EPA Certification – What It Is, How To Get It

epa certification

EPA Universal Card

One of the most important licenses you can get to make yourself more valuable and marketable as a building engineer is an EPA certification. There are different types or classes of being EPA certified but the highest level, or most desired by employers, is generally the EPA universal certification.

If you have no idea what I am talking about or are even thinking, what the heck is an EPA certification, don’t worry. I’ll try to make this as basic as possible to follow. Being a building engineer requires to you to have some knowledge in several areas. You may be stronger in some, like me and plumbing for example, and weaker in others, like this topic, for me.

When you hear the acronym EPA, you should automatically think Environmental Protection Agency. Let’s just say they govern a lot of things related to our environment. They don’t want it damaged or polluted by people or companies.

When you hear EPA certification, or universal certification, you should think refrigeration – chillers, gases, refrigerants. It turns out that some of the products us humans have used can damage the environment. Who would have thought? Ha ha. For example, some of the refrigerants used in your car a/c unit, home, or the chillers at your work, when released to the atmosphere, can damage the ozone layer. We may get deeper into how all of this happens in another post but for here we are keeping it basic.

To protect the environment, the EPA set up a certification program that requires people that work on refrigerant systems or handle gases have some type or class of EPA license to do so. Having a certain class allows to perform work in that class like small appliances while having a universal certification allows you to work on all of the classes. They are referred to as types by the EPA though. I like using classes.

Along with some form of steam operator license, I would say the EPA universal certification are the two most important licenses a building engineer or facility operator should have in their hot little hands. Read more

Sheaves – What Are They, Calculating Sheave Pitch, & More


A common sheave.

There is a lot of confusion in our building engineering and facility maintenance worlds when it comes to sheaves. Today, we are going to:

  • Define sheaves and what they are.
  • Cover fixed and adjustable sheaves.
  • How to figure out motor sheave pitch diameter.
  • Common sheave materials.
  • Learn how you can change fan speed with a sheave.

Sheaves can be confusing because some terms, like pulleys, are interchanged kind of depending on where you work or what you do. You might get told to go order a sheave but your supervisor really means a pulley. Or you may get asked if you adjusted the sheaves. Well if it’s a fixed diameter sheave you can’t adjust it like you could a variable one.

For our purposes, sheaves are going to drive belts or v-belts. If it uses rope or cable, we’ll call that a pulley for now. That may or may not be correct technically but for us, in our industries, we generally call belt driven pulleys, sheaves. Okay? Read more

Firetube Boilers

what is a firetube boiler

Inside a firetube boiler.

What is a firetube boiler? What are the three main types of firetube boilers? Don’t know yet? No worries, we are going to cover it. You will most likely run into those two questions again if you plan on taking the boiler licensing exam, at least one of them, and it is usually the one about the three types of firetube boilers.

A couple weeks ago, a post went up that went over boiler classifications. High and low pressure steam boilers, the basic pressure requirements, and the type of fuel used all contribute to the boiler classification.

Another way to separate boilers is by the type of tubing inside or internal to the boiler. There are firetube and watertube boilers. Again, this post is going to focus only on firetube boilers. We will list quickly define the three types of firetube boilers, then get into the operation of one, such as, how they work or how they differ from watertube boilers. Or you could just wait another month until that post goes up and compare the two lol. Read more

Condenser Water System

condenser water system

Cooling tower of a plant.

This post is going to cover an average condenser water system you may see out in your jobs as building engineers. Also, you might find it cool, if you’re not an engineer, to be able to explain to your friends what is happening when you drive by a city and see the steam evaporating from the tops. You’ll know.

You’ll be making some long car trip, someone inside will go “I’ve always wondered what that steam is coming off of the towers for the nuclear plant.” And you’ll then go “I know. It’s the condenser water system. Now buy me lunch.”

Yep, nuclear power plants use this system, buildings in downtown Manhattan, hospitals in Nebraska, pretty much all have condenser water systems. They are vital.

It’s going to go over the function of a condenser water system, have a simple drawing or two of how you’ll see it connected to a building, property, or facility. I like the drawings, they make understanding how a system works much easier. Read more

How a Fridge Works

how a fridge works

One of the staple books for understanding refrigeration.

Your refrigerator gets taken for granted, admit it. It’s always on, it controls itself. Cycles refrigeration when it needs to, and turns itself off when the temperature is satisfied. Have you seen the recent Maytag commercial featuring the fridge? It is basically the only appliance in your kitchen that is constantly on.

