Principal position

As the upcoming president-elect of the ASHRAE Emirates Falcon Chapter, Burt Hill's David Sinz's influence on the local MEP sector seems set to grow as fast as his firm. He takes time out to talk to Alison Luke about the importance of sustainability, socialising and developing quality staff.

Burt Hill's David Sinz.
Burt Hill's David Sinz.

As the upcoming president-elect of the ASHRAE Emirates Falcon Chapter, Burt Hill's David Sinz's influence on the local MEP sector seems set to grow as fast as his firm. He takes time out to talk to Alison Luke about the importance of sustainability, socialising and developing quality staff.

If you operate within the Middle East's MEP consultancy sector and have yet to meet David Sinz, the chances are that this won't remain the case for long. Not if he has his way.

As chair of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Emirates Falcon Chapter's Technology Transfer Committee in 2007-08, he played his part in the significant growth of the Society in the region over the past year.

And, set to be inaugurated as the president-elect of the Chapter in September, he intends to continue pushing this growth.

"[ASHRAE's] biggest aim is to increase the knowledge of the engineers here in aspects of sustainability, district cooling, thermal efficiency and energy modelling," explains Sinz.

"Through that I think [the Chapter will] grow naturally, because it's an exciting time for what we do. The traditional way of doing things is leaving the industry and the buildings are becoming performance-based," he adds.

One way that Sinz aims to lead this increased knowledge is by raising the networking opportunities for those in the sector.

In addition to the regular technical seminars held by the Chapter, his intention is to add a social program so that ASHRAE members and colleagues can meet and swap experiences in less formal environments.

The first of these events - a golf tournament - was held in late April to much success, with more than 40 golfers attending the event and further numbers arriving for an evening dinner and prize giving ceremony.

Such events are, he reasons, especially important in a region where the workforce includes a large proportion of expatriate professionals who may have long-term experience in other areas of the world but are new to the local nuances.

By meeting fellow professionals their transition may not only be eased, but the quality of the projects on which they work would arguably increase.

American roots

Sinz himself has worked in Dubai since 2005. Responsible for setting up the engineering division for the international branch of Burt Hill in the Emirate, he has managed the development of the MEP Division.

A team of more than 120 MEP professionals now operates from the Dubai office, with an Abu Dhabi office recently added.

Born in Pennsylvania, USA, Sinz exudes a very relaxed persona, but he harbours deep passions for the MEP industry and in particular, the application of sustainable engineering.

Having studied mechanical engineering at the United States Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, New York, he spent his first years as a professional engineer working on tankers and container ships and reached the rank of lieutenant commander in the navy.

"It was a chance for me to go all over the world. By the time I was 23 years old I had been in about 19 different countries, so it made an easy transition to come to Dubai," he states.

Sustainable designing

Prior to his move to the Middle East, Sinz worked in New York City before moving to Colorado, which is where his passion for sustainable design was ignited.

"People in Colorado are very energy conscious and energy conservation was a huge movement there. That's where I did my first LEED building - the Denver City & County Building - in around 1999," he explains.

His interest and involvement in sustainable buildings has continued to such a degree that he describes designing such projects as "second nature". And he is keen to promote such thinking throughout his division.

A LEED Accredited Professional (AP) himself, he is encouraging those within his department to undertake training to achieve this same status.

"I think that it's really important for Burt Hill to be a leader in that we have more LEED Accredited Professionals," states Sinz. There are currently 20 LEED APs within the Dubai office and around 100 in the company worldwide.

The firm is also taking a stand on sustainability issues, reports Sinz. In addition to joining the Emirates Green Building Council, efforts include paying for staff to stay in LEED-certified hotels when on business trips and renting hybrid cars when transport is needed.

"It's a change of lifestyle for people to become more energy conscious...We're trying to make our staff conscious that [Burt Hill is] serious about it and we're willing to pay the extra for them to stay [in LEED-certified hotels] even if it is more expensive," Sinz stresses.

One of the key aspects of the firm's sustainability drive is in the designs that it produces for clients.

Acceptance of such designs has become significantly easier over the past six months and clients are now specifically requesting sustainable buildings reports Sinz.

"I think there has been a ten-fold of recognition for sustainability here," he states. "The decree that came down from Sheikh Mohammed has really changed everyone's thinking," he adds.

However, despite this change in thinking there remains some confusion over what exactly constitutes a green building, with no set legislation yet available to cover the entire market.

