The fuel of the future

I feel Lindsay Audin did not fully explain the use of vegetable oil to replace diesel fuel in his October 2006 “Energy Wiz” column titled, “Alternative Heating Oil Arrives” (page 22). He may have given some readers the mistaken impression that they can simply add vegetable oil to their diesel fuel and it will burn normally. This may or may not be the case depending on the application.

Throughout the article, he substituted “soybean oil” for biodiesel when these two terms are not interchangeable. Biodiesel can be made from soybean oil (and a number of other vegetable oils) but it is not the same. Biodiesel has been chemically refined to make it compatible with diesel fuel, mostly by removing the glycerin in vegetable oil.

The website is another good reference for the use of biodiesel.

John M. Keller, P.E.
Marquess and Associates
Medford OR

In the mix

In Lindsay Audin’s “Energy Wiz” column on alternative heating oil, there was a misleading statement that needs to be addressed. There is all ready a lot of bad information out on biodiesel, and we need to stop the misinformation whenever we can. The article states “used cooking oil or soybean oil is being mixed with diesel fuel.” Biodiesel is not vegetable oil, although many people do run straight vegetable oil in their diesel engines. Biodiesel is a fuel made from oil either animal or vegetable oils.

You can mix vegetable oil with diesel, running up to 50% mix, as long as the temperature stays above 60°F. I would hate to see someone mix the wrong percentage in their tank not really knowing the problems they may encounter. The factory fuel pumps in newer vehicles will not handle the thick oil for very long and will fail.

Mark Keller
HVAC Service Tech

Audin responds:

Neither reader apparently read carefully the text of my column. In the text submitted toEngineered Systems, in no location did I substitute “soybean oil” for “diesel fuel.” Instead, a careful reading of the words shows I was discussing BLENDS of soybean oil and diesel fuel, indicating in both the second and fourth paragraphs that the vegetable component was only 10% to 20% (or less) of the total fuel.

Nowhere do I indicate that soybean oil or used cooking oil make up a more significant portion of the fuel. And, nowhere do I say that one may simply add soybean oil to diesel fuel in his tank, but instead describe the concept of a “blend” (a word used eight times in the column). Perhaps the word “blend” did not sufficiently communicate that something more than mere mixing was involved.

If either reader read something into the text that was not there, I am sorry for their confusion. As mentioned in the article, more precise information (than may be communicated within my 750-word limit) is available

Building the building community

This letter refers to Robert Beverly's “Editor's Note” from the October 2006 issue of Engineered Systems (page 6).

You asked in your recent article if there is any simpatico between HVAC and IT professionals. In this small firm that I work in, I might be the only one who understands much about what IT can do. I could write a book! In my experience, engineers in general do not have enough education or imagination about IT. I have been in HVAC design and engineering for 20 out of 27 years. My first degree was in architecture and design. (Odd, isn't it?) I got my P.E. the hard way, by self-study and practice under professional engineers.

I received a Bachelor of Science degree in computers and information science in 2000. I expected a lot more by now. I am still looking forward to future changes coming. Up until now, I know it's partly my own fault for not finding a way to combine the disciplines of architectural /engineering design and IT for my own gain.

I design and manage for a living, I guess, because my job rarely allows for anything else. The high rate of pay to design professionals is justifiable but money is hardly available for for re-imagining the design process through software or database development. Still, much of my data storage retrieval methods still mainly consist of loose-leaf binders and masses of e-mail. I said above that I could write a book, and in fact, I am doing just that! (Maybe now is the time for my career change.) I am looking forward to finding a way to improve the design process before I retire.

Noel Susskind, PE, LEED® AP
Senior Mechanical Engineer
Arora Engineers, Inc.
Chadds Ford, PA

Putting the authority in CA

This letter refers to Paul Ehrlich’s article in the November 2006 issue ofIntelligent Buildings Today, a supplement toEngineered Systems, titled, “Help Wanted: Building Systems Architect” (page 4B).

In my opinion, these jobs do exist and I am lucky to have one.

I am a project engineer specializing in building commissioning. I serve as an independent third-party commissioning authority as a part of a diverse team of professionals including owners, architects, design engineers, construction managers, and contractors of various trades. I am involved in all aspects of LEED® certification and oversee project development from the early stages of design and facilitate incorporation of the owner’s requirements.

As a big proponent of integrated building design, I gear the team efforts toward the integration of all building components into a unified, energy-efficient environment and tenant-friendly system; one that is easier to maintain and achieve persistent energy-efficient operation and occupant comfort.

