Electrical Engineer: An Important Role in Design

Electrical Engineer Graphic










While the title electrical engineer covers a broad spectrum of roles and responsibilities, there is an easy-to-guess common denominator: electricity. A profession that began not surprisingly in the late nineteenth century (the same time electricity itself was harnessed in Edison’s light bulb), the numerous branches of electrical engineering are as diverse as electricity’s uses.

In broad terms, an electrical engineer is capable of designing, developing, testing, and supervising electrical equipment. From GPS systems to motors and power generation, electrical engineers are always in demand because of their specialized, and vital, skill sets. One of the most practical careers in the world of STEM positions, electrical engineers really do have a hand in everything that uses, creates, or harnesses electricity.

To look specifically at electrical building system engineering, one begins to realize just how critical this role is as it’s truly an essential part to any architect’s design. The most visible design aspect – lighting and controls – is definitely important to the overall building appeal, but there’s more to an electrical engineer’s role when it comes to all of the building’s systems. From general receptacles, fire alarm systems, power for mechanical/plumbing/telecommunication equipment, site lighting, to entire power distribution, electrical engineers ensure that every part of a building functions properly, acting like the blood in the veins of a building. Electrical engineers are needed at every stage of a design project, from conception and drafting to building and final inspections.

And, as more and more older buildings are being renovated and restored, the role of electrical engineers is becoming even more critical. To bring outdated buildings back to life, they need to be able to function in today’s world – and electricity plays a huge role in that.

In order to succeed as an electrical engineer in the realm of architecture, several critical skills are necessary, including physics, electronic theory, mathematics, and a sound understanding of materials. To keep up with the changing landscape of design, many electrical engineers are turning to building information modeling (BIM) systems to better demonstrate concepts, including where devices will be laid out and how their power flows together. These simulations can be as small as a single circuit or as expansive as the power needed for an entire skyscraper – even an entire city. Because of the method of design, electrical engineers using BIM programs can easily modify plans and projections on the fly, making them even more useful to have on project sites and in client meetings.

When architects truly care about the result of a project, as well as the budget and timeline, electrical engineers become an integral part of the team. Able to take care of many of the technical details, electrical engineers ensure that projects go smoothly. This peace of mind allows clients to rest in knowing that even the smallest details are covered, no matter how individually tailored their project turns out to be. From overall functionality to the cost of maintenance, electrical engineers keep architects on track, ensuring there aren’t any unfortunate surprises as the design and build progresses.

Highly specialized, there is no replacing an electrical engineer on a design project, no matter the scope or size. Without a savvy electrical engineer, the overall architectural sense of a project is skewed, which is why it’s wise to bring in an engineer right from the beginning, not just at the end. When leveraged at every stage of a project, the absolute best outcomes are possible – both for the client and the overall function of the building.

A Word from our Owners – Greenwood Community Schools

Mike Hildebrand

Mike Hildebrand is a retired Indiana State Police Detective with over 23 years of service. He began his career in education with the Pike County School Corporation in Petersburg, Indiana in 2003. Mike was hired by Greenwood Community Schools in 2014 as the Director of Operations. He is the Administrator over the facilities, grounds, maintenance, transportation, and School Safety. Mike enjoys everything about the Greenwood Community Schools System because it is a great place to work and a great place for an education. He says it is a corporation where everyone feels like family. Mike and his wife Ruthann reside in Greenwood, and they have four grown children and 10 grandchildren. Of course, he is also a huge Alabama Football fan. Roll Tide!


When you walk through the new Greenwood Middle School, you can easily forget that you are even in a K-12 facility. The school is designed around a STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) curriculum that engages students and staff in project-based learning opportunities. All 160,000 square feet, each of the three floors, every single educational space was built with the student in mind. We wanted to talk with Mike Hildebrand to see how the engineering systems bring everything together, creating an efficient learning environment for all.

Greenwood Middle School

Tell us a little about the why Greenwood needed a new Middle School.

I can say the new Middle School was an absolute necessity, not just for our students and staff, but for the community. If you hadn’t seen the old school, just imagine décor from the 60’s to the 90’s, old restrooms, dark hallways, outdated cabinets in the classrooms, poor lighting, and few windows. The HVAC system was as old as the student’s parents and some grandparents. This new middle school is a better setting for our students. The better the learning atmosphere, the more desire there is to attend school. This gets teachers more excited to teach. Even the food tastes better in the new cafeteria!

