Simulating HVAC Defense against COVID-19 Infection

by Craig Phillips, Commissioning Director at Bernhard


In fall of 2020, The University of Alabama at Birmingham Healthcare (UAB) was faced with an increasing influx of COVID-19 patients and the question of how to best maintain medical staff safety as a top priority was at the forefront of UAB’s concerns. Changes in operation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems’ configuration to increase the systems effectiveness against the spread of COVID-19 was given careful consideration. Specifically, three questions were asked of the team.  Does an air change rate of six provide the quickest and most orderly removal of particles from the patient room?  Does maintaining a room differential pressure relationship of -0.01 inches water column relative to the adjacent corridor achieve near 100% particle containment?  Does the addition of a HEPA air scrubber have a positive effect on the time to remove particles from the room and does the location of the HEPA air scrubber play a vital role in containment of the particles? In order to better answer these questions, UAB organized a small team of healthcare engineers, an environmental health and safety manager, and the support of the hospitals C-Level stakeholders. At the inception of the efforts, UAB had just opened a new bone marrow transplant unit which provided the team with the unique opportunity of having an empty bone marrow transplant unit to utilize as a test site before the unit was to be transformed into a dedicated COVID unit.  And so began the task of creating the framework for a field testing lab to serve as the epicenter of the experiments.

The approach to achieving valid answers was to utilize one of the bone marrow transplant patient rooms with a high-supply, low-return diffuser configuration (referred to as patient room “A”) as one of the two test sites. Specifically, the configuration consisted of two perforated supply diffusers with an integrated HEPA filter, one floor-mounted return grille, and a typical ceiling exhaust in the adjacent dedicated restroom. The second test configuration (referred to as patient room “B”) consisted of a modified diffuser layout with high-supply high-return layout. Specifically, the configuration consisted of two smaller perforated supply diffusers without an integrated HEPA filter, one ceiling mounted return grille, and a typical ceiling exhaust in the adjacent dedicated restroom. The furniture layout was kept consistent and simple with a patient bed, an adjustable over-the-bed table and a chair in the corner of the room.

The method used to create measurable results started with procuring two BS 5295 rated fog generating machines that utilize pharmaceutical grade fog fluid producing the same Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) certified 0.2-micron particle sized fog. The size of the particles being generated was important because the particles should be in the same range of typical aerosolized COVID-19 particles (0.06-1.4 micron).  A high output machine, capable of 6,356 CFM, was chosen to be used in a “saturated” room test where the amount of time to completely fill the room with fog was precisely calculated. The smaller machine, capable of 100 CFM, was chose to be used in testing meant to simulate the amount of aerosolized COVID-19 particles generated from a typical infected adult male patient. To measure the effectiveness of the HVAC system to remove the fog from the room, a light intensity meter and ionization smoke detector were utilized.  The time was recorded for the smoke to visually clear, for the smoke detector to clear and for the light level to return to the same level as measured at the start of each test. In addition, other important parameters were monitored and recorded for each test such as the room pressure, the use or lack of an air scrubber, the air scrubber CFM and equivalent air change rate (fixed at 6 ACH) and the supply and return airflow (measured by the Building Automation System).

The team faced many challenges and barriers from the onset to the end of the endeavor. The first obstacle was developing a means to measure the effectiveness of the tests. The team reviewed plausible methods and ultimately settled on utilizing the ionization smoke detector and light meter combo to gauge the effectiveness of the HVAC system. The second major obstacle was selecting a fog machine(s) suitable for the testing. The team identified the machines must be pharmaceutical grade and generate particles between 0.06- and 1.4 micron.  After much research and debate, the team decided on two machines, one which had to be shipped from the United Kingdom, which presented the looming concerns of international shipping delays, which were rampant at the time and still linger today. Another obstacle was the testing site had a non-typical HVAC distribution layout with HEPA filters in the supply diffusers and a low return grille. The team decided to modify the HVAC distribution layout to better match the typical patient room with two supply diffusers and one high return grille. Furthermore, the inlet conditions to one of the terminal units was modified to obtain accurate airflow control. Perhaps the biggest obstacle was time itself. The same team that was dedicated to the experimentation was also being tasked with converting numerous patient floors into “COVID wings” and the location of the testing site was a prime location to convert into a COVID wing. As soon as the testing was completed, the HVAC system was slated to be retro-commissioned and turned over for immediate use.

The results of the study showed that six air changes provided subjectively better results (27.5 Minutes) when compared to CDC Guidelines (46 minutes at 99% efficiency) for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities (2003). Typical COVID patient particle generation testing shows that the infectious risk posed by a patient infected with COVID-19 is relatively low because of the low viral load typical in infected patients unless that viral load is increased by severe acute coughing. For this scenario, with a neutral room pressure, a patient who is infected and is coughing 10 times per minute poses the least risk to medical staff with an air change rate of 6 air changes per hour with a HEPA scrubber in the room close to the patient bed between the supply and return grilles in the room. The chance of medical staff inhaling the viral particles is decreased the further the distance from the patient. Increasing the air change rate decreases the time to remove the virus particles from the room, but with increased air-change rate turbulence is created which causes the airborne particles to be distributed around the room. This phenomenon at eight and ten air changes increases the probability of the virus infecting medical staff compared to the tests conducted at air change rates of six. No visual difference was witnessed, related to undesired spread of aerosolized smoke, between four and six air changes per hour. However, at four air changes per hour, the time it took for the aerosolized smoke to clear was much greater than at six air changes per hour.

The smoke saturation room testing answered three important questions:

  • The testing showed six air changes per hour provided comparable particle removal times compared to higher air changes rates of eight and ten air changes which are not feasible in most patient rooms due to existing HVAC infrastructure limitations.
  • Scrubbing the air in the room with a HEPA scrubber significantly improves the particulate removal times.
  • Orienting the scrubber so that the intake is at the door can better protect staff in the corridor areas by capturing the particles before they can exfiltrate the room.

