Silence of the MEPs

Mar 18, 2019

On the surface everything might appear to be fine, but back at their office, the consulting engineers might be telling the (painful) truth.

In my 30 years of serving as a mechanical, electrical, plumbing design professional, I’ve encountered some honest, admittedly cheeky, comments that you may never have heard from your MEP consulting engineers.

I share these things to help architects and MEP engineers have a better understanding and appreciation for our respective design endeavors.

  • We have no idea what you really do. We MEP engineers think we know, but we really don’t. We haven’t had to market to building owners, layout a floorplan, evaluate life safety issues, estimate total building costs, etc. We don’t know you have to be extremely knowledgeable about everything – including earthwork, drainage, landscaping, structural, MEPF, acoustics, constructibility, sequencing, phasing, and more! We think you sit around all day and imagine ways to torture us. Because we look through a microscope at just our stuff all day, we don’t get it. Please share with us the big picture stuff. Our MEP designs will be better for it.
  • My fee is directly proportional to how difficult you are to deal with. It is personal. It changes over time. It changes with every person in your office. We want to be transparent and collaborative; experience shows much better projects and reasonable fees will result. However, if you get inconsistent fees, this might explain why.
  • Your Revit model is not half as good as you think it is. Your stairs aren’t modeled properly. Your ceiling grid is wrong. You have rooms/walls on the wrong phase. You have copious amounts of detail lines. Your firewalls don’t go to deck. Look, we all want the model to be perfect, but we are human, so a little grace goes a long way to promote teamwork.
  • Every day I work on multiple projects. We are probably not working on your project when you call. We can’t remember what we had for lunch yesterday, much less the size of the duct chase to the roof. We’ve answered at least 25 RFIs since answering yours, so grant us a little time finding the specific answer you seek. We will persist in finding the correct answer for you.
  • Your firm has no office standards. Everyone in your office has their own, individual expectations about sheet layout, look, feel, timelines, definitions, specifications, expectations, correspondence, etc. It’s different with every person in your office. We try to remember the differences, but it’s impossible. So if something from us looks different from one project to the next, that’s probably why. Now might be the time to get your team on the same standards. If you ask us, we’ll give you some honest feedback on what works best.
  • Your favorite lighting rep is probably not my favorite. We work with a lot of lighting reps and know from experience how well they respond to problems. We work on hundreds of projects each year, so we’ve seen all these reps at their best and worst. Unless you need a specialized product or there is a good business reason, please don’t ask us to work with someone specifically. Let’s talk about this when the project kicks off.
  • When you take a long time to pay me, your projects get a lower priority. You’ve probably experienced this yourself from your own customers. When you pay us soon, you’ll see how well “quick payment karma” makes things better all around.
  • I don’t start drawing until I think you’re finished messing with the floorplan. Most of my front-end work is calculations, system selection, equipment selection, and site coordination, so your “percentage complete” will never match mine. Time is money, so don’t be that architect who is known for constantly changing their floorplan through the entire design schedule.
  • I’m convinced you look for new ways for me to lose money. Complicated layers, views, phases, and sheet layout all cost me money and don’t necessarily add value to a project. Referencing files on top of files makes updates an unnecessarily long process. If you have certain expectations about these items and mandatory use of construction management packages (Newforma, Procore, BuilderTrend, etc.), let us know before we give you a fee proposal, so we’re both protected.
  • I don’t want to be involved at the beginning of your project, but I should be. We don’t get excited about conceptual and schematic design meetings, but you need space for RPZs, mop sinks, water heaters, drinking fountains, switchgear, transformers, HVAC equipment, standpipes, fire risers, fire pumps, elevator sump containment barrels, etc. We can help. Getting involved early is not a waste of our time and it may prevent us all from “gotchas.”
  • I want to poke your structural engineer in the eye. They don’t have to go to meetings, follow the production schedule, meet delivery dates, or share files with others. But we MEP folks must change our design to match their latest iteration. Their final drawings may or may not resemble any other version of their previous drawings. So it’s back to the drawing board for the MEP designers.
  • We pour our souls into your projects. We have feelings, usually to a fault. When problems happen, we do take it personally. As we drive around the area, our family members can point out our projects. You can crush our spirits much more easily than you can imagine. However, kind words, a little praise, a little appreciation can motivate us far better than money. We’ll do our best to share praise and our appreciation of your efforts with you too.

Clear communication, a willingness to collaborate as often as necessary, plus some shared compassion for each other’s expertise and daily challenges, will help all of us to create better projects for our clients. In the end, that’s what matters the most.

Bill Hodge is executive vice president at HP Engineering, Inc., a MEP company with four offices in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Founded in 2007 by Hodge and his business partner, Brandon Pinkerton, HP Engineering serves architects, building owners, and construction professionals across the United States. Hodge can be reached at

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