Dr. Nadia Sabeh (A.K.A. “Dr. Greenhouse”) is President and Founder of Dr. Greenhouse, Inc., an agricultural and mechanical engineering firm located in Sacramento, CA that specializes in the design of HVAC systems for indoor plant environments. She is considered the subject matter expert in the field of controlled environment agriculture (CEA).
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Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the poly greens podcast. I'm Joe Swartz from am hydro, along with Nick greens and the Nick greens grow team. And unless you've all been aligned to us and haven't really been listening to the content of what we've been talking about. You'll start to notice that, um, all the movers and shakers and all the people that we've had on the show who are out there doing really great things in the industry, always tend to come back to talking about the plant and specifically what the plant needs and how to optimize.
All the parameters that the crops need for proper growth. And, uh, despite the fact that controlled environment, agriculture is controlled environment agriculture, environmental control tends to be, um, overlooked a lot of times in a lot of problems. When, when I go to see clients or I work with growers, Environmental factors or mismanagement of the environment tends to be one of the most common problems.
And so having someone that has a great level of expertise in both the engineering aspect and the agricultural aspect of environmental control is critically important. And unfortunately, in our industry, we don't have. All of that many people that really have a high level of expertise. Uh, so fortunately today we have a fantastic guest, um, affectionately known in the industry as Dr.
Greenhouse, Dr. Nadia Saba is, um, uh, someone who has come to the industry with both the agriculture and the engineering, uh, approach and has had a tremendous level of success with a lot of great growers. So up, we're really lucky to have you today. Uh, Nadia, thanks so much for joining us and, uh, we'd love to hear more about you and what you.
Thanks, Joe. And thanks Nick. I really appreciate the opportunity to, uh, to be here and be a guest on your podcast. Uh, and talk about what, what we do at Dr. Greenhouse and, and how I got to where I am and the future of this industry. Yeah, so you teed that up. Great. Um, and clearly you understand and have recognized that, uh, controlling the environment, controlling the shoot environment around the plant is one of the most overlooked and underrated, uh, portion of designing and planning, uh, a, an indoor farm, whether you're in a greenhouse or a vertical farm or a cannabis farm, or a container, it doesn't matter.
Um, For whatever reason. Uh, HVAC and controlling temperature, humidity, and vapor pressure deficit, and all of that, uh, is kind of usually put on the back burner. Uh, you know, I think part of that is because people just don't understand it. It's easy to understand lights, right? I mean, we see them. We work and live in lights and in a lit environment, uh, day and night.
And so we kind of understand why it's important and we get photosynthesis and we know that plants grow out in sunlight. So obviously plants need needless. And then the craft, I feel like a lot of times with growers, uh, happens at the nutrient level, right? Like there's all these like special nutrient recipes and how we're going to play with, you know, living soils and organic and, and, um, you know, just different delivery methods for nutrients and water.
And that's the tweaks. Those are the, that's the play that growers want to have. And then there's. HVAC right then there's okay. Well, temperature and humidity. I mean, it's just going to control itself, right? Like, I mean, they live outside plants live outside and they can withstand cold and hot and it shouldn't be a big deal, but it is a really big deal because now once we enclose these plants inside a building, um, we have to.
Deliver carbon dioxide to the point. Yeah. We have to remove heat from the lights and remove moisture from the plants that have been transpiring or the soil around them. And so how do we continue the air? How do we remove moisture? How do we remove heat? And then how do we give the plant exactly what it was in terms of, you know, VBD and temperature and humidity.
Um, and that's all goes back to HVAC and, you know, it's, it's, it's really been surprising. I mean, so I started Dr. Greenhouse four and a half years ago. I'm on my fifth year, which is just incredible. I started as a sole prop and now have three engineers. Three admin staff. I mean, all of a sudden I own a real live engineering firm focused on mechanical and HVAC systems for indoor farms.
And greenhouses is just fantastic. Um, but you know, especially early, um, in my experience with the industry, I would see very low budgets for HR. For climate control. Um, and still to this day, I see really low, um, budgets for HVAC. You know, people will spend half a million dollars on lighting and then they'll budget $25,000 for HVAC.
And I'm like, well, W, what do you want to control? Exactly because you're not going to be able well to control humidity or temperature or air velocity across the plant at $25,000 for a $5 million facility or whatever. Um, and what's nice is that as people have gained experience, as people are going from their pilot projects or prototype farm, Expanding and getting more investment money now that they've shown proof of concept, they're understanding, okay, this is really important.
