Design Brief: Improving Mechanical System Energy Efficiency

January 1, 2003
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Tight design timelines db-04-mechenereffc.toc.gifcan compromise the design team's ability to consider factors like life cycle cost, distribution efficiency,access, maintainability, and system integration.

Technological advances and economic pressure frequently join forces to reduce the design and construction time for building projects. Narrowing the design window places intense pressure on the design team to produce construction documents as quickly as possible. As a result, other factors like life cycle cost, distribution efficiency, access, maintainability, and system integration may not receive a thorough evaluation to provide the best overall solution to the design problem.

Failing to take these factors into account during the early stages of design can have long-term negative impacts on the efficiency of a building and its systems. For example, a constricted mechanical space will probably remain constricted for the life of the building, compromising the efficiency and maintainability of the machinery and eroding the building's operating budget for years to come. Correcting such a problem subsequent to construction may be an economic and practical impossibility, while preventing it during early phases of design may have little first cost implication and yield substantial ongoing benefits.

This design brief explores techniques that use the "fuzzy" information available during schematic design as a foundation for establishing a project's design intent and making good longterm mechanical and electrical systems decisions. Properly applied, they allow the mechanical designer to:

  • Suggest more efficient system alternatives with better life cycle cost profiles for consideration.
  • Ensure that the architectural elements of the building are configured to promote distribution system efficiency.
  • "Right size" building systems from the very start, improving energy efficiency, as well as first cost.
  • Coordinate with other team members to capture the additional savings that "ripple out" of these decisions.
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