The Popular Alpine Village Layout Returns to Festival Express

This year’s theme for the Quad City Arts Festival of Trees is “30 Years of Holiday Cheer.” To commemorate this special year we decided to bring back our most popular train layout.

We made some improvements to the control station that will also make easier to take photos while children take their turns operating the trains. In addition, we will be offering souvenir conductor hats with Festival Express patches. All profits are donated to Quad City Arts.

For more information visit the Festival of Trees website.

Here’s a sneak peak at the layout and the children’s conductor hat.


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Great Acoustics – It’s a Team Sport!

Delivering a project which meets its acoustic and vibration specifications is one of the most difficult achievements you will ever accomplish. Doing so requires teamwork, constant communication, shared team responsibility and cost, and coordination of the various engineering and architectural systems.

Take for example the simple requirement of keeping the background noise in a corporate boardroom below some specified “quiet” level. Meeting this requirement generally means isolating the noise producers in the project from the boardroom.  Which design team member is responsible when this requirement isn’t met?  Answer: The entire team is responsible.

The architect is responsible when he focuses solely on aesthetics, placing the boardroom on the top floor, directly under the mechanical penthouse. The mechanical engineer is responsible when he focuses only on energy efficiency, using high velocity fans and short duct runs.  The structural engineer is responsible when only focusing on lightweight construction, allowing low frequency vibration of the boardroom ceiling.  The VE consultant is responsible when he focuses simply on reducing the construction costs of fire-rated walls, but neglects to consider the reduced sound ratings.  The electrical engineer is responsible as a result of focusing on keeping wire lengths short, degrading sound rated walls with multiple conduit and back box penetrations.  The project manager is responsible when she focuses on delivering the project on time and budget, but neglects to coordinate the various designs to meet the acoustic specifications.

The situation is best described as a “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” Each member of the design team can best reach their own goal by working individually and neglecting the acoustic specifications – and at the same time making it more costly for everyone else.

Solving this dilemma requires the design team to share the community cost of meeting the acoustic requirements, with each team member focusing on meeting a common goal instead of their individual goal.  Just like a professional sports team uses any number of plays – each one requiring different efforts from individual players – a design team needs to develop any number of building designs, each one different in the complexity and cost of its individual systems.

And while coaches and captains call the plays they determine will be the most effective toward winning a game – with varied levels of contribution from individual players – architects and project managers choose the building designs they determine will be most effective at meeting specifications and least costly to the project overall. The best building design may require great complexity and cost for a few individual systems and only standard of care design for the others, or it may require a modest increase in complexity and cost from all systems. One thing is certain: individual economy of effort is not a winning play in sports or the building industry.

Great Acoustics – It’s a Team Sport!

Jon Mooney, PE, is a senior engineer and acoustics specialist at KJWW Engineering Consultants. Email him at or visit his website.

Virtual reality: Improved display, imagery make it viable for building design industry

By Sarah Garthaus

Virtual reality encompasses a large collection of technology, any of which simulate an alternate location or reality. One of the most up-and-coming modes for virtual reality is the head-mounted display, which creates a totally immersive experience.

Head-mounted displays use stereoscopic imagery to create the illusion of depth. The headset houses a display screen showing two distorted images, one for each eye. The user views the image through two separate aspheric magnifying lenses, placed concave-side-down into the headset. Each lens corrects the image to make sense to each eye and the brain combines the two slightly different images to create the illusion of depth. This design provides the most convincing sense of immersion and reality.

While virtual technology is experiencing a type of renaissance at the moment, the idea has been around for ages. The longtime limitations of implementing the idea, however, were not the lack of a headset or binocular design but limitations of the display and imagery.

Oculus Rift Development Version

Oculus Rift Development Version

Over the years, a variety of projects tried and failed to achieve reality. An early example is the stereoscopes of the Victorian era, which actually used two images and two lenses to create the illusion of depth, similar to today’s headsets. Additionally, visual flight simulators have been used by the U.S. Air Force since the 1960s. And in the 1990s, Sega developed a headset that could track head movement. (This project was a huge leap forward, but ultimately failed because of the poor rendering quality of the imagery.)

In the past few years, however, the marketplace has begun to explode with virtual reality improvements and options. Oculus VR is leading the charge with the Oculus Rift, famous for being recently purchased by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame. I believe that the Oculus product has seen initial success due to three factors. First, people are starting to see futuristic technology as not only possible but accessible. Second, we have finally reached a point in graphics quality and rendering where we can accept the images as “close enough” to real life. Third, companies like Oculus VR are presenting themselves as open to developers, and at a price range that may surprise you. I bought the Dev2 kit for $350. (This headset kit is not ready for consumers, but developers can purchase it to create beta content.)

Applications for virtual reality

Applications for virtual reality trend toward fields that are highly visual and three dimensional in nature, such as gaming, movies and television. Filmmakers already are developing camera rigging that can create 360-degree footage without the camera appearing anywhere in the shots.

Another application, one that I am very excited about, is in education and training. Just about anything can be taught in a virtual environment, from something as simple as installing a light switch to something as complex as performing open heart surgery. You can immerse yourself in that reality and therefore be more prepared for the real thing.

DSC_5889Virtual reality also brings exciting opportunities to the building design industry. KJWW is using the technology to take our building information models created in Revit and turn them into virtual building walk-throughs. Better than a rendering or walk-through within Revit, these walk-throughs allow the user to be fully immersed in the new environment.

With virtual reality technology, a project’s stakeholders can view and respond to a building design at a very early stage of the process. In an area where the flow-through space is critical, such as an operating room, it would be very valuable to allow users to experience the space before construction begins. The feedback received will resolve issues early on and lead to a final design that better meets end users’ needs. It also can save money over the course of a construction project – not only by reducing costly change orders but also by eliminating the need for owners to develop full-scale mock-ups of critical spaces. A virtual reality model requires a fraction of a mock-up’s cost and effort to build, and can be reiterated any number of times for further review.

Other building design applications exist for virtual reality as well, such as improving coordination and clash detection. Team members could use the technology to virtually stand in a not-yet-built space and discuss a conflict with other engineers standing in the same virtual space. They could review alternative options together and find the best solution. In the age of remote and fragmented teams, this could improve collaboration and add a sense of community to a project.

Improvements still needed

Virtual technology is moving ahead quickly, but some barriers still need to be addressed. Rendering quality, though much improved in the last decade, needs to become impeccable in order to provide perfect immersion. Motion blur and delayed tracking is another issue. If a headset isn’t properly configured, the display may not align with head motions and can be very disorienting. Part of the solution is better head tracking technology, something companies dedicated to virtual reality need to continue to pursue.

Improvements also need to be made to the field of view, which currently is limited to the size of the display on the headset. As it is now, we lose peripheral vision information, which is key to feeling like you’re part of a different reality. A variety of headsets soon to enter the market claim to improve on this limitation.

Finally, there exists a limited ability to interact with the image. I expect, however, that it will not be long before we can interact with the building design as we walk through it. KJWW is already working with cutting-edge technology that has the potential to bring this piece into play. Once that happens, it will open a whole world of options for virtual reality.

Sarah Garthaus is BIM manager for KJWW Engineering Consultants.

Modern nurse call systems are capable of providing much more than nurse call

Modern nurse call systems can play a role so important to the delivery of care that the phrase 'nurse call' hampers big-picture thinking about the advanced capabilities.

Modern nurse call systems can play a role so important to the delivery of care that the phrase ‘nurse call’ hampers big-picture thinking about the advanced capabilities and uses of such systems today.

By Jeff Carpenter, PE, RCDD

On the surface, a nurse call system seems like a straight-forward, almost universally understood concept. Indeed, when they hear the phrase “nurse call,” most people who have worked in healthcare will visualize the same things: dome lights, tones emanating through corridors, and patients using their pillow speakers to change television channels from their beds. They also will picture the chaos of a nurse station while someone speaks to a patient on a nurse call telephone handset.

While these images all are aspects of nurse call, the modern needs, capabilities and uses of such systems today are often less understood.

For many years, the technical capabilities of a nurse call system didn’t stray very far beyond what the relevant codes and best practices required. As a result, nurse call systems logically became associated with the hardware and software used to meet those requirements. Today, however, such systems go so far beyond the codes – and can play a role so important to the delivery of care – that the phrase “nurse call” hampers big-picture thinking about the advanced capabilities. Perhaps “caregiver communication and workflow system” more accurately describes where the technology is today.

The traditional role of nurse call remains relevant, of course, and the basic devices remain fundamental to the healthcare environment. Codes and best practices still require the use of specific devices in specific rooms in specific occupancies. Evolutionary product improvements occur, but the underlying role of a nurse call system remains fundamentally unchanged: for a patient to alert and engage in communication with their caregiver. This aspect of the system is addressed by UL 1069 “Hospital Signaling and Nurse Call Equipment.” (UL 2560 covers similar equipment in senior living facilities.) UL 1069 covers the placement, notification and resetting of staff-initiated and patient-initiated signals intended to alert others to a need, and requires:

  • Audible and visual annunciation of calls at nurse stations
  • Call annunciation at the room’s dome light
  • Visual “call placed” indicator on the patient station
  • Dome light zone visual annunciation
  • Call reset / cancellation

Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI) Guidelines for Design and Construction of Hospitals and Outpatient Facilities also addresses nurse call and includes specific device requirements based on room type. (While this article uses the word “required,” FGI is a best practices guideline or a code requirement depending on a particular state’s adoption or lack thereof.)

Components of Traditional Nurse Call

Master stations provide audible and visual annunciation of calls at the nurse station. A variety of equipment accommodates this:

  • A telephone handset device. Various sizes of LCD screens provide information about calls; some include touch screens.
  • A PC-based console with telephony capabilities. This includes OS-embedded appliance configurations and traditional PCs with large monitors to display high volumes of information.

Patient stations are located at an inpatient bed and initiate communication to caregivers. The patient usually originates the communication by pressing a button on the pillow speaker, which also can provide television control, lighting control and control of window treatments and room temperature. Caregiver-initiated communications at the patient station include code blue and a request for nurse assistance. (FGI determines what types of communication are required for each room type.)

The patient station also serves as the wiring hub for several other stations near the patient bed including:

  • Bed connector (wired and wireless options) between the patient bed and nurse call to monitor bed rail position and alert the master station to changes
  • Medical equipment connectors to monitor alarm conditions of bed-side medical equipment at the nurse call master station

Other stations: Per FGI guidelines, other room types not containing an inpatient bed still require nurse call devices. These stations include:

  • Toilet stations. A pull cord attached to the station summons assistance in getting on or off the toilet and can be activated from a lying position on the floor should a patient fall.
  • Shower stations. These serve a similar purpose as the toilet station but are listed for the wet environment of the shower.
  • Caregiver-initiated stations. These are required by FGI in a range of room types and are used to initiate a request for assistance (i.e., nurse assist call) or to summon a response team (i.e., code blue call).

Dome lights are placed outside any room that contains an initiating station. The dome light quickly alerts staff to the specific location of the call to expedite the response. Dome lights use multi-colored LEDs and can communicate a variety of information in different ways, including:

  • A unique color to distinguish the nature of the need
  • Various flashing patterns to provide additional information
  • Used in conjunction with staff-locator technology to indicate the type of caregiver in the room

Dome lights are intended to be mounted so they are visible from the nurse station. When a room is not visible from the nurse station, zone dome lights are used to lead the caregiver in the direction of the call until the room’s light is visible.

Duty / staff stations allow caregivers therein to be aware of a master station call when they are not at the master station. These are typically rooms where caregivers perform various duties and include nourishment stations, linen rooms, break rooms and similar spaces.

Duty and staff stations serve similar purposes but there are differences. A duty station provides audible (but not voice) and visual indication that there has been a call initiated on the system. Typically there are three levels of call severity: normal, emergency and staff emergency. A staff station includes the functionality of the duty station and adds two-way voice communication.

Some manufacturers have stopped producing separate duty and staff stations. Instead they produce a station with two-way voice functionality (traditionally known as a staff station) but market it as a duty/staff station to imply it meets both application needs. This is accurate, but it adds confusion to the difference between a staff and duty station.

Infrastructure: Traditional nurse call historically has been viewed more like other specialty systems such as fire alarm, paging or security (prior to IP cameras) with its own specialty wiring requirements unrelated to the category cabling world, rather than as a network-based system.

As part of the evolutionary improvements made in nurse call, even basic nurse call systems with feature sets no deeper than UL 1069 and FGI requirements now have system architectures that have more in common with category cabling than in the past.

The typical nurse call system today consists of a controller or control panel that is directly on a TCP/IP network, connected using category cabling. The controllers are dispersed through the hospital and their quantity and location are determined based mostly on system capacity considerations. It is not unusual, given that these controller panels are native TCP/IP devices, for them to reside in the telecommunication rooms if the hospital adopts a convergence philosophy.

A nurse call infrastructure usually uses category cabling downstream of the controller. In most cases the nurse call system dome light is the “wiring hub” for the collection of nurse call stations that are in the room to which the dome light belongs. After bringing category cabling to the first dome light, many brands continue to daisy chain additional dome lights on the same category cabling run. In most cases, it is not a star topology. Despite category cabling being used, this is usually not TCP/IP communications. Rather, it is simply the use of category cabling as the transport mechanism. Most dome lights have an input and output for the category cabling. It is more like a communication trunk line or bus than a conventional structured cabling architecture. The dome lights continue to be daisy chained until the manufacturer’s maximum number of devices or maximum bus length has been achieved. Some manufacturers have their own unique differentiators for the cabling infrastructure, so it is important to understand the intricacies of the product.

Some manufacturers’ devices do have Ethernet communication over the category cabling. This typically occurs with master stations that use VoIP technology. It is very important to understand how the manufacturer uses Ethernet technology in their solution. Of primary concern is whether the particular Ethernet device is inside or outside of the UL 1069-rated umbrella; this has implications on the acceptability of various termination options of the category cabling in the telecommunications closet.

The lesson here is that it is important to understand the details of a particular manufacturer’s system topology. Despite category cabling being used in many nurse call system applications, the likelihood is that most of it is not Ethernet communications. How the cabling is ultimately routed, terminated and bundled are project-level design decisions.

Beyond UL 1069 and FGI

Recent significant advancements have been made in nurse call, most of which go beyond UL 1069 and FGI requirements. This is where the revolutionary change is occurring, and why “nurse call” may not be a suitable name going forward.

Driving much of this change is the Affordable Care Act, a game changer for providers in many ways, with nurse call playing a significant role as the healthcare system shifts from a “fee for service” to a “fee for outcomes” structure. Nurse call helps healthcare providers meet the challenges of this new reimbursement model in two primary ways: HCAHPS and operational efficiency.

HCAHPS and patient satisfaction: In simple terms, HCAHPS – Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems – is a patient satisfaction survey. A portion of healthcare reimbursements are tied to HCAHPS scores. This means that healthcare, like other industries, is now being rated in terms of “customer service.” Healthcare customers – i.e., patients – may rate their service by answering such questions as:

  • How well did the hospital take care of my needs?
  • How fast did caregivers respond to me?
  • Did they help me when I needed help?
  • Did they bring me a drink when I wanted one?

Countless examples could be provided. The bottom line is that nurse call systems serve as the primary communication tool between caregiver and patient – and can have a positive or negative influence on a patient’s level of satisfaction. Therefore, the choice of nurse call system, how it is used, and the system architecture serve a significant role in HCAHPS scores.

A great deal of effort should be spent looking at how to use nurse call technology to decrease the time it takes for a patient to talk to a caregiver and for that patient to see the caregiver in their room. Specific nurse call systems today are engineered to be best suited for specific caregiver models and are no longer a commodity in which every vendor manufacturers the same box on the wall. Some of the most common caregiver models are:

  • Decentralized nursing communication: This is the conventional approach consisting of a unit-based master station at a conventional unit-based nurse station. Patient calls are routed to the unit-based master station and then triaged out to the assigned caregiver.
  • Centralized nursing communication: In ICT terms, think of this as a central phone system operator. One (or more) staff members are dedicated to answering patient calls in a centralized location with the calls coming in from multiple units, multiple floors, an entire building and even an entire campus. Patient calls are triaged out to the assigned caregiver’s mobile telephony devices from this centralized operator. Some convincing evidence from healthcare systems using this approach show meaningful increases in responsiveness to patients through a decrease in most types of response times.
  • Direct-to-caregiver: In this model, the master station takes a backseat and becomes the “fallback plan.” Patient calls are routed directly to the mobile telephony device of the assigned caregiver. The master station (still required by UL 1069 and FGI) is used should the caregiver not respond to the call within the required time. The challenge with this model is that responsiveness to one patient can become an interruption to another patient. In addition, some calls require an RN (i.e., pain medications) and some do not (i.e., “I need a drink.”). Ultimately, however, one caregiver must be chosen to receive the initial call – assuring that in a significant percentage of the cases, the initial caregiver answering the call will be the wrong caregiver for the need.