The entire school is now welcoming, has easy lines of sight, and the aesthetics are wonderful. Just enough to make it appealing without the cost of fancy features.

Have you seen an increased level of occupant comfort in the new building?

Comfort is a must in every classroom setting. The Siemens control system is wonderful. The features are easy to understand, and changing a room or area’s temperature is a breeze. The ability to go to a night or unoccupied set back has saved us a considerable amount on utilities as well. Our custodial and maintenance staff dove in head first and are continuing to learn new tricks every day. The air quality is also a vast improvement from our old middle school, which had some sections starting from 1960’s.

The design of the facility itself makes the visual observation of students during the passing periods simple. One faculty member can stand at the junction of the two wings and see both halls from one vantage point. The design and features of today’s school has changed so much since I was in school, back in the 60’s and 70’s. The newest technology is used in every classroom, students are learning robotics at a much younger age, and every aspect of this facility was discussed to determine if this was going to benefit our students for the better. This facility was designed just to do that very thing. It was done the Greenwood way.

How has the learning environment improved daily life here at Greenwood Middle School – for the students, teachers, and those maintaining the new systems?

As you know, lighting is an important feature in any educational facility. Having gone from our old school’s lighting to new LED is absolutely a huge improvement, both for the students and staff. The automatic light features that turn on/off upon entry was a huge success with our staff. The dimmer capabilities are used almost daily by all of our staff while instruction is taking place with the overhead units onto the whiteboard marker walls. Each classroom has outdoor light access as well, offering the inviting ray of sunshine in for our students.

The HVAC units are definitely a well-received item and the biggest change from old univent systems to the new buildings system. No more high fan speed noise disrupting instruction, and no more too cold or too hot depending on where you sit in the room. The capability to change the temp + or – 3 degrees at the thermostat is awesome. Students learn better when they are comfortable in their environment.

In the old school, each classroom had a univent system. When there was a failure you could count on at least a 4-hour repair as you had to pull the unit from the wall, make the repairs, and then put it back in place. What a difference the vertical unit ventilation systems have made. Easy access, easier repairs, and less time consuming for our maintenance staff. Even the filter change is simpler and can take only a couple of minutes.

In general, what have you heard from staff, teachers, parents, and students about the new school?

Superintendent Dr. Kent DeKoninck and Asst. Superintendent Mr. Todd Pritchett were an integral part of the success of the construction and completion of our new school. All of the physical aspects–the aesthetics, flooring, cafeteria area, media center and classrooms–have been praised by students, staff, and community. Our easy access points for the office area during the school day or the secondary entrance for our indoor athletic events are very welcoming without going over the top in costs.

The pride of Greenwood Community Schools has once again peaked to the point of happiness. Even our residential neighbors have had nothing but good things to say about what once used to be a farm field to now becoming a modern and beautiful school facility. In short, no one is more pleased than our students, our parents, our staff and our school leaders. We could not have hoped for more than what we’ve received in our new Greenwood Middle School.

How would you describe the process of working with Schmidt Associates, specifically the engineering team?

My experience of working with Schmidt Associates has been wonderful, from the design portion all the way through to completion. Even with minor punch list items remaining a year in now, the cooperative effort has been amazing.

As issues would arise during the construction, the Schmidt team would provide detailed alternatives to the issues, have quick remedies as a solution, and implement the changes into the plan. Our relationship with Schmidt Associates has become one of trust, and their team of experts have addressed our needs and concerns in a timely manner.

Greenwood Community Schools has also used Schmidt Associates on other projects, and we are in the process of beginning yet another project at our High School.


If you think we can help with your next project, reach out to us!


BIM in Dispute Resolution – KGR

I had the opportunity to read a great blog post by my friend Greg Cafouros at Kroger Gardis & Regas (KGR). At Schmidt Associates, using Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a standard practice for all of our projects. We see the direct benefits it has on reducing errors and saving costs for our Owners. It is reaffirming to see those BIM benefits stretched to cover potential legal issues as well.

Click the image below to read the KGR blog post:

BIM Attorneys










If you have any questions about how BIM can benefit your project, reach out!

When Did You Know You Wanted to be an Engineer?