Ideally, the scrubber would be pointed at a low return so the majority of particles are quickly removed from the room.  In addition, the testing proved that operating a room at negative 0.01 inches protects the staff in the corridor by not allowing the particles to escape the room. However, it is impractical to configure the majority of patient care spaces in such a manner due to the limitations of the existing HVAC infrastructure.  In such cases, where a patient exhibits severe coughing, it is advisable to configure a room to be at six supply air changes, ten return air changes and to install a HEPA scrubber at the door with the discharge directed at a return grille or restroom door with exhaust of ten air changes per hour.

Based on the data collected from the testing, UAB made strategic decisions to set all patient room air changes to six air changes and to include HEPA scrubbers in each COVID-19 patient room. At the height of the COVID pandemic, UAB Healthcare had 300 COVID patients admitted to the hospital. Despite the high COVID-19 patient census rates, UAB medical staff contraction rates were relatively low. Based on these promising results it is recommended healthcare institutions implement self-deployed air change compliancy verifications and when pandemic risks are great, implement additional filtration and air changes in the form of HEPA air scrubbers. If feasible, operate the patient room at a negative pressure equal to negative 0.01 in. w.c.

Craig Phillips has 16 years of industry experience and is the Director of Commissioning at Bernhard. He has extensive experience commissioning healthcare facilities and campus expansions around the country. He helped to build Bernhard’s commissioning services group, providing project management and commissioning services for projects including a 1-million-square-foot healthcare campus expansion, new data centers, commercial facility renovations, and more. Craig is a registered Professional Engineer, Certified Commissioning Authority, Certified Energy Manager, Healthcare Facility Design Professional, a NEBB Building Systems Commissioning Certified Professional, and LEED AP BD+C. Craig was the co-author of the US Military Health Care Commissioning Guidelines and co-author of Ascension Health’s Commissioning Guidelines. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Arkansas Tech University.

5 R’s of Zero Waste Living: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot

By: Alyssa Jaksich, Vice President of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)


In celebration of Earth Day, we have created an easy to follow guideline on the 5 R’s of Zero Waste Living: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. Using this educational information can help make a difference by incorporating small changes into your daily lives in the office and at home. Together we can promote a more sustainable future!

Refusing is the first principle of Zero Waste living. The first step to minimizing one’s waste output is to prevent the waste from entering your hands in the first place.

Try to refuse items such as: single-use disposables (plastic bags, straws, cups, and utensils), conference freebies, junk mail, and other short-lived items with a one-way ticket to the garbage can.

Saying “no” to waste can be just as challenging as saying “no” to people, or to situations that do not serve us. However, by taking action or explaining why you’re refusing could be a catalyst for motivating behavioral changes in the people with whom you interact.


The second principle of Zero Waste living is to reduce. Reducing gives us an opportunity to explore our consumer habits and assess whether or not these are serving our best interests, or those of the Earth – and changing these habits if we choose.​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​A great example of reducing is looking through your belongings and donating or selling items that are no longer of use, thereby alleviating clutter and creating space. Rather than holding on to unused or redundant items, redistribute them and help save our scarce resources!

The concept of reducing also applies to your purchasing habits.  ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Reducing means shopping with a purpose and focusing on necessary purchases as opposed to random splurges on things you don’t really need. Too often these items quickly make their way into the dumpster, the back of the closet, or come wrapped in tons of unsustainable packaging. Fast fashion, cheap electronic gadgets, and processed foods are good examples.

Let’s not forget our favorite type of reduction – utility savings!

At Bernhard we’re no strangers to reducing utility consumption for our customers, but are we applying best practices into our day-to-day habits to ensure we’re minimizing our own consumption? While we might be limited in types of energy efficiency projects we can implement in our leased office spaces, we can still make an impact by making slight changes in our daily behaviors. Here are a few simple actions to consider:

  • Turning off and unplugging electronics when not in use
  • Does your office printer have a power saver mode?
  • Are TV monitors powered off at the end of each day and over the weekend?
  • Using LED light bulbs wherever possible
  • Turning off lights when not in use
  • Avoiding simultaneous heating and cooling with personal space heaters
  • Ensuring air vents aren’t blocked – according to ENERGY STAR, it can take as much as 25% more energy to cool a space when air vents are obstructed!

Reusing is central to Zero Waste living. Instead of buying items new, look for secondhand options first. This principle inspires use to repurpose and repair our belongings.​​​​​​​

Many things are now designed to be short-lived, and we’re forced to replace them faster. It doesn’t have to be that way. Items can be repaired, mended, or patched up and a little more life squeezed out of them. We can also reduce the chances of it breaking in the first place by doing your homework and opting for quality and repairability.

Reusing also refers to using reusable items rather than disposables. Consumables such as paper towels, ziplock bags, and cotton balls are very convenient, but you use them once and then throw them away. You’re forced to replace them time and time again, spending money you could use for other things while also wasting valuable resources.​​​​​​​ For almost every single-use item there is a reusable alternative.

Recycling is GREAT…but it shouldn’t be our first line of defense. Many of us have been programmed to believe that recycling is the go-to solution for waste reduction. This is a misconception. It requires energy and water and can pollute waterways and the air. Recycling infrastructure cannot keep pace with the huge quantities of single-use disposables consumed and disposed of by humans at record speed. It is also important to consider that the recycling process itself is highly energy intensive. However, recycling is still a major component of creating a more sustainable planet.

What seems like a simple and straightforward effort can actually be a little tricky. While recycling is incredibly widespread, every city has its own rules surrounding its recycling protocol. You can check with your local recycling office or provider to see what is accepted in your area. Regardless of the answer, Best Practices from can help ensure your efforts aren’t going to waste! Do your best to find options for recycling in your local area and learn what types of materials are accepted.