Operational efficiency: Nurse call plays a significant role in automating, monitoring, reporting and simplifying processes in the hospital. Indeed, most nurse call manufacturers now talk about “workflow” in their marketing materials and sales presentations.

Many current nurse call products that deal with workflow processing are hardware-focused solutions requiring a caregiver to go to a fixed location to initiate a workflow process. Some manufacturers take a different approach based on the highly mobile environment of healthcare. They believe workflow processing should be done while mobile, so they focus more on a software approach using the caregiver’s mobile devices in lieu of a fixed hardware location.

Whether hardware- or software-driven, today’s nurse call can serve as the system that handles clinical workflows in a variety of ways:

  • Automating notification to housekeeping (when a patient room needs to be cleaned) and to the admission, discharge and transfer (ADT) system (when a room is ready for admission) to improve room churn
  • Automating notification when a patient is ready to be seen by a particular specialist, when a particular lab result is available, or when a patient is in need of transport staff, etc.
  • Automating the check-in process for rounding, requesting chaplain services, requesting a family member consultation, etc.
  • Powering the intelligence behind “bed boards,” the large monitors displaying dashboard information about the status of the room and the staff and patients within it

Making the right (nurse) call

The recent advances in modern nurse call systems mean that there are proper applications and misapplications of any specific nurse call solution depending on the unique project requirements.

A well-informed selection process needs to exist in order to properly recognize and vet these nuances between systems.

The end goal is for the selected nurse call system’s unique characteristics to meet the needs of a particular healthcare facility’s workflow and care delivery model. This will improve patient satisfaction, HCAHPS scores, operational efficiency, and ultimately the facility’s bottom line.


Jeff Carpenter, PE, RCDD, is a principal and National Director of Technology for KJWW Engineering Consultants.

10 tips for optimizing medical equipment and related hospital operations

By Suraj Soudagar, LEED AP

If you’re in the planning phase of a new healthcare facility or renovation of an existing facility, consider the following tips for optimizing medical equipment and related hospital operations:

  1. Locating central sterile services near operating rooms will increase efficiency for quicker diagnosis and turn-around.

    Locating central sterile services near operating rooms will increase efficiency for quicker turn-around, which will reduce ‘flashing’ of instruments in line with guidance provided by JACHO.

    Place imaging modalities and lab analyzers on a centralized uninterruptible power supply (UPS, flywheel or battery) rather than having each modality on an individual UPS. This will minimize cost and maintenance.

  2. Consider a countertop or wall-mounted RO/DI water system for individual lab analyzers, since each application has a slightly different quality of water requirement. This will improve your processes and eliminate the cost and time of RO/DI water testing.
  3. Since physiological monitoring equipment is becoming more network dependent, set aside a specific amount of money every year to upgrade your monitoring/telemetry software to the latest available platform to improve the process and lead to greater efficiency. (Not doing this is similar to using an original iPad to view the latest Facebook app. The app may not show you all the new features if it is not running on a Facebook-supported platform.)
  4. Consider “multi-use” diagnostic modalities like SPECT/CT, PET/CT, multipurpose ultrasound, etc., especially in outpatient settings. This will provide a faster ROI based on patient volume.
  5. Since most of a healthcare facility’s operational cost is in consumable supplies a strong consideration should be made to implement a lean supply methodology, such as Kanban, 2-bin,or JIT (just-in-time) delivery models. (Fun fact: Kanban was developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, as a system to improve and maintain a high level of production). This will eliminate much of the waste in your supply chain and reduce the storage space required for par-level supplies.
  6. Implement evidence-based practices in your current environment, such as a three-step cleaning process for scopes in the endoscopy department. This will be appreciated by infection control and reduce cross-contamination, which will reduce your risk and overall liability of patient re-admittance.
  7. Since the Affordable Healthcare Act seeks to reduce the re-admission rate of patients, consider implementing a patient follow-up program conducted via phone, outpatient setting or in-home visit. This will reduce the risk of re-admission and help ensure reimbursement for the cost of the original services.
  8. Consider implementing a distributed antenna system (DAS) to carry both IT and medical information. If correctly programmed and implemented, DAS can carry different systems like cellular, guest access Wi-Fi, paging, telemetry, wireless monitoring, picture archiving and communication system (PACS) images from wireless devices, time sync and temperature monitoring.
  9. As the lines between medical equipment and IT continue to blur, consider moving to either a CSN (Customer Supplied Network) and/or VN (Virtual Network). In this more integrated world, plan to have racks for both IT and medical equipment on the same IDF (Intermediate distribution frame) and/or TR (Telecom Room). This is will improve connectivity and allow the hospital to utilize IT’s “first-call” to log, audit and maintain network connectivity.
  10. Plan for your laboratory’s frozen section and central sterile services department to be in close proximity or on the same floor as the operating rooms. This will assist in efficiency for quicker diagnosis and turn-around in the most valuable and revenue-generating real estate in your hospital – the operating room.

