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.