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Ask An Energy Pro: Behind the Heart and Health of a Building

March 15, 2023

A crucial part of what we do at Energy Sciences is optimizing what already exists in a building. Through retro-commissioning and creating new pilot programs, we emphasize active collaboration with our clients throughout the process. Our Senior Engineering Manager, Laurie Catey, shared more about the technical and hands-on side of our work at Energy Sciences.

ES: Talk to us about what your role means in our field of sustainability and energy management.

LC: Being an engineer in energy efficiency means embracing what already exists and finding processes to understand and improve it. We often work with things people inherit through purchasing a building for their business. When people think about energy solutions, it often comes hand-in-hand with postulating what must be purchased. Even if people don’t have the immediate capital, we can still help them through our services by learning the building and the equipment better for them and, better yet, alongside them; this is where our retro-commissioning service plays a major role. A big part of what we do involves exploring the complexity of a building and translating what others might not know to look for on their own. When we say that we strive to do the best we can with what we have, this begins with gathering information about what is already working favorably and where to go after we gain that knowledge.

ES: You mentioned the complexity of a building. What does that mean for your team?

LC: Think about what you need to feel comfortable inside during any given season. The things that might come to mind immediately are the lighting, temperature within the space, and water for utilities. It feels safe to say that we all notice when those things work against our comfort. In this day and age, people have grown used to phoning in problems to get quick solutions. When that happens in our line of work, we don’t always get the clearest picture because there are valuable components missing within the description of the issue. Most of the time, it happens because people don’t know where to start looking or aren’t attuned to the nuances that come with the building’s life – this is where we come in. Much of our line of work is translating technical into accessible and ensuring our clients feel comfortable with what we tell them instead of just fixing the problem to check off a box for them.

ES: What typically happens during your fieldwork?

LC: We explore the empirical side of processes and the creation of solutions, which involves actively using the scientific method and making observations with our senses. We spend time getting to know the building personally. We look at the duration of the building’s existence and the life it’s lived. There’s a lot you can learn from just being in the space. We listen to systems as they run, note the noises they’re making through their cycles, and pay attention to how and when they start up or shut down. We explore with our eyes, looking at everything from the equipment itself to the state of the building. We compare data based on what is presented in the cycles of utility bills ranging from money spent to hours of operation. We consider the location of the building and the impact the climate in the region has on it. These are some key components to look at when considering how the building was cared for throughout its life and where it presently stands.

Most importantly, we speak with the current owners and get to know their relationship with the building. We regularly encounter folks with a lot of passion for ensuring their space is living its life to the fullest potential. Ultimately, every person who makes that kind of investment has a dream of how they want it to run. We want to nurture those goals just as much as we want to help make decisions that support their financial parameters and costs.

ES: How does the time investment translate for our clients?

LC: We want to give the most transparent picture of what their investment means during our time together. This means clear communication and continuously including them in the processes we explore and create. We generally have two tracks when working in collaboration with people. Track 1 is full-blown utility retro-commissioning. We have an investigation period that lasts 2-3 months before we work with our client to hire the right contractors for the next step. We have a complete verification process to accompany our findings that we document and share. Projects using this track initially last 6-12 months. However, we currently have collaborators whom we have worked with for years and others who plan to continue working with us for the next steps in their processes. Track 2 addresses the most critical or obvious issues and expedites time spent working with controls contractors. We will investigate and implement it at the same time. Projects on this track are handled within 2-3 months on average. At the end of the day, we want to be doing the right work in addition to good work.

ES: What is a source of pride you feel working with Energy Sciences?

LC: There are a lot of things! I feel most proud of my fellow engineers – my peeps. I never dreamed there could be people like this to work with daily who put so much heart into their work. It’s been amazing to watch my team reach a point where they take projects and run with them together. As our company deepens its roots, it allows for a broader range of growth among individuals, teams, and departments. That also carries over to our clients. It’s truly amazing to see how much impact we make by teaching our clients about energy management and working together to implement processes that make sense for them. And in the end, those choices end up helping the world. We’ve kept that feeling of being a small company while creating this remarkable effect from our work. It reinforces to me that “small is big” – plant the seeds, and the roots will grow.

If you want to speak with us about your next steps in energy management, contact us with your questions, current projects, and future goals!

Categories: Ask An Energy Pro, Blog, Sustainability