We need to do this right. We need the right budget to do it. We need the right space allocation to, to fit this equipment. Um, and, and we're getting a lot more sophisticated people coming to us, recognizing the challenges and the needs for good climate. Isn't that interesting. How, when people prototype or start on a small scale as they scale up, one of the most pressing and overriding issues for them is realizing that one, the challenges that they've had related to not optimizing their environment, but also to.
The greatest growth opportunity. Um, you know, how can I better grow and get better yields, better quality, et cetera. And, and they suddenly realized that optimization is really where the opportunities are. So if I'm building a grow room, that's a $5 million grow room. Um, am I spending two, $3 million on my HVACs?
I mean, possibly. Yeah. That's possibly the needs that I need. Yeah, exactly. And remember, it's not just about the equipment. It's also about installing that equipment and controlling that equipment. Um, you know, that's the other piece that I think is going to be coming next is now people are understanding the importance of the HVAC equipment.
I think the next piece is going to be, um, an appreciation for how we control that equipment. Um, and, and that is a much, um, That's an even bigger challenging topic to broach sometimes. Um, so yeah, I would say easily 20 to 25% of your budget can be HVAC and that's your capital expense, right? That's not even your operating expense.
And there's also, you know, a lot of, um, research or studies or anecdotal, you know, Evidence, I guess that that lights, you know, use a lot of it or we know lights use a lot of energy, right? We can plug in a light, we know how many Watts each lamp is going to be. And you multiply that by the number of lamps per fixture and the number of fixtures, et cetera, et cetera.
And we know, okay, these lights are going to use, I don't know, you know, a hundred thousand. Watts of energy. Um, but the HVAC system, the HVAC system, isn't constant, you know, it changes depending on if the lights are on or the lights are off, or if you're growing cannabis or you're growing strawberries or lettuce, like everything depends on how the plant is responding to its environment and, and, and all the lights are the, the biggest contribution to the HVAC system.
Uh, heat removal, the plants that moisture that the plants are producing, that we need to remove through dehumidification people don't realize how energy intensive that is. I've had conversations even with like Jerry Kubota was like, I don't understand why the equipment, you know, needs to be one and a half or two times larger than.
How much power we're putting in with the lights. And I'm like, cause dehumidification uses two to two and a half times the energy to remove moisture than it does to remove. And it's just, it's ugly. Um, and we just don't have super great solutions yet, uh, that can minimize the energy intensity of moisture removal.
Yeah. That's really, and that is often overlooked and we'd like to, you know, little, little later down the conversation, talk a little bit more about the economics. I know that's kind of one of your specialties, but, but clearly. Um, that dynamic of, you know, the lighting you're, if you're lighting X number of hours a day, you know what, it's going to cost with the incredible fluctuation and the environmental parameters and how you need to control them and, and, and manage all the difference.
It's really it's. It is something that growers tend not to look at. It's very intangible. Yeah. And we're asking this HVAC equipment to operate under a very large range of conditions. Right. I mean, if you even just think about a vertical farm and let's, let's pretend for a moment that you are growing one crop.
In an inner room. Okay. And you didn't have like a perpetual harvest thing and you grew that plant from say, you know, it's germinated seed life from say like day five of today, 30, we are asking the equipment to be able to adjust its operation from a plant. That's this teeny tiny, big up to, you know, a full, mature head.
And that is, that is a very different dynamic. Um, and, and growers are changing the lighting levels right over the course of the crops life. And so, you know, if you think about an HVAC system that operates in your home or in your office, I mean, you have two settings, right? Like when you're there and when you're not there, when you're awake and when you go to sleep.
Um, and I mean, that's kind of the same with the plant environment, but the plants never go home or the plants never go to work. Right. They're always there. And so we always need. To be responding to their needs, twenty four seven, three hundred and sixty five days a year. And, um, that's also how HVAC equipment gets really expensive is that if we're going to hit the high and the low range, then we either need multiple equipment to hit the low and then the high, or we need equipment.
That's sophisticated enough that can range from say 10 or 20%. Maximum load all the way up to a hundred percent maximum cooling and dehumidification. It's just, it's hard. It's really hard. Is it, is it possible to like instead of growing in, you know, a five, a four as a a hundred thousand square foot facility, can I break that down to 10, 10,000 square foot rooms and have better control over my whole.
You know, a lot more, cause I'm not heating up and cooling space that I'm not even using. Right, right, right. Yeah. I mean, I, you know, I encourage growers to split their rooms into smaller chunks as much as possible. I mean, there's definitely, you know, like, A cutoff or a range, a which you're probably going to be better off where you're, it's too big or it's too small to really lose economic payback.
