Future Proofing Your Building During Design

As technology in the building industry changes and advances, designers must ask themselves how they can make a building’s Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing systems adaptable for new or emerging technologies.  The ability to “future proof” a building’s MEP systems may seem like a daunting task but with planning and foresight based upon the owner’s desires, it is indeed possible.

In the context of this article, “future proofing” is evaluating the long term goals of the owner and their desire to incorporate new technology to reduce energy consumption.  Operational costs of a facility drive many owners’ decisions but ultimately, some owners are forced to make difficult decisions justifying first cost investment with long term energy savings.

The question is “What can design engineers do to bridge the gap of investing in new technology to address energy savings now versus investing in a lesser technology that can be adapted to utilize the full technology in the future, when the technology becomes more mainstream and requires a lower capital investment cost?”

Following is an example of this type of forward thinking.  An owner desires to reduce the operational cost of domestic hot water generation by utilizing evacuated solar tube arrays to supplement the generation of domestic hot water by traditional means (i.e. natural gas). An example of “future proofing” for this system may include planning for the added weight of the system with the structural engineer and architect and coordinating space requirements for a hot water storage tank and piping to the roof.  Planning for future system tie-ins to the domestic hot water system and reserving space for future equipment typically have minimal impact on the overall construction budget, but have large impacts on the owner’s ability to implement the system in the future.  Another example would be to include provisions in the electrical service design for future incorporation of photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays, or the inclusion of a wind turbine for onsite power generation.  Again, upfront space and infrastructure planning are key to incorporating this technology in the future

As you can see, thinking ahead about energy conservation goals can greatly impact a project team’s ability to “future proof” your building.  If you have questions about how to incorporate sustainable design features into your facility now or in the future, please contact Roger M. Thies, PE, LEED AP at rmt@ba-inc.com or (814) 237-2180.

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