The building industry continues to change as each year passes, and 2004 should follow true to this evolution. With an emphasis on high-performance buildings that operate efficiently and provide space comfort, energy engineering design seems to be back in vogue again, this time under the title of sustainable design.

Attending the U.S. Green Building Council conference in Pittsburgh two months ago, I was encouraged by the comments that were frequently made about taking a fresh look at how we do business. This appeared to me to be a common theme, heartening to hear after observing several less then efficient project installations in recent years.

Change Comes From Within

I believe the cornerstone to efficient design is a comprehensive automatic control sequence of operation. My assessment of the HVAC industry is that there continue to be very few design engineers who can truly write a comprehensive system sequence of operation. All too often, design engineers will count on the automatic control sales engineer to provide the sequence of operation and system flow diagrams, abdicating their own responsibility to provide a complete and efficient design. Although I compliment the building automation industry for being so good at providing the standardize control data, it has proven to be a double-edge sword for these companies.

The negative side of standardized control sequences is that the design engineer misses the opportunity to think through the automation process himself. The results are usually an incomplete control strategy, less-than-efficient system performance, and fingerpointing at the control contractor and the TAB contractor for these issues and concerns at system startup.

It reminds me of the energy crisis that started in the 1970s, when we were forced to change our old technical ways to award-winning, energy-building designs. During the 1980s, I often would be brought in to troubleshoot these high-performance buildings, as our industry had now created sick buildings and buildings that missed the energy conservation targets that had been set at that time. Hence, the building system commissioning engineer arrives on the site in the 1990s as the panacea to these problems.

Now, in the 21st century, we are reassessing how we do business under the umbrella of sustainable design. For the HVAC industry, if we are really going to have successful high performance systems that will score LEED certification credits, we need to make sure the design engineer is responsible this time around.

Breaking The Mold

My professional goal in 2004 is to encourage the design engineering community to embrace the concept of writing its own sequence of operation and doing so simultaneously while writing the commissioning functional performance test. Why should there be two documents outlining how a system will perform? Check out this month's "Back to Basics" test to see how this combination document (a.k.a. functional performance test-sequence of operation) can revolutionize the automatic control industry.

This month's "Back to Basics" also reinforces why and how the building automation industry can start throwing away those antiquated, standard specifications and begin to produce combination documents in their shop drawings that will ultimately assist their own software programmer's action-reaction process. Let's break the mold, as a friend of mine likes to say. Let's not recreate the problems we made in the past while collecting high-performance points. This year, let's grasp the opportunity that is here again, energy engineering.

Automatic control sequence of operations are the foundation of high-performance systems that can ensure reduced operating cost, improve space comfort, and be truly sustainable. Currently, these new certification programs don't offer adequate detail as to how system performance will be demonstrated. The same can be said for how system maintenance will be managed in the warranty year and beyond. We in the design community need to change all this and be far more specific as to what is required to achieve and document high-performance building systems.

This is a new year and a new opportunity to stop and assess how we do our work, with a critical eye towards improving what is current technical process and procedure. Before we rush off to collect our sustainable design awards in 2004, let's learn from those energy awards of the 1980s that provided us with those less-than-efficient buildings. If we don't learn from the past and change our methods of engineering in the near future, what will we do to supplement the commissioning process when it can't achieve the goals and expectations of those high performance-building systems in the years to come? ES