The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

My husband and I are currently trying to buy our first house together, so we spent this weekend looking at houses. By the end of the weekend we’d chosen the house we’ll hopefully manage to buy and we’d discovered that we truly are construction & energy geeks.

Whilst the estate agent showed us around, pointing out the ‘delightful neutral décor’ or the ‘brand new carpets’ or occasionally, at their peril, a room that ‘would be perfect as a nursery’ James and I were ferreting around checking the energy performance and pondering what energy-efficient upgrades we could make.

Of course the compulsory energy performance certificates (EPCs) are a big help these days, they let you know all the basic details about standards of construction, insulation and heating. They also tell you a few areas you could make improvements in, for example a fairly standard EPC comment is ‘install energy efficient light bulbs’. But EPCs are intended for the general public to understand and be able to act on…they wont give you the full potential of what could be achieved.

So, with heads stuck in loft space, peering through ventilation bricks and stomping over gardens we discussed a variety of ‘new’ technologies we’d consider installing in any of the 1930-1950’s houses we were looking at. A couple of our favourites were:

– A ground source heat pump coupled with underfloor heating. This would reduce the energy bills, and by using this heat we could actually gain money from the Renewable Heat Incentive. It would also mean we wouldn’t need any radiators so we’d gain floor/wall space, and they’re something rather lovely about pottering around barefoot on a heated floor in my opinion.

– A mechanical heat recovery ventilation unit, these draw hot, humid air from areas like kitchens and bathrooms and use it to heat fresh air from outside before delivering it to other rooms like bedrooms and lounges. Most houses lose heat through bathroom fans and kitchen extract hoods, and many houses have no fresh supply except through leakage which reduces as we install better doors and windows. People need oxygen to live and generally 8-12 litres of fresh air per second is recommended to be supplied to occupied rooms in order to keep people feeling awake and comfortable. So, instead of losing the heat from the kitchen, we would be re-using that heat whilst still getting nice fresh air into the building, like this:

With so many ideas bouncing round in our heads we can hardly wait to get into a new house and start saving energy!


{September 28, 2010}   Reasons to be picky, one, two, three

We’ve all been there, stood in a shop we’re bored of, next to someone we normally care about but right now is driving us up the wall, wondering when we’ll be able to leave….all because someone likes that chair but thinks it’s not quite right because they’d like it to have a straighter back, or a lamp paler shade, or a heavier door knocker or more stripy wallpaper…or some other tiny detail that you think is utterly unnecessary but they’ve become obsessive over.

If you’ve ever thought that your parents, wife, flatmate or anyone else taking on some interior design were being overly pedantic when picking an item have you ever discussed with them why that detail is quite so important to them? It may be that they’ve got spinal problems so need a very upright seat, or are struggling to see well enough their evening hobby of embroidery so need a brighter light, or they’ve started to go a little deaf so need a door knocker that makes a louder noise. Or perhaps it’s just that they really like stripes…or have low ceilings that they want to appear higher.

You see sometimes it’s the very fine details of an interior that are the most important aspects of the design as a whole. I’m currently working on a pharmaceutical project, and we’ve gotten to the stage of selecting the “finishes”, and it’s a very prolonged process over which people are very exacting. That’s not because we’re working with fussy people who want a precise shade of magnolia to match their cream leather sofas, it’s because the finishes in a pharmaceutical facility play a vital role in its cleanliness. Of course there are many other aspects, such as good air-conditioning systems supplying well filtered air, good control systems and well trained staff, to name but a few but right now I’m working on finishes.

When you’re talking about whether a wall covering, flooring or ceiling tile contains crevices in which dirt can gather it suddenly becomes very important to specify exactly the right product so that you know you’re manufacturing in a truly clean environment…after all, you wouldn’t want dirty drugs. To maintain this clean, safe facility there are a lot of very exacting standards that the finishes must live up to. Not only must they be smooth and crevice free now, but they need to be robust enough to keep that finish as they are subjected to years of trolleys and people moving over them, or bumping into them. They must be sufficiently waterproof and chemical resistant to withstand the arduous cleaning regime, which includes everything from floors to ceiling lights. It’s also really important to be very precise about details like light switches and door handles to ensure that there are a few horizontal surfaces for dust to settle on as possible.

It’s a very time consuming decision making process, but it’s one that is hugely important and, albeit indirectly, lives depend upon…they’ll certainly be adversely affected if you get it wrong after all. So maybe next time your parents or partners are dragging you into the 5th DIY shop of the day, searching for that perfect kitchen cabinet door because they want to be able to clean it easily, you’ll have a little more patience…I know I certainly will. I’ll also be thinking along very different lines when I’m next getting the kitchen re-fitted!

et cetera
%d bloggers like this: