HVAC Trends: Tomorrow’s HVAC

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By Jillian Ruffino
Published in the January 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Photo: created by Jeff Clapp, Group C Creative Director

There’s a little world inside of every facility. Most managers know that without organized, reliable people to oversee them, buildings can become dens of chaos and negativity. While it may seem strange to consider how the larger world’s political and social issues affect heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC), the threats that endanger the earth are beginning to permeate every aspect of life. A facility’s HVAC systems are no exception. With this in mind, facility managers who carefully rethink HVAC in buildings can yield positive results for the planet and help create a safe haven for occupants.

Change in any part of a facility can seem daunting. It is important to ask the right questions. When should a building’s HVAC be updated? How can be it be made more sustainable and create a safer environment for occupants? What will it cost? These are the questions that every facility manager should ask when rethinking HVAC.

Sustainable HVAC

HVAC systems can have a strong negative impact on the environment. Commercial facilities require a large quantity of energy to heat, cool, and ventilate; even when these systems are working properly, it is still imperative to keep them updated in order to protect the environment and lower costs. With the opportunity to reduce the effect of a building’s HVAC systems, facility professionals can implement real change and seriously influence the future of the world.

It may seem as though HVAC-as long as it is in good working condition-does not need to be updated. When is it appropriate to consider overhauling a facility’s HVAC systems? Meredith Emmerich, product manager for Suwanee, GA-based Mitsubishi Electric HVAC, explains, “An out of date system is one that runs 24/7, 365 days of the year, consumes enormous amounts of energy, and costs too much.”

Overall, Emmerich suggests, “A building’s HVAC needs to be updated if it is not able to provide comfort throughout the entire building through individually controlled, quiet systems that effectively use energy.”
Once it has been determined that HVAC systems are not adequately energy efficient, how can they be updated to be more sustainable?

Renee Chesler, general manager for CertainTeed Corporation, headquartered in Valley Forge, PA, believes the answer to energy efficiency problems may be insulation. She asserts, “Insulation is experiencing a new focus from building contractors, facility managers, and building owners. By increasing the R-value (the capacity to resist heat flow) of insulation in commercial buildings, facility managers can avoid significant energy costs. Not only is this a financial benefit for the building owner, but less energy use is better for the environment overall.”

The recent focus on insulation can be attributed to new installation and measuring methods. With thermal analysis and energy estimating computer modeling tools available, insulation can be implemented more accurately, and its benefits can be calculated easily.

This technology and other innovations are accommodating the need for energy efficiency. Stirling Boston, marketing manager for Lebanon, TN-based Lochinvar, is excited by the new, more advanced modulating burners replacing burners that fire in stages. “Modulating operation,” Boston claims, “helps save energy and prolongs the life of appliances by eliminating over-firing and excessive cycling.”

Individual controls will also benefit facility professionals interested in reducing energy use. This technology, according to Emmerich, allows each individual to determine his or her own comfort level in terms of cooling, heating, and desired set temperature. Rather than running HVAC systems continually at constant levels, personal choice will alleviate the overly zealous cooling or heating of an entire building.

Director of business strategy for West Kingston, RI-based American Power Conversion, Kevin Dunlap focuses on cooling technologies for computer rooms and data centers. He explains how data center upgrades can affect cooling requirements. “Voice over IP (VoIP) and Power over Ethernet (PoE) are important, because the IT equipment that enables this technology drives up heat removal requirements in office environments by 10 times over localized areas.”

His solution? “It is extremely critical to understand the latest technologies. Removal of heat closer to the source of generation is important to ensure the warmest possible return temperatures at the air conditioner by eliminating mixing or short cycling with the air supply.”

Although each facility manager will have his or her own strategy to reduce energy use, it is imperative to keep up with the latest developments. Boston says, “Technology is ever changing in the HVAC industry, resulting in more energy efficient and cost saving solutions. Embracing and understanding the new technologies introduced to the HVAC industry can help each facility manager prepare for the changes to come.”

The Cost Of Going Green

Budgeting is always an issue when considering making any change in a facility. With limited resources, it can be difficult to imagine revamping HVAC, especially if the systems are already in good working condition. Every facility manager is concerned about the environment, but financial concerns are an important priority.

Fortunately, overhauling HVAC to use less energy can ultimately save on those costs for a facility. Boston asserts that a common misconception about HVAC is it is too expensive to install energy efficient systems. This expert explains, “School districts and universities have been some of the most proactive supporters of investing in technology and efficiency. This is due to the fact that they plan on owning their facilities for a long time and are more concerned about the life cycle cost of their systems as opposed to the installation or upfront costs.”

As with most energy efficient upgrades, the initial price tag may be higher depending on the needs of the facility, but long-term costs can be drastically lower due to diminished utility bills. Adds Boston, “This involves evaluating the ROI (return on investment) and taking into consideration the big picture. The investment associated with upgrading to the next level of efficiency and control in mechanical systems is minimal compared to future benefits that will be received.”

Health Issues

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is also an important consideration when revamping HVAC systems. Dr. Robert Scheir, president and CEO of Burbank, CA-based Steril-Aire, Inc., states, “HVAC systems need to be reassessed when they rely on chemical cleaning, use inadequate filtration, and are unprepared for bio-threats.” These factors can have serious consequences for any person trusting enough to breathe the air in a badly ventilated or ill-prepared facility.

Problems with IAQ can lead to irritation and illness among building occupants, and facility managers must be prepared to assuage these issues by carefully purchasing HVAC systems. Today’s political climate, however, threatens to provide an even worse IAQ danger: bio-terrorism. For those managing facilities that may be potential targets, ventilation is of paramount importance.

The Centers for Disease Control classifies biological agents in three categories: A, B, and C. Category A hazards are those with a high potential for both a negative health impact and large scale dissemination. These include anthrax, smallpox, plague, and botulism. Again, technology may provide a solution. Scheir’s recommendation? “Ultraviolet-C (UVC) devices in HVAC systems, when installed opposite cooling coils, can emit germicidal UVC energy that destroys surface mold and organic buildup on coils. It can also obliterate airborne viruses and bacteria that can circulate through the air handling system.”

Protecting against these hazards can also result in lower energy use. Scheir continues: “Probably the most widespread misconception is that energy efficiency and IAQ are conflicting goals. Facilities can achieve both.” In fact, proper application of UVC devices can keep cooling coils clean, resulting in lower HVAC energy costs by improving heat transfer and increasing net cooling capacity.

HVAC Of The Future

HVAC renovations are clearly heading in the right direction. With many options for energy efficient strategies and advances in technology, the future of this essential equipment appears promising.

Of the years to come, Boston believes, “Everything depends on advancing technology, not just in our industry, but in every industry and in every component of our lives.” Experts concur that each facility will require different changes, and these modifications should be decided on a case by case basis. Custom solutions will be needed, and facility managers must remain educated and up to date on the latest in HVAC.

A facility should be a safe and healthy place that minimizes damaging the environment and keeps occupants protected from the dangers of terrorism. With these goals in mind, managers can create in their facilities a microcosm of an ideal earth-one that is sustainable and secure.

This article was based on interviews with Boston, Chesler, Dunlap, Emmerich, and Scheir.

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