What is a net-zero building? Basically it is a building that creates as much renewable energy as compared to the Delivered Energy it uses. By this I mean the amount of electricity and natural gas that is provided by local utilities or the Delivered Energy that is tracked by some type of meter and that you don't physically create yourself. This Delivered Energy is compared to the renewable energy that you do create onsite (solar, wind, hydro, etc.) and the net difference is equal to or less than zero. Depending on where you are located throughout the U.S. this can be difficult to achieve. Northern states that require more Delivered Energy to heat their buildings in the winter months may find it difficult to achieve net-zero. The amount of sunny days and their physical structures may not provide the environment to have enough solar panels and sun to generate the needed renewable energy to offset the Delivered Energy. And don't forget...those locations that have second and third shifts are going to be consuming delivered energy without the ability to generate renewable as there is no sunlight at night.

So what is the solution?

One key component to help reach net-zero in these types of scenarios is to use the most energy efficient products available. Products that use less delivered energy will in turn require you to create less onsite renewable energy. This is where technologies like LED lighting, High Temperature Heating and Ventilation (HTHV) heating solutions, Energy Recovery and other energy efficient products can play a critical role in the net-zero puzzle. The higher the efficiency the product the easier it will be to reach net-zero. And in buildings that consume large amounts of delivered energy the higher the efficiency they are the better. So for those organizations that are looking to achieve net-zero is will be important to look at the entire picture. It's not as simple as putting some solar panels on the roof and a few wind turbans on the property and hope you generate more than you consume. You need to take a holistic approach to the project by first reducing the amount of delivered energy consumed which will make it easier to offset it with the renewable energy that you create. To learn more about the energy efficient HTHV technology read the U.S. Department of Energy's study, "Field Demonstration of High Efficiency Gas Heaters". Let me know what your thoughts are on achieving net-zero. I look forward to your comments.

We are all consumers. We love the opportunity to get a great deal on a product that we value. Whether driven by a specific need or just a desire to improve our lives in some fashion, we want to make sure that we get the lowest price we possibly can balanced against the key value points we are trying to obtain. Without a clear definition of what is valued the most in a product purchase, cheap pricing carries little weight in evaluating our alternatives. I happen to be a sales manager and a business developer for a U.S. based HVAC manufacturing firm that serves the North American new construction and energy retrofit markets. As you might imagine, there are a wide variety of options to choose from when selecting an HVAC system. The companies that I compete with have long-standing manufacturing histories, well developed relationships and varied product lines that meet very specific customer needs. With such a wide variety of options available, it becomes important to clearly define the bases for an HVAC equipment purchase decision:
  1. Base Line Minimum Requirements
  2. Value Added Requirements that can enhance a building’s performance and your relationship with the customer
  3. Value Added transformational elements that make life better
I would suggest to our end user, engineering and contractor customers that making the right decision on a commercial or industrial HVAC system starts with a thorough detailed list of what is most important prior to comparing price. Your list will allow for an apples to apples comparison of choices. In our industry, we often hear that equipment pricing drives the decision-making process for contractors seeking a building project win. We know that equipment costs are typically one-third of the cost of a particular heating/ventilation system installation. Two-thirds of the total cost of install are typically wrapped up in installation, margin and risk assessment for a system installation. Comparing total system costs is not as easy when there are so many contributing factors. Here is a list of key questions that may be helpful in fully understanding needs:
  1. How many distinct HVAC systems must be installed to meet a customer's needs?
    1. Heating
    2. Cooling
    3. Ventilation
    4. Destratification
  2. How many different pieces of equipment will need to be installed?
  3. How many gas lines must be run to serve each unit? How far?
  4. How many electrical runs are there to serve each unit? How far?
  5. How long does it take to install/startup each system? each unit? # of labor hours assigned?
  6. How many people are required for installation/startup?
  7. How reliable/durable is the equipment based on experience?
  8. How easy it is to obtain service support in the field?
  9. What is the length of the equipment warranty, the parts warranty?
  10. How important is on-time delivery for project management?
  11. How fast do you need the equipment on site?
  12. What are the lead times to meet deadlines and key hurdle dates in conjunction with other envelope installations, e.g. new roofing?
I would propose that total system value as opposed to first cost of equipment is more important in both the short and the long run. Avoiding the unseen costs that lurk below the surface (The Priceburg) of cheapest first cost often delivers a superior result to the customer/end user as well as the contractor. Contractors that desire to compete on their total value proposition with highly engaged manufacturing partners are more likely to build long-term successful relationships with clients. The reason the statement “you get what you pay for” exists in our vernacular is because many have experienced the reality that cheapest can be the most expensive. I would love to hear from you regarding your experiences with the lure of a manufacturer's “cheapest” claim and any resulting challenges.

