The Do’s and Don’ts of Architectural Design: By a Mechanical Engineer

At 360, we love to be team players and share our ideas and insights with our fellow consultants. And boy, do we have ideas! This month, we wanted to help out our architect friends with some brilliant tips and tricks for working with mechanical engineers and making buildings awesome.

Chase Sizes

Everyone loved throwing things down the laundry chute as a kid, so why not bring that excitement to the workplace by adding chases sprinkled throughout the floorplan? Never concede to smaller chases, as they should occupy no less than 25% of the floor. Oh, and make sure you can fit some ductwork and pipes in there if possible. (Picture shown for reference of a building chase)

Do: Provide chases with a minimum of 100 square feet, a large access panel (preferably 3’ wide and 7’ tall with a handle or knob for entry), and a large glass panel to allow observations from outside.

Don’t: Provide only one chase in the building. It may feel entitled and eventually resent the occupants.

Picture shown for reference of a building chase.

Quadruple Paned Windows

Everyone wants to fight for the window seat in the office, but no one wants the perks of afternoon glares, cold spots, and the potential of pedestrians looking in. There are many architectural advances to mitigate those risks, but none more effective than quadruple-paned windows. The more layers you add, the less heat transfers through the window, and the harder someone will have to squint to see inside. While quadruple-paned windows may be a good option, why stop there? Double stacking quadruple pane windows is an even more effective way to not only introduce unique light reflections in the space but also add architectural personality to buildings with windows that are thicker than the walls.

Do: Install double-stacked (heck, even triple-stacked) quadruple-pane windows.

Don’t: Default to the cost-effective, low solar gain, and easy-to-install windows.

Insulation Thickness

Insulation is best described as the warm blanket in the walls that the framing snuggles to keep warm at night. Traditionally, insulation is installed using rigid boards, spray foam, or stuffed batt insulation. However, to give a modern approach to building insulation, we recommend installing rigid dish sponges, silly string spray, or stuffed goose feather pillows as a much better insulation material. If you don’t have any of those materials handy, just stuff the walls with whatever you can find. It’ll be fine!

Do: Provide a wall stuffed full of Kleenex to reduce the HVAC size needed and use the previous batt insulation as blankets on the couch—just be prepared to be extremely itchy as you binge the newest season of Real Housewives.

Don’t: Provide boring rigid or batt insulation in the walls.

Disclaimer: This blog post was released on April 1st, and while 360 Engineering is not a licensed architecture firm, we do have some really great ideas for the advancement of architecture! Call us about your next project; we’ve got quadruple-paned windows ready for you!

COPs Higher than 3’s: The Efficiency of Heat Pumps!

If you’ve been thinking about your mechanical system lately, you’ve probably come across the magical buzzwords “Heat Pumps.” But why does everyone love them so much, and are they really that much better than gas-fired heating equipment?

At its very core, heat pumps just move heat from one space to another, hence the name! At the technical level, they use refrigerant circuits, similar to what’s found in your air conditioner or refrigerator, to extract heat from one space and move it into another. In the ancient, inefficient past, you needed one piece of equipment to heat the space (furnaces, electric heaters, boilers, etc.) and another to cool the space (air conditioners, chillers, etc.) The beauty of a heat pump is that it comes with a small reversing valve within the outdoor unit that can flip the rotation of refrigerant and provide heating instead of cooling to a targeted space. That’s why they’re effective at heating AND cooling the space as a single system.

If all of that has your head spinning, focus on the key terms:

Heat Source: Where is the heat coming from? It could be inside the building, and you want to remove it, or outside it, and you want to bring heat inside.

Heat Sink: Where are you dumping the heat? You can reject heat outside the building to cool the inside spaces down or reject heat inside the building if you want to heat it up.

Coefficient of Performance (COP): This is a ratio of the amount of energy (heat) that comes out of the mechanical system compared to the amount of energy (electricity or fuel) put into the system. Higher is better!

Heat pumps grab heat from the heat source and move it to the heat sink. That’s it! Nothing more complicated about it.