Exactly. Not to mention the risk associated with having one big giant room versus a few, right. If you get a con contamination or something, You know, breaks down that you're only losing, you know, a fifth of the crop, let's say you had five rooms as opposed to, you know, a hundred percent of, of the crop. Um, but yeah, I mean, growing in smaller rooms definitely helps with the HVAC selection in terms of.
It's operable range. Um, as well as the size of the equipment. Now, the more rooms you have, it could also mean that you have more equipment. And so you might have more electrical and plumbing, connections, and things like that. You might need more space for, you know, more equipment. Um, but you know, also in a big space, you might still need the same number of equipment.
Plus some, uh, just because it's still the same growing area, but now you have sort of competing zones and that's also something that makes controls really challenging. Um, So it just, yeah. Uh, smaller rooms allow you, I would say more options. So you can use smaller HVAC equipment. You can use, you have more options for packaged, uh, equipment.
Once you get into something really big, you probably want like a chilled water, like a central plant or something. And. Also an enormous amount of space to have chillers and pumps and boilers and maybe a cooling tower and all this other equipment to support it. And, oh, by the way, if you have one big central system, if something goes down and you don't have redundancy built in, you also lost your whole building and not just one room.
Right. Yeah. So there's, there's pros and cons, um, to all the ways. Uh, and, and I think we've, we've done them all and I think we've seen them all. What is your favorite? What do you have a favorite or is there a favorite. I really like packaged systems. Um, and, and a packaged system means that it's, you know, one piece of equipment that has the cooling, coil heating, coil, a fan, the filter, um, the controls built in and it serves like the specific.
Um, that it's designed for. And, and I liked that for a few reasons. One, the, probably the biggest reason is that it simplifies everything for the user, for the grower. You know, again, growers, the craft is in the nutrients and the lights and, and maybe, you know, adjusting some temperature and humidity and playing with VPD or whatever.
But for the most part, you know, they want to set it and forget it. Right. They, they want. To know that they're going to be able to control the climate. Um, and they'll be able to adjust the temperature humidity setting, and we'll be able to do that with a packaged system. It's fairly easy to, you know, push the arrow up or down and set the setting as long as it's within the range that it was designed for.
Um, and let it do its thing. And the maintenance is very easy. Usually. Um, you know, the equipment has good service tech reps around the country, you know, depending on who you're going with. And it's just simple. I would say once you get to a big central plant type of system, My concern there is that growers are not facility engineers.
They're not mechanical electrical engineers who will easily be able to troubleshoot any issues that there are with a chiller or. You know, the pumps and, and they have to, in those cases, I highly recommend that they have either, you know, one or two full-time staff, um, who are facilities, engineers who are monitoring and maintaining that equipment as well as a service agreement with their local, um, equipment reps that will come out every three months or every six months to.
To service the equipment to make sure that it's working right to recalibrate it. Um, and so it's just, you know, it's more. Cost cost intensive for sure. Um, it definitely takes more time to figure out, but the beauty about a central plant is that we can usually get the widest range of controls in terms of like, if, if you wanted to grow your plant between 60 degrees and 85 degrees, probably a central plant system can get you there.
If it's designed correctly, a baggage unit is never good. Little fan coin is like in the room with standalone dehumidifiers. You're never going to get that. Um, and, and so, you know, again, it goes back to how big of a range do you need to operate within? Um, what sort of technical staff and experience and capabilities do you have?
Um, Or you just really more focused on growing and just, you know, letting it do its thing and changing out filters every three months and, you know, having a nice control sensor package come along with the equipment. Cause we're not sure if the horticultural control system is going to be able to communicate with that equipment.
That's one of the challenges we have right now. Um, and, and just be done with it. You did say something. I want it to just go back and touch on is you talked about redundancies. Yes. And working with, you know, being a grower for a long time myself. Um, and when I work with other growers who, you know, we're looking at designs, we're looking at, um, implementing equipment.
They always want to work redundancy into it. Yeah. Pumps, equipment, chillers, et cetera. Whereas people that are new to the industry or people who have a. Skillset knowledge from outside the industry that come in almost never do. And it's like, because things break and things go down and they always do at the most inopportune times.
That's a really important part. And I'm glad to hear you. You bring that up and talk about that because, um, people do rely on the technology and the equipment very heavily, of course, and should, but. Anything mechanical does break and it does go down or miss, uh, miss operate in some way. And, um, and having, and it's not just always necessarily just a backup system.
You know, we think of automatic power generation and things like that, but there's a, there's a number of other components that, you know, you have to always look and work into that. Cause no, none of that equipment has failed. Absolutely. And on the point of redundancy, there's N plus one redundancy, which means you have two equal sized equipment.