In order to ensure that benefits gained from commissioning persist over time, I develop the recommissioning management manual, interview building owners and operators to identify problems and concerns they have in operating the building as originally intended, and assist with the remediation of any outstanding problems.

With an increased complexity of building systems and myriad of factors that affect the efficient building operation, I place a great emphasis on the education of operations and maintenance staff.

A commissioning authority (CA) is uniquely qualified to provide services that are above and beyond the “building systems architect” responsibilities without adding extra cost and redundant layers of management. By carefully selecting a CA, the owners can be ensured that their project requirements will be fulfilled.

Alec Strongin, LEED® AP, Project Engineer
Horizon Engineering Associates, LLP
New York

Whither the women?

This letter refers to Robert Beverly’s “Editor’s Note” that appeared in the November issue (page 6).

Loved the headline for your column. I fit into the marketing category of your list of women at HVAC events. You said “dozens” of women are seen at the AHR Expo. That actually is an improvement over my first trip to the Expo about 13 or so years ago. I can still clearly remember entering the big hall by a descending elevator, and my female companion and I started quietly singing “It’s Raining Men,” because we seemed to be literally the only women we could see wherever we looked. So at least the numbers are going upward!

Elva Legere Clements
Alvare Associates/for Lindab Inc.
Bryn Mawr, PA

Combining ATC with FTP

I just re-discovered Howard McKew’s “Tomorrow’s Engineer” column published in the July 2006 issue ofEngineered Systems(page 82, “Combining The ATC With The FTP”), and finally read it in-depth.

His reasoning and conclusions have intrigued me to want more information. It may be that we could use his FPT format when trying to understand and functionally test the various BAS systems we need to work with during our building commissioning activities. Is it possible for you to send additional information and an example of the FPT format? I would like to determine if your method can be beneficial to our commissioning efforts. We generally act as a third-party representative of the owner and work with the design and construction teams during their various phase activities of the project. We find that the BAS systems we must functionally test are almost always vague in description, inaccurate in operation, installed incompletely, and not close to their original design requirements when finally implemented.

Thomas E. Cappellin, P.E.
Hanson Professional Services
West Palm Beach, FL

Staying profitable

I finally got around to reading Howard McKew’s “Tomorrow’s Engineer” column (July 2006, page 82) and found some merit in his design approach. We’re all faced with the dilemma of having enough fee to produce what we really “want to” and/or “should do” for our MEP designs, while being cognizant of knowing we all have to be design profitable to remain in business.

I’m questioning the design approach to delete the detail sheets from the document package, and what magnitude of fee was saved. On this particular project, did your design group and/or construction administration group find that more time was spent answering or sketching details to address the questions from the construction teams? I know that our firm has developed detail templates that are accessible by our CAD operators to copy and paste to a set of detail sheets. I realize that our designers select the applicable details, but a lower salaried employee develops the document itself.

Dan G. Roe, P.E. , Principal
ccrd partners

McKew reponds:

This column got more response then any other column since I started in back in 1992. Because of all the inquiries, we posted the information on the ES blog ( where you will find the discussion and examples. In addition, the August 2006 “Tomorrow’s Engineer” column (“More On Responsible Documents, ”page 74), was an extension of this topic. You need to dust off that issue, too.

To continue the discussion, in this issue, ES has published the first of a two-part article on addressing the need to produce responsible construction documents while maintaining sufficient time for construction administration.

Integral to this topic, our group at RDK is pursuing a new approach to construction documents. The article - written by Sarah Maston, P.E., LEED AP and Mike Papagni, EIT from RDK Engineers - discuses what is important to produce at the schematic phase and how much of the fee will be invested in this work. As part of those documents, we combine the ATC sequence with the FPT narrative taken from the Cx-3 module (Commissioning 1-2-3 featured in the “Back to Basics” test series). You can check out the Cx 1-2-3

Our goal in producing construction documents is to do so using about 60% of the fee, in lieu of 80%. This will leave us with 40% of our fee to be more proactive during the construction administration phase of the work where the design engineer is usually not an active participant. In addition, we want the documents to be useful at startup with certain drawings continuing to be use in operation and maintenance of the building systems.

I’m also writing a book online titledProcess, Project, Profit-A Practitioner’s Guide To the Building Industry(also

My goal is to find the time to produce a one-day seminar that would help educate engineers on how to design projects responsibly while providing useful construction documents to build, startup, commission, and also to operate and maintain by. The goal is to do this profitably. To do so, we need to abandon the 20th century way of doing business and come up with a better way to delivery a better produce while making a reasonable fee in the process.