The final principle in the 5 R’s of Zero Waste living is to rot, or in other words, compost. Scientifically speaking, composting biodegradable items in your backyard releases fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than sending them to a landfill. Composting also significantly cuts back on your waste production and, if you’re a gardener, is the best way to make homegrown fertilizer for your gardens.

You can choose from many different compost systems based on your needs, space requirements, or anything else. From the simple pile in the backyard to the high-tech tumbler, there’s definitely a compost system that is going to work for you. Some people are lucky enough to live in an area where the municipality collects compost or where farmers will collect your compost. For your own household compost pile, tumblers and bins are available to purchase to create the ideal environment for organic matter to decompose.

After collecting all that rotting organic matter, the fun part is using your freshly decomposed compost. If you have a garden or even potted plants, you can begin to use your compost to feed the garden and enhance your soil quality. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can still use the compost. Spread it over your lawn or grassy areas to enhance grass growth and lushness.

Now you know the 5 R’s, you can make better choices this Earth Day and every day. Remember that they go in order. Refusing and reducing means you’re bringing less into your daily life. Reusing means you’re keeping new things from being made and old things from being wasted. Practice the first three R’s and you’ll automatically have less to recycle and rot.


Alyssa Jaksich is currently the Vice President of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) at Bernhard where she develops, consolidates, operationalizes, and publicizes Bernhard’s ESG strategies and initiatives through coordination with multiple internal teams and business stakeholders, furthering Bernhard’s ongoing mission of promoting sustainability. She previously served as Bernhard’s Vice President of EaaS implementation where she led a team focused on increasing efficiencies within the solutions division at Bernhard, particularly related to Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS) projects. She was a key driver in the development of Bernhard’s industry leading measurement and verification services, and was heavily involved in the development of numerous EaaS projects. Jaksich earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., double majoring in chemical physics and economics.

Retro-commissioning Taboo: The Ugly Truth of Savings Degradation and What to Do About it

By: Ashley Downes, vice president


Industry Snapshot

Rising energy costs often become an issue for hospitals as their facilities and equipment age. In such cases, retro-commissioning is a valuable solution. Retro-commissioning a building’s existing energy infrastructure can improve occupant comfort and environmental quality while also optimizing energy conservation and saving money. Whether the goal is to reduce energy costs or to allocate resources for staffing and facility improvements, evaluating and adjusting energy systems can enable a healthcare facility to focus on its mission: patient care.

As buildings and equipment age over time, a facility’s energy use may change as well. Without efficient operations and maintenance, these factors can cause the savings from a retro-commissioning project to dwindle. This is when facilities encounter degradation, and previous savings can fall by up to 10 percent after the first year. After five years, the savings found through retro-commissioning can vanish completely. So how do we make sure facilities continue to save on energy costs in the long term?

Long-Term Solutions

One option is to pay for a whole new retro-commissioning every few years, so that after the savings are lost, a new revamp takes place. However, I recommend facilities participate in constant commissioning, which costs less over the long-term than repeated full retro-commissionings and fights savings degradation. This process uses remote monitoring to help facility managers actively understand how their systems are changing daily, for better or worse, to prevent the loss of energy savings.

Remote monitoring helps operators verify sustained savings for the facility through the use of measurement and verification, automated fault detection, and continuous data collection and archival. The advanced measurement and verification system I utilize produces a scorecard on the facility’s performance that illustrates its current energy usage versus the usage before retro-commissioning to give a better understanding of the changes and their effects. Automated fault detection sends a real-time notification when a problem is identified in the energy system, allowing facility managers to immediately address it. Additionally, I would recommend the use of continuous data collection and archiving. This will give you the ability to track a facility’s energy trends over long periods of time, revealing insights that might not otherwise be obvious. All of these tools allow facility managers to make data-driven decisions to keep their energy systems optimized.

The Secret Sauce

In addition to these tools, there’s one other thing that’s equally as important in the fight against savings degradation: buy-in from the facility’s staff. In short, to maintain the savings, the staff has to understand how the new infrastructure works and why it matters.

During a retro-commissioning project, it’s important to comb through the building’s automation system to understand how things are operating in terms of air flow, outside air, and pressurization. With this baseline, it’s time to reprogram the system to create and maintain optimal levels, taking into account building codes, pressurization requirements, etc. This is where organizations find savings– by reducing factors like fan speeds and simultaneous heating and cooling, one of the biggest drivers of energy costs in a hospital. The end goal is to reach a point where everyone at the facility is comfortable and the energy use is at a minimum.

This is only the beginning. If the actual operations and maintenance staff at the hospital begin to operate this new system but don’t understand how the specific changes made in the retro-commissioning process work, they may be tempted to be reactionary in the day-to-day. Oftentimes, staff members override the changes in order to facilitate a specific request, rather than simply allowing the system to do its job. In some cases, we’ve even seen staff members remove or delete programming altogether. If these things happen, savings the hospital would have seen from retro-commissioning can go out the window.

For this reason, it’s very important to have staff members trained in not only how to utilize the new system but also why it matters. These trainings should be given by those who performed the retro-commissioning in order to maintain maximum savings. A general knowledge of how the facility’s energy systems work is not enough to ensure staff members understand why the system is operating the way it is after a retro-commissioning. Again, if they don’t understand why, they’ll often go right back to what they’re used to, and facility energy costs will go back to what they were as well.


To get staff members on board, there needs to be a top-down culture change. Upper management has to be on board with the retro-commissioning changes and be willing to challenge staff members who want to make overrides. This is not to say that overrides can never happen. Changes may be necessary at times to deal with hot or cold calls or other pressing issues. However, any overrides should be targeted and temporary, and it’s vital that staff members recognize this.