So let's just say it's two equal size pumps. That's N plus one, um, where, uh, a different kind of redundancy is that you just have. Two two and a half to two half ends. Let's put it that way. So you might have two air conditioning yeah. Units that are serving the same room. Um, and each of them are designed to serve half the room.
Right. And so then one of those air conditioning units goes down. Maybe it's just, it's down for 30 minutes while you're changing out the filter and you had to turn off the fan. Right? It's not even like that big of a deal, but it goes down, but the other one is still operating. Okay. You're not getting.
Full amount of conditioning that you want, but at least you still have some conditioning. You still have air movement, right? You still have, the room is still alive and you don't have to turn all the lights off and, you know, just cross your fingers and hope that the equipment is going to come back on soon because you have no control.
Um, and so we have, um, several clients who, who ask for that. They don't, they don't want full redundancy. They don't want to. Air conditioners that are sized a hundred percent, but maybe if they're size for 60%, right. But they're going to operate at a 50% load all the time that then they have some peace of mind that the room isn't going to go, isn't going to go completely down.
If one of those units needs maintenance or service. Yeah, I had texted Nick about an hour ago. My internet went down this morning. Well, if we can't handle well, wifi here in my office, I don't want to trust a multi-million dollar facility, two, a two, nothing going wrong. Oh my God. For reals. Um, we actually have a big project in central California, 150,000 square foot cannabis facility.
And, um, it's using Cogan, uh, to, to generate five or six megawatts of power, but they have one megawatt of power coming in from PG and E. Um, and originally they were going to put the control system on the cogens system. And I was like, well, and so is there like starting things up or like, you know, hearing other stories from people in the, and uh, the power was going out.
Uh, I actually made the suggestion. I said, well, because of that, do you think it's a good idea to put the automation control system on the code gen system? Like maybe that's something we want on the grid power so that you always have at least. The controls to tell the system what to do when it goes down, right.
When it goes into it's like emergency mode or no power mode. Um, and they ended up doing that. They ended up reallocating the controls over to the, the grid power because they were having so many headaches starting up that they realized that was not the right way to do that. Um, So, of course there's other issues.
If they lose the generators, at least they can still see what's going on
and, and, and see that I, that experienced I, in terms of the mechanical. Aspect of it, but also how, as it relates to horticulture is so obviously so critically important, especially now when you're looking at facilities that are in the tens of millions of the dollars. So can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Because you've got a very interesting background. You you're a mechanical engineer, but you also have an agricultural background. And obviously being an alum of the university of Arizona controlled environment ag center, which we've had Jean and Mirage and Jen. Frame argon and Damien Solomon. Hopefully it will be on an upcoming.
So, I mean, there's, there's a lot of, uh, great people that have come from where you've been. So can you tell us a little bit about your background and that approach? You know, we've, we've gotten a little bit of an idea, but. Yeah. Sure. So when I was an undergrad at UC Davis, I mean, I could go way back. I could go back to high school, but let's just start at college, which is that I was a major in Biosystems engineering at UC Davis.
It was kind of a new program in the mid nineties. And, um, I was in a small class of like 10 or 12 people and it was kind of awesome. And I wasn't really sure if I wanted to be an engineer. I, I didn't feel like I was really good at math, but I really was good at physics. Um, I mean, I guess I was good at math, but I didn't feel like I was that good.
So anyway, I was taking a whole bunch of internships and, you know, in ecology and, and physical therapy and all over the place. And then finally, my junior year, I was like, okay, Maybe I should try and get an internship in my own major and see, you know, how I like this. So, so I did, and I was lucky to run into actually, I was introduced to, um, a newish professor who had only been there for about a year and a half.
Jean Vander. Again. And she had a, uh, a grad student who was studying mushrooms and he really wanted to grow ornamental mushrooms. Uh, and yeah. And so I was like, okay, that sounds cool. So anyway, help this grad student grow Shataki mushrooms. And I would just sit and like the growth chamber and just sit with the mushrooms for hours and take notes.
And I just, I loved it. And so then there was a farmer up in Southern Idaho growing. She talking oyster mushrooms who was looking for a grad student to intern to help him with his production. Well, my grad student, um, was already teed up to go work for Intel or Genentech or something for the summer. So. Uh, my, my advisor asked if I wanted to and I was like, okay.
Yeah, sure. You know, I'll, I'll go to Southern Idaho for a summer. So I did, and I lived, uh, in a 20 foot trailer right on the mushroom farm. And, uh, every morning I'd wake up at four in the morning. Not because I wanted to, because that's when all the farm workers came in because, you know, I learned very quickly, it gets really hot.
