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BTU Engineering Blog

Standard vs. High Efficiency Appliances

The difference between high efficiency and standard efficiency appliances is a strong determining factor of how much money you, or your business, spend on utility bills and taxes.

Image by IIdar Sagdejev

Why High Efficiency?

Many people are switching to high efficiency appliances. But why would you when the initial cost of high-efficiency appliances is typical more expensive than standard equipment. Simply, high-efficiency appliances have proven worthy of a higher price because of excellent energy cost savings. For example, appliances marked with the Energy Star label typically have much higher standards than federal minimum standards. Here are a couple examples:

High Efficiency Furnaces

Furnaces have become much more efficient in the past few decades. By law, the minimum efficiency for modern furnaces is an annual fuel-utilization-efficiency (AFUE) of 78%. A percentage of 78 means that of the energy in the form of fuel consumed, 78% is converted into heat that can be used. Modern high efficiency furnaces can have an efficiency of up to 97%. However, purchasing the highest efficiency furnace is not always the best choice. Consider having a professional compare your options before purchasing.

Residential Room Air Conditioning

There are also federal laws on the minimum efficiency of residential room air conditioners. This category of air conditioners applies to those located in both homes and businesses, but must be the type of unit located in a wall or window that delivers conditioned air to enclosed spaces. The standard to be implemented in 2014 will save approximately 0.28 quads of energy and prevent roughly 14.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide gas from being released into the atmosphere. Consider an energy audit before making an unnecessary purchase.

Do you think high energy efficiency is worth the cost? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter (#gotefficiency).

~ BTU Engineering Team

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Benefit$ of Benchmarking

People know they can save money and energy by purchasing ENERGY STAR® appliances but what if you could make your entire home or office an ENERGY STAR building? You can!

Save Money and Energy

Having an energy efficient building can have many benefits for owners, employees, and customers. ENERGY STAR labeled buildings cost 33% less to operate than a standard building, according to ENERGY STAR®. ENERGY STAR® reports that buildings that track energy use with benchmarking from 2008 to 2011 saved a total of 7% energy savings and increased their score by 6 points on average. For companies or residencies with a large number of occupants, savings can become even greater. All that’s needed to start becoming an ENERGY STAR building is an Energy Performance Score, which BTU Engineering can provide as part of a Utility Bill Analysis.

Increase Profits

Making your building energy efficient saves on utility costs, which lowers expenses and allows for increased profit. Also, reduced building operating costs increase the value of the building. Property rented to tenants may increase lease retention and drive demand by maintaining a low-cost energy-efficient rental property. The uncertainty of future energy prices is less of a risk when you have proved a high level of efficiency with building benchmarking.

Developing an Energy Star building can help your company’s bottom line with increased energy and cost efficiency. This sustainable business strategy helps build in resilience for long-term financial success.

What other benefits can your business get from a high performance building? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter (#Benchmark).

~ BTU Engineering Team

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Cracking the Energy Code

Depending on your state, a change in building energy codes may be taking place. 

Projected Energy Codes for Residential Buildings, Image from DOE

Commercial or Residential - ASHRAE or IECC?

Your project type and the code that governs it will greatly affect your decision-making. Commercial projects often follow ASHRAE’s standard 90.1, whereas residential are often guided by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). How do you know which code to follow? ASHRAE 90.1 is inclusive of dwellings, hotels, and other large buildings occupied by multiple people. IECC major differences from ASHRAE include the size of building, proposed use, window to wall ratio, and other HVAC and lighting controls.

What is Changing and When?

Often, changes can bring on unwanted confusion, and knowing what to expect can help alleviate those problems. The US Department of Energy’s website,, uses a concise color-coded map showing an overview of current and future codes, as well as the changes between them. Knowing the changes could save you big, with noncompliance potentially resulting in a loss of incentives or grants.

Not All States Are Created Equal

Since each state has different regulations, not all change is the same. In the upper Midwest, Iowa and Minnesota are moving from ASHRAE 2006 and IECC 2007 codes to the updated ASHRAE 2009 and IECC 2012 codes while North Dakota is choosing to keep its existing ASHRAE 2007 and IECC 2009 building energy codes. South Dakota, which only requires a building code for state owned buildings, is not adopting a required regulation for commercial or residential building energy.

Changes in codes can complicate plans, but being well informed can ease the process. Consider consulting a Professional Engineer or Certified Energy Manager during your next project.

