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“Whether it’s a Skyscraper in Manhattan or a School in the Mountains of Colorado, they aren’t Fundamentally Different” – EPA Spokeswoman

July 29, 2014

Watson: You are kidding me aren’t you Holmes? A representative of an agency that’s supposed to be leading the way in energy efficiency doesn’t understand the difference between a Skyscraper and a School? Holmes: I couldn’t believe it either when I read it in the paper.

Holmes: Watson, what do you think about that quote from an EPA spokeswoman about the EPA’s First National Building Competition?

Watson: You are kidding me aren’t you Holmes? A representative of an agency that’s supposed to be leading the way in energy efficiency doesn’t understand the difference? Sounds like someone may be lacking a little common scents.

Holmes: I couldn’t believe it either. It reminded me of when I was stationed at an Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida and a neighbor Byron walked across the street to talk to me. He was a navigator on a C-54, a World War II era prop plane and told me his plane had crashed into a swamp down by Tampa.

Watson: He survived a plane crash?

Holmes: He said he had to throw away his shorts and was a little sore and but other than one snake bite, there were no serious injuries to the crew.

Watson: What caused the crash?

Holmes: They were on the ground on a training mission. A truck came out and refueled them. They took off, got to about 1,000 feet and all four engines quit at exactly the same time. The pilot did a masterful job of gliding into the swamp with a dead stick.

Byron said they found out that the fuel truck was carrying JP4, jet fuel, kerosene which their gasoline engines didn’t like.

Watson: I suppose you’re going to tell me that one of the crew overheard the refueler say, whether it’s a Supersonic Jet Fighter or an old WWII Propeller Plane, they aren’t fundamentally different.

Holmes: No but you can see why the EPA statement shocked me and reminded me of that incident. There are just some basic fundamentals that people in responsible jobs need to be aware of. A skyscraper in Manhattan and a school in the mountains of Colorado do have walls, windows, roofs, occupants, lighting and heating and air conditioning systems. Other than that the EPA spokeswoman couldn’t be more wrong.

Watson: Do you have experience with those kinds of buildings Holmes?

Holmes: I do. I was involved with designing HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) systems for the Hartford Steam Boiler Building in downtown Hartford which is very similar to the “Skyscraper in Manhattan” in the EPA competition.

Watson: I know nothing about a Skyscraper. Tell me how the energy systems work.

Holmes: My pleasure. A Skyscraper has different cooling requirements in different areas and all at the same time, so you can’t just put in an air conditioner with a thermostat in the living room like you can at home.

The exterior of a skyscraper needs cooling at some times and heating at others depending upon the outside temperature, wind and sun. When the sun hits the east windows in the morning, the east offices may overheat and need cooling, even in the middle of the winter. As the sun moves across the sky during the day, the rooms on the sunny side may need cooling while the ones in the shade will need heating.

The interior of a skyscraper needs cooling to remove the heat from people, lights and office equipment all day long, every hour that it is occupied, every day of the year, summer and winter. It could care less what is happening outside.

A very sophisticated HVAC system is required with complex controls to keep everyone in a large building comfortable at the same time; which according to the Guinness Book of Records, last happened in Minneapolis on March 23, 1982. A big skyscraper in Manhattan, very complex mechanical systems and difficult to modify without screwing things up more than they normally are.

Watson: What about the HVAC systems in a school in the mountains of Colorado?

Holmes: We ran twenty buildings in a School Corporation for ten years and reduced their energy consumption and costs by 35%, so I actually do know a little bit about HVAC systems in schools and how schools use energy. I’ve lived in the mountains of Colorado for several years not far from Carbondale where the Crystal River School in the EPA competition is located. I understand what is required to keep a school comfortable in this climate. After I read the EPA statement, I drove to Carbondale to see the school. I wanted to see for myself what a school in the mountains of Colorado looked like that was not “fundamentally different” from a Skyscraper in Manhattan.

A school has people, lights and in Colorado, needs a really good heating system for those minus 30 mornings. It doesn’t have interior zones that need cooling all year around. Most of the rooms are exposed to outside conditions and have their own thermostat and HVAC unit. During the summer in the middle of the day the outside temperature may reach 75 or 80.

Our summer doesn’t really get started until most of the snow is gone and the flowers bloom; around the middle of June. That varies according to elevation. It starts to get cold again around Labor Day. It’s never warm at night, no matter what month it is, so all buildings start out cool in the mornings. On a normal school day, there is not a lot of need for air conditioning. According to climatic data, the average highs and lows in Carbondale for May are 68 & 28 and 75 & 41 in September. Maybe the offices need a little air conditioning from time to time and to be able to adjust a thermostat.

Watson: Not exactly Manhattan in July!

Holmes: In the mountains in Colorado we actually do what people in that skyscraper can’t, we open our windows. We can open the doors, too because there is no humidity and there are almost no insects. You do have to beware of bears in the evenings, though.

Watson: You can't be serious, Holmes?

Holmes: There are bears in most mountain towns in Colorado. But they seldom bother people. They come out to scavenge for food. But in a school in the daytime? For cafeteria food? No way. No bears; not a problem.

So even if there is some need for air conditioning on hot days, I can guarantee that the systems in the school ‘bear’ little similarity to the HVAC System in the skyscraper in Manhattan. Big skyscraper in Manhattan, very complex mechanical systems; elementary school in the mountains of Colorado, simple HVAC Systems; very different.

Watson: Are you sure you weren’t a little hasty in your original criticism of the EPA spokesperson Holmes. Other than the things you mentioned, it sounds to me like Skyscrapers in Manhattan and Schools in the mountains of Colorado aren't fundamentally different.

Holmes: If you believe that Watson, I’m afraid you may not be suited for the energy profession. But look at the bright side, if this career doesn’t work out for you, maybe you can get a job refueling airplanes.

Tell us about your experiences, both good and bad with energy professionals, what has worked and what hasn’t. Send us your comments, thoughts and suggestions on how to improve our profession so we can all continue to learn from each other. Thanks – Holmes & Watson.

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