Arming is hot. Um, and so eventually after a few weeks, I was like, I guess I should just go with it. So then I would just get up at four in the morning and help them and work until noon and then do my data analysis. Well, one of the things that was his biggest challenge was controlling the environment he was growing should talking oyster, oyster mushrooms in greenhouses, basically in the Nevada.
And so we had a humidity control problem, but the opposite of what our indoor farmers typically deal with, which is that it was too dry to grow mushrooms. And so we were hosing down the floor or sticking hoses and the horizontal airflow fans. We had evaporative cooling pads, anything we could do to add moisture to these greenhouse bays.
Um, and so for me, that was my aha moment. I loved agriculture and farm life. I was never so active as, as living on a farm and, and, you know, um, I don't know, participating in all the family activities every weekend, it was so fun. Um, so I fell in love with farm life and I realized this is how I can help farmers by helping them control their emotions.
So I came back to college with a mission. This is what I want to do. I want to grow much help, help mushroom farmers grow mushrooms, and I want to help farmers control their environment. So, uh, that was in 1998. I'm going to age myself right now. And, uh, so then I went to Penn state. And for any one who knows about Penn state, that is where you go to do mushroom research.
Uh, and so they have a lot of, uh, programs and research facilities specifically for mushrooms. So I went there and I studied air distribution. For commercial mushroom farms, if you've ever been in a mushroom production facility, you know, it is set up like a vertical farm. So I have been studying vertical farms before vertical farms were cool and how to, uh, effectively uniformly distribute air, uh, within that.
So after my master's degree, I took a break, came back to UC Davis, worked in a lab, and then I was like, you know, maybe I should study something other than mushrooms. And I learned about the new controlled environment ag program at the university of Arizona. Uh, this was like 2002, 2003. Uh, contacted, uh, Jean jock and belly and Sherry Kubota.
And they invited me out to visit, uh, there was a USDA national needs fellowship that was available. And, um, so I got that and I will say that, uh, Jen was a big reason why I ended up going to the UK. She's just very insistent when she sets her mind to something you're going to do it. And I was like, okay, I guess I'm coming to Arizona.
Um, so anyway, yeah, so I did my PhD studying, um, water use efficiency and, and I guess, cooling and ventilation for commercial tomato production. Uh, I w I was lucky enough, you know, the center was new, lots of new facilities and greenhouses, and, um, It was, it was an amazing experience. And I'll tell you that one.
My, my, my two biggest outcomes that I would say from my PhD was that the water use efficiency of growing tomatoes in a greenhouse versus growing in a field. And in California. Is unfortunately not that different. Once you include evaporative cooling into the equation, that was the missing piece. Everyone always talks about hydroponics and how, how efficient it was.
It is to deliver water directly to the plant, right through hydroponics and drip tubes and emitters and timing, and based on DLI and based on blah, blah, blah. And I realized that there was no literature about how much water was used for evaporative cooling. And once I added that into the equation, it was, but obviously there are many other benefits to growing in a greenhouse.
If there weren't, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now. Um, and the other thing that I realized is that 60 air changes per hour for ventilation with evaporative cooling is not necessarily the right targets. Um, you know, at least in Tucson and that semi arid climate, you know, uh, an air change rate of closer to 45 or 50 air changes per hour gives you about the same conditions as 60 air changes per hour and uses less water doing it.
So why are we pushing 60? Um, I'm still trying to beat that. It's still something that is hard to convince people to walk away from, but, um, it it's very climate dependent and crop dependent. I will say. So anyway, I finished my PhD and I was like, you know, what do I want to do next? Do I want to do a post-doc or, you know, my, you know, I re I got my PhD cause I love teaching and I really want, want to be a professor.
That's actually my retirement plan. My exit strategy would be to retire as a professor cause that's going to be easy. I'm sure. Um, and I realized, you know, there's, there's this whole industry out there. Mechanical engineering, architecture, HVAC engineering that I'm not seeing in agriculture. And we have all these big ideas, you know, as grad students about, um, you know, sustainability.
Uh, one of the things I really wanted to do is try to integrate, you know, indoor agriculture or greenhouse agriculture with the built environment with human, uh, spaces. But I didn't know if this was actually practical or doable. So I said, you know, if I'm really going to figure this out, if we can do this, um, Maybe I should go and be an engineer.
So I got a real job and, um, worked as a mechanical designer, um, first in Tucson and then in California, uh, and got my mechanical engineers license and I was designing HVAC systems for, you know, everything from. Uh, you know, commercial buildings to hospitals and, uh, animal shelters. And, and then in 2015 ish, that's when we started getting calls about cannabis.
