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March 21, 2012

Great Green Design: With a Touch of Grey and Brown
Filed under: Cool Projects,HVAC — Tags: — nedpelger

Green (or sustainable) design too often comes from checklists instead of logic. Some of the Green design makes no economic sense and little technical sense, raising costs and offering scant benefits. I hate that kind of “Bragging Rights” Green design.

So when I encounter some great Green design, I like to make the contrast. Google has a 990,000 sf data center near Atlanta, GA that needs a huge amount of cooling. Rather than relying on all chillers (with their high electrical energy use), Google went with more evaporative cooling (think cooling towers). While this design saves substantial electricity, the water use is huge.


Rather than continuing to use millions of gallons of potable water, Google partnered with the nearby wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). The outflow from the treatment plant (which was treated, but you wouldn’t really want to drink a glass) now goes to a Google treatment plant that further sterilizes, filters and chlorinates. The non-potable water then flows into the evaporative cooling system and most turns into mist, carrying huge amounts of heat off into the atmosphere at a low cost. The bit of excess water that does now go into the Chattahoochee River has been cleaned to a level much higher than regulatory standards.

To summarize, electricity gets saved, potable water use goes way down and the non-potable water that enters the river is substantially cleaner. Now that’s great sustainable design. The fact that 30% of the WWTP outflow goes into the Google Data Center cooling water system shows the scale of the operation.

Watch at least a short bit of this video, just to see what a Google mechanical room looks like. All those painted pipes make me happy.

Hat tip to Kneal for shooting me this news. I can always count on you for the straight poop on grey water and brown technology. I suppose having kids in diapers makes you an expert.


December 17, 2010

Efficient, Smart and Green
Filed under: HVAC — Tags: — nedpelger

We are in the finish stages of an indoor swimming pool project for the Lititz Rec Center. The project is going swimmingly (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) as the crews are cooperating well in some tight quarters. Jay Andrew, the project super, recently got all the MEP crews to agree to move up the schedule for ceiling painting by three weeks, which was a pleasant surprise.

Yesterday, I visited a manufacturing facility to witness the testing of the swimming pool dehumidification system. The PoolPak Technologies Corp. in York, PA truly impressed me with their quality workmanship and attention to detail.  Everything from the plastic spacers on the copper tubing runs to the weld beads indicated pride of workmanship. The rooftop mounted HVAC and dehumidification system is shown below.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mark Graybill, the whiz kid engineer from Accu-Aire Mechanical, convinced the PoolPak folks to add a two stage fan with a timer so we can have more ventilation at swim meets but still save energy during the normal low loading of the pool. That kind of engineering makes me optimistic about the future.

As I spoke with one of the PoolPak owners, we delved deeper into that idea. He mentioned that they strive for “Efficient, Smart and Green.” Rather than just playing to the LEED certification guidelines, they work to make sure their units and features really make sense in the real world of a swimming pool environment. They focus on heat recovery for pool water and air, as well as smart controls that keep the system from doing unnecessary work.

As the Lititz Rec Center maintenance manager and I drove home from the test, we were both pleased with our selection. I felt a further satisfaction for engineering and construction in America. The reports of our death are greatly exaggerated.


March 11, 2009

The Great Opportunity to Save Energy in Buildings
Filed under: Electrical,HVAC — Tags: — nedpelger

As WC Fields was fond of saying, “It’s time to take the bull by the tail and face the situation.” Buildings have a terrible record for efficient use of energy. The design and construction process for mechanical and electrical systems doesn’t work…well, it does work, but it works to get the lowest first cost and to avoid litigation.

We should be striving to provide systems that cost less to operate and maintain, as well as cost less to install and work well. We need to be looking at life cycle costs, not just what happens in the one year warranty period.

Why are we in this situation? For one, mechanical and electrical (MEP) consulting engineers can’t keep up with all the new technologies. Most of them use the simple design approach they learned when starting in the business and that approach doesn’t handle the complexity of current MEP options.

Also, the goals for building energy use are vague because measurement and reporting has never been focused upon. Search for good standards on how much energy a certain type of building should use and you’ll not find much decent information. This lack of standards for building energy use means no one quite knows what to measure or where the benchmark is.

This disappointing state of affairs presents opportunity. If you are involved in that aspect of the business, you should be learning more about this topic. I guarantee the situation will change dramatically in the next few years. It’s good to be aware of coming trends and position yourself accordingly. If you want to read more about Performance Based Design and Construction, go to and read the interview with Tom Hartman.