Meanwhile, feedback from those staff members, patients, and physicians, is also important. While outside retro-commissioning teams generally understand how hospitals operate, they also recognize each facility is different and some adjustments may be needed. That’s why constant commissioning works best. When there is a strong relationship between the facility and the people monitoring its systems, long-term success is attainable. Together, partners can ensure the hospital is operating efficiently (with its energy and its monetary resources) in a way that is truly optimized for its core mission: helping the community.


For the last decade, Ashley Downes has spent her career helping establish Bernhard’s retro-commissioning service line and now spends countless hours traveling across the United States as a steward for healthcare facilities working to save them energy costs. She is currently a director in Bernhard’s engineering division. Her team focuses on hospitals and medical centers, which during the COVID-19 pandemic have been asked to do more and stretch their facility capabilities further. With Ashley’s guidance, they can make strategic systems improvements, shift use and utility, reconsider scheduled maintenance and see savings in utility spend.

Decades of Commitment Create Thriving Schools in Lafayette Parish

Building a legacy of community excellence


A Firm Foundation

The blueprints of every education facility are crafted with the same vision – a chance to dream big and imagine the wealth of opportunity a space could offer those who walk its halls. In our 100-year history, there have been times when a project exceeds anything we could have dreamed. These special moments set the foundation for an entire community and create a new standard of life and learning.

Lafayette Parish has become a hub of innovation and imagination for education, born from special moments where a space takes on an entirely new meaning and creates something unique to spark further change and evolution.

Bernhard Involvement

For more than 50 years, Bernhard has been entrusted with mechanical and electrical construction for schools across Lafayette Parish, most recently including the Woodvale Elementary School addition, the LJ Alleman Elementary School addition, and HVAC upgrades for multiple high school gymnasiums.

In 2017, Lafayette Parish School System was experiencing rapid growth and needed a new high school to better serve the community. The new facility, Southside High School, was the first to be constructed in Lafayette Parish in nearly 50 years. Bernhard provided mechanical and electrical construction for the new high school in Youngsville, La.

“What was unique about Southside High School was how quickly it needed to be constructed,” said Doug Dorsey, Bernhard vice president. “We had to get creative since 18 months is not long to build a brand-new campus.”

To deliver the project on this aggressive schedule, Bernhard worked as a design-assist partner to construction manager Lemoine.  Design-assist is an alternative construction method that embeds contracting expertise into the design process.  This allowed construction to start as the design was being finalized.

“Our team was brought on board early in the process,” said Dorsey, “When we broke ground on the project, construction documents were only 30% complete. We developed close working relationships with the design team and were able to coordinate with them as we built the project in the field.”

Construction of Southside High School was completed on time, opening for its first class of students in August 2017. The 256,000-square-foot school contains classrooms, administrative offices, a library, laboratories, dining facility, collaboration spaces, and two gymnasiums. Southside High School serves more than 1,200 students in the parish.

The addition of HVAC service and maintenance offerings has enabled Bernhard to support Lafayette Parish School System and other clients in the Lafayette area in a new way.  “We’ve had a full coverage maintenance contract with Lafayette Parish School System for the past nine years,” said Kevin Miller, business unit manager at Bernhard. “That means we continue to maintain and repair the equipment and HVAC systems at many facilities in the district, including Southside High School.” Miller and his team service more than 3.7 million square feet for the school district.

Our Commitment

“It’s something special to be a part of,” said Dorsey. “Many of our employees have children who have grown up attending Lafayette Parish schools. To be able to say we played a part in building those facilities and keeping them operating efficiently, means a lot to all of us.”

Bernhard ultimately strives to be a trusted partner for our customers. We have been trusted with expanding and maintaining the Lafayette Parish legacy over the past five decades with innovative spaces and practices that enable the parish to promote the education and growth of our communities. We are committed not only to building these facilities of learning, but to building the future of our communities.


Bernhard Celebrates Lafayette Regional Airport’s Grand Opening of New Terminal


Nearly 27 years ago, one of Bernhard’s first HVAC service customers in Lafayette was the Lafayette Regional Airport. This week, they are both celebrating the grand opening of the facility’s new terminal.

“Lafayette and Bernhard have a long and storied relationship,” said Doug Dorsey, Vice President at Bernhard. “As the city grew, we grew, and that’s represented with this new terminal.”

After months of construction on the terminal and vital airport infrastructure components, Lafayette Regional Airport opened its new terminal Jan. 20th.

Bernhard’s role in the project saw their team tasked with performing all HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems installation while transitioning the old terminal to the new structure with month-to-month HVAC services.

The new state-of-the-art LFT Terminal spans 120,000 square feet, which is double the size of the original where Bernhard has performed HVAC maintenance for almost three decades. Included in the expansion project is 966 parking spots, five departure and arrival gates with new jet bridges, a rotunda area with restaurant and bar, and two TSA security screening lines with the ability to add a third line if needed.

The previous terminal and all airport services remained open and in place while the new terminal was built adjacent.

“There were unique challenges with crews and utilizing equipment while staying out of the way of ongoing operations,” said Dorsey. “Our team takes a lot of pride in being able to solve those puzzles and deliver the best result for our customers.”

Louisiana’s history can be seen throughout the terminal design in subtle nuances. As visitors look up on arrival, they will notice panels of stained glass etched in the vibrant colors of the Acadian flag.

The New LFT Terminal project cost approximately $150 million and is 100% funded. The project was funded in part by $34 million in sales tax money approved in 2014 by Lafayette Parish voters.

“Seeing the ribbon cut on this project is a proud day for our team,” said Blake Greer, Lafayette Business Unit Manager at Bernhard. “Most of our crew members were born in Louisiana and still call this state home. Seeing an impact on our own local communities makes projects like this one special.”