And I was like, oh, okay, here we go. And of course the joke was when I was doing my PhD, when are you going to grow the real stuff? Right. You're doing hydroponics, you're growing mushrooms. Like what are you going to grow? The real stuff. So anyway, I started doing some projects at my old engineering firm and we were trying to like, you know, we're realizing that the market is growing, not just in cannabis, but vertical farms.
I went to indoor ag con three, I think really sort of introducing myself back into the controlled environment ag, um, I don't know, group of people, uh, cohort, I had been out for a long time, uh, and needed to see, like, is this, are these still my people? And they're still my people, for sure. And, and so I realized in 2016, that the only way I was really going to be able to completely focus.
On, um, you know, applying HVAC engineering to control the environment. Agriculture is if I started my own company and broke out on my own. And so that's what I did. Um, and yeah, so here we are four and a half years later, and we're growing the industry is growing on all and all sectors and it's super, so you must be stretched kind of thin quite a few directions at this point to say the least.
Um, yeah, I mean, we are in a lot of different directions. Uh, most people think that the majority of our projects are cannabis related, but that's not true. I, you know, it kind of fluctuates, but we're almost always about 50 50 where we're cannabis and then we're everything else. Right. I mean, from mushrooms, strawberries, leafy greens, microgreens et cetera.
Um, and. Uh, you know, we have some other special projects that, that we're working on. Uh, you know, we're industry advisors, uh, to, uh, the NYC sorta project, uh, that's uh, with, um, with Cornell and then, uh, Where industry advisors for the Optima group, you know, with Terry Kubota and Eric Runkle and, and that whole, uh, team.
So, you know, we're, we're staying in the mix with academia and trying to stay on the cutting edge and say, state of the art, um, on the research, which is. Desperately lacking in the cannabis industry. Um, and, and then we have a lot of good industry partnerships with, uh, our relationships, really with manufacturers, uh, to, to discuss what are the needs for the industry.
What are growers looking for? Um, how can their equipment be, you know, modified or improved? To meet these special environments and this special user. Um, and then, uh, we work with utilities. Uh, I mean, we're, we're kind of all over the place because you know, my, my, my ultimate goal is to elevate the conversation is to educate everyone as equally as possible.
And one of my favorite roles, uh, in this industry is that I get to play in trouble. You know, I get to be the, I get to put on my engineer's hat, talk to engineers, I get to put on my growers hat, talk to growers. Um, and I get to, you know, put on my plant scientists, agricultural engineering hat, and, you know, talk to academia and, and everywhere in between to try to help everyone understand what everyone's needs and goals and outcomes are.
And it's. It's fun to be able to do that. And, uh, yeah, I hope, I hope we do it. So you get to be that contact or panel connecting the HVAC equipment to the controller. That's a good place. Now, would you say, um, uh, most of your work right now in terms of the, you know, kind of nuts and bolts, are you looking at, uh, Caminos starting at the beginning and system design and implementation, or are you looking more at retrofits for existing stuff?
How does that kind of play out? And it's a mixed bag. Um, You know, I'll start at the retrofits because at the beginning of the conversation, we were talking about prototypes and, and people not having the funding that they needed to, you know, adequately invest in the HVAC system or any, you know, all of their systems really, um, and then have, have grown up and now have the funding.
Uh, and so in those cases we have been called. Back many times where, uh, they couldn't afford us or they couldn't afford the equipment. And now they can because they they've been making money and they've been demonstrating to their investors that they can make more money. And so we're going back in and helping them to retrofit some of their, their rooms with, with better purpose-built equipment, um, or helping them expand into new spaces with the right equipment with them, the goal.
To, you know, make three times the amount of money with a better controlled space to then come back and retrofit the older spaces with the right equipment. Um, so we're, we're getting a lot of those calls, um, for sure. Um, and then, you know, we do have a lot of projects where we're starting from the ground up.
Uh, I really like it when our clients call us as sort of the conceptual or schematic design phase when they're just putting it. Pen to paper, maybe they have, you know, a draft layout. They kind of have an idea of what they're going to do and how much they want to produce. Uh, and then we can come in and say, Hey, have you thought that, what about maybe moving this room over here?
You know, rather than it being over here for, for risk management, um, or have you thought of where's the equipment going to go? Like your building is pushed right up against, you know, your property line and you just told me your roof is, um, you know, is, is metal, uh, where are we going to put this equipment?
Uh, and, and we have helped people with site selection because of that, because space. And power are probably two of the biggest considerations when picking your site for your farm. And, you know, we've been in too many facilities where the building and the property didn't allow for the equipment to be on the roof or outside.
