Recently on a Zoom call with engineering staff from an Able site in Seattle we discussed award-winning energy saving measures and how to make it as a building engineer. Here is a Q+A with Aubrey, Troy and Corben.
Tell us about your building in Seattle.
Troy: The site in Seattle is two buildings amounting to 700k sq. ft., it was constructed in the 80s and it has 100% outside air. The climate in Seattle is fairly temperate but there are occasionally hot days in Seattle.
Aubrey: There is 38 floors with about 1,000 hydronic heat pumps.
Troy, you were awarded a blue star sustainability award in 2019. What did you do right to receive the recognition?
Troy: Initially our building was set up to run HVAC all weekend long, when temps were above 70 deg. so it wouldn’t get too hot due to the building being unoccupied on Sunday and this became expensive. The sun load would be too much over the weekend and then on a Monday we would lose control of the building’s climate. My solution was to implement a building flush; once temps outside dropped below inside building temps we would start the building's supply and exhaust fans to flush the building using outside air as free cooling. We’ve been implementing this manually for the past couple of years and this year we are automating the process with our building controls.
How was it measurable?
Troy: It was a substantial $60k annual savings. Not having to run the HVAC system, we simply turned on fans for cooling. If we didn’t do it, then we lost the building on a Sunday and then couldn’t regain control till Monday evening. And if you lost control of a building’s climate, that means a barrage of hot calls and a bad environment for office productivity.
Corben, you were awarded a blue star sustainability award in 2020, what did you do to receive the recognition?
Corben: I was optimizing the start and stop times for heat pumps and boiler operations. I was inspired by Troy’s award and decided to advance our engineering of the building’s systems to gain even more efficiencies. I tracked the program for 12 months pre-pandemic, monitoring and making adjustments during full occupancy and we saw a annual savings of around $30k.
What made you think the building could be operated more efficiently?
Troy: I’ve been in the industry for 22 years, Corben for 8 years and Aubrey for 21 years. Both Corben and I were previously HVAC technicians before we become stationary engineers and our experiences told us that there was an opportunity to improve the efficiency at our site.
What do you like about your job?
Corben: Having the team to work with is a great thing. Previously as an HVAC technician, you would spend a lot of time driving to different buildings and working alone while lugging equipment onto roofs all over Seattle. We have a good team here, we help out each other out and we cross train. I like working with the same team everyday and feel like we have ownership of the building.
Troy: We get to take ownership of the equipment and work with it on a daily basis. If something isn’t right or if it can be improved, we get to communicate that to our management team and take ownership of the building systems.
Where did you get your education as an engineer?
Troy: After high school I didn’t have enough money for college so I went into the Navy and then with the GI bill, I went to tech school for 2 years and then did a 4 year apprenticeship. After my apprenticeship I became a journeyman for a commercial HVAC service. I did that for some time and then I found myself wanting to service a single site and work with a team. That’s why I’m at the building today.
Corben: I lived in the UK and attended 2 years of vocational school and shortly after I moved to the US. I did an apprenticeship for 4 years and worked in the field as a journeyman in commercial HVAC service.
What would you recommend to someone that wants to get into the industry?
Corben: Be willing to be helpful and learn from anyone that you can. Continue to learn what it is that allows these buildings to operate in the most efficient way.
Aubrey: Make sure you get along with people as it is a large part of the job because this is a service industry.
Troy: If you come in with the right mindset and you’re willing to learn you can make a great living and a great career. At my last job, my senior chief engineer started as a janitor and worked his way up.
Aubrey: Get set up with training in a engineering course, these are taught at technical colleges and sometimes at community colleges. In Seattle, try Renton technical college.