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What does an HVAC Design Engineer do?

By T. Briseno
Updated: May 17, 2024

An HVAC design engineer works with the systems that control temperature and air control in buildings. HVAC is the common term for heating, ventilating and air conditioning. Some engineers are involved in the integration of HVAC components as a structure is being designed and built. Other HVAC professionals work on the maintenance, upgrade, and cleaning of existing mechanical systems. Ensuring that the indoor temperature and air quality of a residence or commercial building can be regulated safely and accurately in response to outdoor climate is generally the work of an HVAC design engineer.

Heating a structure involves utilizing materials and infrastructure to circulate warm air flow. Cold air and drafts should be minimized, and ventilation to distribute heat flow currents should be designed to reach the areas of the building where people work and live. Insulation against inclement weather can save energy costs and increase the capacity to retain heat. An HVAC design engineer may be responsible for identifying heat loss areas and for positioning duct work and ventilation to maximize and direct the output of the heat source.

Ventilating homes and commercial buildings may commonly be considered a matter of circulating air for the comfort of the people who use the buildings. HVAC design engineers, however, generally are trained to understand the importance of designing and monitoring ventilation for the good of the structure itself as well. Foundation strength and overall structural integrity depend on well-placed ventilation systems. Those who inhabit and work in buildings also depend on HVAC engineering for safe air quality. Building codes typically outline the necessary measures for keeping a consistent flow of fresh or filtered air in and out of structures.

Air conditioning is a necessary component in replacing hot air inside with generated cold air flows. As with heating control, HVAC design engineers may be responsible for ensuring that AC temperature controls work well with the overall ventilation system to respond to conditions outside of the building. Understanding and applying formulas for cooling based on air volume and cubic size are often part of HVAC training.

Mechanical engineering principles encompass much of what an HVAC design engineer will need to learn, and a bachelor’s degree is generally required. Basic engineering and architectural principles, familiarity with country specific building codes where work will be performed, and specific training in working with HVAC units themselves may be part of the coursework. Working as an HVAC engineer can include co-design with architects at a planning level as well as fine-tuning at the mechanic level. Professional certification is typically required for HVAC work.

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