Gas-fired appliances must burn fuel (heat source) to generate heat into the air/water (heat sink), and high-efficiency units have a COP of only ~0.97. Even electric resistance heaters must produce electrical heat to heat the air/water but have an almost equal input-to-output COP of ~1.0. “You get out what you put in.” However, heat pumps don’t rely on heat generation; most of the heat is just transferring already generated heat from one source to another space. And that requires significantly less energy input than generating that heat-so much less energy that the ratio of heat output from a heat pump when compared to the energy it takes to run a heat pump can be upwards of 300% or a COP OF HIGHER THAN 3!

Whether it’s freezing outside or you’re sweating inside your building, heat pumps are an efficient way to relocate that heat to an appropriate heat sink. Gone are the days of accepting a 97% efficient furnace. Now, heat pumps are pushing the limits of energy efficiency, and who can say no to something 3-5 times more efficient than your current boiler?

Here are a few of our current and recent projects where we’ve used heat pumps in the mechanical system design:

  • Arapahoe Library District Administration Building
  • NREL Flatirons Campus Control Center Facility
  • NPS Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Building 725
  • NPS Rocky Mountain National Park Fall River Entrance Station
  • NPS Zion National Park South Campground
  • NPS Tumacacori National Historical Park Satellite Administrative Office Building
  • Denver Zoo Sea Lions Exhibit
  • DPS Fallis Elementary School – READ MORE ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Lovers of Louvers: Mechanical Engineering Romance this Valentine’s Day!

It’s hard to imagine an inanimate object capable of being loved, but let me share my viewpoint.

They matter!  Louvers are used in both intake and exhaust applications for HVAC systems.  Without louvers, we would have large openings on the side of the building with screens, allowing all the snow and rain to enter.  So, how does a louver keep all the driving rain and snow out of the building?  Louvers have varying blade shapes that provide different performances.  All louvers are tested via a standard test to determine the point at which water will pass through.  The air velocity in which water passes through a louver varies anywhere from 300 feet per minute (fpm) to over 1,000 fpm.  When an engineer sizes a louver, they size one such that the velocity of airflow will remain below the tested penetration threshold.  The louver plays an important role in keeping water out of the building.

Louver sizing is also impacted by the amount of free area they provide.  Louvers are rated with pressure drops, which need to be calculated in the sizing of fans within the mechanical system.  A louver that has a high-pressure drop increases the need for a larger fan and more energy usage.  A louver with a low-pressure drop allows for less fan energy.  Who doesn’t love something that takes less energy?

Louvers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  They want to be sized to reduce the water penetration and pressure drop, but you can integrate them into the context of the building.  There are rectangular ones, square ones, round ones, triangular ones, and, in the spirit of love, diamond-shaped ones.

When I was a young engineer, spell check was a new tool.  And on one project, all of the keynotes referencing louvers were autocorrected to “lovers.”  The contractor had some fun with this, and I am now on the lookout for “lovers” on projects. 

Denise M. Dihle, PE, 360 Engineering Founder, President, Principal

Gunnison County Library – The Road to Net Zero

Gunnison County Libraries was looking to replace its existing library in Gunnison, Colorado, with a new sustainable building providing flexible and functional community space. The 15,000-square-foot public facility also needed to stand up to the harsh and variable weather conditions experienced in Gunnison. The high-elevation mountain sun is intense all year round, while winter ambient temperatures in the Gunnison Valley can drop below negative 30 degrees. In addition to cold temps, deep and heavy snow is common, so careful design of the roof systems by the Anderson Hallas Architects team was critical to handling snow and ice. 

Energy Modeling and Assistance in Achieving Sustainability Goals

360 Engineering provided mechanical and plumbing engineering services, including energy modeling and assistance in achieving sustainability goals for the project. The design team was tasked with providing a building with an EUI (Energy Use Intensity) under 30.  As a reference, the median EUI for a library in the US is 71.6 (Energy Star Benchmarking).  The energy-efficient mechanical system combined geothermal ground source heat pumps and a variable air volume dedicated outside air system (VAV DOAS) with new DDC controls. The energy model completed at the end of the design predicted an EUI of 27.

Building EUI (Energy Use Intensity) goals for Net Zero

What does a low EUI have to do with Net Zero?  A chart was developed by Building Green ( to provide EUI goals for buildings that, combined with a solar PV array, provide a pathway to a Net Zero building.  The Gunnison Library, a single-story, 15,000-square-foot building, has a targeted EUI of over 50.  However, the chart developed by Building Green is based on a building using 70% electric and 30% natural gas.  Having a goal of reducing fossil fuels and a fully electrified building shifts this chart, and the design goal of under 30 EUI puts us on the right track to achieve Net Zero.