Share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter (#EnergyCode).

~ BTU Engineering Team

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Mike's 3 Rules of Energy Efficiency

Achieving high levels of energy efficiency can be difficult but remembering three fundamental steps of energy efficiency can go a long way.

1. Turn It Off

The most efficiency energy device is the one that is not on. So turn it off if you can.
A prime example is closet lighting. The majority of the time closet lighting is off so the efficiency of the lighting is not a large concern. The main point is to keeping it off when it's not needed.

2. Turn It Down

The next step is to turn things down; when possible. Turning your water heater temperature down is a great example of easily saving energy and money by adjusting controls to the lowest level possible while maintaining comfort.

3. Use The Most Economically Efficient System

The majority of modern equipment is labeled with a measure of efficiency. Use the most cost-effective and energy-efficient equipment you can. The hard part is determining a cost-effective level of efficiency. When you reach this level of efficiency it is a good time to ask for help from an energy efficiency expert.

4. Ask an Expert

There are many ways to easily save energy and money but as systems become more complicated or the costs become higher it is a good idea to seek expert advice. Certified Energy Managers and Professional Engineers are an excellent choice when looking for detailed analysis of your systems.

Do you have any examples of how you reduced your energy bill? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter (#BTU).

~ BTU Engineering Team

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Supercharged Sub-metering


Belkin is testing their Echo Electricity sensing system, which can monitor electrical use at a device level! The device listens to your electrical wiring for the faint interference caused by individual devices changing state (turning on or off). What is amazing is the devices ability to distinguish between types of devices -- light bulb vs. toaster. These advances in submetering technology are going to allow for some serious utility analysis, energy audits, and retro-commissioning in the coming years.
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Top FREE iPhone Apps for Engineers and Professionals

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Image via CrunchBase
Many engineers and other professionals increasingly rely on their smartphones to get business done while on the go. Here are our top free iPhone apps for engineers and other professionals broken into four categories.

Communication & Project Management

The need to keep in touch with team members travels with you and there are a variety of apps that let you keep in touch and make sure projects are on schedule.

Messages - The ability to freely (as in $0) message text, images, and video individually or in groups to other iPhone users make the built-in message app a powerful communication tool -- and  it can easily be activated via voice command (Siri).

Mail - Email is still the standard communication method for most engineers because it's available on just about any device and makes it easy to send documents as attachments. Alternatives exist, but the default Mail app will work great for 99.9% of professionals.

Phone - Yes, the iPhone has audio phone call capability; and the quality is good in most areas with most carriers. The hold and 3-way calling features are also very easy to use. Making calls with Siri is also very convenient.

Trello - Our favorite project management 'software' lives on the cloud and has a built-in chat feature that is threaded in the project notes but appears on your iPhone like a message.

Google Maps - A go-to for my travelers, Google Maps contains highly accurate maps and traffic conditions to easily help you navigate with turn-by-turn navigation that has well-timed prompts.

Skype - Almost every web-conferencing service has a mobile app and you might consider downloading many of them to the last page of your iPhone so you have them. - stands apart from other desktop sharing apps because it is very easy to start a session so that you can help a co-worker from afar by virtually 'looking over their shoulder'.

Document Apps

The body of the post should be organized with subheadings for the 2-3 core components. Include links where appropriate. Sort simple sentences are best. Use bullets/numbers for lists. Include a personal example and/or a BTU service in each of these as a link.

Adobe Reader - Familiar tools like comments/annotations and adding signatures is hard to beat.

Turboscan (not free) - Turbo scan is an excellent PDF creator because it allows you to simply use you iPhone camera to 'scan' documents and then makes them into a standard-sized-paper PDF.

Dropbox - We love Dropbox and their mobile app makes it extremely easy to get files where they need to go when you're on the go.

MS Office Mobile (not free) - Finally! ... sort of. Office suite users have asked for a MS Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) for years but many users are not happy that this 'free' app requires a $99 subscription to Office 365. In fact, the app is a shadow of the desktop programs we're used to. However, it makes the list because it's the most compatible option for small edits on the go.

Productivity Apps

An engineer on the road will generally bring a laptop if serious work needs to be done so the following apps are quick or emergency versions of desktop tools.

Calculator - The native calculator app on the iPhone is very basic until you rotate your phone to landscape. This changes the calculator to a scientific calculator giving you the trig and power function you need.

