3 Construction Strategies to Optimize Profits for Your Multifamily Project

Multifamily housing is in tremendous demand. Condos and upscale urban renovations and newly constructed apartments have become some of the most profitable real estate segments, yet developers and property owners may struggle to meet investment targets.

What’s driving the demand for multifamily projects?

Historically, housing-starts were the result of increased population, but at less than 1% population growth, we’ve seen the lowest population increases since the 1930’s. The mobility comes in two areas: 1) increases in income among high-earners and 2) decrease in average house size (Forbes). These two factors are good indicators for developers to consider the types of properties, locations and relative square feet. However, as labor, equipment, and materials costs continue to rise, new strategies are required to keep costs within a safe range and preserve profits.

One of the best ways to optimize the value of your property is to place a heavy emphasis on strategic mechanical, engineering, and plumbing (MEP) design tactics. If you would like to learn more about the MEP world and why it plays such a critical role in multifamily housing, keep reading. This article takes a closer look at three key MEP strategies to be aware of.

Optimize Square Footage

As the multifamily real estate market grows increasingly competitive, developers must find ways to extract the most value from a property. In other words, skyrocketing land values are forcing developers to make the most of limited parcels. A principal goal of today's MEP systems is to optimize the amount of rentable/salable square footage you own.

One of the most advantageous MEP strategies involves the use of so-called horizontal distribution systems. Such systems cut down on the excessive MEP impact of older HVAC models, which used cumbersome ducts to distribute conditioned air. A horizontal distribution system, by contrast, shifts distribution to the ceilings thanks to the use of heat pumps, variable refrigerant flow, and other cutting-edge HVAC technologies.

Where horizontal systems simply aren't feasible, developers can still optimize square footage by using stacked vertical systems. These systems share walls with adjacent multifamily units, thus reducing the space requirements for both buildings. Opposing soffits within the ventilation units allow a single vertical stack to offer distribution, ventilation, and exhaust functions to both units.

Another key strategy to optimize square footage involves reducing the building's floor-to-floor heights. For multistory buildings, even a relatively small reduction between 6 and 12 inches can create enough room for an additional floor at the top of the building. In this way, developers can boost rentable/salable footage without having to increase the building's height.

Use CFD Models When Designing Parking Garage Configurations

Underground parking garages are a common feature of multifamily real estate - and can add significant appeal to a property. However, parking garages can also represent a significant source of expense, since they require costly excavation efforts. Furthermore, parking garages require dedicated ventilation systems to supply them with an adequate amount of fresh air.

To keep costs as low as possible, developers must take a proactive approach during the design phase. Don't go into the project with a specific type of ventilation system in mind. Instead, consult various contractors about the current price differences between ducted systems and transfer fans. Maintaining flexibility regarding your material selections — for instance, stainless steel piping versus copper piping — can also help keep costs down.

An even more dramatically advantageous strategy involves using computational fluid dynamics, or CFD, to model your future garage's exhaust and supply air needs. CFD is a form of software analysis that takes into account the design parameters of your building. The software uses this information to model air circulation, allowing you to find the most cost-effective ventilation system.

For one thing, CFD can accurately analyze whether a traditional duct system or a system of transfer fans will yield more efficient results. In the latter case, the CFD can also determine the most effective placement of transfer fans. As a result, you can keep the number of fans to an absolute minimum. Not only will this reduce your initial outlay, but it will also cut down on the amount of horsepower, thus lowering energy consumption.

Developers should also give consideration to the use of parking stackers. As their name implies, these mechanical platform devices allow multiple cars to stack on top of one another. This system allows you reduce the overall excavation depth by using space more wisely.

Embrace Modular Construction

Another quickly growing facet of MEP design involves the use of modular construction. Modular construction involves the pre-fabrication of living units at an off-site manufacturing facility. Modules are fully-finished components of buildings, complete with interior walls, electrical outlets and plumbing fixtures. These units are then installed in ready-to-go form at the jobsite. This strategy cuts down on assembly and construction time, and may lead to significant savings.

That said, developers must understand some of the constraints posed by modular design. For one thing, modular constructions often make it easier to see double walls, dividing lines, and other visual clues of the prefabricated structure.

