Employee Spotlight: Meet James Del Monaco, PE, LEED® AP BD+C
Director of Sustainability and Mechanical Engineer
Since launching his career in New York City, James Del Monaco has completed more than 35 LEED® projects and inspired countless clients and associates with his passion for green design. For the past five years, he’s served as director of sustainability at P2S. Below, he shares a bit about his life, his approach to sustainable design, and what excites him most about the future of green building.
When did you know you wanted to become an engineer?
Like a lot of kids, I loved building things when I was young. I played with a lot of LEGOs and remember building lots of things with my dad, including a pool deck at our house. I loved that feeling of being able to create something with my own hands. I was also really good at math and physics. So when a lot of my friends went off to college to pursue careers in finance, I decided I needed a job where I was creating something a bit more tangible. Engineering seemed like the perfect fit for me.
You’re a New York native. What brought you to the West Coast?
Yes, I grew up in Long Island and began my career in New York City at a consulting engineering firm called Flack + Kurtz. I had a lot of cool opportunities to work on high rise buildings and other high profile projects while I was there, including a renovation of the historic Apollo Theatre.
Still, ever since I was young, I had a calling for the West Coast, and that eventually led me to San Diego, where I found my passion for green design. In San Diego, I worked for a company called TKG (now known as EXP). I got involved in their “green team” and got really inspired by the region’s forward-thinking approach to green design. From there, I was hooked. There was no looking back for me.
Why is green design such a natural fit for you?
Critical thinking and technical acumen are both incredibly important in green building. A lot of people don’t realize that 48% of LEED credits are technical in nature. So for me, it’s a great challenge to use my design skills to try to put that green puzzle together for a given project. P2S is a company that lives the green design ethos, and in fact many of the LEED requirements I work with on any given day are things we are already do at P2S on any project we undertake. In that sense, green design — and P2S in particular — are both great fits for me.
Describe your general approach to a green design project.
For me, it usually comes down to three main components.
First, I look at any passive means of sustainability available for the project. This includes things like the orientation of building, the ability to limit loads in the building, and the envelope construction. Creating a “smart” foundation by greening these passive components is incredibly important.
Second, I look at designing efficient mechanical systems. In doing so, I always look at the tradeoffs between efficiency and complexity and how those things could impact my specific client. For instance, UV lighting is highly efficient, but it also requires a lot of maintenance. Does my client have the staff and financial resources to take care of the maintenance? That is why life cycle cost is so important. We look at the total value and feasibility of the green solutions we suggest, and whether they make sense for each specific owner.
Lastly, we look at renewable and regenerative energy options. If you’re doing steps 1 and 2 well, you don’t need as much energy to be generated. That’s why it’s so important to look at the design process from a holistic perspective.
Collaboration is important on all engineering projects. Do you think it’s even more important in green design?
Absolutely. In sustainable design, collaboration needs to happen at the very beginning. For instance if our goal is to design a building that is 30% above the energy code, it is critical to ensure that all components are holding their own in the design process – from the orientation of the building to the mechanical systems and renewable power. Otherwise the other elements are forced to make up for the loss in the other areas of the design.
What are you most excited about as you look toward the future of green design?
There are so many impressive technologies and advancements coming down the line, including lighting controls and building materials. For instance, there is now a phase-change material, which is capable of storing and releasing large amounts of energy. It essentially acts as a thermal mass to smooth out the temperature swings in a space thus reducing peak design load profiles. It also provides load shifting capabilities to reduce energy costs. That’s a pretty amazing technology that can improve comfort – and also help save the planet. How much more exciting does it get?
What’s your life like outside of P2S?
When I lived in San Diego, I met my wife, Erica, and we now have two children, Hayden and Harper. When I’m not out in the field or in the office, I enjoy soccer, snowboarding and triathlons.