HVAC Engineer | CAREERwise Education
The thing I like most about my job is the problem solving aspect. I really enjoy digging into an existing building and figuring out what’s wrong, why it’s wrong or what the history was and how it got to where it is. It may be something they have dealt with for a long time; no one else has been able to figure it out. You come in and solve the problem and they are eternally grateful. My name is Doug Lucht; I am a Mechanical HVAC Engineer. I work for Sebasta Blomberg and Associates. HVAC; heating, ventilating and air conditioning is what that acronym stands for. Essentially, it is heating, so it is providing heating for commercial buildings or industrial buildings. Ventilation, bringing outside air into the building to make the occupants more comfortable and air conditioning, providing cooling for the building to make sure that the space temperature is somewhere between 70 and 74 degrees for a commercial building. Your whole goal is to try to figure out how it is going to work, what it is going to before you even spend a dollar trying to build it. I start around 8:00 or 8:30 working with a vendor who sells a product that we might want to purchase or specify for our design. Giving them a call and talking to them about what our options are, reviewing the construction, reviewing what they have installed making sure it’s consistent with what we designed. Meeting with an owner and understanding what their requirements are. You go out to the site and have to physically test the HVAC systems, make sure they are operating the way the design engineer intended. Either by car or by plane depending on how far away the site is from your office, there can be anywhere between 5% to 50% travel. I went to South Dakota State University. I enrolled in Mechanical Engineering. Interestingly enough, the classes that were early on in my engineering career were the most difficult. Those were the ones I had to buckle down and study really hard for. As I got further in my engineering career, the classes actually got easier which was a sign to me that I was probably in the right field, in the right industry. When I graduated, I decided that I would stay on a couple more years and get my master’s degree. So as a mechanical engineer, probably the two most important things in this business are communication skills and problem solving skills. Problem solving is absolutely one of the most enjoyable things about this industry to me or about engineering in general. It’s a challenge to come in every day and have a different kind of problem to solve. Being good at problem solving and having and aptitude for that is very beneficial for engineering and this industry as well. One of the most valued skills in this industry is the need to be able to communicate clearly with your co-workers, with the clients who you work for and product vendors that you work with to complete a design. Tools that we use every day are usually software based. You are on a laptop, you are on a computer, you’re running simulations of energy performance or you’re running load calculations to determine how much energy the building is going to take to keep it at 72 or 74 degrees. You put in the physical parameters of the building, the geometry, the windows, and the roof. You make assumptions or get information on the people, the lighting, the equipment, and how long the building is going to be used. The other tools we use are usually like handheld temperature and humidity devices, pressure gauges, pressure devices. We go out to the field and measure pressure, temperature, and humidity. Being an HVAC Engineer in Minnesota, you’re exposed to so many different temperature and humidity extremes. It’s different than being an engineer for instance in California where it is usually 72 degrees all the time. You don’t have nearly the temperature difference between the inside and outside whereas in Minnesota you have to design for a 100 degree day with a 50% relative humidity versus minus 16 with zero humidity. A large percentage of the energy that is consumed in the United States goes to heating and cooling buildings; fans, pumps, air handling units, cooling towers, chillers. All of this stuff takes energy and it is all just for occupant comfort or safety of the occupants. As a designer engineer, as a mechanical engineer in that industry, you have a tremendous opportunity to be able to reduce that energy consumption. One common misconception is that people who have an aptitude for this are good with numbers, they like numbers and all they want to do is work with numbers. The reality is you do work with numbers every day but just as important to that is your interpersonal and communication skills. Communication skills are extremely important in that you are always trying to communicate with owners, with vendors, with co-workers, try to help them understand your idea is, try to understand what their ideas are. We have to get it right the first time. We don’t have the opportunity to build a sample building and see how it is going to work. We’ve got to get it right on paper and get it right the first time. That honestly doesn’t always happen exactly the way you plan, so you have got to be able to think on your feet and make adjustments to the system during construction or even after construction. You should have an aptitude for how things work and I have talked to many other people in my industry and in my field as well and as an engineer that is something that is very common among all of us, that natural curiosity of what makes this work, how was it made. If you have that then I think mechanical engineering might be a good choice.