Developers should also realize that modular construction may involve a more complicated permitting process. This added complexity usually means that you will need to add an experienced third-party professional to your construction and design team. Only somebody well versed in the challenges of modular design can ensure that your project remains both economically viable and fully up-to-code.

MEP strategies offer developers a multitude of ways to optimize a multifamily building project. For more information about how MEP strategy can improve the efficiency your next building project, please contact the industry experts at REX Engineering Group.


mep services

When Do You Need an MEP Engineer?

Whether you're working on a new construction project or renovating an old building, an MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) engineer can help you optimize the performance of your building and minimize its operating costs.

There are many benefits to hiring an MEP engineer, as they are more than just HVAC, electricity, or plumbing technicians. MEP engineers specialize in at least one or all of these fields and a team of skilled engineers can integrate their areas of expertise to deliver even more services. Partnering with a solid engineering team is essential when designing a building with high-performance systems or unique requirements. 

WHEN TO HIRE AN MEP ENGINEER

Standard services provided by MEP engineers include: HVAC installation and maintenance, plumbing design including storm water management, lighting design, emergency power systems, industrial  exhaust systems, etc. However, MEP engineering services extend beyond the traditional boundaries of mechanical, electric, and plumbing engineering. Many different types projects require the input of an MEP engineer including:

  • Smart Lighting Systems - Electrical engineers can develop smart lighting systems that provide your building with ample lighting in a way that saves on energy costs and is environmentally friendly. They can develop an easy user interface to control lighting that suits your building's needs. A professional electrical engineer will also ensure that the lighting system works well with other systems and ensure that the building's owner and maintenance staff can easily maintain all equipment.
  • Energy Conservation - MEP engineers can implement a number of energy management solutions by automating many of the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems in your project. This will allow you to track all data from a single central command, which allows faster error detection and simplifies the maintenance process. Other energy management solutions an MEP engineer can provide to make your building more sustainable include using environmentally friendly products and incorporating renewable energy sources.
  • Longevity - It's important to construct and design a building that is durable and longer-lasting. Using the latest technologies, MEP engineers can help you build the most cost-effective electrical, mechanical, or plumbing systems for your construction and renovation projects. Furthermore, with sustainability in mind, they will use high-quality materials that can withstand time, normal wear and tear, and weathering. This minimizes the need for renovations and maximizes the building's lifecycle for years to come.
  • Indoor Air Quality - MEP engineers are useful for ensuring a building, whether it's a business or school, has good air quality. A building with poor air quality can negatively impact health, performance and productivity, and overall comfort. An MEP engineer can combat these problems by optimizing HVAC systems and controlling moisture and mold.
  • Water Conservation - MEP consultants can develop mechanical and plumbing system designs that will help decrease your building's water consumption, which in turn, will help reduce your water bill. MEP engineers can incorporate low-flow fixtures in bathrooms, insulate piping, use alternative sources of water, and structure landscape to minimize water use.
  • Building Automation - MEP engineers can design automation systems that help you control and monitor your building's performance and save on energy costs. Systems that can be automated include fire alarms, HVAC systems, lighting, and security. The proper optimization of these systems ensures the comfort and safety of occupants.

When it comes to constructing a fully optimized and efficient building, an MEP engineer can bring the expertise you need. At REX Engineering Group, we have helped design a variety of structures including hotels, schools, office buildings, retail stores, and healthcare facilities. Our highly experienced, talented group of engineers are dedicated to helping your building achieve the optimal balance of construction cost and energy efficiency.


MEP in Construction

What is the role of MEP in Construction?

Consulting with MEP engineers from the beginning of a project's life cycle allows those specialists to guide the project through the design, administration, and post-occupancy survey aspects of the construction process. MEP engineers are responsible for overseeing and/or executing essential processes. Mechanical engineering services can include HVAC machinery and ducts, pumps and plant designs, radiant heating and cooling, and more. Electrical engineers will focus on power distribution, lighting design, generators, emergency systems, and general power management and efficiency. Plumbing engineers specialize in designing effective fluid systems: potable water, sewage, waste water, collection tanks, stormwater management, etc.

