A Blog by Tim Wentz

About Tim Wentz
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Professor Tim Wentz served as President-Elect of ASHRAE during the 2015-2016 academic year. ASHRAE is a global Society of 53,000+ members dedicated to creating a more sustainable future by applying technology to the built environment.

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Milwaukee – Part 2

by Associate Professor Tim Wentz

Those that followed my last blog were subjected to a seemingly endless rant about what happens to people who don’t respect physics, most particularly heat transfer. Although the unnecessary destruction of a perfectly good mechanical system was heart rending to this old plumbing and heating contractor, I left feeling uplifted by the vision of an organization that could see beyond the failure.

The Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) had the foresight to acquire the 14-story building described previously, regardless of its obvious failings. The building is right next to their downtown campus, which is a huge bonus. The acquisition of this previously doomed project took bold decisiveness and a clear vision for what the building could be. Plucking success from the jaws of defeat, so to speak, which is one definition of Nerdvana.

MSOE decided to renovate the building into student housing and faculty condominiums, very close to the original purpose of the building. This decision allowed them to harvest much of the original design and construction that was not destroyed by ignoring physics. It also meant the students and faculty gained the benefit of a marble foyer, high quality construction materials and an incomparable view of downtown Milwaukee.

building view 1Take a look at the view from a student apartment. Can you believe this? Floor to ceiling windows? I don’t remember any of my dorm rooms looking anything like this. In fact, I don’t remember my dorm room having windows. The Jimi Hendrix posters I remember. Layer upon layer of pizza boxes I remember. The pizza boxes finally compressed themselves into their own geological strata, if I remember correctly. We found an archeologist digging through it one day searching for new life forms.

building viewThe student apartments (we can’t even properly call these dorms) kept the “condominium look” of the original design and feature tile entryways, beautiful cabinetry, and one and two person layouts. The faculty condominiums on the top floor are even more spectacular, if that is possible. Jacuzzis, large walk-in closets, well apportioned kitchens and walkout balconies. Where do I sign up for this? I would gladly take one of the student apartments, for goodness sake. I never cease to be amazed at what vision, decisiveness and a laser-like focus on students can achieve. After my visit to the MSOE student tower, I felt much closer to Nerdvana.

Photographs by author


Milwaukee – Part 1

by Associate Professor Tim Wentz

I enjoy celebrating excellence. It’s fun to see and even more fun to talk about. Sometimes we learn more from failure, however. I had the rare good fortune to be able to experience both at the same time during a recent visit to Milwaukee. I was in that beautiful city to talk to the City’s Sustainability Manager about one of my favorite topics, ASHRAE’s Building Energy Quotient (bEQ) program.

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While in Milwaukee, I had the opportunity to visit a 14-story building in the heart of the City. The building was originally designed to be a hotel/luxury condominium high-rise and fell victim to the oppressive recession of 2008. Once the project lost its financing from the original owners, it sat vacant and abandoned until 2013. Five years of utter neglect followed.

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Take careful notes at this point. I am going to show you what not to do in this situation. It’s really very simple. Do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just pack up your tools and leave. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

The building had been abandoned before the heating system was finished, which is generally not a good thing in a cold climate. Compounding this mistake, the decision was made to not drain the water out of the domestic water system. Let’s see what we have here. We have water inside of pipes, inside a building, without heat in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I mean really. What could happen?

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Ah, the power of expansion! Isn’t physics grand? Not so much in this case, as water lines cracked, expansion tanks burst, pumps rusted out, etc. I will have to admit, that is one way to drain a system. I bet the first cost was very low. This heartbreaking situation demonstrated no respect at all for heat transfer, expansion/contraction or even physics. Appalling.

And don’t bother to finish the roof, either. In particular, don’t finish the roof over the elevator shafts. This ensures that the elevators will literally rust in place and need to be cut out with a torch. Needless to say, much of the plumbing system needed to be replaced, as did much of the electrical system. The sad part of this story is that it wouldn’t have taken much foresight and planning to protect the building. Where were my fellow travelers on the path to Nerdvana?

That is the bad news. In my next post, I will show you what happens when vision, bold decision-making and a laser-like focus on students intersects. Coupled with a dash of Nerdvana, of course.

Photographs by author


Scottsdale, Arizona

by Associate Professor Tim Wentz

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I recently had the opportunity to visit Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) convention and a following ASHRAE meeting. Thankfully, it was something less than 184°F outside. I am all for heat transfer, but I have my limits. Mine is reached when the concrete (not cement, mind you) changes its phase from a solid to a liquid.

A highlight of the trip was the tour of the Scottsdale Desert Botanical Garden. After dinner at the Botanical Garden, I was wandering around aimlessly, one of the things I do particularly well, when I had a startling vision of Nerdvana. The sun was just setting, the concrete was solidifying, and I suddenly found myself amongst a panorama of gloriously colored glass shapes interspersed with native plants. I was mesmerized! It was one of those times when you turn a corner and suddenly there it is, stopping you in your tracks, so to speak.