Suraj Soudagar is a project executive and medical equipment planner for KJWW Engineering Consultants.

If energy reporting has you concerned, energy modeling may be what you need

Owners who are proud of their building's energy use aren't afraid of sharing the information with the public. The Iowa Utilities Board and Office of Consumer Advocate in Des Moines, for example, make their building's energy use available to the public on a daily basis via this interactive display in the lobby.

Owners who are proud of their building’s energy use aren’t afraid of sharing the information. The Iowa Utilities Board and Office of Consumer Advocate in Des Moines, for example, show their building’s energy use on a daily basis via this interactive screen in the lobby.

By Lincoln Pearce

If your building’s annual energy use were to be published on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper, would it be news to you?  Would you be proud of the number, embarrassed, or even familiar with it?  Owners of large commercial buildings across the U.S. are increasingly facing such public scrutiny of their facilities’ energy use. Energy reporting ordinances – which require disclosure of a building’s energy consumption – are now in effect in 14 cities from coast to coast.

Kansas City’s Energy Empowerment Ordinance – adopted by the city council in late May – is the latest in a succession of similar laws enacted in the past five years in cities including Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, and Seattle. The size of buildings which must comply and other criteria varies by city. (Some cities without mandatory reporting have voluntary reporting instead, such as the The St. Louis High Performance Building Initiative.)

Mandatory reporting is accomplished through a program provided by each city or via another benchmarking tool such as the free ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Beyond mere compliance, however, these municipalities hope that putting building energy use on public display will motivate (some would say “shame”) owners of inefficient, energy-wasting properties to make improvements – resulting in cleaner, more energy-efficient communities and lower utility costs for tenants.

Improvements also can lead to savings for the owner, if not in the short term, the long term. A truly “motivated” owner, however, has to go beyond mere benchmarking, which only shows how much energy their building is using. A facility assessment, on the other hand, shows not only how much energy is being used but how and where the energy is being used.

To determine the options for making improvements, firms with energy modeling services, such as KJWW, can develop a baseline energy model of a building calibrated with the most recent utility information. This model then can be modified to see how much energy may be saved by making an individual design change or a group of changes. First-cost estimates and payback periods for each change (or group of changes) also can be calculated. (Energy modeling also is an important tool for new buildings, offering owners the ability to compare various energy efficiencies, first costs and paybacks for a variety of design scenarios compared to the code-minimum base design.)

Typically, the older the building the greater the chance it contains an inefficient system or two. These range from inefficient HVAC systems – which may require a larger first cost to remedy and a longer return on investment – to outdated lighting and controls – which may require less upfront expense to remedy and a shorter payback. For example, significant energy savings can be realized in some buildings by simply retrofitting inefficient fluorescent light fixtures with energy-efficient LED lamps. This is much more easily accomplished and less costly than updating a complete HVAC system with new chillers and pumps, ductwork and control systems, etc.

Energy use also can be improved in some buildings simply by improving maintenance and operation procedures, and changing occupant behavior (e.g. closing windows, turning off lights in unoccupied spaces, resetting thermostat set points when spaces are unoccupied).

Once an owner knows their building energy use and how the building is supposed to perform, they need to continue to measure and verify energy use year after year. It’s like watching your weight: You don’t know if you’ve gained a pound or two if you don’t get up on the scale.

And just like your personal health, owners should seek advice from a professional with the right credentials. For energy assessments or energy modeling services, look for a firm with staff having ASHRAE certification as a Building Energy Assessment Professional (BEAP) or Building Energy Modeling Professional (BEMP). These individuals have demonstrated their expertise in the HVAC&R industry and competency in conducting and interpreting energy modeling to evaluate energy performance and economics for new and existing buildings and systems.

