Designing HVAC Systems to Last in Schools

Ron Cobb

I feel very fortunate to work with education clients to make improvements to their buildings that range from 15 to 100+ years old. Each of these buildings boast a different design and system yet they each show me what has worked well and what has hindered the adaptation to current teaching techniques. I think that one of the biggest things I have learned is that the building needs to be “timeless” from the inside out. What I mean by “timeless” is that as curriculum changes and the methods of teaching changes the building should be flexible to allow for easy adaptation.  That is a very architectural way of looking at it I know but we should be doing it with the MEP design as well. So how do I make HVAC systems timeless? I have a couple thoughts that I try to apply whenever possible.

First is unitary system design. By designing a central system that transports energy throughout the building utilizing water or refrigerant you can adapt your building fairly easily. Instead of having literally tons and tons of sheet metal to change around your building you have small pipes to change. You may think that these systems are very inefficient but they actually always get more efficient with time.

Second, spend money on what is going to last the longest. When we design our piping and ductwork we try to specify better parts and pieces to extend the life of those systems.  The actual heating/cooling equipment will give out in 15 years, but the piping and ductwork will be there for 50 years. This is only true if you provide the right type upfront to allow for changes without replacement.

Lastly, keep it simple! When we over complicate things we end up making our clients life miserable down the road. Just because our clients understand how they work currently doesn’t mean in 10 years the next person know what the heck is going on. This could cost our client more money down the road then we ever saved them.

Questions on what system is right for your school, how much money in energy costs you could save or if now is the right time to upgrade?  Just give me a call; I’m happy to help.

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