Discover the Benefits Prefabrication and Manufacturing Can Have on Your Project

By: Charles A. Visser, PE at Bernhard


It’s no secret that over the last 20 years we have seen a significant increase in the usage and dependency on technology. The access to information and ease in which we can communicate has revolutionized most businesses. It has also created an environment where people expect immediate results. The construction industry is no different, we see an increasing demand for projects to be delivered quicker and with less risk.

One solution: build a better product out of sequence and away from the constraints of the project site. It sounds too easy, right? Fortunately, the same technological advances that created the new expectations has provided us a path to a solution. Through extensive collaboration, information sharing, and willingness to make timely decisions, prefabrication and modular construction strategies become viable solutions to the common drivers of safety, quality, speed, and risk.

It is important to note that we define prefabrication as the off-site construction of building system components in a manufacturing environment.  Prefabricated building system components can be combined to create larger modular building assemblies.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin

A successful off-site construction plan needs a vision. Work with project stakeholders and answer a few basic questions.

  • What safety aspects of the project can be improved by off-site construction?
  • How can building systems be routed to optimize long term maintenance?
  • Are there any trades that will have a difficult time getting quality field labor?
  • What repetitive activities can be completed away from the project site?

Opportunities for prefabrication can range from pre-assembling plumbing rough-in for bathroom groups, building pump and equipment skids, horizontal utility distribution, and complete central utility plants. Multi-trade assemblies can be manufactured by grouping multiple building sub-system components together into a single “module”.

The fabrication vision and list of potential opportunities will assist in guiding the project’s key stakeholders, including the design team, in the process. This up-front effort of planning and coordination for off-site manufacturing means engineers and designers can more easily incorporate prefabricating concepts and components into the design.  Alternative project delivery methods, like design-assist and design-build, unite the design and construction team members earlier in the process and help achieve complete buy-in.

“In every situation, ideation is necessary, but decision is mandatory.” Chris Knutson

With limited availability of skilled labor, prefabrication allows construction teams to be more productive and deliver better results. Manufacturing multi-trade assemblies for use in a hospital corridor, for example, means a handful of on-site field staff can install thousands of feet of mechanical, plumbing and electrical distribution in a single work day.

The results can be extraordinary, however, no matter what your prefabrication vision is, and how much planning you do, it will be difficult to be successful without timely decision making. The timeliness of making a decision can easily outweigh the importance of how good the decision is for the project. Understand all of the activities that need to take place in order to deliver the manufactured product to the project site in time for installation. Instead of creating a schedule with only activities shown, try creating a milestone schedule that lists all of the key decisions and dates they need to be made by.  It is a simple solution but can help keep the team on track and realize success.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

Executing a successful off-site construction plan needs a strong team. Partners who have the soft skills to effectively share the vision, work collaboratively and plan extensively will play a vital role. Another important attribute, that isn’t obvious and can be difficult to measure, is a trade partner’s ability to problem solve.  Diverse experience and perspective naturally challenges conventional practices to produce innovation. The versatility and strength of the project team is crucial to executing a successful off-site construction plan.

The most important hard skills include fabrication experience, building information modeling (BIM) and overall construction intelligence. BIM software has become a common platform that teams leverage to communicate and document prefabrication concepts.  A diverse team that possesses these skills along with the soft skills mentioned have the tools to be successful.

“Before the reward there must be labor. You plant before you harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.” Ralph Ransom

Prefabrication and manufacturing have the ability to move a significant percentage of the labor activities off-site. Fabricating components off-site reduces the number of tasks that must be completed on the construction site. This reduces the pressure on finding skilled workers in an ever-changing economy.

Additionally, prefabrication enhances job-site safety and quality control for crew members. The modules are designed to be more compact and delivered to the job site with everything needed for installation. This significantly reduces overhead tasks, eliminates daily mobilization and de-mobilization activities, and reduces the number of on-site materials and equipment needed for installation. Less work completed in the field means lower risk of injury and a safer job site overall.

For mechanical construction, starting the scope of work earlier in the project means it can be completed out of sequence compared to traditional, linear project delivery. This results in earlier completion dates and increased flexibility in the project schedule.

Prefabrication and modular construction strategies are becoming more popular and can significantly improve a project’s outcome. Establishing a clear vision, leveraging timely decision making, and building partnerships will help ensure success. How much of your next project will consist of prefabricated components?


Charles (Chuck) Visser has more than 20 years of experience in engineering design, pre-construction, and construction. Currently an Executive Vice President at Bernhard, Chuck has managed pre-construction and engineering for several large-scale projects in hospitality, healthcare, higher education, and commercial sectors. He specializes in design-assist and design-build delivery, working collaboratively across project stakeholders to deliver the best possible solution for the customer. Chuck is a registered Professional Engineer and brings exemplary leadership and technical expertise to his role at Bernhard.

Building Resilience to Weather the Storm – Literally

By: Jessi Bienert, Bernhard’s VP of Sustainable Solutions


A 500-Year Storm

The North American winter storm (unofficially referred to as Winter Storm Uri) was a major winter and ice storm that had widespread impacts across the United States, Northern Mexico and parts of Canada from February 13 to 17, 2021. This once-in-500-years storm left 10 million people without power and Middle America was hit hard. Hospitals were among the most critical institutions impacted.

Hospitals in particular have unique interdependencies in their utility types. Power, water, heating, and more are intricately connected in healthcare facilities and any impact to one type of utility could mean disaster. Winter Storm Uri uncovered multiple vulnerabilities in the infrastructure serving hospitals and caused cascading effects. However, many of these issues can be mitigated by effective and efficient energy measures paired with good operations and maintenance practices.