And so we had to put it inside, which means you're eating up footprint, you're eating at production space, right. Or you're stuck. 800 amps of power at 230 volts, you know, like, okay. So, um, you're going to have one room and you're going to have, you know, some pretty crappy equipment to serve it unless you get a service upgrade.
And what's funny is that a lot of times they see the service upgrade is okay. Yeah, we'll do that. They'll even invest the money into it, but then they see that it can take a year to get that upgrade and, uh, I'll just say that it's, it almost never happens that we start a project and finish it within a year.
Um, if you start a project and finish it within 18 months, you're doing pretty good. I mean, it obviously depends on the scale of the project, but even we have this little project in Massachusetts, it's like, I don't know, like maybe 2000 square feet total with a few different rooms. And we've been helping this guy for a year.
You know, and he just submitted his permit plans, you know, by the time everything happens, it's going to be probably 16 months. So, um, that's a really small facility. If you're talking like a hundred, 250,000 square feet, you know, a realistic schedule in addition to a realistic budget is going to keep everyone safe.
Already in my life. Wait a minute, you have the system here and when can it be? When can I be operational? Oh, tomorrow. Yeah. And I kind of walk away from projects, Joe, like seriously, because I remember this one call I had with someone two years ago and they wanted to build a vertical farm. I can't remember where, and it was April.
No, it was like March 20th or something. And they're like, yeah, we're going to get the keys on April 1st. And I was like, oh, okay. So do you have, uh, you know, a floor plan? Do you have an architect? No, like we have some sketches, you know, we weren't sure if this was going to be the building. So, you know, um, but April 1st we'll know for sure.
And then we'll have the, you know, the plans to you in like two weeks. And anyway, fast forward, their goal was to be in production by September. So I literally walked them through the process. I said, okay, well, first let's start at the end. Okay. So if, if your goal, let's say it's September 30th, it takes most equipment.
Most HVAC equipment has a three month lead time. So backup three months. So now it's, you know, August 30th, July 30th, June 30th. So you have to buy these sequences. By June 30th and like sign on the dotted line, right. June 30th and that's in 33 months right now is pretty aggressive. I mean, everyone is building right.
So that means if you're going to purchase that by June 30th then, and it's April 1st is when you're starting, then that gives us about, you know, two to three months to do the design. Do you have an electrical engineer? No. Do you have a structural engineer? No. Do you have plumbing designer? No. Do you have a mechanical engineer of record where you're located?
No. And you don't have an architectural floor plan? I was like, it's impossible. And they were like, why hasn't anyone told us that before? I'm like, I don't know. Why am I the first person who has told you that this is not realistic? Like how many people have you talked to? And this is the first time you've heard this.
Um, I don't know whatever happened to them. Uh, but you know, I, and, and, and we can't drop everything also. I mean, people don't realize it takes a lot of coordination to design and engineer a facility. Um, and, and if you want to do it right, there's going to be a lot of. In coordination upfront, otherwise you're going to be designing while you're building.
And that is a recipe for disaster. I had this exact conversation with a potential client yesterday, and I just wanted you to know that your story is bringing my headache back. So no. Well, let me know if you need my help, uh, system designed by next Monday. Thank you. Um, so, uh, you know, this insight is fantastic and we really appreciate it.
And obviously we're going to have your back. Um, so obviously you've got a great social media presence, your website, um, Dr. greenhouse.com. Please tell us a little bit about how people can find you and see what you do. And reach out to you if they need your help. Oh yeah. Sure. Thank you. Uh, so I'm, I'm on LinkedIn, so you can find me there under Nadia Saba.
We also have a Dr. Greenhouse page, um, that we recently developed and, you know, we're starting to build it. Uh, you can find us on Instagram as well. I have my own account, uh, which is Dr. Greenhouse. And then we have a Dr. Greenhouse Inc account, which I will say is more active, um, because I'm not the one trying to run it.
I'm horrible with social media and be honest, but I am really good at giving presentations and speaking and going to conferences. So, um, pre pandemic, uh, you know, I was probably going to attend conferences a year and I think I had, uh, 12 speaking engagements in, in 2019 in addition to my, my travel schedule.
So you can find me on the circuit then. Uh, speaking engagements that I'm going to have any of you out there listening or mechanical engineers or interested in learning more about HVAC engineering. Uh, ASHRAE the American society for heating refrigeration, air conditioning, HVAC, uh, that society for engineers.
Uh, we have a special track this year, specifically on plant and animal environments. Um, I'm moderating two panels. Uh, one of which does have change Amelie on it, talking about the sustainable future of, uh, food production. Uh, and then another one that has a few growers to talk about, what do growers want?