Wayne Schmidt set out on his own and started our firm July 4th, 1976. More than four decades later, we are proud that we are different in all the regards that matter to us, to our clients, and to our community. While we are celebrating our 42nd anniversary this July, we are also celebrating another big milestone: 25 years of having engineering in-house!

We thought it would be interesting to ask our engineers when they first realized they wanted to pursue a career in Engineering. This is what our first group said:


Brad Wallace – Mechanical Designer

“Ever since I was a little kid, I was always interested in how “mechanical” things work. I had a love for motorcycles and cars, and I always enjoyed the time I spent with my dad working on them as I was growing up. After college, my first job was with a large national mechanical contractor. I enjoyed my first four years of my career working in the field, learning how mechanical systems were installed and operated. My next career move was working 10 years for a local Engineering firm where I learned how to do mechanical design. I made my final move 14 years ago, to Schmidt Associates!”


John HarrisonJohn Harrison – Plumbing Designer

“I entered the engineering field because of my love of drawing and my obvious passion for working out challenging designs with great detail. Once I began down the path of a plumbing designer and learned how challenging it could be, I was hooked. Designing for special conditions like animal and fish research facilities, laboratories, hospitals and Green LEED designs has made for a very rewarding career decision.”


Dave Jones – Electrical Engineer

“I started off my college career as an undecided major for two years. I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do, and I used to be jealous of people who seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do after high school. I took the general classes, hoping something would spark my interest… but nothing. I even tried accounting because my uncle owned his own accounting firm in Florida. I thought I could move down there, enjoy the beach, and work for him. However, I found accounting to be just as exciting as watching paint dry. Since I was good at math, I figured why not pursue Engineering? I didn’t know what engineering really was or what all it entailed, but I had to choose something. After 9 years of school, I finally received my degree at age 27. I could have been a brain surgeon with that much school time, but Engineering turned out to be a good decision!”


Jim Heinzelman – Electrical Engineer

“The first time I started thinking about designing electrical systems was in high school where I was taking basic electrical introductory classes. The technology really intrigued me, so I interviewed for a position at a Consulting Engineering firm here in town after graduating high school. I was accepted for a position within the firm, made a transition to work at Schmidt Associates, and I’ve taken higher education classes to advance my career. I’ve never looked back!”


Keep an eye out for more of these as the year goes on!

5 Things You Should Know

As the ASHRAE Central Indiana Chapter President, I set out several goals for myself. One of which, bringing engineers and architects together in a collaborative setting. The two worlds are joining forces in the industry already, and I see engineers and architects working as a cohesive unit in our office every day. I want to organize events that will help to further strengthen these connections.

The March AIA/ASHRAE Program 5 Things You Should Know did just that. The event brought together Architect Daniel Overbey (Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf) and Engineer Seun Odukomaiya (KBSO Consulting) for a panel discussion on what it is really like to work together as collaborators for a common goal. We thought it would be helpful to round up some of the highlights for you:

5 Things Architects Wished Engineers Knew – Daniel Overbey

  1. Gaining control of the design process tends to feel like losing control of the design process
  2. Architects don’t like the word “no”
  3. Architects want your SWAG – we have the tools to make good decisions, but we need your help
  4. The secrets to improving the quantitative are found in the qualitative
  5. We really need you to model your pipes in Revit

5 Things Engineers Wished Architects Knew – Seun Odukomaiya

  1. We want an early seat at the table.
  2. We cannot (should not) predict your energy bills
  3. Plumbing systems require pipes of various sizes and materials
  4. Decorative lighting isn’t the best on your energy usage
  5. Certain HVAC systems are more size and cost efficient, consider this when making architectural preliminary designs

A couple of our own architects and engineers had some thoughts on those points:


Dave LoganDavid Logan, Graduate Architect:

Architects may hesitate to consult with engineers early in the design process because they worry engineers could hinder the proportions/heights/elements etc. of the proposed design. Perhaps that’s just a poor architect. The challenge of the architect is to accomplish an attractive design intent, while also accounting for the required engineering.

A competent designer should not feel threatened by the engineer’s constraints. Rather, incorporating each other’s viewpoints into a unified solution will make for a stronger, more credible, more holistic outcome. Too often both parties engage each other defensively, and slightly worried the other person will negatively affect what they have proposed. True, engineers may affect that singular solution, but there should be another, stronger solution out there. If the architect has a desired result, and the engineer has their own desired result, perhaps there is 3rd way in the middle that will accommodate both.

