side of things and experience in various markets to the table to try and develop the document in the position statements. These position documents are on ASHRAE’s web page. The committee has worked very hard and there are a lot of great people on that committee providing input from all various ranges of the industry.
Engineered Systems:Right now, the $1 million question, and one that perhaps boasts an answer that’s changed over time, depending on when it’s asked. But, in your opinion, can HVAC units spread COVID-19?
Garner:Yes and now. I think there are situations where unfortunately, if you have poor distribution patterns within a facility and not enough ventilation (or poor filtration) and in other conditions that you really wouldn't want to experience even in a non-pandemic situation, those can heavily contribute to the spread of the virus. Otherwise, can it pass through a building? Is it completely aerosolized? Can it move through the ducts? I don't think there's been enough scientific research at this point to be able to definitively say one way or another. The ASHRAE Task Force has tried to take the stance that there is the possibility that it could. So, let's work with that possibility. And, then, once the microbiology side of things catches up, and they can kind of tell us what they know, then we would be ready to be able to make some firm suggestions.
Engineered Systems: Anything else exciting happening with the Taskforce you’d like to share –is there any new guidance or considerations the group may be working on?
Garner:The biggest thing, I think, if you were to read through the webpage and what the taskforce has put out — and I'm really going to speak to the building readiness side — because that's what I know, as I was heavily involved in the recommending a few different strategies, our guidance mostly involves increasing ventilation as much as possible, obviously, within the range of capabilities and capacities of equipment. I’m also aiming to increase filtration as much as possible. I also suggest utilizing some ventilation strategies — more so than maybe what's outlined right now in the energy codes — to flush out buildings prior to and post occupancy, just to try and help with getting more cleaner air through the facility. That's the biggest thing the committee I was involved with is pushing out there.
Engineered Systems:You’re heavily involved in the TAB and commissioning sector of the industry. Can you speak specifically to the role TAB and Cx plays in the reopening of corporate America?
Garner:Absolutely. Everyone's trying to do what they can in their facilities in hopes of trying to get back to a normal way of life, get folks back into facilities, and still be safe. And if a person or building owner is trying to implement some of these strategies that ASHRAE has laid out and recommended, you'll see on the web page, it takes a team. You can't just go in and start adjusting dampers, changing control sequences, or pulling filters out and sticking new ones in. Well, you can, but you're probably going to have problems. What ASHRAE is recommending is that you have a test and balance firm onboard to help you with those measurements. A building commissioning provider may be able to help with the control side of things as well, if the test and balance firm can’t handle that.
If you're really going to be making changes to the system, you may want to consult with a design professional, contractors, or other folks like that. But, the biggest thing, the biggest takeaway there is to bring the right people onto the team. In almost every instance, if you're going to make any kind of changes to your system, you're probably going to need a TAB provider to assist with that.
Engineered Systems: You’re also a member of the Associated Air Balance Council, which will host its 2020 Virtual Conference through a series of presentations in late October and early November. You’re scheduled to participate in a panel discussion titled “Field Analysis of HVAC Systems’ Ability to Mitigate COVID-19 Transmission” at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 22. Can you tell us a little more about what you’ll be covering?
Garner:Absolutely. I'm truly blessed to be speaking with Wade Conlon and Troy Byers. We're all members, and have chaired and served on the subcommittee for the overall ASHRAE committee for the Epidemic Task Force. We're going to be speaking on the strategies that ASHRAE lays out. We’ll further discuss some of the points I touched on earlier, which include increasing ventilation, increasing filtration effectiveness (if you can), and as well as some flushing strategies, and things like that, that can be done to get these buildings back online. AGC is a big group of independent testing and balancing firms that can assist a wide range of owners and markets in trying to implement these strategies. So, we're really happy that we're going to get this exposure and we’re hopeful to be able to help out. We’ve got a lot of our member firms helping out and providing good information to design professionals, building operators, and owners.
Engineered Systems: If engineers haven’t yet signed up for this conference, why should they give it a look?
Garner:There's going to be a lot of good information presented. One of the misconceptions in the past is that the ACG meeting is just for testing and balancing firms. There's a lot of good information that's going to be put out there for a whole slew of folks who work within the building industry. Presentations will focus on design considerations, we're going to be talking about new technologies, and we're going to be discussing what's coming out from ASHRAE and the Epidemic Task Force. There's also new technologies in the tab and building commissioning industry that will also be discussed. There's a little bit of something for everybody there. This is a great opportunity to pick up some new information.
Engineered Systems: Our audience is made up primarily of consulting and specifying engineers and facility managers. Any words of advice as they continue to battle this pandemic personally and professionally?
Garner:If you're going to implement any kind of new solution, take it slow, just like with any other sound engineering judgment. There are a lot of folks who are rushing to try to react right now. And I think we need to build on our solid engineering principles, assemble the right team, and do things with good judgment and data. And that may involve utilizing a testing and balancing firm to collect data, measure systems, and things like that before we make any changes. Use good sound engineering judgment, because, unfortunately, a lot of the world right now is panicking.
Engineered Systems:If anyone is interested in connecting with you, Engineered Air Balance, the ACG, or the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force, where should they turn?
Garner:Their respective webpages would be a great place to start. Our webpage iswww.eabcoinc.com. Obviously, you can go to the ACG web page, which iswww.commissioning.org. Or you can go to the ACG website, which iswww.commissioning.org. And then, obviously, there’swww.ashrae.orgas well, where you can find all these great epidemic taskforce recommendations and a slew of other information there for the HVAC industry.