HVAC: does one size fit all? No, it doesn’t

HVAC: does one size fit all? No, it doesn’t

A school, a pharmacy, a theater, and a retail outlet. Even superficially, these facilities don’t appear to have a great deal in common in many areas of operation. Add in a consideration of the building and energy management needs of each and no great leap of faith is required to realize that HVAC systems must be domain specific.

This blog is the first in a new series in which we’ll look at the energy and building management requirements of a range of different types of facility including energy and convenience stores, fuel and gas stations, financial and education facilities, restaurants, warehouses, and others. But we’ll start here with a general overview of the topic.

Just a cursory glance at the diverse list of facilities mentioned above and you don’t need to be an HVAC expert to quickly realize that the heating and ventilating requirements for a sports arena (large, airy, at times crowded, used intermittently) will differ significantly from those of a restaurant (often smaller, more intimate, containing the ventilation challenge of food preparation areas, etc.)

That being the case, it’s worth beginning at the beginning with a word of two about initial HVAC system design. Given that HVAC systems account for significant energy consumption and, in turn, an organization’s facility management costs, it stands to reason that both monetary and energy savings can be accrued by designing efficient facilities, ideally from the start. We know that optimally-performing HVAC systems can result in reductions in both areas ranging from 10%–40%.

First principles; what is an HVAC system?

HVAC refers to Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning. An HVAC system, whether domestic or commercial can be viewed as an aggregation of the different components in those functional areas brought together and designed to work in unison to create a comfortable, environmentally friendly space. This being the case, an HVAC comprises not just its underlying components but also the control systems (such as thermostats) that help everything work together.

Commercial HVAC systems are, as you might expect, more complex than their domestic equivalents. They come mainly in one of three configurations:

  • Packaged systems: all-in-one units (compressor, condenser, evaporator, and fan coil with the thermostat integrated). These tend to be targeted towards smaller facilities.
  • Split Systems: usually connected to ductwork, they’re favored for smaller commercial buildings, like small offices, restaurants, or small stores.
  • Rooftop units: located on the roof these are compact, all-in-one units that come in different forms; some only heat, others only cool, and still others do both. It is on this domain that our series will largely focus.

The configuration of choice is, as you can see, very much facility dependent and that’s something we’ll examine in more detail as the series progresses. For now, and with this picture in mind, the myriad of components and approaches that form a functioning HVAC make the value of the domain specificity immediately clear.

Choosing an HVAC to run efficiently is determined in large part by the facility type. A restaurant and a sports arena will have different performance and optimization requirements from each other, and other types of facilities.

Designing an HVAC system

HVAC system design goals should be clearly set from the start, taking into account the location and code requirements of the facility and then balancing the systems selected for efficiency with the end goal of delivering the best comfort combined with the maximum energy savings. This is broadly achieved by calculating the load of the building under several different working conditions (for instance, different times of year) to arrive at an operational solution that guarantees performance meets the facility’s unique requirements at any given time.

All these calculations are made in pursuit of the Holy Grail of efficiency. But selection of the most appropriate HVAC system isn’t the end of the story. In fact, it’s arguably just the beginning. There’s another fly in the ointment; usage. Usage (how the HVAC is used) is an issue because most units, if left alone to simply perform their duties (which in many cases they are), simply run on factory default settings. The result: a gym will operate to the same parameters (assuming the same HVAC is deployed) as a retail pharmacy. And that may not be ideal for either business. It’s in the optimization where the specific needs of each sector can be addressed.

Reaching peak performance, which is facility specific, is broadly a matter of optimization. You’ve acquired the right solution, but it must be utilized correctly. So, what does optimization involve?

HVAC optimization

Generally, effective optimization means automatically controlling the HVAC (24/7) so that it uses the minimum energy necessary without sacrificing overall performance. To achieve this the basic requirements are:

  • Accurate measurement. What you can’t quantify, you can’t optimize.
  • An optimization plan that identifies the most efficient steps that can be taken to improve performance but balanced in relation to the entire system providing comfortable conditions.
  • Operational control must be automatic and based on real-time inputs and adjustments.

It’s in the subsequent blogs in this series that we’ll examine how to achieve this optimized HVAC performance for a range of different facility types. For now, suffice it to say that a range of different strategies for reducing energy consumption are available.

These strategies include utilizing dashboards to deliver constant insight into how HVAC components are performing, identify areas where savings can be made, and enhance fault detection and diagnosis to protect both short- and long-term system health. HVAC optimization must address a combination of infrastructure design, system automation, comfort, and also ongoing monitoring and maintenance.

Optimize with NexRev

At NexRev, we’ve been unlocking the power in facility and energy management data with over a million connected devices across North America. Our team of experts is focused on helping you deliver more with your budgets, infrastructure, and assets to create sustainable savings in operations and energy, reducing your risk and increasing operational confidence.

NexRev’s DrivePak solution brings all your connected HVACs into a common IoT-enabled framework, enabling you to monitor them all from a central point with a single view of performance.

If you’re interested in learning more about our solutions can help your enterprise reduce energy costs, please send an email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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