By Matt Hinkle
Senior Academic Counselor for The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division
As an Academic Counselor for the Interior Design, Residential Planning and Kitchen & Bath Design programs, Matt Hinkle is especially knowledgeable because of his experience in the field. Matt has two Master's Degrees from The Ohio State University in Architecture and City and Regional Planning.
Below, Matt writes of his experience as an intern with a construction management firm.
While I was in college, I worked at three different internships. One project I recall fondly was when I interned for a construction management firm. We were at a worksite where a new assisted living and skilled nursing facility was being constructed. The construction management firm was coordinating the construction efforts, overseeing all of the subcontractors. We frequently were the go-betweens when subcontractors had questions or issues for the Architect, Interior Designer, and Engineer of the project.
The specific project had to do with a proposed revision to the project’s lighting design scheme. The Architect and Interior Designer wanted to switch from the original plan of all incandescent lighting to compact florescent lighting. The project owners and construction manager were wary of agreeing to the change because compact florescent (CFL) bulbs were not very commonly used at that time. They also were not sure how to figure out how the changes in fixture counts and bulbs would impact the amount of light in the spaces.
At this point in my academic life, I had taken lighting class, and they asked me if I could do an analysis of the proposed change and make a recommendation to them. They were used to thinking about lighting in terms of how many watts of power each room was going to have, so I had to approach this project discussing a few things: will people be able to see just as well in the spaces and will this cost more or cost less?
Since this was a project for assisted living and skilled nursing, it was important that enough light was provided for people to see. As people age, their eyes are less efficient and it takes more light to see well, so the goal was to have lots of bright spaces. Having learned in my lighting class that lumens are the unit of light measured in bulb output, I added up the lumen values for each bulb in each fixture in each space. I could then show that the new lighting plan with CFL bulbs actually had more lumens in the spaces so the rooms would be actually a little bit brighter with the new plan.
The next part was to analyze the costs involved. The bulbs and the fixtures used in the new plan cost more than in the old plan. Would the lifetime operating cost difference offset the initial costs? I spoke with the project owners about how they wanted me to evaluate this, and they said that if there would be lower lifetime operating costs they would be happy. So I calculated how the changes in the bulbs impacted the total costs. The new lighting plan used fewer bulbs, which meant less staff time would be consumed with changing bulbs out. Also, the average life expectancy of the CFL was much longer. The project owners told me their average maintenance worker earned about $10 an hour and that getting a call to change a bulb would take that person about 15 minutes to get the ladder, change the bulb and return the ladder. So I was able to show that with longer bulb life and fewer bulbs in the facility, they would save thousands of dollars in maintenance labor with just changing out the bulbs as they died. However, this was just the cost of labor, and it would take years to see these savings. I also realized that the cost difference in the power bill would be a good place to analyze as well. Since CFL bulbs use less than ¼ of the watts that incandescent bulbs use, I was able to calculate how many fewer kilowatts the facility would need. I contacted the local power company to get their rates and so I could determine the exact savings on the power bill the owners would expect between the old and new lighting plans.
I showed that that the savings on their power bill and maintenance labor in just the first year was more than the cost increase of the more expensive fixtures and bulbs needed for the new CFL lighting plan. I recommended they approve the new plan. Because of my educational background with lighting design, I was able to complete a thorough review of the project changes and the impacts to the bottom line. My recommendation resulted in approval of the lighting redesign which was very exciting for me. This was a moment when I really felt that I made a tangible impact on the project.
This was a really exciting part of my internship experience that started as a standard calculation project but ended with seeing my impact on the final project. This is an example of when sometimes the most tedious assignments end up being really helpful in the job field. I hope everyone can experience the kind of excitement related to seeing their ideas impacting a project. It really got me more excited about the design field and reinforced the importance of my education.