Friday, August 31, 2007

NYC Geothermal Heat Pump Manual sets a Lofty Goal

In August of 2002, the City of New York Department of Design and Construction published a Manual guiding engineers through the design and installation of geothermal heat pump systems in their city. This manual covered the basics of geothermal heat pump designs, the intricacies of the complicated NYC geology, and the intricacies of the complicated NYC permitting process. As such it was a positive step by a government agency to facilitate the adoption of high-efficiency building systems. And it was a somewhat counter-intuitive move, since ground-loop heat-pump systems are often considered prohibitive in dense urban areas.

This manual sets an intriguing example for other local or state governments--especially ones where the underlying geology of their areas of jurisdiction are complicated or where strict building or energy codes exist. In cities like Seattle, where both are the case, a similar manual would be of great utility to local designers.

A link to the manual can be found here:

There is probably much of benefit to any designer working in areas of jumbled glacial deposits as are found in the Puget Sound region.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Energy Modeling, Part 1

With increasing energy awareness and green building momentum, the venerated task of energy modeling has enjoyed some resurgence of notoriety recently, due in part to a higher emphasis placed on building energy performance by state codes, increasing utility rates and rebates, and a groundswell of LEED certifications.

Fundamentally, energy (and its derivative, sustainability) modeling is an art and science that has evolved over decades of continuous improvement by a dedicated cadre of engineering professionals. One of those professionals is Association of Energy Engineers cofounder James P. Waltz.

Mr. Waltz is founder and president of his own building engineering consulting firm, a noted speaker, author, and member of the HPAC Editorial Advisory Board. As an author, Mr. Waltz has written a number of books over the course of his distinguished career, including the one we'll be focusing on in this series of articles entitled Computerized Building Energy Simulation Handbook.

Mr. Waltz's company, Energy Resource Associates Inc., does not engage in new design work nor do they work for architects, focusing exclusively on energy and automation engineering of existing facilities for owners. His perspective as a result is a pragmatic one, based on 30 years of critically assessing and retro-commissioning countless building systems.

What I like most about the CBESH, and why I think it should be on the bookshelf of anyone who is doing computerized building simulations and getting paid for it, is that it's not about the software. It's about dispelling building simulation myths, defining precision levels and selecting the correct tool for the job, field assessing existing conditions, building a library of representative case studies, model construction checklists, analyzing output and model calibration, practicalities of energy conservation modeling, and the role of building simulation in performance contracting, to paraphrase the chapter titles.

Building simulation programs are like standards, the problem is we have so many to choose from... each with their own idiosyncrasies requiring multiple volumes to document and a discussion board to troubleshoot. On the other hand the fundamental ideas presented in CBESH are universal, or as they might say in the software business, "platform-independent" to the application of energy modeling.

Originally I had to planned to review this book as the basis for the first article in a series of energy modeling articles I have been asked to submit for this year's Punchlist. However I believe now that skimming over the multitude of essential concepts presented in CBESH wouldn't best answer the needs of the readership. Which brings me to the second thing I really like about this book, namely that it contains nine chapters, and there are nine newsletters in a Puget Sound ASHRAE Chapter year.

This month we have looked at the Preface and first chapter, entitled "Introduction", about three quarters of which have been summarized so far. The last item I'd like to comment about in the introduction is answering the question that every energy consultant must be ready to unhesitatingly answer, namely 'Why Do We Do Building Simulations?'

The CBESH suggests the following four justifications (in quotations), to which I have editorialized a consultant's perspective addressing new construction:
  • "To obtain funding for retrofit improvements", or to justify new high-performance systems over what may otherwise meet code compliance with minimal efficiency and limited functionality.
  • "To justify taking a risk as a third-party, such as an Esco" or utility company in the form of rebates or incentives. While not financial in nature, LEED certification may also be characterized as a form of third-party risk.
  • "To raise the level of confidence". Manual calculations are useful, and can provide valuable boundary conditions, or 'reality checks' on elements of computer simulations. However computer simulations excel in providing the detailed accounting required to justify individual energy efficiency measures in the context of complex systems interdependencies.
  • "To verify that the homework has been done. Proof that homework has been done is far more valuable than a guarantee." There's simply no substitute for the due diligence required to construct an accurate energy simulation. In the case of new construction, where we do not have existing buildings nor utility bills to help calibrate the model, careful homework tempered with sound judgment based on experience become our only guideposts.
In summary, the first chapter has defined where we are going, why anyone would want to go there, and why we should have some confidence in this fellow who has offered to be our tour guide.

Next month: Dispelling common building simulation myths.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not constitute an endorsement by ASHRAE.

Brandon Nichols, PE, LEED® AP of Hargis Engineers has over 20 years experience in facilities systems engineering and project management for consultants and owners from design through long-term sustaining operations. He is the author of the ELCCA Exchange blog, which compiles information on topics relevant to completing State of Washington Energy Lifecycle Cost Analysis reports.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Posting Guidelines

The Puget Sound ASHRAE blog is a service to our members to facilitate communication between the members and the committee chairs and Board of Governors, as well as to foster communications and build relationships between members of the Puget Sound Chapter of ASHRAE (PSASHRAE).

