October 7th is Energy Efficiency Day, and to celebrate that, we are shining a spotlight on our Engineering team. Starting today, and continuing throughout the month, we will be featuring some of the talented members on our team, learning how they first got started in the field and offering a ‘behind the scenes’ look at a day in the life of an energy engineer.
Today, we are featuring Kim Yuschak, a Project Engineer on our Energy Optimization services team, based out of our New York office.
Tell us your background / a little bit about yourself and how you ended up at Edison Energy.
As someone who was born and raised in Asbury Park, New Jersey, it was hard to turn a blind eye to the city’s mix of aging Victorian architecture, abandoned boardwalk pavilions, and of course the iconic Carousel House and the Asbury Park Steam Plant. To sum it up, my childhood was all ocean breeze and abandoned buildings. I took an interest in both our natural environment and buildings at a young age. On “take your daughter to work day”, I accompanied my father (a general contractor) to empty lots that stood the frames of soon to be houses. I believe I was 8 when I first climbed a 20 foot extension ladder by myself with a backpack of beanie babies. It wasn’t until high-school and early on at Rutgers University that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in environmental and building sciences.
I am fortunate of my experiences in this industry. I interned at Enterprise Community Partners where I performed energy audits in NYC buildings alongside brilliant minds who I still consider mentors to this day. From there I went on to Steven Winter Associates in NYC to become a Sustainability Consultant and Project Manager. My focus was multi-family new construction affordable housing. I helped developers and project teams meet their energy efficiency goals, performed rigorous inspections and testing for certification with NYSERDA MPP, LEED, ENERGY STAR, and ensured compliance with NYCECC and ASHRAE requirements. From SWA I went onto NORESCO where I pursued commissioning and Testing, Adjusting & Balancing (TAB). From 2012 until 2020 I gained a lot of experience both in buildings and in management, and in March of 2020, just two weeks shy of the mandated quarantine, I found myself at Edison Energy!
Why did you decide to pursue a path in energy efficiency?
I believe my path towards energy efficiency started very young. I was often yelled at for leaving lights on or holding the refrigerator door open for too long. My dad made it known that my actions both wasted energy and his money!
To be more specific, my first job out of college was with a family owned solar company. I sold power purchase agreements to residential homeowners. I realized early on that solar alone was not the answer to our energy crisis. Many homeowners didn’t even know what a LED lightbulb was and would often get upset that their available roof space for solar panels would not be enough to offset their high electricity bills to its entirety. I started to look at buildings holistically at this point. I thought we should perform energy audits first, prior to sizing a system for a homeowner. However, this wasn’t a service that was offered by my company, and the concept was still relatively new to most. I decided to leave this job and pursue a career in building sciences and energy auditing.
During this time, my father was completing his first undergrad and masters in Earth Sciences and Sustainable Development. Decades of hard labor and constructing houses, he had decided to pursue a career in consulting and sustainable development. He was a committee member for the Building Performance Institute, as well as a Passive House consultant. You could say I was hot on his tracks in this industry. All in all, we both had a love for nature and our built environment.
Tell us a little about your role at Edison Energy.
My current role consists of field work and energy analysis where I provide retro-commissioning services to various clients and building types. My established history of field experience including HVAC testing and balancing, consulting, and project management has allowed me to transition into this role at Edison Energy with ease. Although I have only been a team member since March, I have felt welcomed into my role. I look forward to my future here.
Tell us one aspect of your role that others would be surprised to know about, or something unique to your role and/or skillset required?
I believe many people would be surprised to know just how versatile my skillset is since entering this industry. I did not pursue an engineering degree in college, however, my experience and those I have learned from have been the most valuable. Since 2012 I have had experience in solar design and sales, I’ve performed energy audits in hundreds of NYC buildings in addition to the Chicago airport (image featured above!), and the Sikorsky helicopter plant. I have conducted hundreds of blower door and duct leakage tests in NYC high-rise apartments, taken thousands of air volume readings with the Balometer flow hood, and have tested, adjusted, and balanced whole buildings. I’ve learned to balance hydronic systems and have adjusted thousands of circuit setters at a single building. I’ve spent weeks on end at the Library of Congress to help test the functionality of 1400 pneumatic VAV boxes.
My experience is diverse, and I am grateful for those who I have learned from as well as my eagerness to discover how systems work.
What are some of the biggest challenge(s) you have faced in this role or industry? How did you overcome them?
Some of my biggest challenges came from being a woman in a male dominated industry. I was often on new construction projects or performing energy audits in NYCHA owned housing developments as the only woman on site. There was no room to be timid or unsure. I had to learn those around me, (their different backgrounds, attitudes, culture, and perspectives) in order to gain respect. Learning people has always been the biggest challenge, but I’ve done so with ease. I’ve taken every opportunity possible to collaborate with the men I work with and teach them my side of the industry. I’ve had to work alongside all trades for months on end, and I made certain to be friendly while showing my strength and skill. One of the most rewarding moments came when I was leaving a previous job. The head of the general contracting company I had to work with wrote me an email to wish me goodbye, and in that email he told me how I was “tough but fair” and that he hoped his daughter would turn out like me. That meant a lot to me.
What advice would you give to a peer who is looking to pursue a career in engineering / energy efficiency?
I would tell them there are multiple paths you can take to become seasoned in this industry, but to be self-taught will provide the greatest value. Some of the smartest, most experienced HVAC technicians and energy consultants I’ve met had no formal education or engineering degree. Many of them were self-taught through years of hands on experience. If you are determined and ask the right questions, you will go as far as you wish.
Energy efficiency in buildings stems from having a holistic approach to its systems and components. It is the attempt to view a building as one system and not by each of its components. Everything is interconnected. You should aim to have a variety of skills that compliment this approach. Learn everything from air and water movement in a building, to the architecture and HVAC systems, the energy analysis, and even its occupants and how they behave and affect the building’s energy use.
Buildings are diverse. Be diverse.
If you would like to learn more about Kim, or have a question about her engineering work with Edison Energy, connect with her on LinkedIn!