Though there are many people that contribute to HouseZero™, the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) net-zero carbon emissions building and living laboratory, Pete Howard is the building’s primary caretaker.
As Building Automation, Technology, and Data Manager, Pete ensures that the building’s day-to-day operations, as well as its integrated systems and applications, are functioning as efficiently as possible. On any given day, Pete can be found sorting out gaps in building data, analyzing building power generation, or optimizing the operation of various systems, in addition to managing other lab-related projects.
“Every day here is a different day. It’s dynamic, and it has its challenges, but there is always something interesting happening or a question we are trying to answer,” said Pete. “It’s exciting to look into the future of what we can do, knowing that these systems aren’t usually in typical buildings. We are at the forefront of technology.”
Even before joining the CGBC team, Pete was no stranger to Harvard University. Pete grew up in Arlington, MA, only a short journey away from campus. After receiving his BS in Marine Engineering from Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Pete worked as an engineer onboard merchant ships for a few years before shifting to a building automation controls company. That company was later bought by Siemens, for whom he worked for 28 years in various roles, cities, and titles, all within the envelope of building automation.
“There are a lot of similarities between ships and buildings, from an engineering and operations standpoint. Going to sea is a tough life, but there’s a boiler, chiller, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems that you might find in a commercial building,” said Pete. “It’s transferable work, but it is nice to be home at night.”
While serving as a contractor at Siemens, Pete was supporting a system upgrade throughout the Harvard University campus, which brought him to the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the CGBC. Because he worked specifically with integration, computers, system architecture, and IT, Pete’s expertise was particularly helpful for the CGBC, and he later joined the research team full-time.
“I make sure that the building operates, and that the data is there to support the research. It’s all going into the big picture: a carbon neutral building,” said Pete. “This role took me out of previously limited roles, broadening my work to different avenues I was never contemplating before. I learn something new every day, whether that be about the building’s operation or its impact.”
Outside of his work, Howard enjoys spending time with his thirteen-year-old daughter, cooking, traveling, and working on various projects. A couple of years ago, he converted a 100-gallon air compressor tank into a smoker, and now makes his own rubs and spices for barbecue.
Whether it is cooking barbecue, caring for the building, or managing systems and controls, Pete does everything with a little bit of passion. Most of all, he looks for opportunities to grow.
“A career should be a chance to expand one’s mindset. I see a lot of people getting stuck in a role that becomes limited, when it should really expose you to new things, like building automation and system operations does for me,” said Pete. “There are always opportunities out there. Be true to what you feel and what you want to do and keep asking questions.”