Often construction projects will require integrated MEP services where the three fields overlap in their design and implementation. An increasingly popular service that incorporates all aspects of MEP engineering is building automation. These centralized hardware and software networks control HVAC, security, fire alarms, indoor and outdoor lighting as well as many other operations critical for building performance. That's why it's critical to integrate MEP engineers in the initial stages of a construction project. This helps reduce delays, confusion, revisions, and redrafting.

When a single firm handles all three components, the project is streamlined. Partnering with an integrated MEP engineering firm provides your project with the cultivated expertise that can help reduce your overhead while making the most efficient use of your resources. Rather than dealing with time-consuming responsibilities managing all three components, you tap an expert to coordinate all three in a synchronized process.

MEP Engineers Provide Value At Every Stage Of Construction

From schematic design to administration to the post-occupancy survey, MEP engineers play an important role in construction projects. Your MEP engineer will help you maximize your capital investments by offering a comprehensive suite of services including building evaluation, system diagnostics, feasibility studies, and lease consultation services.

They will collaborate with architects, building owners, and other contractors as early as the initial planning and survey stages. After evaluating the site for potential damage and risks, a preliminary design will be developed and refined in tandem with the architect’s plans. MEP engineers can also coordinate with pre-construction and project management teams to ensure the most efficient execution of all services. Your engineer will conduct a Constructability Review to ensure all drawings and specifications are accurate, safe, and in line with the building owner’s vision.

The MEP Quality Plan drawn up will serve as a working framework throughout the actual construction process. It will include project goals, policies, insurance details, quality procedures, management structures, personnel responsibilities and objectives, quality system review processes, instructions on documentation control, health and safety information, and final testing and handover information. Before construction begins MEP engineers can also be involved in product/technology selection, estimating, and bidding.

An organized MEP engineer will manage the following construction documents:

  • Detailed drawings and diagrams of all floor plans, elevations,and sections.
  • Technical specifications on the systems to be installed.
  • List of materials and products required.
  • Overview of the execution methods for the materials, products, and systems.

As the building undergoes construction or renovation, an MEP engineer will often assist in construction administration, ensuring the project is remaining on schedule and under budget, and providing progress reports.

The Future Of MEP Engineering

The onset of green construction practices and the evolution of digital engineering technology has created new possibilities for MEP engineers. As more construction projects turn their focus to sustainability, construction processes and architectural trends are evolving with this in mind. Traditional engineering fields such as civil, chemical, electrical and mechanical have expanded to include specialized subsets like environmental, aerospace, computer systems design, and geotechnical engineering.

Seasoned MEP engineers can now optimize systems and procedures in a way that leads to environmentally-conscious structures. They conserve water during the construction process. They optimize HVAC systems to remove harmful airborne pathogens.  They use cost-effective materials as a way to maximize building and equipment sustainability for a longer period of time after completion.

Selecting a Qualified MEP Engineering Firm

REX Engineering Group leverages years of expertise as a multi-disciplinary firm with decades of combined structural and mechanical engineering experience. With our recent merger in 2018, REX Engineering Group united the industry-leading mechanical engineering expertise of Innovative Engineering Group of California, and the diverse structural engineering legacy of Chicago and Detroit-based Ntrive to offer the multi-disciplinary engineering services and high performance our building partners require.

Our engineers combine innovative technology with solid, reliable practices. The result? Secure, aesthetic buildings that fit the vision of the building owner and stay within budget. 


urban sustainability population density

Urban Sustainability: Engineering Solutions To The Increase In Los Angeles Population Density

Los Angeles, California is currently dealing with a rapid increase in population density. The last Census Bureau findings determined that LA is the most densely populous urban area in the United States. It has nearly 7,000 people per square mile. This puts it well ahead of all other major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Population density refers to both the number of people living in each unit of areas well as the city's degree of compactness. This is measured by the ratio of people and buildings to available land. While high population density strains existing resources and creates multiple issues for a city, it also presents historic opportunities for engineers to engage in creative problem solving and innovation. If used as a model in other communities, these innovative measures will benefit not just the LA area, but urban areas throughout the world.

