As a mechanical engineer, I spend a lot of time in energy plants, especially in hospitals. Last week, I visited a hospital’s plant for the first time, and noticed a problem right off the bat. Both the dehumidifier and the humidifier were working simultaneously—one diligently removing moisture from the air and the other working hard to pump moisture back in again. I pointed this incongruity out to the facility manager and we reset the controls, solving the problem quickly and easily. One small fix—and potentially thousands of dollars saved.

Much of the work we do for hospitals involves facility assessments, including a review of the capacity, condition, and code compliance of engineering systems. We consider the long-term maintenance and operation cost, as well as the reliability and capacity to meet future expansion needs. Most importantly, we assess the engineering systems through the all-important filter of patient care, which is where hospital systems differ from other types of buildings. We must optimize energy efficiency without detriment to the standards of patient health, safety, and comfort.

Whether a client is looking to expand or not, these assessments can be extremely valuable. There are a lot of terms in play for this type of service: “troubleshooting,” “retro-commissioning,” “re-commissioning,” “testing and balancing,” or “energy audits.” All of these terms apply, but I also like to think of this work as a “building tune-up.”

Just as a mechanic can often work wonders with a few minor adjustments to your car’s engine, a “building tune-up” can point to existing trouble spots and recommend adjustments, repairs, or upgrades that will improve system performance. The process can also lead to preemptive maintenance that will avoid upcoming, and often expensive, trouble in the future. Conversely, it is often necessary in an older facility to take a holistic look at the entire HVAC system, because through the years setpoints would have changed and sequences would have been altered. This will result in inefficient operation at the least and frequently the inability to perform to the user’s expectations. For example, the outside air economizer controls may be inconsistent with the setpoints of the chiller.

Cape Fear Valley Hospital is a long-term client of ours. They recently won an award for the most energy-efficient large hospital in North Carolina. They accomplished this without ever implementing a project specifically to save energy. Instead, throughout all of engineering projects there, we have taken a system-wide approach, making upgrades to their whole system while making modifications for specific renovations.

Over the long term, what’s most important is a trusting relationship with your client. It all starts with good mechanical engineering. Each time we do a project, we take a 180° view in our approach, exploring various components, equipment, maintenance procedures, and an understanding of the client’s immediate and future goals. It requires deep technical knowledge, an eye for detail each and every time we’re on site, and a clear vision. In that sense, we offer much more than “tune-ups”—we offer true service and long-term value to the client.