Artificial intelligence (AI) policy: ASHRAE prohibits the entry of content from any ASHRAE publication or related ASHRAE intellectual property (IP) into any AI tool, including but not limited to ChatGPT. Additionally, creating derivative works of ASHRAE IP using AI is also prohibited without express written permission from ASHRAE.

logoShaping Tomorrow's Built Environment Today

Building Better Buildings With Communication

Building Better Buildings With Communication

From ASHRAE Journal Newsletter, September 26, 2017

By Mary Kate McGowan, Associate Editor, News

One day, Alyse Falconer, P.E., Member ASHRAE found out pipes were exploding in the mechanical room in a client’s high-performing building.

“Pipes don’t explode in the mechanical room. They never explode,” she said.

She called the commissioning agent, the design team and others to figure out the problem, to stop the damage and to take care of her client. In the end, a check valve was installed backwards causing a pump to dead-head against the check valve with a flexible vibration coupling that failed the pump—the weakest point of connection, Falconer said.

A breakdown in the commissioning process was the reason for the problem, which in turn, means a breakdown of communication was to blame.

Sometimes high performing buildings do not turn out like planned. Ideas of high performing buildings are planned and designed with enthusiasm and purpose, but the plan is not always translated into the finished product because the team does not communicated consistently and thoroughly, she said.  

Even though different teams members like architects, energy modelers, engineers and commissioning agents have different duties and expertise, each person can make a difference in each step of the process to prevent that breakdown in communication, said Certified Energy Manager Michael Flemming P.E., Associate Member ASHRAE.  

Falconer and Flemming teamed up with an architect and an energy modeler to figure out what can be done to maintain the initial enthusiasm throughout a high performing building project. The team presented common mistakes and remedies during the “Walking the Walk: Delivering a Truly High Performance Building” seminar at the 2017 ASHRAE Winter Conference in Las Vegas.

One remedy to a successful high performing building is communication. Of course, effective communication is easier said than done, but, luckily, Falconer and Flemming have a few tips.

TIP: Involve as many people as you can early in the process

The more people you have contributing their different points-of-view, the better, said Flemming.

Because each team member has a different skill set, someone could point out a design concern before it becomes a problem on the construction site, he said.

Involving people such as commissioning agents in the early stages can also lead to cost savings, according to Flemming. Because commissioning agents look at the building as a whole and not just individual systems, they can point out what will be missing in the construction phase during when the building is still being designed, he said.

That way, the commissioning agents are then better equipped to stay true to the building’s essence when changing design or system plans and making value engineering changes when the building is being constructed, Flemming said.

“A lot of problems late in the project can be mitigated by a little more effort early on,” he said.

TIP: Attend meetings that do not necessarily pertain to your duties

Another benefit of team members working together from the beginning is establishing consistency throughout a project. That could mean attending meetings or jumping on phone calls.

Falconer said she sits in on owner-architect-consultant meetings for her projects.

“I think it shows that I still have my eye on the project even as we’re going through construction. I think it’s important to really allocate fees to the construction administration process or portion of a project so your attendance can be included during that period of time,” she said.

When new teams members enter and leave a project, it is important for them to understand the project’s goal, plan and intentions, said Falconer. That means other team members have to be able to share the rationale and history behind the project.

TIP: Include the facilities manager and future occupants in the design process

To make sure facility managers and occupants can operate the high performing building, Flemming recommended involving a building’s facility manager in the design phase.

After all, if they cannot operate the advanced systems, the high performingsystems are for naught.

“If you over-design a building to be super high performing and efficient, but they’re not ready to operate that type of building, then it’s going to go wrong very quickly as soon as they take over the building,” he said.

Falconer recommended asking a building’s occupants to fill out a facilities questionnaire, like she has done before.

“While you’re learning the actual nuts and bolts and technical operational elements, you’re also building a relationship with the facilities group. They’ll be a little bit more on your side as the designer when challenges do come up,” she said.

By building relationships with soft skills along the way, the high performing building has more of a chance to perform its duty, which is  “to make green buildings that not just save energy but keep the person inside the building incredibly happy and performing very well,” according to Falconer.

TIP: Establish Precedent

If everyone does their job well and works together, high performing building projects turn out well with minimal problems, said Falconer.

Talking with other team members and working as one unit might sound like a simple solution, but people tend to send electronic files and emails instead of meeting face-to-face or talking over the phone, she said. That human touch can go a long way.

“With the pace and complicated nature of projects that tend to exist, unfortunately a lot of these key steps get missed,” she said. “I think personal interaction and relationship team building that’s happening along the way is starting to deteriorate based on the economy that we’re in right now, at least in the Bay Area.”

Getting to know your colleagues on a personal level can elevate a project, and it can set a successful precedent for younger engineers and the industry’s future.

“We’re so heavily weighted toward the technical and just looking into the mechanical engineering that we forget to stop and think about the personal relationship side of our business,” said Falconer, the Region X Coordinator for the Young Engineers in ASHRAE Committee.