Here is a value-added suggestion for all you consulting engineering firms: Hire yourself a facility engineer to critique your hvac designs.

This may seem like a very innovative concept, to have a facility engineer on staff in a design engineering company. It may seem like an obvious suggestion as a quality assurance measure. Unfortunately, very few consulting firms consider having in-house the resources of an individual who has years of operation and maintenance (O&M) experience.

Can You Manage Without One

If your firm doesn't think this type of professional would be an added benefit, consider taking the following test:

  • What do the letters CMMS represent in the term CMMS system?
  • What is a data retrieval sheet used for?
  • Is there such a thing as a manual CMMS system?
  • What do the letters AFE stand for?
  • When writing the contract specification for the hvac contractor to furnish an O&M manual, should tasking sheets be an important issue in the maintenance process?

Do you have all the answers? If not, sit down and review this simple, 5-question test with a facility engineer. I'm sure it can lead you to a much longer conversation on operation and maintenance with this other professional. If nothing else, have a facility engineer come into the office some day for a 1- or 2-hr seminar on O&M procedures. It will be a great corporate training session and very enlightening to all those who design hvac systems.

And If That's Not Enough...

Need another reason why a consulting engineering firm needs a facility engineer on staff? Let's say that your company is designing an hvac system, and it will cost about $20/sq ft to furnish and install. This system will have an estimated, useful service life of 20 years. Let's also say that based on current utility rates, this may equate to around $2.40/sq ft per year.

Doing simple math, the operating cost for utilities will be 20 years multiplied by $2.40/sq ft per year, or $48/sq ft over the life of the equipment (at today's utility rates and ignoring inflation). At this point, there are four questions to be asked of the consulting engineer:

  • Will the $2.20/sq ft operating cost be acceptable to the owner as a reasonable line item in the operating budget? If so, why?
  • What will be the operating cost line item for the maintenance portion of this annual operating budget?
  • Is there a more cost-effective hvac system selection that would replace the $20/sq ft first cost and the $48/sq ft, 20-yr operating cost?
  • Is it possible to design an hvac system that would cost $20/sq ft but have an operating budget of $1.80/sq ft per year?

Consulting engineering firms have some experience in estimating the first cost of an hvac design but have very little, if any, experience in getting an annual operating budget approved by a building owner. If this firm had an experienced professional, who has "been in the trenches" with the process of getting an annual operating budget approved, just think how much better the design engineering for the a project could be.

Find One

So often, design engineers don't get to talk with the facility engineer who will be inheriting their hvac design when it's completed. Even if the design professional did talk to the facility person, did they ask the right questions? The design engineer knows what the design issues are (e.g., meet the design deadline, make the equipment fit within the equipment room), but do they know what the day-to-day facility issues are?

The best way to answer all the questions above is to find your consulting firm a facility engineer. Facility engineers are a valuable resource and today, with businesses and institutions downsizing, there are some really talented facility engineers available to join your firm.