Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) Engineering refers to various characteristics of building design. It consists of planning, designing, and maintaining the MEP systems of a building. MEP systems act as the central nervous system of the building, and are responsible for adding the “human comfort” features in a building. They also assist in cost management, construction administration, documentation, maintenance, building operation, and renovation as well.
Smart decisions at the design stage could greatly reduce the building costs, and create a much better and suitable environment for the occupants. For real estate developers, a building with well designed MEP systems can grant a competitive advantage when it comes to renting or selling building spaces. One of the important things to keep in mind while designing a building’s MEP system, is that the design must meet all the building codes required by the local government.
Now that we’ve learnt about MEP engineering in brief, let’s dive into top 5 ways for adding value in building design with MEP engineering.
- Energy Efficiency and Water Conservation
Energy efficiency becomes extremely important when the energy bills start rising. Once a building is operational, energy bills like electricity, gas and water bills become a permanent monthly expense. In commercial buildings and industrial buildings, these number can go up to 6 figures per month. However, with the help of MEP engineers, a well-designed MEP system working at optimal performance can greatly reduce energy bills, reduce energy wastage, and even add features that promote energy saving. This ultimately leads to potentially saving thousands of dollars per month.
Every building is unique and requires appropriate design features, but some of the measures are highly effective in almost all the building projects like:
- LED lighting, depending upon the lighting system being replaced, can save up to 30% to 90% energy.
- High energy efficiency rating HVAC equipment.
- Plumbing fixtures with WaterSense label.
- Electric motors with NEMA Premium Efficiency (IE3 or IE4 when using IEC standards).
Water efficiency, in residential and commercial buildings, can reduce water wastage, yield lower sewage volumes, reduce energy usage, and bring financial benefits too. Some of the widely followed water efficiency techniques include rainwater harvesting, grey water recycling, low flow fixtures, pressure reduction, etc. Water conservation have a quicker payback in new building projects. However, if these measures are left for future upgrades, the components and equipment would need to be purchased twice.
- Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Based on study conducted by United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than the outdoor air. Most people spend up to 90% of their time indoor, while most of the air pollutants have little to no effect on humans, some can lead to serious health conditions if left unchecked for long duration of time. For instance, a Harvard study found out that COVID-19 mortality rate rises in places with high levels of particulate matter, or in simple words, indoor spaces exposed to harmful particulate matter.
LEED certification works with a broader concept of Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) which includes indoor air quality along with other aspects of building performance like glare-free lighting, thermal and acoustic comfort. The WELL Building Standard, on the other hand, focuses more on building occupants, and building performance has second preference. Considering the current emergency situation of COVID-19 pandemic, ASHRAE published guidance on improving indoor air quality in buildings. Measures like increased ventilation with outdoor air and lower air recirculation, using air filter with MERV 13 rating or higher, and deploying Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI).
- Building System Layout Optimization
Optimal building performance is extremely important, but most building owners want reasonable costs. However, poorly planned MEP design will ultimately lead to cost rising sharply due to poor layout, improper insulation, wiring, etc. In some cases, this can also lead to change order, which will add delay and impose unnecessary costs.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a powerful tool for detecting component clash, preventing change orders, and effectively designing the building system layout in the design stage. MEP engineers are able to design the system layout, and install them using the least materials and man-hours, without compromising performance. This is hard to accomplish with traditional 2D drawings, especially in areas where the component layout in densely populated.
- Designing Building for Construction
Water conservation, energy efficiency and an optimal layout can greatly reduce ownership costs. However, design engineers must also consider the construction stage when modeling the project. Conflicts that involve locations and specifications are evident, but there are also conflicts that affect the workflow.
Architects and Engineers must make sure that layouts and installation details are practical for contractors, considering how workers will deploy equipment and materials. A good design also considers that there are many subcontractors involved, and construction documents have clear instructions to reduce interference.
- Building Maintenance Design
A good building design not only simplifies construction, but also maintenance and renovation. Equipment and components installed must be accessible for routine inspections and part replacements when required. Building design must also consider replacement of large equipment, and the layout must ensure this is possible. For instance, a building may need high efficiency boilers and chiller in 10 years.
A digital twin, in such cases, proves to be a powerful tool for building maintenance as it creates a replica of the actual conditions of all the MEP systems in the building. This is very useful for tracking component wear, and for planning maintenance tasks.