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NABIE recently has had several conversations with a representative of the Environmental Protection Agency who is scheduled to be a presenter at the upcoming annual meeting in San Antonio.  As many presenters do, he has been doing his homework to learn as much as he can about NABIE and the specialty area of building inspection engineering.
Part of his research had him review the Body of Knowledge (BOK) for the building inspection engineering certification program and caused him to remark that he had not seen a line item in the BOK specifically dedicated to energy efficiency examinations and methodologies.  At first blush I had to agree with him that such a specific, titled area in the BOK does not exist.  However we as engineers all are trained to examine efficiency in nearly everything we do.  Energy efficiency – for the average PE – is not some “new” concept.
We all are well aware of the huge focus these days on going green and being as energy conscious as possible.  If nothing else, the current push in this area should awaken in us all things from our undergraduate days that emphasized a “cost conscious/energy conserving” approach to all that we would do as engineers.  Whether you learned how to select “economic sections” in your structures course, compute engine efficiencies in thermodynamics, consider pump efficiencies in hydraulics or fluid mechanics, examine motor power factors in electrical engineering, or evaluate thermal insulation systems for buildings as part of an HVAC design course, considering the cost impact of varying efficiencies is ingrained in our training.  Most undergraduate engineering students have even had a course in engineering economics to help learn about financial analysis of aspects of our projects.
How we use our “energy efficiency” training and experience in our work as building inspection engineers is a matter of personal choice, coupled with the services we agree to provide to any given client.  None the less, I submit each of us is well prepared and capable of considering such aspects in all the work we do.
On a personal level, while I may have commented on areas of a building that visually appeared to be deficient from an energy conservation vantage point, I did not routinely delve into such aspects in depth for the average building assessment situation.  In somewhat more detailed reports (usually for New York City apartment buildings), I routinely did boiler combustion efficiency tests as part of my review of mechanical systems.
Today, especially with such programs as LEED and Energy Star, considerations of energy conservation measures has become increasingly important, fashionable, and even politically correct.  Regardless of your view of these programs or even their necessity, you cannot discount both your training and the public demand as linked in a way that opens up potential business doors for you.
The December issue of the ASHRAE Journal had a wonderful article written around testing of underfloor air distribution plenums for leakage.  One might argue that in the past design and construction of a ventilation system likely carried with it a requirement for testing and balancing once the system was installed.  While testing and balancing is certainly a continued part of commissioning any HVAC installation, the ASHRAE article goes into particular detail of how engineers (including a PE) planned and executed an extensive testing program to discover the efficiency of the air distribution system.
Interestingly enough, neither of the two engineers who authored the article are NABIE members, but clearly their work can be considered an aspect of “building inspection engineering.”
As one expects in our line of work, much of the assessment effort for all of us involves a considerable amount of field time.  That is an aspect of building inspection engineering that tends to distinguish us from many other engineers.  Virtually all of us have climbed ladders, entered crawl spaces, taken rides on movable scaffolds, etc. as part of our investigation of buildings on our clients’ behalf.  The great thing about the December Journal issue’s article is that it is clearly “field” sensitive to the methodologies used by these engineers.  Use of data logging manometers, adjustable orifices, and good old fashioned investigative methods helped these engineers evaluate the system.
Let’s not forget that while our work as building inspection engineers often reflects a generalist approach to examining and diagnosing a variety of building issues, we are all capable of more specialized examinations as well.  That can mean opening up markets we had not considered where our services may be valued.  It also means that as part of staying informed about the field of building inspection engineering, other technical disciplines may be utilizing inspection methods we could adopt or at least be knowledgeable of.
We are in the heyday of energy conservation and going green.  Each of us should never forget that our training as engineers – no matter how long ago – has equipped us to evaluate efficiency and its cost impacts.  Use that to your advantage.