Sustainability in MEP Design: What You Need to Know

May 22, 2019

Sustainability is a hot topic in construction design these days. The industry consensus is that installing eco-friendly systems is a benefit to the environment and the budget. Nearly all project owners want (or are required) to “be green.” But while this is an admirable goal, it turns out that actualizing a sustainable structure during the design phase is far from easy.

The hierarchical pressure to design a sustainable building can be overwhelming. Increased regulatory standards pressure project owners, project owners pressure general contractors, general contractors pressure on-site personnel. Ultimately, the expectation for sustainability comes down on you, the designer, and you are left with the unenviable task of handling the logistics of green MEP systems.

Lucky for you, thanks to advancements in design technology, sustainability in MEP is a realistic, even profitable, option.

 

5 technologies driving MEP sustainability

According to the EPA, electricity generation is a major contributor to energy consumption. The government agency found that electricity amounts to 40 percent of all energy consumption in the US. As an MEP designer you can exert a great deal of control over the energy efficiency of a building and help reduce this bottom line.

Take, for example, these five leading MEP technologies that are making the trade more sustainable:

 

  1. Air conditioners powered by AI: Backed by AI-learning technology, HVAC systems can make automatic, on-the-fly adjustments to increase energy efficiency and reduce waste. These systems leverage IoT data to predict impending weather conditions and adapt air conditioner settings accordingly. Certain high-end systems can even monitor human activity in a given room by measuring floor temperatures and, in turn, fine-tune AC and heating levels.

  • Ventilation with heat recovery: Air circulation is an important quality-of-life feature, but employing the right ventilation system can also be instrumental in upgrading building sustainability. Eco-friendly ventilation systems make the most of existing heating methods by ensuring minimal heat loss while still providing efficient air flow. These systems use heat from machines and human activity to warm up air blown in from outside. This means that virtually no heat is wasted, and it ensures a sustainable circulation of air.

  • Smart control units and sensors: Make energy monitoring and control simple with smart control units and sensors. With this technology, building owners can monitor energy consumption and control heating/cooling systems from their smartphones or tablets.

  • Solar collectors: Solar energy is more powerful than ever thanks to improved collection technology. Solar collectors, which are installed in combination with boilers and thermostats, help improve the efficiency of solar collection and make a solar-thermal system a realistic MEP asset.

  • High efficiency heat pumps: High efficiency heat pumps are gaining steam both for their environmental versatility and as a cost-saving measure. This hardware has a remarkable coefficient of performance — the ratio between resources needed and heat produced — so they help deliver more yield with less waste. On average, heat pumps are upwards of 4x more efficient than gas pumps which makes them an affordable, sustainable energy source.

 

The future of electricity generation is bright (literally). Thanks to advancements in energy optimization and solar collection, renewable power has become a reasonable proposition. Italy, a world leader in renewable energy, depends on solar power for 7 percent of the country’s total energy consumption. Compare that to the mere 2 percent demonstrated by the USA, and it becomes clear as day that there is room for improvement when it comes to renewable energy.   

 

Make BIM better with constructible content to ensure 3D models are accurate, up-to-date, and serving green initiatives.

 

Sustainability as a value-added asset

Power is one of the largest operating expenses for virtually all commercial building owners, which means sustainability is not only good for the environment, but also good for your clients’ wallets.

Owners and facility managers can also leverage design models to help uncover new sustainability initiatives. Once an MEP system is fully operational, maintenance can use BIM to uncover larger strategic improvements that will affect sustainability on a day-to-day operations and maintenance management level.

Sustainability is more than just a buzzword when it comes to MEP design. Technological advancements such as eco-friendly MEP hardware and BIM are making environmental protection a reasonable, and profitable, reality for designers. As long as you know how to leverage the right technologies, designers can do their part in reducing the carbon footprint of building projects.

 

The role of BIM in sustainable design

According to MEPcontent Senior Sales Engineer Charles Lekx, BIM is a prime example of an MEP technology that is propelling the construction industry toward a more sustainable future.

“With BIM we are much better prepared for gas-free construction or new energy standards,” Lekx said. “We can visualize and simulate buildings and we can build and design much more accurately. When it comes to new and stricter requirements in construction, BIM will make a huge difference.”

Read the full interview: BIM Pioneers – What We Can Learn From the Dutch

BIM extends 3D model capabilities beyond just design and offers unprecedented information to all stakeholders throughout a building’s life cycle. A detailed model adds value to any stage of the construction project by improving interdisciplinary communication, relaying building logistics within a central platform, making sense of technical schematics, and much, much more.

Overall, BIM improves the degree of insight building stakeholders can leverage for green improvements and therefore helps illuminate existing and future sustainability initiatives. Use BIM to find top energy consumers inside a given building: HVAC inefficiencies, top electricity users, peak energy consumption hours, etc. This information and more becomes clear when collected and displayed within 3D building models that directly represent real-world energy consumption.

By leveraging BIM technology, MEP contractors can make sustainability a value-added asset. When equipped with the appropriate sensors and analytics engine, environmental data for a given building can be automatically collected and reflected in an as-built 3D model. This helps building owners identify what, exactly, is driving kilowatt consumption and this insight helps promote ongoing MEP maintenance and future improvements.

 

Learn how BIM and IoT technology can help collect and analyze environmental data.

 
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