A successful architectural solution that fails to account for the engineering is ultimately not successful. If indeed we are creative folks, we should be able to propose a design decision that satisfies both parties.


Mike Myer

Mike Myer, Engineering Graduate :

“The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds.”  – Theo Jansen

In the collaborative process we take to design buildings and spaces, each person feels just as passionately as the other person. Engineers have a passion for design in a different way than an architect, but it still exists.

As engineers, we are responsible for providing designs for the building infrastructure. It was the consensus at the meeting that we can do more than react to a good building design. We believe we can help improve the design. There are engineers with skillsets such as energy modeling, lighting analysis, wind studies, and solar analysis. We can help influence the design based on the mechanical systems being used and the size of equipment being used to serve the building. We can indicate where connection locations are for plumbing fixtures and where structural conflicts occur.

To keep it simple, most of architecture vs. engineering issues that come along during a design process could be mitigated if engineers are integrated into the process from the start. Everything has a good chance of falling in to place from there. Engineers really have a desire to help and offer technical advice. We care about the end product and the team effort to get to that point. Designing a building can be a challenging task but with the early application of various engineering skillsets, everyone wins.

Energy Rebates: Don’t Leave Money on the Table

When the electric grid was still in its infancy, electrical utility companies needed more people to use electricity to make a profit. They would therefore incentivize the purchase of electric vacuums, laundry machines, dish washers, water heaters, radiant floor heating systems, and so on. But in today’s world, we have so much electric demand that brownouts and blackouts have become increasingly common. As electric demand increases, modern utility companies find it more cost-effective to not build more and more power plants, but to incentivize energy efficiency – giving rise to energy rebates.

The goal of energy rebates is to save money while saving energy – incentivizing efficient equipment to the point that the equipment, when fully installed, costs the same as “standard” equipment. The efficient equipment then slashes your operational costs. According to a study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there is a lot of potential incentives based on consumption percentages.

energy rebates graphic


The incentives from rebate-worthy items can affect all areas of MEPT:

  • Mechanical – high-efficiency chillers, rooftop units, VRF systems, and building controls
  • Electrical – LED lighting, lighting controls, variable frequency drives
  • Plumbing – high-efficiency pumps and boilers
  • Energy-efficient data center servers and HVAC Kitchen equipment is also incentivized

The Process:

As an HVAC engineer on a project, the process for making sure a client gets the most efficient equipment in their space starts from the very beginning – designing with the equipment in mind. How do you know which type of equipment is best for the client, or how do you prioritize which equipment is most important if budget is tight? Here, we optimize the best systems with the client’s budget. Once the design is fully developed, we can choose which type of incentive is the best for the project – prescriptive or custom.

Prescriptive: application is submitted within a 90-day window of installation or project completion

Custom: pre-approval and energy savings calculations are required beforehand, and then once the project is approved, equipment is purchased and construction can begin. A  final application is required after completion which describes any changes to the project (and thus original calculations)

Just how much could you save?

  • Incentives on new construction usually equals approximately $0.40/sf
  • 72,000 sq. ft. elementary school, full lighting and HVAC upgrades, $36,500 prescriptive
  • New High School Performing Arts Center (theater, stage, lighting, HVAC in just this area), $4,500 custom incentive
  • 83,000 sq. ft. elementary school, $32,000 incentive custom

Schmidt Associates can help with energy rebates:

Sure, you can go through the rebate process yourself, but it can be a long and tedious one.

We can do it for clients in the fraction of the time, almost as if from muscle memory. We use our experience and internal software tools to streamline the process. The energy rebate money is available for owners, and Schmidt Associates can make the process cost-effective and painless. Contact us for help or further questions.

Clash Detection: Protecting your Budget and Timeline

What is Clash Detection?

Clash Detection software integrates with BIM/Revit design tools, showing the designers and contractors when two or more objects are intersecting and by how much. The software exports a location and physical image of the detected intersection, so you will see the actual conflicting pipes, duct runs, wires, etc. that need to be resolved.

