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HVAC – The Low Consequences Game

HVAC – The Low Consequences Game

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 88) – All IMHO:

HVAC design and installation is a low consequences environment. The antidote, consumer disobedience!
If a HVAC design engineer messes up nobody dies, people just get hot or cold. However, if a structural engineer messes up the consequences can be huge and in the extreme, people can die. Engineers in Canada wear “pinky rings” to remind them of this and their duty of care.
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I guess this is why structural engineering is more formulaic and highly resolved and HVAC engineering is more like the “wild west” i.e. there are multiple ways to heat and cool buildings with little consensus on best practice or excellence. There is also a lack of consumerism resulting in low levels of R&D and poor standards of installation. Compare HVAC and car design. 

Due to a focus on consumers and competition Ford lunched an Ad campaign in 2015 called “by design” to highlight design quality. I have seen a TV advert for Ford which spoke about designing to find the optimum sound for car door closing. Has anyone seen HVAC promoted this way? Why is it like is?

In commercial buildings HVAC is a socialized experience i.e. not consumer focused at all, it is wholly capital cost focused. This first cost focus is due to the lack of consumer pressure and very low consequences, particularly in North America, for low efficacy, high energy consuming HVAC systems. 

Try and sell an efficient HVAC system to a developer based on pay back from lower energy bills. It is like selling unicorns. You can describe in detail what it looks like and will do but people do not really believe and there are no consequences to the developer for not buying in. 

In residential buildings where consumers should have influence, it is even worse. Somehow residential developers have “hypnotized” buyers into accepting any old junk they build. If you don’t believe me check out Canadian celebrity contractor Mike Holmes. Mike has a TV show “making right” terrible residential properties that always have insulation and HVAC issues. 

Low consumer power and almost zero consequences have lead to opaque responsibilities in design, and delivery of HVAC systems that frankly, do not work as advertised. So what to do? 

There needs to be a demand for quality as developers only react to demand. I always remember my first, lesson as a property development manager. A property developer;

  1. Designs a box;
  2. Builds a box;
  3. Hopes they can sell or lease the box. 

A developer wants to lease or sell their property. HVAC performance is a high impact experience for building users, therefore it is a quality issue and should matter. The consumer has to demand change and redress for poor HVAC performance in buildings. How is this done? It is done via:

  • “Spending Disobedience”, do not buy or accept poor performance. 
  • Lobbying our rulers for legislation in support of consequences. 
  • Commercial tenants hiring experts to check building performance as a way to enforce landlord lease deliverables.

In an age of corporate power and lobbying the only real power for the consumer and building tenants is via their spending. Ask Nokia how spending disobedience changed their world. Politicians (our rulers) can help, but it has to be in their interest to do so, therefore they need to be lobbied. 

The construction industry lobby in North America is strong. We need a consumer counterforce and consequences for poor performance. We also IMHO, need to practice some healthy consumer disobedience!

Twitter: @BLDWhisperer

Related posts & links:

#43 – This is Not OK  ( )

#42 – The “Hot Potato” That Is The Controls Sequence of Operation  ( )

#37 – Cx Post – Project Managers beware! This is why VAV systems are not “start up and walk away” )

#36 – How many people does it take to commission one VAV Box? – This is not a joke! ( )

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