Utilizing Solar

The Gunnison Library utilizes an 18kW solar array with the intent that solar PV could be expanded as the allowable kW per array increases.  The 18kW array provides 1.2 watts per square foot and is a minimal array, considering the average size of residential arrays are 7.1 kW (NREL).  

So, how is the building doing?  Over the last five months, the building has been operating with an EUI of 15.5! As mechanical engineers, this isn’t just a triumph; it’s a testament to our role in shaping a future where Net Zero isn’t a lofty ideal but a measurable reality. It’s a call to action for mechanical engineers everywhere—to engineer not just systems but sustainable solutions that propel us toward a future where our buildings don’t just weather the storm but become beacons of environmental responsibility.

Exploring Complete Electrification in Denver

At 360, we are constantly looking for ways to comply with the ever-changing permitting requirements and climate change mitigation efforts that the city of Denver implements. Our world is constantly evolving, and we need to find solutions to new climate challenges each day. In this blog post, we will discuss the opportunities for Complete Electrification in Denver

Our team is critically looking at options to ensure each project we work on not only meets the required regulations but is cost-effective too. Read along to see the importance of electrification and its impact.

What We Look At

In 2019, buildings and homes accounted for 64% of all community-generated greenhouse gas emissions in the city of Denver1. In 2020 Denver had the worst air pollution in 10 years2. Natural ventilation isn’t as effective when the air quality continues to decline, and moving to an all-electric system could mitigate safety issues associated with poor air quality while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What is the Road Map to Electrification?

  • Effective Now
    • Obtaining “Quick Permits” is no longer allowed for replacing air handling units or water heaters utilizing natural gas in commercial buildings. The permitting process for these projects will be the same as applying for a new heat pump.  There are a few exceptions.
  • Starting January 1st, 2025
    • Replacement of outdoor gas-fired equipment used primarily for heating needs to be electric, and secondary gas-fired heating equipment can be installed for supplemental heat only.
    • Replacement of outdoor cooling air conditioning or condensing unit equipment needs to be electric and provide space heating (like a heat pump), and a secondary piece of equipment can be installed for supplemental heat only. 
    • Replacement of a storage water heater or instantaneous water heater needs to be an electric water heater.
  • Starting January 1st, 2027
    • Replacement of gas-fired boilers must utilize electric heating for 50% of space heating needs/water heating needs; the remaining 50% can be met with a replacement of the gas-fired boiler.
    • Replacement of an air conditioner that serves spaces that are also being heated needs to be replaced with electric equipment that does both heating and cooling.

How does this affect the A&E Industry?

  • Denver will require reporting of estimated building Energy Use Intensity (EUIs) with targeted goals in 2024, 2027, and 2030.
  • There will be fines associated with incorrect modeling/inability to meet target EUIs (as established by Denver).
  • High-Efficiency Mechanical equipment will be the standard.
  • Increased coordination between disciplines will be even more important.
  • All disciplines (not just mechanical) have options to assist in Denver’s EUI requirements:
    • LED lighting
    • Green-sourced energy
    • High efficiency, tight envelope construction
    • Energy Star and low-water plumbing fixtures

Limitations of Electrification

  • Upfront costs for heat pumps are typically higher than standard Direct Expansion (DX) cooling and gas-fired air handling units.
  • Currently, gas rates in Denver are still lower per amount of heat energy than electricity.
  • Newer technology for building operators: lack of experience may result in lack of confidence in new heat pump technology.  Additional training may be needed for facility staff.
  • Most existing buildings were not provided with an electrical service intended for full building heating.  An Electrification Feasibility Report is one way to determine the impact of a fully electric mechanical system on the building infrastructure. 

Let’s Wrap it Up

With the new regulations coming, Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) will become even more important to show the offset of maintenance, utility, and upfront costs between mechanical systems. It is important to know the regulations to ensure the safety and longevity of your product. Energy modeling is already required in some cities like Boulder and will become required in Denver to demonstrate energy compliance.

For any questions or inquiries or to get started on your next project, Contact Us.





Direct Expansion (DX): the most common type of air conditioning in the US where the indoor air is cooled with a refrigerant liquid.