There are three main types of clashes that can occur:

  1. Hard clash: when two objects pass through each other
  2. Soft clash: when two objects invade into geometric tolerances for other objects
  3. 4D/Workflow clash: resolves scheduling clashes and abnormalities as well as delivery clashes (for example, installation of ceilings before ductwork or plumbing fixtures before piping)

Why is it important?

Using Clash Detection is the easiest way to avoid coordination issues before they become change orders.  It allows designers to detect and correct issues in the virtual world before they make it to the real world (where they can be costly).  We can see what will and won’t work early in the design process rather than when construction has begun. Our engineers can run Clash Detection from day one and on until the project is on-site, allowing the construction process to be streamlined.

We use this technology to determine best routing paths for engineering systems. As we team with architects, we can proactively plan how to best integrate, route, and hide building systems within the design. Space efficiency is also enhanced by allowing designers to test tight configurations prior to delivering equipment to the site.

At the core of it, Clash Detection saves time and money. According to The BIM Center, an estimated $17,000 is saved per detected clash.


Optimization: Saving Energy and Money

Today’s HVAC systems have the technology to perform amazing things —providing comfort, safety, and efficiencies. To achieve optimum performance, the systems must be “tuned” to stay in sync with the activities of the occupants and monitored to affirm proper operation.

This can be done through building optimization, a post-construction service which includes:

  1. Working with the building owner to develop an optimization plan
  2. Providing oversight of the optimization plan through the duration of the established time period
  3. On-going monitoring of the building systems to ensure they function at peak performance

The objective of this service is to optimize the function of the building’s HVAC systems.

Optimization provides:

  • Occupant comfort
  • Reliability
  • Energy efficiency
  • Operation efficiency
  • Extended life of the equipment

All of these elements combined allow Schmidt Associates to provide long-term optimization services that save both energy and dollars, while ensuring occupant comfort. Want proof?

During design of a recent project, we modeled the building to predict the actual energy usage once built, based on parameters about hours of operation and other conditions provided by the client. However, once the building was occupied, the actual energy bills were much higher than the energy model predicted, so we started providing optimization services.

In 2015 the building had achieved an Energy Star Score* of 45. It was using almost 140,000 kWh of energy each month. Through two year’s worth of optimization, the building now has an Energy Score of 89 and is using approximately 122,000 kWh each month. The decrease in energy consumption is the direct result of properly scheduling the equipment, fine tuning the VRV system, and removing the data center usage from the rest of the building.

The building wasn’t designed poorly. It wasn’t constructed poorly. It just required special attention in certain areas to maximize its performance.


* ENERGY STAR is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.



Infographic: 7 Types of Engineering

Check out our handy infographic about the 7 types of engineering systems that affect a building:



What is VRF?

VRF (variable refrigerant flow) is a sophisticated HVAC technology. Invented around 30 years ago, this is known as the “Rolls Royce” of air conditioning systems. The use of the VRF mechanical system can assist in achieving LEED certification for facilities. The basic elements of VRF systems are:

  • Refrigerant liquid is used as the cooling/heating medium, as opposed to chilled water systems. Those chilled water systems use refrigerant to cool/heat the water circulated throughout.
  • Allows one outdoor condensing unit to be connected to multiple indoor evaporators. Each indoor evaporator is controllable by its user, varying the amount of refrigerant being sent to it and the speed of its evaporator fan.
  • Inverter compressors allow lowering power consumption with partial cooling/heating loads.
  • Ability to expand modularly, important when dealing with large projects.

Energy savings for these systems can be up to 55% over comparable unit systems. Ductwork sizes are reduced because conditioned air is not being routed throughout the building, which could also lead to smaller plenum spaces, and potentially reduce the height of the building if designed appropriately.

So how does it work?

A combination of surrounding outside temperatures and inputs from a user (desired temperature) gets calculated into the operation logic inside the system – resulting in optimal power consumption while outputting desired comfort temperatures. The basic steps of this:

  1. Indoor system is turned on by a user via the local remote.
  2. Outdoor system “gets noted” and will start up.
  3. Outdoor temperatures and desired indoor temperature point are examined within the system, the compressor’s output is then increased based on level of demand.
  4. The system then is constantly working to regulate power consumption based on demands of changing conditions (outdoor temperatures and user-desired temperatures).

Overall VRF has proven to be a highly efficient alternative to traditional 4-pipe HVAC systems, resulting in reduced installation and operational costs.