Ask the Expert – Kevin Henry, Senior Mechanical Engineer at HDR Architects, talks about the value of volunteering for the LEED Energy & Engineering TAG

This month we spoke to Kevin Henry, a senior mechanical engineer at HDR Architects in Toronto who also sits on the CaGBC Energy and Engineering Technical Advisory Group (TAG), about how LEED Canada was the catalyst for change in his career, and why volunteering is key to a broader life experience.

1. Tell me a bit about yourself. What is your current position and how did you become involved in green building?

Kevin Henry, Senior Mechanical Engineer, HDR Architects

I think my interest in building is partly genetic – as a kid I used to be sent over to help my grandfather with his summer projects. At the time, I remember being told that he was a carpenter. It made sense to me since he had built his own house in the '40s and later the summer cottage. He taught me planning, patience, and attention to detail such as checking the grain on a board used on a deck so that it won't cup water. He also showed me value in saving and re-using material most of us would consider waste.

For me this is the default way to approach something that had broken: it is a repair opportunity. It augmented my interest in knowing how things are done and also infused me with the belief that I could tackle anything – with patience any skill can be learned. It wasn't until my late teens that I found out he was a mechanical engineer in his professional life.

After school I spent a few years at Foster Wheeler, a large boiler manufacturer, acquired my P.Eng. designation, and in 2002 started a job as a design engineer at WalterFedy, a mid-sized firm. I feel that building systems consulting has a long learning curve and it takes years to participate in enough projects to be broadly proficient in HVAC, Plumbing, Controls, and Fire Protection. Fortunately, I was able to work on diverse projects that kept growing my abilities. By 2006 I was presented with a new opportunity in LEED.

The LEED Canada program was the catalyst for change in my career: I was identified as an engineer to pair with an architect at our firm to learn and interpret the engineering aspects of the green building rating system. With the benefit of an integrated design practice we were able to work together on achieving the intended outcomes.

I didn't hesitate to run my first charrette based on having read the content of the LEED Reference Guide: focus on the goals first; later we can see how many points translate. It is great to be able to work together from the conceptual stage and achieve great holistic design without additional effort. As a team we successfully developed the in-house processes to achieve our first certifications. LEED is not without fault but it is invaluable as a program that enumerates goals so that owners, designers, and contractors can coordinate green building efforts. I have been involved in it ever since.

2. Your company, HDR, does a lot of interesting and innovative projects. Give us a few highlights of projects you've worked on.

Humber River Hospital

I started at HDR mid-2013 and was immediately working on the new Humber River Hospital, which is hoping to achieve LEED Silver certification. It's such a large building. The space planning that considers the occupant's quality of experience for intuitive patient way-finding or efficient travel distance for work tasks is fascinating.

Healthcare environments are generally brute and intensive users of energy. Automation, in scheduling for example, still presents significant opportunities for optimization. As North America's first fully digital hospital there will be huge energy savings benefits from the massively integrated digital systems.

I have a few projects I'd like to mention that occurred in my prior position. One highlight is the LEED NC Platinum certification at the University of Waterloo's Environment 3 building. It was the first time our team had done LEED in a design-build format. My favourite feature at E3 is that its structure was built upwards on an existing site – half of the building is within a two-storey tall truss, right over top of the Environment 2 building.

It was also an honour to be involved in the mechanical design and LEED certification of the iconic Waterloo Region Museum. With a strict gallery environmental control requirement we specified a dedicated outside air system for the galleries that is capable of mitigating short-term transients and is very efficient during normal operation.

3. As a mechanical engineer, how could green or sustainable building fit into your work?

I've been fortunate that my building engineering experience has been formed in an integrated firm. It was a huge benefit to have access to great people with a depth and diversity of knowledge that could satisfy my curiosity about how various building systems work.

Mechanical systems are only one aspect of a sustainable building but all systems are interdependent. Optimum designs are created when there is respect and empathy amongst the team to anticipate the other disciplines' needs and how they relate to the shared goal of building green. Mechanically, for example, I incorporate systems to heat and cool to the benefit of the occupants. But by optimizing orientation, integrating daylighting with glare control into the envelope, and using daylight sensing and dimmable lighting fixtures we can reduce the cooling load.

The sustainable goal is to satisfy our desire for human comfort while minimizing the use of energy resources. It is important that we think beyond our functional silo to do this.

4. You are a volunteer with the CaGBC E&E TAG. How did you become involved with the TAG and what do you like about it?

University of Waterloo, Environment 3 Building

As one of the earliest adopters within my firm at the time I became the 'go-to' person for questions on sustainability. I assumed the role of LEED PM as well as Mechanical Engineer on a number of projects.

I enjoy being an expert with the subject matter. I learned of an opening to volunteer with the CaGBC and I applied. It has been great to contribute in a technical capacity within my field of expertise. I love the bi-weekly opportunity to engage in thoughtful debate with the diversely-talented members of TAG.

5. You work with your TAG members to form rulings for CIRs. How does this process normally work?

Our role on the TAG is to analyze and interpret technical aspects of LEED energy and engineering credits. We prepare guidance documents and Credit Interpretation Requests.

CaGBC staff receive a CIR and direct it to one of the contracted review teams to research and prepare a draft ruling. One week before a scheduled conference call meeting, the TAG is provided the CIR and the draft ruling through an online meeting forum. Each TAG member reviews the CIR and draft ruling and posts comments or concerns for discussion at the meeting. Discussion is facilitated during a conference call and although dissent is permitted, consensus is generally sought.

Some complicated CIRs take many meetings to gain agreement to arrive at a final ruling. The CaGBC team will format and translate the rulings and post them. Some rulings involving complex issues also go through other technical committees and the LEED Canada Steering Committee.

6. Why do you enjoy volunteering – what do you get out of it?

Waterloo Region Museum

Volunteering is a great opportunity for a broader career and life experience. You can expand your network of colleagues, pick up new skills and knowledge, or even just get a perspective on how other organizations work.

Besides the CaGBC E&E TAG, I also volunteer with the Corporation of the Seven Wardens that administers the engineers' Iron Ring ceremony. I have previously volunteered as a board member and President at Owl Child Care Services of Ontario, a not-for-profit child care organization.

Volunteering provides an education that only requires your time and commitment. It's about giving and it's about building new relationships. I like the opportunity to know and learn from the many other talented individuals that I otherwise wouldn't have had the chance to work with.

7. Anything else you'd like to add.

I want to acknowledge the teachers and mentors that enable the personal and professional growth that underpins the sustainable building movement and the motivated volunteers that have precipitated so much change in our world. I'd also like to thank their families. It's often the understanding and support from our families that makes the time and effort possible.