The extreme cold affected gas markets from Texas to Minnesota leading to once-in-a-lifetime gas prices at extreme highs. Multiple electricity wholesale markets also spiked while its infrastructure reached emergency operating levels. In fact, wholesale electricity markets rose anywhere from 100x to 360x normal market prices.

The Brink

In this condition, both electricity and gas distributions were on the brink of shutting down. Hospitals, particularly in the southern states of North America, battled extreme market prices, the inability to receive additional diesel fuel for backup systems and frozen water infrastructure causing loss of water.

This storm affected all utilities because of the interconnection between natural gas, electricity and water. While some hospitals lost utilities for short periods of time, many experienced catastrophic impacts to utility budgets, which have only begun to be realized. In February alone, hospitals saw anywhere from a 65% to 5,000% increase in gas costs. Their inability to mitigate this price shock stemmed from a few key factors:

  • Extreme cold weather forced peak natural gas consumption at peak prices.
  • There was a lack of price signals from utilities.
  • Freeze protection measures and pandemic operations increased peak energy consumption.

Short-Term Impacts

With these factors at play, the situation became dire. Short-term impacts were felt in extreme budget strains, water leaks, negative impacts from energy-saving measures and demand response obligations. One Bernhard client, the University of Arkansas of Medical Sciences (UAMS), purchases natural gas as part of a large pool in Arkansas. While we did explore opportunities to cut back on natural gas during the storm, this set-up enabled the hospital to stay out of the skyrocketing market. Unfortunately, our team at Bernhard saw other hospitals that were not in a pool arrangement incur costs that doubled their annual natural gas budget.

Pragmatically, many facilities in the southern United States were not created to survive such a freeze. That explains why leaks occurred and frozen pipes caused issues for facilities. Many were caught immediately, but underground pipes were not initially observed. Careful monitoring was necessary in the short-term, but is also a consideration for continued management.

During the storm, UAMS ran their facilities on diesel fuel on three occasions in order to reduce the peak load on the power grid serving central Arkansas. However, this actually increased natural gas usage in some ways. The facility’s two heat-pump chillers are unable to run while the facility was on generator power so the hospital still needed to run their natural gas boilers.

Since 2007, UAMS has implemented a strong energy conservation program, reducing its total utility cost by about 65% and cutting its carbon footprint by 30% with Bernhard’s help. But even the most prepared and energy-conscious organizations were greatly impacted by the weather crisis. Many of these occurred due to overcorrections that were never reverted post-crisis. With extensive, consistent monitoring using tools like automatic fault detection, facility operators can automatically identify energy concerns.

Long-Term Impacts

We are still discovering and experiencing the long-term impacts of Winter Storm Uri. Budget concerns will continue to impact future plans for many hospitals. From a legislative perspective (especially in Texas, but also in Oklahoma, Arkansas and other states), there are cascading impacts. Current legislation examines grid reliability and generation assessments, new weatherization requirements, changes to critical customer status, new bond programs and existing utility generation assessments.

On the electricity side, many hospitals take interruptible electricity. This gives them price breaks from their utilities, but means they can be required to cut back from or come off of the grid. On the gas side, most hospitals look for interruptible-type rates, but when that’s not possible, there are provisions and inclusions that actually make you curtailable. In this arrangement, it is imperative that you have a backup utility. All of these factors are important to pay attention to until we see how tariffs and utility rules are changed.

Increased utility rates are one of the many long-term concerns. During this storm, electricity saw high fuel costs as the market costs peaked. While the market stabilized in the short-term, fuel costs are rising again due to storage shortfalls brought about by Winter Storm Uri, those fuel costs will begin cascading down into your electricity costs as a fuel charge. Some states, like Oklahoma, approved new bond programs to allow utility companies to borrow money at a low interest rate so customers can pay over a longer period of time. As a result, the impact will be felt for 13-24 years with a 4-7% cost for electricity, just from those harrowing eleven days.

With so much storage withdrawn during the storm, commodity prices have not come back down to what we saw in 2020. We will continue to see sustained higher pricing in the long-term. Additionally, some utilities have filed to amend their integrative resource plan. This is a long-term plan for generation capacity and they want to amend it to move away from natural gas. This will impact how the cost gets passed down to customers as well and potentially reduce reliance on natural gas for electricity production.

Current Investigations

In the affected areas, most attorney general offices are investigating price gouging and general utility purchasing practices. In Arkansas, for example, the state commission has opened a docket examining how and if utilities are prepared to respond to a storm like this and how the fuel and purchase power is procured and allocated.

There are also federal investigations that look into wrongdoing in the natural gas market. It cost hospitals, customers and utilities billions of dollars, but there are people who made money. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which regulates the electric grid, is working alongside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to understand the rolling blackouts, both in Texas and two regional transmission markets (covering the entire central United States).

Mitigating Future Risk

For hospitals, patients always come first. There are ways to mitigate future risk and it starts with communication. It’s vital to create a line of communication between commodity suppliers and facility personnel. Your local provider may be focused on keeping you online, but not concerned with the costs. Some of our customers hedged up to 90% of their natural gas and were still heavily impacted by the storm. It’s important to understand how you are purchasing natural gas and understand its impact in a situation like this storm. Review your commodity price risk mitigation plans and make a plan for possible emergency flow orders by keeping your nominations up to date.

Be aware your supplier often takes your monthly nominations and spreads them evenly throughout the month. That’s why it’s important to reduce consumption in non-critical areas and talk to those commodity managers to be sure you’re monitoring closely together. Very practically, you should ensure unoccupied areas are scheduled to minimum heating for freeze protection. We recommend checking this and the maintenance of your steam distribution year-round. One failed steam trap can increase your natural gas consumption by 20%.

Dual-fuel operations are vital, but in order for this to work properly, operators must be comfortable swapping to either fuel. Run each type regularly and check your diesel storage tanks to make sure you have enough fuel for an extended period of time.