In order to encourage that goal, certain guidelines shall be followed and certain understandings should be stated.

The community comments sections are intended for the use of PSASHRAE members. Others are encouraged to contribute, but PSASHRAE reserves the right to limit the posting privileges to members at any time.

Posters are encouraged to post with identifying information in their posts to facilitate off-site communication between other members of our organization. Anonymous postings, however, will not be deleted simply because they are anonymous as long as they respect the posting guidelines. Impersonating other posters or members of PSASHRAE is strictly forbidden and would be grounds for immediate revocation of posting privileges.

Opinions and statments in the comments sections represent the views of the poster alone, and do not reflect the views of the PSASHRAE organization, the Board Members or Committee Chairs, or of ASHRAE Society. Statements in the comments sections by chapter officers likewise shall be interpreted to reflect the personal views of that individual only, and shall not be interpreted to reflect the views of Society or the Chapter

PSASHRAE reserves the right to moderate user comments and delete any comments for any reason. Comments that are abusive in nature, offensive or otherwise disruptive are subject to removal.

PSASHRAE reserves the right to remove comments that do not foster ASHRAE's mission, or violate the spirit of Society's non-commercialism policy.

A note on political speech: ASHRAE is a non-partisan organization. This blog is not intended to be a platform for political action--If that is your interest there are many outlets available elsewhere on the web. Any overt campaigning or advocacy for political candidates, parties, causes or legislation will be subject to deletion. Comments that are informational in nature (i.e. "Representative John Doe has introduced a bill that would affect such-and-such a building type in such-and-such a way") are generally acceptable, but please understand that the line between reportage and advocacy is a fine one and one that is drawn in different places by different people. Please understand if a post of yours in this nature is deleted, or if a post by another that you feel crosses the line is not.

Generally, posts that deal strictly with educational, informational or technical matters are encouraged. There are areas, however, where even these sorts of comments can skirt close to political issues. A potential source of conflict would be the current emphasis ASHRAE Society is putting on Sustainability. If you are unaware of the position Society is taking on such matters, we refer you to the ASHRAE position statements. In cases of conflict, these documents can be used to help guide any decision by the moderators.

This blog is intended to be a self-policing community. The board cannot monitor every single comment made by every poster. If you observe posts that you feel are detrimental to the goals of our organization or otherwise disruptive to our community, please notify a board member. But keep in mind that this service is intended to foster open communications between members and between members and the board. A heavy moderator presence is not conducive to this goal. All comments are the opinions of the individuals using this site and should be viewed in this manner.

Please also feel free to submit comments or suggestions for the betterment of this service, the chapter in general, or for improvement in our pursuit of the ASHRAE mission.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

How to Use this Site

OK, so you've never 'blogged' before--Don't worry, it's a piece of cake.

If this is the first time you've been to this page, you might not be sure what it is, exactly, you are looking at. First, you're probably going to need to get familiarized with the layout. There is a lot of information on the screen and it might be a little confusing. So let's look at the general layout without all of that distracting information:

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(click on the picture for a bigger image)

OK, so now might be a good time for a little tip: If you want to open another window without leaving this one--to, say, look at the image above, you can right-click on the link (in this case the image above) and select "open new new window", or if you are using a newer web browser, you can select "open in new tab". That way the drawing will be open in another web browser screen, and you don't have to leave this post. What you should see in that other tab (or window) is an image that looks like this:

Only even bigger and clearer, so you don't have to squint.

The first thing you should notice is that there are three columns of information, and some header and footer bars. The center column is labeled "blog posts". Congratulations--that is the portion of the page that you are reading right now. Let's talk a little more about the blog posts in a bit.

The very top of the screen is the 'navbar' or navigation bar. That is a feature of all blogs that are run on the popular 'Blogger' system which is provided by Google. This allows you to navigate through the blogs on this system (there are a lot of them), or search this blog, or create your own blog (it's free). If you want more information on that, hit that stylized orange "B" at the left hand side of the navbar and that will take you to a page that can get you started. Ignore that for now.

Right below that is the header. That's the top portion of the screen on the actual blog with the image of the Seattle skyline. That is actually a button of sorts, and if you hit it, you will be taken directly to the front page of this site from no matter where you are in the site. It's a handy tool if you get lost.

All the way down at the bottom of the page are two footers. The top footer is labeled "logo"--that is simply another Blogger icon that will take you to a startup page for that service. The lower footer is labeled "HTML/Javascript". If you scroll down to the bottom of the page in the actual site, you will see that this is simply a little odometer looking box. That is known as a counter, and it gives the blog operators (in this case your PSASHRAE board) valuable information about how many people use this site and what they find useful.