Have you ever received a request to include an HVAC smoke detector with Cambridge heaters? Typically, engineers or building inspectors will make this request, interpreting building codes to require an HVAC smoke detector be installed on any air handling system with a capacity greater than 2,000 cubic feet per minute (CFM).

Why Cambridge Systems Do Not Require an HVAC Smoke Detector

The requirements for needing an HVAC smoke detector are clearly addressed in Section 606 of the International Mechanical Code (IMC), This section covers the requirements for utilizing an HVAC smoke detector for air handling equipment, and states: 606.1 Controls required. Air distribution systems shall be equipped with smoke detectors listed and labeled for installation in air distribution systems 606.2 Where required. Smoke detectors shall be installed where indicated in Sections 606.2.1 through 606.2.3. Exception: Smoke detectors shall not be required where air distribution systems are incapable of spreading smoke beyond the enclosing walls, floors and ceilings of the room or space in which the smoke is generated. Cambridge units fall under this exception, as our systems use only 100% outdoor air to heat and ventilate, making them incapable of spreading smoke beyond these parameters. The IMC Commentary provides further explanation on the intent of the code: It is not the intent of Section 606 to require duct smoke detectors in systems that function only as exhaust systems or only as makeup air systems. A makeup air supply system that discharges 100-percent outdoor air into a building does not withdraw air from the building and, therefore, cannot contribute to the movement of smoke. It is more important to keep in mind the intended application of Section 606, which is to address the potential hazard caused by ducted air distribution systems that link together rooms and spaces within a building, thereby providing the means to distribute smoke to such rooms and spaces. Air-handling systems of any type that cannot transport smoke beyond the area of fire origin are exempt from the provisions of this section.

Since Cambridge heaters are only used as 100% outdoor air systems smoke detectors are not required.

Question: Have you ever been required to include a smoke detector on a Cambridge unit?

If you've ever worked for a company where employees are truly embraced, you've most likely felt the significant difference this can make. A culture that thrives on positive relationships not only helps staff through hard times, but it also allows them to soar wherever opportunities arise. The recipe for success is by no means simple, but company activities play a key role in holding the team together, and in building a great company culture.

Over the past seven years, I’ve been convinced that the Activities Planning Committee is one of the coolest teams here at Cambridge. They plan everything from Chocolate Covered Strawberries at Valentine's Day to the Christmas Brunch in December, and everything in between (including, just recently, the Fall Festival). While my personal strengths are not in this area, I have come to appreciate the significant impact this team has on the overall Cambridge culture. Some of the reasons I believe company activities are impactful:

Company Activities Encourage Relationships

Everything is accomplished through people, and more specifically, relationships. The stronger the relationships are internally, the stronger our external relationships with clients and partners. The bonding that occurs outside the corporate setting plays a major role in getting to know one another on a personal level. And as it allows employees to see one another as more than just coworkers, it helps resolve conflict as well. Whether it's by playing basketball, throwing washers, or going on a hayride, taking time outside the confines of the standard workday can strengthen relationships.

Company Activity Planning Encourages Teamwork

Not only do company activities benefit the employees and families who participate, but they are also a great way to build teamwork. When the group plans and executes the event, each individual has the chance to take on a leadership role, and to contribute to the team.

What the Family Thinks Matters

Activities that include employees’ families have proven a great addition to the Cambridge culture. The core belief that we are strengthening the family, and not just the individual, is a central part of this involvement. When things get tough, the family functions as part of the team, and consequently supports the employee through the challenge.

Company Culture

Activities are material ways in which to reinforce that the company cares. Saying you care is not enough; you have to demonstrate your dedication. Cambridge has incorporated Care into its core values, supporting activities both with both time and money is a way to promote this core value. When employees share how they feel about their work with their friends, they can point to these demonstrations of care, and feel proud to be a part of the organization. Company Activities are a major part of solid company cultures in that they help build relationships, encourage teamwork, strengthen families, and demonstrate that the company cares for its people. These activities are well worth the investment. Question: What is your favorite company activity?