I want them to speak directly to the engineer. So engineers are hearing it from the horse's mouth, so to speak or the plants mouth, I should say, from the plants to Mada. Um, anyway, uh, and then I'm giving three presentations, one about economizers and mixing boxes to save energy. So how do we use outside things?
And mix it within inside air, uh, to not use air conditioning. Uh, another one that's about air flow and air distribution and, and the challenges of doing that in a vertical farm and Dr. Murat Kucera is actually one of the speakers on that. He's going to be presenting some of his research there. And then a third one that just talks generally about the unique environments for plants and animals.
Again, we're trying to educate other engineers so that. Um, they can help properly design other people's, uh, facilities, um, uh, and had to have the knowledge to do so. And there's a whole bunch more, um, seminars and panels specifically on this topic. So if you're interested, you can contact me or you can go to ashtrays website it's remote.
It was supposed to be in Phoenix, which would have been super cool. Cause I would have probably organized like 5,000 tours, um, in Arizona. But instead it's remote, which means it's actually cheaper, um, because everything is virtual. So that's kinda nice, especially for non-members. I'm going to be speaking at the cannabis conference, uh, in August, uh, in Las Vegas about a greenhouse.
Design and engineering, and those are my next speaking engagements. And, uh, we are hoping to start up our, uh, biannual workshops again, uh, pre pandemic, uh, twice a year. Uh, I hosted a, uh, a workshop. It started as a half day workshop and morphed into a one and a half day workshop. And, uh, specifically about HVAC and climate control for both greenhouses and indoor farms.
And I love giving this workshop because I get growers manufacturers, equipment vendors, uh, just. All sorts of people who want to learn more about controlling their environment for plants. And so it's just, I love seeing the cross-pollination happen. Uh, so probably the next one, assuming everything goes well with COVID will be this fall or winter in Northern California.
And then. We'll go from there. So if you're interested in that you can, um, sign up for that when, when we start to announce it and then yeah. Uh, you can always visit our website. We have a lot of blogs that are posted and informational educational information up there, um, that can help. You know, from very basic to, to pretty advanced, uh, topics at Dr.
greenhouse.com. Oh, so that's all you do. That's it.
We also have a podcast. We were pretty active on it about a year ago. Um, have, um, had a couple more since then. And, uh, it's something that I would like to do more because I love having these conversations. So maybe, maybe one of you guys will be one of my guests in the near future. That'd be awesome. Cool.
I do, I do have a last question here. Um, if you can go back to an older version of yourself, uh, and, and give some advice or to, you know, have a little talk. Wait, what, what would that conversation. You know, honestly it would be do what you did. Like, like stay. I mean, here's the thing. When, you know, I, I focused my education all on, on agriculture, agricultural engineering, Biosystems engineering, those are all my degrees.
And then I went out and did mechanical engineering and everyone was shocked. My mom was like, how can you leave agriculture? And like, go and like, do this other thing. And, you know, I always had a plan that I was going to bring that back to agriculture, um, and, and kind of had to let the doubters and the skeptics kind of fall by the wayside because I knew what I wanted to do.
And I knew that if, if I, if I made those choices for myself and always with my eye on the prize, that. It would come in and it's really kind of amazing the future that I conjured up for myself. Uh, I like to think of, uh, that, you know, I didn't know, in 1998, that this was going to be, you know, that this industry was going to take off the way it was going to take off.
And that HVAC was really going to be an underrepresented area, um, for this industry. And, you know, the universe conspired. To help me and help others. I hope, um, through me. Uh, and, uh, yeah, I mean, I would just say, don't worry about the doubters, you know, just do what you gotta do, um, and, and stay the course and keep your eye on the prize and it'll be there.
Um, and it, and it has been for me. So I, I, I know that I'm very lucky that that happened, cause it doesn't always happen. Um, but. Yeah, I don't know. I like that question. I'm going to think about it more. So that was awesome. Thank you so much, Nadia. I mean, I hope everyone has a chance to kind of listen and go back and listen again, uh, to some of the things that she brought up, because there were so many, I mean, really a lot of gold right there.
Um, so, so much good usable information, a lot of really important stuff to think about as we move forward. In the controlled environment, ag industry. And again, the, the environmental management of it is such a big, but underrepresented or underappreciated part of that. And so clearly Nadia and her colleagues are doing an amazing job with that.
We're, we're grateful for that and grateful for her time. And, uh, and we thank you all for joining us today and we hope you got a lot of great stuff out of it. Please keep sending in the comments and suggestions. We'd love reading them, and we're going to be addressing some more of your questions in an upcoming episode.
So until then, thanks so very much, uh, Nadia, thanks so much everyone for joining us and we hope you have a great day. Thanks everyone.