That covers the headers and footers, now let's look at the left hand column. You should see six boxes, labeled "Chapter Links", "Officers of the Chapter", "Regional Chapter Links", "Industry News", "HTML/Javascript", and "How do you like the new". All of these boxes (except for the last one, more on that later) are just convenient places to provide useful links to other resources on the web of interest to our membership. The first provides links to our chapter website, the Society website and this blog. The second provides a link to our website contact information page. The third links you to the websites of the other chapters in ASHRAE region 11. Pay them a visit sometime. "Industry News" is just a feature that searches Google for news of our industry every time you load the page--you can select certain keywords to display results for by simply clicking on the underlined words right under the sub-header. As of today's posting, you can choose from "ASHRAE","Air Conditioning", "Construction", "Heating", "LEED", "HVAC", "USGBC", or "Ventilation". Give it a try. The next box, cryptically titled "HTML/Javascript" in the layout image, is actually titled "ASHRAE Press Room" on the actual site. This is a direct feed from ASHRAE of the press releases they have released from their publicity department.

And the "How do you like the new" field? That is a poll (titled "How do you like the new PSASHRAE blog". Feel free to register your thoughts by clicking on the radio button next to the response that reflects your opinion, then clicking the "vote" button. I'll wait......

Oh, I see you'd rather finish the tour first. Good thinking--you don't want to vote prematurely!

Let's jump over now to the right hand column of the site--You should see four boxes over there: "Topics", "Archive", "WS2 Task List" and "AdSense". Probably the most important box in this column is the "Topics" box. This is a feature that allows us to organize the site in a way to make it easier for you to find things. There are several topic titles listed below the title bar on the actual site. If you hit, say, "Membership", then the site quickly re-arranges itself to only display the articles that we have tagged as being relevant to membership issues. Give it a try. See? Instead of having to wade through every single article posted, you can just narrow your search to just the articles that are related to the subject you want to see.

The "Archive" box allows you to look at older posts that are no longer kept on the front page of the site. It is arranged by date, so you can zoom into the time period you wish to search.

The next box is essentially a task list that we are currently using as reminders to us to do things for the site and for other technology tools we want to roll out for the chapter. Unless you really want to get more involved in the chapter (hint, hint) you can ignore that. The "AdSense" block below that is just an experimental revenue source for the chapter. You can ignore that, too, for now.

So now you know all about all of the things that surround the main body of the blog--don't get too comfortable with what you see. There is a good chance that this will change, probably many times, before we settle in on an arrangement that works best for us.

Now let's get to the main course--that's the box labeled "Blog posts" in the center of the screen. It's also the part of the website you are reading right now. This is the meat of the blog. This is the area where we provide information that we hope is useful and interesting to you, the reader. It's also the part of the website where you can interact with us and with others using it.

Each blog post is initiated with a headline; this blog post's headline is "How to Use this Site". Click on it. What happened?

What you should have seen is the page reload, and then focus in on this article. In fact, if you look closer, the only article being displayed will be this article. If you look up at the address bar in your browser, you should see an address that looks something like:

You have just found the unique address of this article! If you find it especially useful or compelling, you can then copy this address and e-mail it to someone else who might find it really useful. Or, if you are really advanced, you might link to it in another webpage somewhere. That way, the person who you want to show this article to doesn't have to search the entire site to find exactly what it is you were trying to tell them.

Next, of course comes the article itself. This will be recognizable by the clarity of writing, the technical knowledge, the wit, the piercing insight, and the embarrassing spelling erors. Scattered throughout the body of the article may be highlighted words that look like this. Go ahead, click on it.

Find your way back, yet?

That highlighted word is a "link" and it will take you somewhere on the web--in this case right back to the article you are reading. But it could take you somewhere else, like say, the ASHRAE website, our original PSASHRAE website, or a dancing hamster. (It's the internet. That's just what happens around here).

Now let's look down at the bottom of the article. This is where things really get important.

You should see something that looks like:

There are three things of note here, the time stamp, the labels and the "comments" button. The time stamp gives you an idea of when the post was created. Expect to see things like "03:00 AM" there, because, this being a blog, all posters are required to be wearing pajamas in their parent's basements when they post. (We have our legal department working on a waiver.) But the time stamp is also a link, and just like the headline, it links you to a page that displays this post and only this post.

The labels indicate the labels the author has decided apply to this article. These are also links. If you click on, say, "Awards", the link will take you to a page where all of the articles tagged "Awards" are listed. It works exactly the same way as if you had clicked on the "Awards" tag in the "Labels" section of the right-hand column. (Only it won't work if you click on the words in the box above. That's just an image of what you see at the end of an article-ed.)

The last thing left is the most important: The comment link. It is found right here:

That's the part where you come in. Click on that link and you will be taken to a new screen. On that new screen you should see two columns--the left one will have the comments that other users have left, and the right column has a convenient input box for you to leave your comment (you may need to get a free Gmail account first).

What should you say? Well, anything. It's really up to you. While we do ask commenters to observe some basic posting guidelines, the whole point of having a comments section is to allow the users to give us their feedback. It can be on anything at all: Pointing out grammar errors in the post, asking for more information, giving the Chapter suggestions on how to better serve the membership, adding information on the subject of the article for the benefit of other readers, etc. etc...

Consider this just another route to communicating with your chapter officers and with the membership at large.

So now you should have a better idea of what this site is all about. Please feel free to use the comments (or the contact information in the upper left) to ask any more questions you may have. Have fun, and let us know how you use this site!