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VOL. 35 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 23, 2011

Helping buildings operate at their peak

By Hollie Deese

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Most people don’t hear the word “conditioning” and immediately think of buildings and construction. But just as a trainer can help athletes reach their potential, James Qualk helps buildings operate at peak efficiency.

“The firm was founded in 1968 and originally was performing mechanical, electrical and plumbing design services,” says Qualk, vice president of LEED Consulting and Energy Modeling for SSRCx Facilities Commissioning and Sustainable Solutions Group, a subsidiary of Nashville-based Smith Seckman Reid.

The company performed those services in the 1980s for HCA the 1980s, which at the time was building hospitals all over the country and even the world. Today, that work has grown exponentially.

“Over the decades SSR diversified clients, market segments and even services,” Qualk says. “Today, SSR as an engineering firm provides mechanical, electrical, plumbing, civil and environmental structural water, IT consulting and health care compliance management.”

Qualk’s piece of the puzzle focuses on the sustainability, and his division was formally created in 2000 to really address the emerging market of building conditioning.

“We go in and try to make the building operate the way it is supposed to,” he says. “We make sure that the system shown on those drawings is installed according to plans and then works the way they are supposed to.” That means quality assurance checks on everything from fans to filtration. He also guides owners through the LEED certification process, and has seen tremendous growth in that area among existing structures.

“There are so many more buildings in place as compared to how many are being designed and built at any given time,” he says. “It is a larger potential market to begin with, and just last week LEED for existing buildings surpassed all LEED for new construction systems by certified square footage. That is significant.”

Some sources, Qualk says, predict up to 80 percent of existing buildings will be certified by 2050. “They have already been designed and put in place so we have far more opportunity with existing stock then with new construction,” he says.

Qualk earned his civil engineering degree from Vanderbilt. His first job after graduation was as a sales engineer selling commercial and industrial air conditioning and refrigeration equipment for York International. There, he also received mechanical engineering experience.

“A lot of the time while I was gaining that experience, I was also involved with helping to start the local USGBC chapter,” he says of the U.S. Green Building Council. “It is great to be so passionate about something and then create a career out of it.”

SSRCx is now pursuing consulting for the emerging Net Zero Energy, Water and Waste, which goes beyond even LEED standards. And in 2012, Qualk says. It will be providing even more education about building conditioning.

“Not only do we need to convince people these are best approaches you can take in design, construction and operation, we then need to convince people that we are the firm that can help them with that,” he says. “The market has come a long way in its awareness and what is happening, but there is still a long way to go so we are optimistic about our future.”

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