Electrification: the conversion of a machine or system to the use of electrical power.

Energy Use Intensity (EUI): refers to the amount of energy used per square foot annually.

Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA): it is an economic evaluation technique that determines the total cost of owning and operating a facility over a period of time.

Optimized Cooling Tower Design for Increased Performance and Efficiency

At 360 Engineering, we consistently optimize projects by creating custom designs and recommendations. This project we started in 2018 for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was no exception. Once COVID-19 hit, we learned how the economy could quickly derail a project, but we steered it on the right track by helping NREL find a viable path forward and breaking the project into two phases.

NREL realized one of its cooling towers at the Solar Energy Research Facility (SERF) was using a significant amount of water, and they brought our team in to find a solution. During a gas line replacement project, water was encountered immediately below the access road, and it was determined to be a leak of the condenser water lines from the cooling towers to the chilled water plant. 

“360 Engineering reconfigured the operation of the cooling tower condenser water plant to optimize both the performance of the plant as well as increase the system redundancy moving forward.”

The design phase of this project could be broken down into the following general steps:

  • Pre-Design – During this process, the design team determined the new cooling tower could be placed next to the others instead of in a separate location, eliminating extra landscaping work.
  • Design Solutions – The team decided to route the condenser water lines from the cooling towers to the chillers over the service road to keep the chillers operational while the underground lines were replaced. This solution also maintained the service road access for other vehicles.
  • Testing and Balancing – We worked closely with the contractor and NREL to diagnose some pump issues and provide additional designs to improve the water flow. 

Our early discussions and understanding of intent led to a better end solution for NREL with these positive outcomes:

  • Optimized the plant’s performance and increased system redundancy
  • Maximized the life of the new piping with a high-quality pre-insulated option, less subjectable to corrosive soils
  • Saved time and money by breaking the project into phases and using forward-thinking design solutions

This project included our long-time electrical engineering partner, AE Design, and structural and civil engineers from Martin/Martin. We have an amazing team of expert consultants who have worked with us on NREL projects since the beginning. 

For any questions, inquiries, or to get started on your next project, Contact Us.

2018 Saving Places Conference Presentation

The 2018 Saving Places Conference is taking place January 31st through February 3rd.  This four-day event offers educational sessions, workshops, and tours focused on historic preservation. 360 Engineering’s very own Denise Dihle, along with Jon Brooks from AE Design, will be presenting Thursday, February 1st at 1:45 PM.

How to Update Your Mechanical and Electrical System and Not Wreck Your Historical Building
The majority of existing historical buildings also have historical heating, cooling and lighting systems. Due to age and wear and tear, these systems do not provide the best environment for users, rarely meet current energy codes, nor are they optimized to reduce energy usage bills. Bringing these systems into the 21st century provides significant financial and environmental benefit to the facility. With proper planning these upgrades can reduce existing mechanical and electrical equipment eyesores, improve overall aesthetics, and preserve the historical integrity of the structure with the implementation of creative solutions before an issue becomes an emergency, diminishing available design options. Using the information found in this course, participants will be able to understand the common concerns of upgrading MEP systems within a historical building, evaluate potential options, and understand how codes uniquely affect historical projects.

Many Glacier Hotel

Participants can receive AIA Continuing Education Credit for attending this presentation.


To learn more about the conference, click here.



Announcement: Congratulations to Travis Menard, Our Newest Professional Engineer

As a mechanical engineer at 360 Engineering since 2012, Travis shares his passion and well-rounded knowledge of mechanical system design, building energy, and controls. His skills range from energy analysis, cooling and heating load calculations, development of energy conserving measures, mechanical system design, and equipment selection for industrial facilities, commercial buildings, and laboratories.  To learn more about Travis, click here.

Celebrating EWeek – Why We Love Engineering

National Engineers Week is February 19-25, 2017. Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), the purpose of EWeek is to recognize engineers’ positive contributions to society, and communicate the importance of learning math, science, and technical skills. According to, “EWeek is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers.”

As a Marketing Coordinator for Three Sixty Engineering, and a newcomer to the AEC (Architecture/Engineer/Construction) Industry, it has been fascinating learning about the engineering field. While I’ve just begun to scratch the surface, I’ve been learning about mechanical systems, energy efficiency, and the consulting and design process. I’ve enjoyed listening to all the problem solving that happens around our office. It’s great how our engineers work together and support each other, all working towards the same end goal, providing top-notch service to our partners and clients.