Waste heat recovery technology, such as heat-pump chillers, will reduce consumption. Bernhard has clients that realize natural gas savings of more than 50% thanks to this equipment. Plate and frame heat exchangers are excellent tools for efficiency and they are even more important on the heels of this storm. Some of these measures can be time-consuming if you don’t have good control systems, so controls upgrades are a vital part of creating efficiencies.

Other key mitigation measures include:

  • Maintaining override logs.
  • Managing peak energy consumption.
  • Investigating electricity programs that subsidize full back-up power during an NERC level 2 and 3 emergency
  • Creating a historical reference guide of utilities failures including cause and detailed procedures to restore.
  • Completing vulnerability and gap analysis for utility sources and distribution.

Lessons Learned

Interdependency between hospital utility types can have catastrophic effects on cost and availability during extreme weather. Now more than ever, we are aware that regulated utilities do not protect consumers from market price spikes; in fact, costs can simply be delayed. Most importantly, there are operational steps that can be taken to mitigate utility price impacts, such as energy efficiency measures. These measures can create resilient facilities against volatile commodity prices, especially when paired with good operations and maintenance practices.

About the Author:

Jessi Bienert has worked at Bernhard since 2009 and most recently served as a Director for the Logic group where she oversaw Bernhard’s measurement and verification, utility analysis, utility management, benchmarking, and O&M training service lines. She is an expert in utility management and specializes in utility rate analysis for large-scale campus energy conservation programs. Jessi is passionate about her work and often advocates on behalf of clients with utility providers to secure the best possible utility rate solutions.


How a Bernhard Crew Stuck Together, Became Family, and Built the Raleigh Skyline


As new projects are started, it’s common in the contracting industry for a crew to shuffle their roster with new incoming workers while outbound members join new teams on different projects. This may be the norm for some, but certainly hasn’t been for one Bernhard crew in North Carolina.

A group of 26 crewmembers have stayed together and are finishing their third project in the Raleigh area with plans to stay together for a fourth.

“I haven’t seen anything like it,” said Stacy McKillips, superintendent. “There is definitely a culture here now where we have more of a family than a crew.”

Beginning in July 2017, the crew of 26 has worked on three high-rise apartment buildings (two in Raleigh and one in Durham) totaling more than 1.4 million square feet and 84 stories. North Carolina residents will have seen the result of the crew’s work over the years with the construction of Durham City Center, FNB Tower, and one of the tallest high-rises in the North Hills area, Kane Tower, a 35-story residential tower that is projected to be completed in April 2022. These buildings are some of the latest in Bernhard’s storied 20+ year history working in the Carolinas.

The group of mostly plumbers, sheet metal workers, and pipefitters, includes multiple father-and-son pairs, a father-daughter duo, and even a set of identical twins.

“Even though each person is different and there are so many different backgrounds, everyone gets along,” said Chris Esposito, plumbing superintendent. “Ego gets left at the door immediately and everyone understands they are on the same team and the same level. With that mindset, each member is held accountable and that has created some incredible results.”

The expertise of the group and track record of success is part of what keeps them together. Leveraging the team as a one-of-a-kind asset has increased the demand for their high-quality work.

“We’ve had a pretty impressive run where one project ends and then we’re ready to go onto the next one all in the same region,” said McKillips. “Everyone agrees it makes sense to keep this team together. The results speak for themselves.”

Aside from the connections the workers have made with each other, supervisors and managers have benefitted from the continuity just as much.

“Each job you’ll usually go through learning periods and have to hope the crew catches on quickly,” said McKillips. “These projects don’t have that trial and error period. No one has to play catch up, which greatly increases our efficiency.”

It also enables the team to employ creative solutions to project challenges. For construction of Kane Tower, Bernhard installed piping as individual floors were built to meet demands of an aggressive timeline. This work, along with off-site manufacturing of key mechanical and plumbing components, has helped put the project four months ahead of schedule.

Without a dramatic learning curve, the project site has also become safer, which is always Bernhard’s top priority.

“When you work with new crewmembers, you don’t know what their habits are,” said Pablo Gomez, foreman. “I know exactly the training everyone on this crew has received and I know they practice safe procedures because of our time working with them. That level of comfort allows us to focus on our task with the trust that we are all doing what we’re supposed to.”

The team’s collective experience and knowledge of safety practices is a trademark of Bernhard’s approach to a safer workspace. Bernhard instills safety at every job site with an industry-leading safety training program geared to maintain a safe and healthy work environment, safeguard all persons who enter, work, or live near worksites, and meet or exceed regulatory standards.

The team is scheduled to begin work in 2022 on The Cardinal at North Hills East Tower addition. The 453,390-square-foot building will bring 18 stories of residences and upscale amenities to The Cardinal senior living community. The project is located just blocks away from Kane Tower.

Although the crew are professionals with decades of experience and projects between them, they admit to feeling a sense of pride with what they’ve accomplished together.

“I catch myself noticing the skyline when I drive down the highway,” said Gomez. “It brings back a lot of memories of days on the job with people I now consider good friends.”

If you are interested in opportunities in the craft job market and would like to know more about the benefits of a career with Bernhard, visit for more information.


Job Market Exploding Across the United States for Craft Workers as Previous Generation Nears Retirement

By: Craft Recruiting Team at Bernhard


Anyone living in major cities across the United States is sure to have noticed the increasing amount of construction projects around them. Cranes and new high-rise buildings are filling city skylines and the construction industry as a whole is expected to see more than 12% growth (compared to 7% for all other occupations), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. With heightened employment opportunities and industry growth expected on the horizon, why are recruiters expressing concern?

“We’re about to see a large chunk of the craft workforce entering that retirement age,” said Ralph Stingo, North Carolina Business Unit Manager. “There could be a mass exodus of the workforce and that includes mostly upper management and supervisors.”

