Some Facts About Our Expertise

Staff working in Rolling Hills Veterinary HospitalThe quality of building systems has the most profound effect on the success of your animal care facility.  The differences that separate a great veterinary hospital, kennel or shelter from an average (or worse) facility are actually hundreds of subtle considerations, equipment selections, and design details.  A designer or engineer without our significant level of experience simply will not know these details.

Every design professional will tell you that he or she is capable of this work.  But simply having one or two animal related projects on one’s resume does not make anyone an expert.  There is no substitute for years of full-time experience with the individual details and design issues of HVAC, lighting, cleaning, plumbing systems, and animal care equipment vendors.

We have experience with all of the specific requirements for animal facilities.  Ours is the only firm we know of with our level of experience in companion animal building system engineering and interiors.  We have developed and set standards for the proper design of building systems for animals for many organizations.  We lecture on these topics for several national veterinary conferences, the Humane Society and the pet kenneling industry.  We are presently on the Fire Code committee that develops worldwide standards for fire protection of animal care facilities.  With rare exception, we only design animal care facilities.

  1. We know which systems require additional detail and how they interact with other equipment

Unlike lower cost engineering design, nothing is simply copied or reused from other projects or from area to area within a project.  Every room is carefully and specifically designed with very exact air flow, electrical and plumbing design, specialized cleaning systems, animal specific lighting and noise control, to name a few.  In fact our design protocol is not by engineering discipline, but rather room-by-room to ensure that all of the engineering requirements are specific to kennel and caging areas, evaluation rooms, veterinary treatment areas, shelter intake rooms, daycare and training, grooming and public spaces.

  1. We know what equipment and materials are necessary and sufficient

Unlike a local firm, we won't ask you to tell us what you need: we have exhaustive check-lists to review with you to be sure that every appropriate system and performance is discussed and considered. 

We have experience with nearly all vendors of caging, cleaning systems, veterinary and shelter products and equipment, animal care lighting, and industry specific cleaning chemicals.  In truth, it is a full-time job for us just to remain current with the industry.

We know the history of animal care products and vendors.  We know what works and what doesn't, which vendors have good service and which vendors deliver on time.

  1. We understand animal care MEP and noise control design precisely

Our system designs are appropriate.  They are neither under-designed nor over-designed.  We know how much HVAC, lighting, water, drainage and noise control are necessary to achieve specific goals.  We understand the criteria to provide an odor free, disease mitigated, cost effective environment with the minimum amount of equipment necessary to achieve results.

We can directly and confidently address questions and criticisms from contractors who feel they can do something less expensively.  Contractors and inexperienced designers frequently recommend fewer HVAC zones, elimination of dehumidification capability, lower lighting levels, and simpler cleaning systems.  But they do not work at veterinary hospitals or shelters and it is unfortunately often easy for a contractor or design professional to convince a client that some aspect of the engineering design is excessive or unnecessary when in fact it is essential.

If value engineering becomes necessary, we know which systems impact operating cost and which systems impact animal care environments.  We know where the reductions can occur and the detriments to those reductions.  And we know what systems can be economically added later and which should be included initially.

  1. Irrespective of animal care, we believe in very detailed drawings

We specify exact model numbers and there are no "general descriptions" with "submit for approval" requirements.  We research what we specify, including options, models, benefits, detriments, customer references, and return on investment, which we determine ourselves and not based on the vendors’ marketing literature.

Coordination is essential and frequently engineers and architects fail to realize the relationships between caging and equipment, drains, lighting, HVAC air flows, and cleaning systems.  We review coordination carefully with the architect’s drawings.

We do not guess or assume anything.  Our employees perform detailed Code reviews and directly call the utility companies, Fire Marshal, Health and Building Department officials.  We have developed very specific animal care checklists to review our own engineering designs.

  1. Animal hospitals, kennels and shelters require VERY significant construction administration

We do not like change orders.  We have a full time, animal care construction administrator whose job it is to review contractor submittals and shop drawings, and inspect contractors’ work for installation according to our plans and specifications.

We know exactly where the typical substitutions occur and typical problems arise.  Regardless of your relationship with a contractor, workers and subcontractors can and do take liberties with equipment, installation, fittings, and configurations.  We know the questions to ask ahead of time to preclude problems, rather than waiting until a final walk-through when it is too late, too contentious, too expensive, or too difficult to correct a contractor deficiency.

We are pro-active with contractors.  We typically have conversations at least weekly, if not daily, with the site supervisor and, as appropriate, with the subcontractors.  We are in frequent communication with the owner and architects, and we participate by telephone in the weekly job meetings.

We will ask questions based specifically on the construction schedule knowing full well the issues that occur phase by phase and discipline by discipline in animal shelter construction.

Finally, we provide excellent, efficient, and thorough site visits.  We recognize that we are remote to our projects, so our site visits must be especially productive.

  1. Design Learned provides an honest, one-time fee

Many firms, from architects to engineers to contractors, provide a low fee initially and then charge considerable extras and change orders over the course of the project.  (We actually have a book in our office on consulting engineering practice that advocates garnering 30% or more of fees through changes…)

We’re a niche marketed engineering and interiors firm.  We know our costs very well for animal shelters and veterinary hospitals; So much so that our price sheet is simply based on gross area for these projects.  Design Learned does not charge more per hour than most other firms and in fact, we are fairly competitive on that basis.

We do budget more hours than other firms would because we know what is required for us to perform very well and provide the very best animal care facility engineering and interior design.  In truth, you get what you pay for, and we know this well given that typically more than a quarter of our work is engineering remediation and expert witness work, often on brand new buildings.

  1. Value

Many architects, contractors and engineers simply do not know what they do not know.  Our specialization is a huge benefit to clients.  We wouldn’t know how to engineer or design the interiors for a casino or an elementary school.  And a generalist design firm doesn’t know how to engineer or design a boarding kennel, animal shelter or veterinary hospital.  Many local competitors with human medical facility experience try to use that as evidence of capability for animal care.  The extrapolation of human medical experience to animal care is simply incorrect.

If we can avoid even one mistake by the contractor or provide you with even one major design aspect that would have been overlooked by a less experienced designer, then we have almost certainly saved you the cost of our entire fee.

Improper design and specification is very costly.  Incorporating systems that are inappropriate, difficult to maintain, or undersized directly result in higher maintenance costs and premature replacement of HVAC equipment, caging, finishes and building materials.  Failure to provide efficient cleaning systems, rinsing drains, proper lighting and noise control leads to higher staffing levels, longer training times and greater staff turnover.

Better indoor air quality and better lighting increase animal health, reduce stress and disease, eliminate odor and reduce animal holding times.  And we have seen this in actual practice.


A Crucial Component >