"It's going to take some time to figure out which exact guidelines we're using [as an industry]: JAFZA has a set of guidelines, [Dubai Municipality] has a set of guidelines, then there's the US Green Building Council (US GBC) guidelines and the Emirates Green Building Council guidelines...It would be great to have one set for the whole country," stresses Sinz.

"With the US GBC guidelines, some of the points that are achieved aren't applicable to Dubai, so there needs to be some [local variations] worked in and that why the Emirates GBC is so important," he adds.

Joined-up thinking

One of the most important aspects of a sustainable building is the collaborative working of all members of the construction team from an early stage in the project, stresses Sinz. "The key for us is upfront integration with the architecture," he states.

"Now a lot of the engineering can drive the architectural design and they can complement each other."

"The best thing for a project is that even before the architects sell an image to the client they have engineering input on what the best energy systems will be for that building and what the optimum architectural design will be for that building," he stresses.

Sinz cites the type of glass and shading devices chosen as two simple examples of areas where architectural decisions can have a huge effect on the operational energy use of a building.

In order to counteract poor choices being made at design stage, Burt Hill uses software programmes to carry out materials and design analysis as standard to optimise the building energy use while maintaining the building aesthetics.

"We can simulate different types of mechanical systems and intermix all the different variables to come up with the best solution," Sinz explains.

"To me, energy modelling is the future of our industry because it gets the engineers involved upfront in the design and the sooner that we are involved the better for the project," he stresses.

"That way the architects don't sell a poorly performing building; because once the client has seen the [architectural design] you are already behind on your energy use," he states.

"My goal is, whether the client wants LEED certification or not, we do these exercises [for every project] to make sure that we are providing the best product that we can," adds Sinz.

Staff issues

Both the firm's Dubai office in general and its MEP division have grown considerably over the three years since Sinz arrived. And with the influx of work continuing, the firm has taken a novel approach to expansion. In addition to recruiting staff for the regional office, MEP design work is now being outsourced to Pennsylvania.

The demand for qualified professionals in the Middle East and subsequent hike in salary packages is a major reason for this. Sinz explains: "With the rising cost of employees here in Dubai the United States is becoming a cheaper alternative...there's a huge demand for staff [in Dubai] and the US is a more stable environment where the competition for staff is not as great."

In addition to pay issues, the firm's knowledge of the education system plus the US professional engineering requirements played their part in this decision.

"By balancing all those things - stability, education, professional licensing and costs - having an outsourcing office in the US is becoming more attractive every day," states Sinz.

The US office was opened around six months ago and currently has 15 staff. There are plans to double the staff count to 30 by the end of 2008. As the firm follows international building codes throughout, few problems have been met to date.

And in order to ensure that Middle Eastern environmental conditions and any local nuances are taken into account, many of those employed have previously worked in the firm's Dubai office.

"That's really the key to the whole thing... some of the Americans who've come over here to work have rotated back to the US and the Pittsburgh office," Sinz explains. These experienced staff will help to train any new employees that do not have the international experience.

Training in general is one area that is vital to the MEP sector's ongoing success stresses Sinz. "Training young engineers with the latest in energy efficient designs and the newest products is going to be the key to the future of our industry."

"Younger people are so much more versatile with technology and computer programming...we need to take advantage of their strengths and the strength of experience in the industry to build better engineers, so they can take the industry to the next level," he states.

"I want them to be better [engineers] than I am and to be more conscious about our industry and how it affects the earth," he adds.

Investing the time and money on training now will pay dividends in future stresses Sinz. "It's difficult because everyone is busy...but if you can take a step back and do a lot of training it'll help you as you go forward," he concludes.

DAVID SINZ: Up close and personal
  • Born in Pennsylvania, USA, Sinz gained a degree in Marine Engineering Systems from the US Merchant Marine Academy in Long Island, New York.
  • Sinz has been a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) since 1995 and served on the board of governors of ASHRAE Emirates Falcon Chapter for two years. He is due to be inaugurated as the president-elect of ASHRAE Emirates Falcon Chapter in September 2008.
  • An employee of consulting engineer Burt Hill for around six years, he relocated to Dubai in 2005 to set up the engineering division for the Dubai branch. He is currently principal at the firm and heads the MEP division.
  • Sinz's project experience includes JFK Airport, New York; the California Nanosystems Institute for the University of California, Los Angeles; Motor City, Dubai; Harvard Medical School - Dubai Centre; and Gannon University, Zurn Science Centre, Erie, Pennsylvania.
  • He is a LEED Accredited Professional.

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