Have you ever wondered what goes on inside there? Behind the insulated walls of plastic laminate. What does the curly thing on the back do? That’s the condenser. If you have ever wanted to know how a fridge works, this post should help you understand the awesome basics of refrigeration, heat, and energy. I am counting on you to connect those dots. Read more

Boiler Classifications

boiler classificationThere you are, standing in the boiler room, or even worse, in a boiler room you’re not familiar with. The supervisor walks up and goes “Johnson, what type of boiler is this?” And instantly you’re on the spot. Do you know? Can you look at the boiler and tell? Don’t think I’d be able to without doing some leg work and poking around. Take a look in the peephole, see what’s going on inside.

It happens in the military and out in buildings and facilities with decent stationary engineer training programs, a little shaming. Some slight embarrassment at your expense if you will. That fear of being embarrassed should make you want to learn and have some answers beforehand yeah?

Well, we’re here to help out those seeking some quick answers on boiler classifications. We are going to briefly start at the top and then work our way into specific classes such as firetube or watertube boilers. For now, this will be more of an overview so everyone at least has some idea of what they’re looking at. Read more

First Set of Boiler Rounds – What You Should Look At

taking over a boiler operator shift

A Cleaver-Brooks boiler.

You can call it getting turn over from the previous stationary engineer, or taking over a boiler operator shift, here, let’s just say you are doing your first set of boiler rounds for the day.

If you are a building or stationary engineer, or boiler operator, one of the very first things you should do when getting to work is tour the boiler room. This is one of the first places I go through. By walking through here first, if I happen to notice anything I can ask the off going stationary engineer about it. Or, I can observe plant conditions and they can tell me why they have the plant operating that way.

What should you look at and check on the boilers? Is there anything you should be testing the operation of? There are a few things you should check as you take over the operation of the boilers for your shift, there are also a couple things to test as well. These don’t necessarily need to be performed during your first set of rounds but rather sometime during your shift at least.

There are tasks that should be performed hourly like checking the operation of the feed pumps; there are also tasks that should be performed every 20 minutes like checking the water level inside the boiler. Let’s not focus right now on the time requirements but just the task. This post started out with just a handful of items to look at. Even now, typing this, it has grown.

Out of this entire list I’ve scratched out on a post-it note, I would say there are 2 more important than the others. Can you name them without reading ahead? I bet you could name at least one. Read more

Positive Displacement Pumps – what they are & how they differ from centrifugal pumps

positive displacement pump book

Course book from Amazon

More engineering training people, this time on positive displacement pumps. There are basically two types of pumps, centrifugal and positive displacement.

In one of the first posts to the site, we began with centrifugal pumps and some of their characteristics. This post will deal with the other half of those pump classes – positive displacement.

It’s important that you know the differences between the two classes, mainly because the type of pump you choose, or that should be installed on that system, will be dictated by the fluid being pumped and the purpose of the system.

A building or stationary engineer should be able to look at a pump and be able to give out at least some rough classification characteristics like if it’s a positive displacement type or centrifugal. You should also be able to determine what type of pump SHOULD BE installed based upon the system and purpose. How do you tell? No idea, but the information below just may help. Read more

Basic Boiler Steam Cycle Drawing w/ Explanation

After the novel yesterday, anything less should be easy yeah?  Figured this post we could write a little but include a very simple one line drawing of a basic steam cycle in the life of a water molecule in a boiler system.

For whatever reason, Paint, yes MS Paint, used to be basic, rudimentary, and kind of intimidating. You felt like you couldn’t really do anything, like Notepad (which I use every day now lol,) and whatever you could draw, looked like crap a few clicks later.

Paint is perfect for engineering drawing though. Basic shapes, straight line tools. I’m sure there are way better but for throwing together basic stuff for a knucklehead audience, it’s perfect.

The refrigeration cycle drawing is up, but that is it. We should do more posts with drawings and schematics and we will. It helps with the explanation, they are fun to make, and a person can visually comprehend what is going on as they read. Read more

Basic Steam Cycle – Generation

basic steam cycle steam generation

Typical boiler doing work.

To make it easier to understand steam production or generation, you should know what happens to the steam both inside, and after it, leaves the boiler. There are basically four phases or sections of steam production. These four phases of a main steam system are generation, expansion, condensation, and feed. Over time, we will discuss them all.

This post will cover the first in that list of four – steam generation.

As you go through, do your best to try and tie in the other concepts and ideas we’ve talked about – heat and energy transfers, the laws of the conservation of energy, the laws of gases, etc. It’s all related.

Probably the best way to learn how the steam plant or system in your building, facility, or home operates is to trace the path of steam and water throughout its entire cycle of operation. In each phase of a basic steam cycle, the water and steam flow through the entire system without any exposure to the atmosphere. Read more

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