Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

MEP (Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing) Design

"The Confusion of the Bipolar Bear"

Our hamster died last week. Funny really 'cause Aunty fanny's canary fell off it's mortal coil to say nothing of Grandad's dog getting run over by a tram (that's seems strange - there aren't any trams anymore and no one can remember seeing a dog in his dementia ward). Have you ever noticed that things seem to happen in three's.

You'll find if you talk to nurses they often say that people die in threes. In old folks homes someone dies and everyone starts to get a bit twitchy, another dies and they all start heading for the doors, a third dies and everyone breathes a sigh of relief and carries on where they left off.

With a typical engineer's attitude to anything supernatural I always poo pooed this notion but then I'll never forget years ago there was a nasty 'head on' bus crash between Sydney and Brisbane in which about 80 poor souls popped their clogs. Never heard of such a thing before but then within days there was another and, blow me down, a couple of weeks later yet another. Since then - nothing.

(The Balinese know what's going on, they believe in threes as we have discussed before).

In our office we seem to get sudden bursts of activity that we can only put down to the activities of those mischievous spirits that inhabit the island. One week it's the water pump spirit having a particularly grumpy week then it's his cousin who bothers himself with air conditioners, the spirit of septic tanks and anything sloppy and dirty is, as you would expect, always unhappy.

Of course these spirits have plenty of assistance in their wicked work and several cases recently indicate the point. We have been inundated with clients with technical problems that have a common theme - poor or no MEP design.

What is MEP design?

What, I hear some of you think, is MEP? MEP stands for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing and refers to the technical systems that exist in our homes to make our lives reasonably comfortable.

Most people in Bali still wash their clothes in the rivers but, for us more fortunate folk, we have piped water to our houses. No longer do we creep out in the night to empty the guzunder (that nice porcelain potty that guzunder the bed). No night soil these days - we have a comfortable flushing water closet and septic tank to deal with that. No more candles, smelly carbide or paraffin lamps, thanks to Mr Edison these days we have phonographs and light bulbs.

In our homes we have ever more complicated technical systems which are increasingly "essential" (some would quite rightly disagree) to our cosseted lives. Why is it then that so many people put the provision of such systems in the hands of those who worship gnomes and think that threading satay is the most technically demanding work ever created.

The three most important aspects of building design.

Let us get things into perspective. In any houses there are three aspects of the building that must have technically competent design and installation if the house is to be safe and function correctly. These are:

  1. The structure
  2. The electrical systems and
  3. The plumbing.

Bad plumbing we can suffer with but get the structure or electrical systems wrong and our lives are in danger (ever noticed how many fires there are in Indonesia due to bad wiring?).

Poor MEP design is a major problem

Throughout the world there are many buildings struggling with poor or inadequate MEP design.

The endless stream of requests to sort out problems with all aspects of water supply, sewerage and electrical systems can be put down to the basic fact that for most people their MEP systems were neither designed nor installed correctly. All across Indonesia people are struggling and they call tukangs who carry out botch repairs on botched systems and very often the "repairs" only make things worse.

If someone wants to be a plumber they have to wake up to the basic but painful fact that water flows downhill. Of course the water flow deniers reject such beliefs as heresy saying that the world must be flat, if it was indeed round wouldn't the water run off it?

I went into a fairly new hospital recently and as I entered that ever so welcoming stench of raw sewage assailed my nostrils. I held back the desire to empty the contents of my innards on the beautiful polished floors and made my way to see an ailing business colleague realising that this particular hospital always stinks and, not surprisingly, the medical staff all wear face masks.

But have you noticed? Stinky brand new multimillion dollar buildings are by no means an unusual occurrence, all over the country relatively new hotels have the distinct pungence of raw faecal matter. The cause is always the same - poor MEP design.

There is a shortage of good MEP design engineers

The fact is that good MEP designers are few and far between in spite of their importance in the building industry. I was recently asked to organise the redesign of MEP systems for two dozen new hospital buildings when it was found there were problems. Checking revealed the Engineer employed for the task had no formal qualifications or training in the work - he was cutting and pasting his drawings from existing badly designed systems.

Modern buildings must have proper design of the electrical and plumbing systems

If you are having a house built you should ask, nay demand, that the architect shows you the MEP drawings. These should be completed BEFORE construction starts - why? I hear you ponder. The reason is simple, the MEP systems need to be built into the house not just added on later as an afterthought. How often do we see air conditioners stuck on the outside of a building like warts on a nose. Air conditioners and water heaters are part of everyday life these days and suitable places to hide them with ways to access and maintain them need to be designed into the building at an early stage as part of the architectural design.

From an MEP design point of view it is also very important that systems are designed at an early stage. Black water (sewerage), grey water (showers, washbasins and laundry waste water) and rainwater drains all need to be planned as to how they will pass through the building and out under floors. These pipes will need to be installed at an early stage during construction and MUST NOT compromise the structural strength of the building. You wouldn't believe how often in Indonesia drain pipes are put down the centre of structural concrete columns or through important beams.

A set of MEP drawings consists of

If your house has been properly designed there will be a series of drawings:

1. For the electrical systems there will be a master design drawing, much in the form of a chart, that lists all the circuits, the size of circuit breakers and the design of the main distribution panel. This drawing will list what will be connected to each circuit including lights, plug sockets, water heaters, air conditioners, fans, cookers, pubic curling tongs, etc. The drawing provides a calculation of the loads on each circuit and, of course, the earth connection.

2. Next there will be a drawing showing the wiring and placement of power circuits in the building with plug sockets and dedicated circuits for pumps, fans, air conditioners, water heaters, etc all indicated.

3. Next there will be a lighting plan showing the positions and wiring for the lights, switches and wiring.

4. Specialist installations such as swimming pools and garden lighting will have their own separate drawings.

There are numerous legally binding rules regarding the design of electrical circuits, all devised to protect our precious lives and the electrical drawings must reflect these rules.

Then there will be drawings for the plumbing systems including:

5. A drawing for black water systems.

6. A drawing for grey water systems.

7. A drawing for the design of the septic tank (if you have one) and one for any soak pit(s).

For even a basic house there should be at least 6 drawings for the MEP systems. You are well advised not to let construction start until you have seen these drawings. If you ask to see them and somehow they are not immediately available you need to be wary it could well be that there aren't any.

Some people may tell you that you don't need drawings but letting a vender of small nodding dogs recruited at the traffic lights loose with half a mile of cheap cable, a screwdriver in his hands and no plan is like a granny suffering from dementia knitting a Fair Isle jumper with no pattern (you don't know what a Fair Isle jumper is? believe me - you need a pattern).

MEP drawings make maintenence much easier

MEP drawings are not only essential during the construction process to make sure that construction is carried out properly and that systems will work correctly, they are also very important for ongoing maintenance, ever tried unblocking a sewer when you have no idea where the pipes are?

If you wish to avoid the confusion of the bipolar bear and bring a modicum of sanitary to your life (and your hotel or hospital) you are well advised to find an MEP engineer.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

17 July 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Gg Penyu No 1, Sanur, Bali 80228, Indonesia
Telephone: +62-361-288-789, Fax:+62-361-284-180