Recommendations on getting the most out of your facility's HVAC system
In May 2018, Mayor Melvin Carter announced Energize Saint Paul, a new initiative that helps St. Paul property owners and residents use energy and water more efficiently. The initiative is the result of a partnership between the City and public, commercial, and residential buildings, with the potential to help mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, energy-related costs can be a considerable burden for low-income communities in the U.S. Energy efficiency efforts contribute to housing that is affordable and healthier, both for occupants and for our environment.
Mark Hancock, CEE's director of engineering, recently spoke at an “Ask an Engineer” event to support the initiative. Attendees were encouraged to ask questions about the efficiency issues they’ve experienced in their own buildings.
“HVAC efficiency is important because these costs go to the bottom line of the facilities. Inefficient operation increases operating costs,” says Hancock, “and this affects the profitability of the building and can result in uncomfortable spaces for building occupants.”
As CEE’s engineering lead, Hancock has been engaged in a broad range of research around efficiency, gas, and electric uses. As part of his presentation, he discussed heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC) efficiency in buildings, and some of the high-level design problems he’s encountered as an engineer in the field.
Here are a few of his recommendations to ensure that HVAC systems operate efficiently:
Make sure the heat isn’t on in the summer. This sounds obvious, but a lot of buildings don’t fully shut off their heating system in the summer, leading to simultaneous heating and cooling.
Inspect and clean the cooling system. Whether a building uses condenser coils or a cooling tower, it could probably benefit from a closer look. Check for debris and wash it thoroughly.
Replace filters. Filters should be changed every one to six months. When filters are dirty the system uses more fan energy to move air into the building.
Make sure the Variable Frequency Drive (VFDS) are in auto mode. VFDs are a type of motor controller that drives an electric motor by varying the frequency and voltage supplied to the electric motor. If your system has a variable frequency drive for more efficient operation, make sure it isn’t stuck on one speed.
Reduce unnecessary energy demand. Check a few things to ensure that you are only paying for the energy you need. Setback thermostats and lower shades in unoccupied spaces and turn off lights if they aren’t needed.
Check your airflow rates. If you have problem areas that are hard to heat and cool, call a test and balance company (which provides a health check for your HVAC system to ensure the equipment is operating properly) to test and calibrate your airflow rates and spaces.
With a few simple adjustments, building owners and residents can improve the efficiency level of their HVAC systems and increase the comfort of their buildings, which also lowers operational costs. To learn more about CEE’s energy efficiency research, visit our project pages and Field Notes newsletter.
How Existing Building Commissioning Can Save Money and Improve Comfort in Commercial Buildings
Media: Building upgrades give downtown St. Paul smaller energy footprint (MPR)