To celebrate National Engineers Week, and raise awareness (about how awesome engineering is), I asked some of our mechanical engineers to share why they decided to go into the field and what they enjoy about being an engineer:


Craig Crow, Project Engineer:
I have always been intrigued by how things work, and I have always had strengths in math and science. As time passed and the moment came closer to choose a major; engineering seemed like the logical choice because it allowed me to continue to explore how things work. I chose mechanical specifically because it seems to offer the largest variety of industries/knowledge.

Spencer Rioux, Project Engineer:
I enjoy being an engineer for several reasons, a few of which are my love of learning, the satisfaction associated with solving puzzles, and the real-life impact of my work. The construction engineering field is constantly evolving with new technologies and codes, so there is always more to learn and skills to develop. It’s also very gratifying to recognize the ways in which our designs make everyday life possible in an office, or a school, or any number of facilities we work on by creating comfortable spaces with practical mechanical and plumbing systems in operation.

Joe Wittenberg, Project Engineer:
I entered engineering for two reasons. First, I was good at math, but being a math teacher didn’t appeal to me. Second, I enjoy problem solving and I like the idea of there being a correct answer or solution to a given problem. This drove me to study engineering in school, the problem-solving aspect still keeps me interested in my day to day work as an engineer.

Taylor Reese LEED AP BD+C, CxA, Project Manager:
Throughout human history, individuals have faced challenges everyday of their lives. In our modern society, these struggles may be as inconsequential as being a little chilly at our desk at work or wanting to safely send emails as we drive. Many years ago, the tribulations were much more dire, such as avoiding hypothermia during an intense blizzard or crossing wide rivers or high mountain passes during a long journey. Over the years, engineering has provided solutions to these in the form of buildings that can keep us warm and safe during extreme weather and bridges and tunnels that allow us to cross all sorts of perilous terrain with ease; and it will only be a matter of time until the challenges of today are solved.

I became an engineer because I recognized these deficiencies in my life and wanted to be able to do something about them. Engineering is a state of mind, a different way of looking at the world. It’s a toolkit of skills rooted in math and science that can be applied to the world around us. It’s a technique of not just seeing a problem, but understanding, characterizing, and simplifying it on the way to a solution. Engineers are indispensable contributors to the advancement of society, and I am proud to be one.


Wow, it really gives me goosebumps to read these testimonials, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I have. I’m thrilled to be a part of this team of passionate engineers!

-Stacey Richardson, Marketing Coordinator

2017 AHR Expo – Post Conference Follow-Up

The 2017 AHR Expo (International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition) set several records this year, including attendance of more than 68,000 registered attendees and exhibitor personnel, as well as 500,159 square feet sold. Three Sixty Engineering sent two of our mechanical engineers, Project Manager Taylor Reese LEED AP BD+C, CxA and Project Engineer Joe Wittenberg, to learn about the latest technologies and products in Mechanical Engineering and HVAC.

With over 2,000 exhibitors, our engineers had a large amount of ground to cover, it was hard to fit it into just three days! Upon their return, Taylor and Joe were excited to share what they had learned with our team. There were so many new systems and products to talk about, we asked Joe to pick a few of his favorite:

1. Trane® – CoolSense System – Intelligent Variable Air Systems. An HVAC using chilled water to provide sensible cooling and cooling for the DOAS (Dedicated Outside Air System) system. It also uses small terminal units in the space to pick up the sensible load, using chilled water coils.
2. Metraflex – Flexible Hoses. Manufacturer of NSF (International public health standards and certifications) and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) rated flexible water hoses.
3. Fulton – Boiler. A new boiler technology that allows the heat exchanger to float which eliminates stress due to thermal expansion.
4. Stamped Fittings, Inc. – Gasketed Spiral Duct. Spiral duct fittings with gaskets that eliminate the need for duct seal.
5. Trane® – Humidity Sensor. New sensor that collects temperature and relative humidity readings.

In addition to providing access to the latest products, the conference offers educational seminars. This year, Joe attended a class on DOAS (Dedicated Outside Air System) and a one on Commissioning.

Click here to read our first AHR Expo blog: 3 Benefits of Attending or to learn more about the AHR Expo, visit