In the end, knowing how your building is performing, how it should perform, and being able to make changes to align the two, will result in energy use you are proud to report.

Lincoln Pearce, PE, LEED AP, BEAP, is a principal with KJWW Engineering Consultants.

Does your city have an energy reporting ordinance?

Want to see if your city has mandatory or voluntary energy reporting? Visit the Building Benchmarking, Rating, and Transparency list of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Why hire an ASHRAE-certified professional?

Want to know who you should hire to design critical building systems that will impact occupant comfort, safety, efficiency and – ultimately – profitability? Hiring a firm that assigns an ASHRAE-certified professional to a project confers the following benefits:

  • Increased confidence in critical job knowledge, skills and abilities
  • Compliance with applicable local, state and federal requirements
  • Confidence in corporate commitment to the professional development of its employees and to providing the best possible resources for projects
  • Disciplinary process to follow in case of complaints

(Source: ASHRAE)

Energy modeling is a key service at KJWW

KJWW Engineering Consultants has extensive experience with whole-building energy modeling for both retrofit and new construction projects. Our energy services include energy audits, energy modeling, life-cycle cost analysis, LEED certification, energy grant applications, benchmarking for comparisons, and energy metering and monitoring. Visit our website to learn more about our energy modeling services and related projects.

Hospital heating/cooling imbalance requires extra consideration when sizing geo-exchange well system

By Paul Hansen, PE

This illustration shows the piping used in the lake-source heat sink that is part of Advocate Sherman Hospital's geothermal system in Elgin, Ill.

This illustration shows the piping used in the lake-source heat sink that is part of Advocate Sherman Hospital’s lake-coupled geothermal system, designed by KJWW, in Elgin, Ill.

Utilization of ground wells, typically 250 to 400 feet deep, provides a heat sink for a building heating and cooling system.  This system is effective in moderate-to-cold climate areas of the country and in building types that have a fairly balanced heating and cooling load.  In the winter, heat is taken from the earth via a piping loop, with it recharged by the rejected heat from cooling system in the summer.  In balanced systems, the earth temperature will vary in the summer and winter months, but average to a consistent temperature on a yearly basis.

Hospitals, however, are a building type that is very cooling dominated, even in northern climates.  Cooling loads can be as high as twice that of the heating loads when considering the annual load throughout the year. This is due to the high internal heat rejection from the imaging equipment, data rooms, and other miscellaneous healthcare-related electronics.  Anther contributing factor to the heating/cooling imbalance is that most large hospitals have multiple floors with a high percentage of internal zones that require cooling year round.


Geo-exchange fields are sized based on the dominant load — heating or cooling.  The number and depth of wells and the spacing between them is based on soil and ground conditions of the site, determined by test borings and conductivity testing.

In hospitals, the field is typically sized based on the cooling load.  The discrepancy between the heating and cooling balance also has to be taken into account and the field upsized to account for any imbalance.


If the field is sized for the instantaneous peak load rather than the anticipated annual load, the field is likely undersized. The anticipated annual load should include any imbalance in annual heating and cooling loads.

If the field is not properly sized, problems will likely start to surface after about three years of operation.  The system will not be able to maintain loop temperatures and the ground temperature surrounding the geo-exchange field will slowly increase (or decrease in very cold climates) each year.  This is due to more heat being rejected to the ground during the cooling season than extracted from the ground during the heating season.  The result will be a decrease in cooling capacity and, potentially, not being able to maintain comfortable temperatures in the hospital.  It can also lead to early equipment failures if the loop temperatures exceed the equipment manufacturer’s temperature ratings.


  1. Provide a geo-exchange system adequately sized to account for system imbalance
  2. Provide a hybrid system that uses a smaller geo-exchange field and a small cooling tower or fluid cooler to dissipate the imbalanced portion of the heat to keep the geo-field neutral. The field is then sized for the total heat absorbed by the building during the winter months, and the cooling tower is added to reject the remaining heat that the field cannot absorb in the summer months. This approach reduces the required size of the field by avoiding the imbalance and typically results in a more favorable return on investment for the geo-exchange field.
  3. Use a lake-source heat sink. Lakes have greater ability to account for cooling-dominated imbalance due to the large ability to dissipate heat from the large water surface area.
  4. Use the waste heat for other uses such as domestic water heating, snowmelt at critical walkways (such as helipad and emergency room entrances), or provide waste heat to adjacent buildings near the site.