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How Ecological MEP (M&E) Solutions Can Be Aesthetic Too

How Ecological MEP (M&E) Solutions Can Be Aesthetic Too

They say that a ‘green’ building can never look good. Environmentally friendly, ecological, sustainable or ‘green’ buildings are terms to describe both a building/project and its construction process that is environmentally responsible and resource efficient, right from its planning and design stages through to its maintenance and demolition. Just like ‘what’s good for you usually doesn’t taste good’, what’s good for the environment may not necessarily be aesthetically appealing. Solutions can be found in the scope of energy-efficient MEP (M&E) design which incorporates innovative aesthetic ideas. Sustainable MEP engineering design must work in tandem with creative architectural planning. The use of BIM (Building Information Modelling) technology can play an important role in the process, using specific tools such as Revit BIM software.

Sustainable engineering can have a significant effect on conservation and comfort. The orientation and shape of a building can affect its MEP systems performance. Industry sources surmise that early design stages can impact 90 percent of a building’s environmental effect. So, sustainability is considerably influenced by the shape, location, look and feel of a structure. Renewable energy options include ‘energy-saving’ technologies, which efficiently use and save natural energy and generate energy, and ‘energy-generating’ technologies, which generate and use energy. A thorough understanding of the principles is required to help design a sustainable system. Expert and experienced architects and MEP designers and engineers need to collaborate, analyse and review cost, quality and scheduling to provide sustainable or ‘green’ buildings that look attractive. Consider both the energy-saving and energy-generating technologies below:

Energy-saving Technologies

Reduce energy use in HVAC and lighting – MEP design must consider ways to reduce the cost and impact of lighting, heating and cooling systems, as lighting and HVAC systems are responsible for 25% and 32% energy use, respectively, in a building.

Optimising the use of natural light, natural ventilation, natural heating and cooling sources – Designs that accommodate more natural light inside, installation of sensors, natural heat sources and eco-friendly light fixtures and bulbs can minimise energy loss in these systems.

Conserve water – Low-flow fixtures, such as low-flow faucets, can save water by using 40% less than the quantity used by standard fixtures. Low-flow toilets reportedly save approximately 2.2 gallons of water in every flush.

Reuse water – Gardening and toilet flushing do not require drinking water. Greywater systems use water previously used for washing, which is still relatively clean, for gardening and toilet flushing.

Reduce electricity consumption – Turn off lights, computers, office equipment, heating and cooling systems and other appliances, when not in use.

Using combinations – Switching between electricity use through renewable energy sources, such as solar energy or wind energy, and regular power lines and determining the size and location of the systems can help save energy.

Reduce carbon dioxide emissions – Efficient HVAC systems and timely, proper maintenance can reduce carbon emissions significantly.

Energy-generating Technologies

Human power generators – In special cases, gym and health club treadmills and stationary bikes can be hooked up to power lighting and services. Kinetic flooring tiles can be used in dance studios and football stadia.

Roofmounted wind turbines – Cost-effective wind turbines operate at all times with constant output.

Solar panels – Rooftop or ground-mounted solar panel systems use photovoltaic cells to convert solar energy to electricity.

Architecture can be creatively designed to incorporate natural light and ventilation features, low-flow fixtures, greywater systems, turbines and solar panels into the entire building’s design.

Sustainable design can thus be achieved by reducing the use of non-renewable resources, minimising waste and developing healthy environments. Smart sustainable design practices can help MEP systems be reliable, ensure comfort to the building’s occupants and help environmental conservation.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, buildings account for:

– 39% of total energy consumption

– 12% of total water consumption

– 68% of total electricity consumption

– 38% of carbon dioxide emissions

Sustainable buildings or ecological MEP solutions can further optimise the environmental performance of a building and save costs at any stage of planning, construction or demolition by:

Proper site selection

A building’s location, orientation and landscaping can affect the local ecosystems and energy consumption. Storm water runoff can be reduced/treated at a well-planned site. Landscape design can use greywater systems. Parking and perimeter lighting can impact energy consumption.

Customisation of operational and maintenance practices

Materials and systems that require less water and energy can be customised for the building, so that maintenance becomes simple and saves costs.

Granted that the use of sustainable MEP practices has significant impact on the environment and ecological systems, many designers and architects still feel that these structures score low on style and beauty. Creative thinking by both architects and MEP designers can assuredly change that view. Cultural standards of architectural beauty can be altered, moulded and steered in new directions by the adoption of sustainable building practices.

Globally, there are several examples of attractive green buildings that function as residences, offices and public spaces, such as:

– Chicago’s City Hall. It has a green roof, literally. Twenty thousand plants of 15 species reside there, and it even has two trees.

– Bangkok reportedly has more than one green roof, with one hosting a model farm created using traditional Thai farming techniques.

Such green roofs are useful to manage storm water. The vegetation and soil on the roof retain water and behave as insulation, reducing the costs of heating and cooling. Green roofs add to the ‘green lungs’ of an urban space, reducing air pollution, and who doesn’t think a roof garden is beautiful?

Living walls or vertical gardens have much the same aesthetic effect – one that soothes and delights.

– Singapore’s Tree House is reputedly the world’s largest vertical garden. Measuring 24,638 square feet, the artful green wall is projected to save more than 500,000 dollars in energy and water costs.

– Sydney’s One Central Park residential building has a vertical garden with 25 plant species.

– Trees and plants grace every balcony of Bosco Verticale in Milan, with water from sinks, showers and washing machines used as part of a greywater system to irrigate the vertical gardens. The building also features rooftop solar panels, hidden from pedestrian eye levels.

– Ten thousand plants live on a 350 square metre wall segment of The Rubens at the Palace Hotel, London, to benefit both man and birds. Pretty buttercups, crocuses and even strawberries make an appearance.

Green walls are naturally engaging but present technical challenges. As an additional layer over an existing wall, a green wall requires expensive equipment and seasoned experts to water and maintain it. Though initially expensive to install, green walls and roofs contribute to an overall reduction in energy and storm water management expenses. Green roofs reduce the energy required for cooling the floor below it by more than 50% – so pretty buildings can be energy efficient too. How is it technically possible? One of the most effective methods involve Building Information Modelling (BIM).

The Role of BIM

Intelligent BIM modelling processes and coordination, along with clash detection, enables the timely delivery of accurate construction drawings. The role of BIM technology in helping to develop sustainable and energy-efficient buildings is significant, as it helps create detailed energy-saving and energy-generating, clash-free MEP systems design. The precise design details required for ecological MEP systems need careful measurement and planning. How a building’s materials will react to wind, sun, water and gravity must be accurately analysed. BIM software, such as Revit BIM, helps architects and engineers from 3D modelling companies design the shape, structure, MEP systems, cost and materials in real-time. BIM technology helps all stakeholders in a project quickly comprehend how changes in design can affect energy efficiency and water management, producing seamless, clash-free MEP coordination drawings. Using BIM modelling, architects and engineers can access high-tech, high-precision tools to analyse and coordinate heating, cooling, ventilation and energy efficiency in MEP engineering designs.

For designers, architects and the common man, the aesthetic appeal and the functionality of a structure are equally relevant. People like beautiful buildings that are strong, comfortable and energy efficient. In these times of rapid climate change, it can be challenging to create attractive yet ecologically sustainable construction. With the help of BIM modelling and smart MEP engineering designs in collaboration with the creativity of designers, these challenges can surely be overcome.