The first display I came to had a placard that identified the artist as Dale Chihuly, a rather famous artist much admired by my wife. She loved the art and the botanical garden, as did I. Being naturally curious, I wondered out loud (a terrible habit I must cure someday) how could a person dream up something this unique? What must he be thinking? Clearly, there were no blueprints, no specifications. Where were the design guidelines? I was flummoxed.

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Then I read that Dale Chihuly is from Seattle. The scales fell from my eyes and all became clear. Imagine living in Seattle, where I think it rains 340 days a year. He would be inside all day, creating glass tubes of varying colors, using a manufacturing process that certainly ejects large quantities of heat, moisture and who knows what byproduct. Granted, all people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, but there had to be something special going on here. His creative mind must be fueled by the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). I can think of no other explanation.

I had observed this condition before. I remember being called upon to troubleshoot a diaper odor capture system for a large daycare facility. It consisted of an exhaust system with the inlet near the “point of contact” at each changing table. The capture velocity increases with the square of the distance, which was the source of the problem with the system. The diaper changing “point of contact” was outside the capture velocity. Try to imagine, if you can, the Indoor Air Quality for these daycare workers.

Some of the daycare workers attempted to describe their reaction to the odors generated at the changing tables and they also claimed seeing brilliant, spiked colors randomly surging from the Earth, just like I was observing at the Botanical Garden. Coincidence? I think not.

Photographs by author


New York City

by Associate Professor Tim Wentz

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I was recently in New York City to attend an ASHRAE meeting and took the opportunity to take in some of the local sights. St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue was high on my list of things to see and is one of the iconic buildings of a truly great city.

The cornerstone of St. Patrick’s church was set on August 15, 1858 and was finished in 1878, which is about the same length of time it takes to speak to a support technician on the phone. The cathedral is currently undergoing a 5-year, three-phase renovation project that is estimated to cost $175 million to overcome the effects of acid rain and to replace a faulty heating system. Obviously, it was the faulty heating system that drew me to the cathedral. The pulse raced just thinking about it.

Upon entering the church I was overwhelmed with the spectacular vision that treated my eyes. The beauty of a brilliant flying buttress? No. The awe-inspiring Neo-Gothic architecture? Not so much. The breathtaking stained glass windows? Not a chance.

Scaffolding! Acres and acres of ordered, linear scaffolding as far as the eye could see. Nerdvana had to be close when you are in the presence of something so structured, so pure. The straight lines and precise angles were mesmerizing. I was sure I was nearing Nerdvana. I immediately started taking pictures of the scaffolding, which caused my wife to roll her eyes and try to lose me in the crowd (not an uncommon occurrence).

When you stop to think of it, assuming you are searching for Nerdvana, scaffolding requires a great deal of careful engineering. It reminds me when I visited a construction site in China some years ago and found the entire building enveloped in a shroud of bamboo scaffolding. Much to my initial consternation, the man-lift I took to the 43 floor required me to travel along the bamboo scaffolding to get to the entryway to the roof. Bamboo has some “give” to it, so I slightly bounced all the way to the door, where I immediately gave much thanks to the Chinese engineers. I suspect they had reached Nerdvana and I was a mere apprentice.

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You may also find it interesting that scaffolding is an ancient invention. The Paleolithic cave drawings in Lascaux, France have sockets in the walls that suggest the ceiling was painted with the help of scaffolding over 17,000 years ago. Michelangelo gets all the publicity for doing the same thing, but he is obviously a late adopter.

Photograph by author
Picture of Paleolithic cave drawing from Wikipedia


Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

by Associate Professor Tim Wentz

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I was in Hilton Head attending my son’s bachelor party with a few of his close friends. It is a beautiful location, even though the golf courses are way more difficult than necessary. I was sitting out on the deck, using higher math to calculate my golf score, when I noticed this cute little lizard, a Green Anole, flick across the railing. An elaborate dance ensued, followed by this flash of color as a small sail appeared beneath its head. So, what does someone searching for Nerdvana think when presented with this scene? Interesting mating dance? Trying to attract prey for dinner? No, of course not. I am thinking heat transfer.

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What if the sail is an evolutionary adaption to reject or absorb heat from a cold-blooded reptile? How awesome would that be? This isn’t a new thought, by the way. The ancient reptile Dimetrodon (not a dinosaur) had a huge sail that was long thought to be a mechanism to help regulate the creature’s blood temperature. More or less an early engineer, if you will. The Dimetrodon, from the early Permian (295 million years ago, roughly the same age as most professors) was the premier predator of its day. A fascinating study of the sail’s heat transfer properties was conducted by Lincoln, Nebraska’s own Steven C. Haack in 1986. Steve produced a mathematical model that proved the sail produced slower warming than previously thought. Steve also proved the sail apparently allowed the animal to warm up quicker in the morning, but was ineffectual in releasing excess heat. Imagine producing a mathematical model to estimate heat transfer off of a 295 million year old sail! Steve Haack is clearly approaching Nerdvana. He drifts away from the ideal, however, by also being a brilliant artist. I guess you can’t have everything.

Haack, S.C. (1986). "A thermal model of the sailback pelycosaur". Paleobiology 12 (4): 450–458.
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Dimetrodon depiction from Wikipedia