Units - Units simply converts a value in one set of units to the equivalent in another unit. Simple but very effective when you don't want to use your data plan to do conversations on WolphramAlpha.

Google - The best feature of this app is that a search can be done through a voice command or by snapping a picture (Google Goggles). A great way to look up product information by 'scanning' the bar-code or model number.

AutoCAD 360 - This official AutoCAD mobile app allows you to view and annotate drawings, even without internet connection. A must-have for many design professionals.

Accuweather - A favorite weather app because of the details it provides and ability to push severe weather notifications.


Smartphones are amazing work tools for engineers and professionals but they are also one of the most stolen devices.

Prey Anti-theft - Prey is an anti-theft application that, like the Find My iPhone app, allows you to determine the location of a lost iPhone from nearly any internet-connected device. What makes Prey unique is its ability to push commands to your missing iPhone like taking photos and sending them to your email account.

We would love to hear what your favorite productivity/professional app is in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter (#ProApps).

~ BTU Engineering Team

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Trying Trello

Who doesn’t love to make lists? It is common for BTU Engineering to manage multiple projects at once, and we keep our lives organized using checklists. We're trying a great free (financially efficient) way to manage multiple projects with multiple team members in multiple locations through a web-based app called Trello 

Familiar and User-Friendly

Whether they’re written on post-it notes, markerboards or Moleskine notebooks, we make and use checklists to keep our lives organized. Markerboards have their advantages: extremely long battery life and a simple user interface for starters, but they fall short in aggregation. Despite our best efforts, we have difficulty in getting multiple boards to sync together. There has to be a better way.
Image by [Yandle]

Quick and Easy

Enter Trello. The team of software designers describe Trello as “a super simple, web-based team coordination system”, and they hit the nail right on the head. Trello is straightforward: it does one thing, but it does it well. Project collaboration becomes easy and, as Lifehacker puts it, “kind of enjoyable”. Better yet, it's fast - the real time updates from multiple users, intuitive menus, and drag-and-drop interface make this a tool that can be implemented quickly and get projects done

Trello allows us to lay out a project on a board. Everything we add or assign on that project appears on the board - it is not unlike a markerboard. Each board is then divided into lists, and each list into separate cards. For example, let’s say we were managing a lemonade stand:

Example of Trello Board with Cards

We’ve set up a board for the lemonade stand, which we’ve named “lemonade stand” (engineers tend to make boring, but accurate, names for things). We are grouping the tasks associated with the lemonade stand into three separate lists: “To Do”, “Doing” and “Done” - the defaults of a Trello board closely match a GTD (Getting Things Done®) system. The advantage of the online nature of Trello is that if anyone creates or modifies any item on the board, it is mirrored across to every other user: we all see the same board at all times.

Powerful and Flexible

Once a task (or “card”) is created, members of the board can be assigned to it. This is useful for a number of purposes. First of all, it makes it easy for everyone to see how tasks are assigned between team members. If one person completes a task and has some room for extra work, he or she can be assigned (or volunteer) to work on a new task. Additionally, it allows a user to choose to view only the tasks assigned to them. When projects become more complex, it is nice to be able to focus only on your specific tasks. Additionally, tasks can be given a due date, allowing a user to view their tasks in order of priority. You can even view all of your tasks across all currently active projects!

Within a specific task, users and discuss the state of the tasks and create checklists. Going back to the lemonade stand example, let’s look at the specific task of buying supplies to build the stand:
Example of Trello Checklist and Comments on Card

As you can see, a checklist has been created containing all necessary supplies to build the lemonade stand. All users can see that the task is three-quarters of the way finished.  Furthermore, users can discuss the task itself within this box. John has asked what color paint should be used. Anyone associated with this task would receive a notification that a new comment was made, allowing them to quickly address the problem of the paint color.

We have been using Trello for over a month now, in that time, it has become one of the most useful tools we use to organize our projects. It is an astoundingly convenient way to organize tasks and keep track of project progress. It is a central location for us to record everything that has been done and what is left to be done, allowing us to finish projects quickly and efficiently.

What project management system does your team use? How does it compare to the free and flexible Trello? Let us know at Facebook or Twitter (#Trello).

~ BTU Engineering Team

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Full Steam Ahead

Our offices are 'all hands on deck' and 'full steam ahead' with our clients' projects. We'll be updating content shortly.

Thanks for visiting.  ~ BTU Engineering Team

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