In a 2017 report by the National Center for Construction Education and Research, it was projected that 41% of the construction workforce will enter retirement by 2031. An already expanding industry with nearly half of the workforce retiring will create an enormous job market for career-hungry job seekers. This level of opportunity for placement and promotion may not be seen again in the industry.

“This will be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone entering the job market,” said Philip Garcia Jr., Executive Vice President at Bernhard. “Craft work is an incredibly quick track to a secure a career immediately after school or in some cases, you can enter your career and receive training while on the job.”

Bernhard believes training for craft employees will only add to the high quality standards the company has and as such, offers craft training and apprenticeship programs at several locations around the country.

2021 has seen a 46% increase in trade-based jobs since the same time last year and Bernhard is uniquely situated to offer a career for those seeking a start in the construction sector. Out of the estimated 1 million crewmember jobs in the United States, Bernhard has offices in 33% of the locations including the largest markets of Texas and Florida.

“Location versatility is a huge bonus for Bernhard,” said Richard Purcell, East Coast Labor Coordinator at Bernhard. “Someone interested in this career would have unparalleled flexibility on where they choose to work.”

Those new to a career in craft work can also expect a multitude of other quality of life and professional perks craft employees at Bernhard enjoy:

  • Comprehensive benefit package including competitive pay rates, health benefits, PTO, Holiday pay, and 401k employer match.
  • Paid, on the job, industry and trade specific training and testing, that not only supports continued skills development, but also career advancement within Bernhard.
  • A safe and hazard-free work environment. Bernhard prides itself on creating and implementing the most current safety practices on all of its office and work-sites.

“Because we are in the industry every day, it’s easy for us to see the trends and project these huge moments that others may not be aware of,” said Patrick Sanders, General Superintendent in Florida at Bernhard. “I hope those in trade schools and apprenticeships right now realize the opportunity that’s in front of them.”

If you are interested in opportunities in the craft job market and would like to know more about the benefits of a career with Bernhard, visit for more information.


Bernhard Instrumental in First C-PACE Project in New York City and Largest in the United States

By: Ryan Hoff, PE, CEM, Project Manager at Bernhard


When we think of improvements, we often think of “bigger, better, faster, stronger.” Instead, perhaps we should be determining when less actually becomes more. Bernhard and Petros Partners recently demonstrated that less is more when it comes to carbon emissions and less traditional loan financing.

Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) financing is at the core of this new philosophy. C-PACE is a program created to give building owners a path to finance projects that increase building efficiency (and therefore reduce energy use and carbon emissions and create more sustainable buildings). This program is unique because the financing can fund up to 100% of all project costs that contribute to energy use improvement and it’s now available in a majority of states.

Although paramount to the process, financing is just one part of the deal. C-PACE needs an energy model of the project’s baseline, design building and an evaluation of the project budget in order to move forward. That’s where Bernhard’s team of experts come into the picture. Bernhard has been providing these crucial energy audits for C-PACE financing since 2017 and we work hard to fully understand the differences of each state’s C-PACE program to help determine the maximum amount of financing for which a project is eligible.

To date, 38 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to allow the use of C-PACE financing. For most states, the savings over the term of the loan must exceed the total loan principal. The recent, historic project in New York will do just that. This project at 111 Wall Street will retrofit the 900,000-sqare-foot tower for efficiency, resiliency, and local law compliance. Not only is this the first C-PACE project in New York City, but it is also the largest C-PACE loan in United States history. It is estimated to save $3.0 million in annual energy costs and avoid $850,000 in annual Local Law 97 fines starting in 2030.

According to Real Estate Weekly, by 2030 the program will create 689 green jobs and reduce 447,600 metric tons of CO2e from our atmosphere, an equivalent of taking 97,344 passenger cars off the road for a year.

For this groundbreaking project, Petros Partners is the financial group providing the loan and Bernhard provided the energy audit. The building was flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and ownership has struggled to operate at anything exceeding 50% occupancy. The building required a major renovation and a final decision was made to creatively combine C-PACE financing with standard loans to complete the work.

Energy improvements included:

  • Replacing all existing lighting with LED lighting
  • Redesigning and replacing a majority of the existing HVAC system with modern energy efficient systems
  • Replacing all existing plumbing fixtures with new low-flow fixtures
  • Replacing all existing elevators with new high-efficient elevator system
  • Abatement and removal of hazardous asbestos containing material

Along with the estimated energy and operation costs, the project is estimated to decrease carbon emissions by 42%. The energy conservation project is being paired with an architectural renovation that anticipates enabling the building to reach full occupancy again. The aging infrastructure, high energy utility rates, and Local Law 97 all make New York City a prime market for additional C-PACE projects, and the 111 Wall Street project is a clear example of how successful they can be.

This is just one example demonstrating how Bernhard can help building owners pursue C-PACE. Our team of experts have completed C-PACE energy audits in 13 different states and have identified more than $830 million of C-PACE financing for our clients. Our projects have ranged from $1 million to $89 million and have included new construction or renovations in buildings such as:

  • Offices
  • Apartments
  • Hotels
  • Sports complexes
  • Warehouses
  • Hospitals

If a project is ongoing, our experts are able to partner with a financial group and identify the amount of C-PACE for which the project is eligible. If determining energy savings opportunities or the replacement of aging infrastructure is the goal, Bernhard has a full mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) design team with an emphasis on sustainability, which works to:

  • Identify the energy conservation measures
  • Make a business case for energy efficiency
  • Design the project
  • Provide PACE energy audit
  • Provide commissioning
  • Provide measurement and verification

We have specialized expertise in energy audits for C-PACE financed projects and we know how to help you maximize your budget, leverage savings and be part of creating a more sustainable future. Learn more about our commercial energy audit services here.