There are several key issues surrounding the increase in Los Angeles' population density, which engineers are combating by embracing new perspectives, technology, and green building techniques.

Housing

Increased population density is leading to housing shortages. One report states that Los Angeles has a gap of nearly 600,000 units needed to accommodate the needs of low-income renters.  Many areas in California aren't approving housing quickly enough to account for the increasing population. In the past, single-family homes were the traditional, standard model for housing. There is also a lack of land available to build single family homes for every family.

Forward-thinking engineers are prioritizing projects to focus on multifamily residential properties. These can house two or more families due to more efficient and intelligent design features, making better use of a space that may have been used for a smaller number in the past.

Smart home technology is also a developing trend that's increasing housing quality. Houses with automated systems that lessen the difficulty of routine household tasks such as cleaning and monitoring energy usage are increasing the livability of all kinds of houses. They're increasing the comfort and usefulness of these houses as well. Building more of these more efficient homes allows people to make better use of a smaller amount of space, helping to alleviate the strains of higher population density.

The development of multifamily, environmentally friendly housing featuring smart technology will help give more people affordable housing and lessen the carbon footprint of that new housing on the environment.

Infrastructure

As populations grow and cities expand to accommodate their new residents, it tests the ability of the city's existing infrastructure to function effectively. A sudden rise in population density may occur faster than cities can update their vital systems such as roadways, power grids, sewers, water, and waste management. When cities fail to adapt these systems it can cause the infrastructure to degrade quickly over a long term period of time. Once infrastructure begins to degrade, it becomes less effective and can have disastrous consequences if not improved or updated.

Sustaining urban infrastructure is one area where engineers need to get creative. One possible solution is building amenities in close proximity to each other. Less driving from one area to another to access these areas will mean less wear and tear on the highways and other roadways. It also leads to less pollution and carbon emissions.

The "Yes, In My Backyard" (or YIMBY) movement is backed by people who promote housing developments in their cities as opposed to the more restrictive "Not In My Backyard" (or NIMBY) movements of old.  YIMBY efforts are encouraging the development of more houses. While this can increase density, it also lessens the chances of urban sprawl or the uncontrolled expansion of urban areas. Creating less new infrastructure means less infrastructure the cities will have to maintain and improve.

Transportation

More people living in an urban means more people needing transportation. This leads to more cars on the roadways and higher carbon emissions. The latest scientific reports show that increased carbon emissions can have disastrous impacts on the environment. It can also lead to more automobile accidents. When engineers can find creative ways to have fewer cars on the road, it has a positive impact on both the environment and community.

Improving public transportation through a focus on "green engineering" is a critical component of any plan to address overarching population density impacts on transportation. That means promoting building infrastructure such as EV parking and bike storage; creating roads that are pedestrian and bike friendly will take some of those drivers off the roads. It means having structural engineers examining existing highways and determining how to add additional high occupancy vehicle lanes to encourage carpooling.

As electric vehicles become more popular and commonplace with the onset of "green engineering," engineers have opportunities to get even more creative in the placement and frequency of electric vehicle charging stations. As this sustainable technology becomes more prevalent, drivers will need more options to charge them.

Public Health

More people in a given area means more health concerns. From a wellness perspective, more dense populations can lead to a population that is less fit and less likely to stay active, as they are shuttled from their home to their office in a car while commuting through dense traffic for hours each day.

Engineers are looking into building spaces - both public and semi-private - where the community encourages its residents to stay fit and active. This could manifest itself as more sidewalks, trails, or general walking areas made available within the community. It could also mean incorporating more gyms in multi-family residences and shopping centers.

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Engineers incorporating green building practices in LA stand to help their urban communities dealing with population density issues as well as the environment. There are multiple potential benefits available with regard to housing shortages, impacts to critical infrastructure, transportation, and public health concerns.

These solutions are all interrelated as well. For example, more people using sidewalks to get to and from where they need to go means fewer cars on the road. That means fewer carbon emissions as well as improved physical fitness for the person walking.

Using the skill, ingenuity, and forethought of engineers to harness the power of green engineering can go a long way towards lessening the impact of Los Angeles's high population density. In time this can make the city cleaner, safer, and easier to live in for more of its citizens.