How Universities Can Stop HVAC Equipment Costing The Earth
Energy costs can amount to half to a third of a typical HVAC system’s operation, so there are compelling financial reasons to focus on ensuring that the system runs at its optimum performance level.
But there are also spectacular carbon emission savings to be made simply by cleaning your HVAC system (let alone having it serviced). For example, we know of a major university in the southwest that saved more than £100,000 a year just by having its scaled-up flat plate heat exchangers cleaned. This was some years ago – given the rocketing fuel process since then, the savings would be even more impressive today.
As a rule of thumb, if a heat exchanger is working 10% less efficiently then the boiler will also be working 10% less efficiently. Many flat plate heat exchangers are only operating at 50% efficiency so the savings can be sizeable. The same principle can, of course, also be applied to other HVAC equipment.
But the energy saving potential of looking after heat exchangers applies equally to other types of HVAC equipment.
So, what can you do to save energy and unlock some of these impressive savings?
Fabric first approach to university energy savings
Before you try anything else, it will pay dividends to follow a ‘fabric first’ approach to energy saving wherever possible. This means conducting an audit of the building to maximise the performance of the components and materials that make up the building fabric itself. The best way to conserve energy, after all, is not to consume it in the first place.
There are, of course some of the measures involved in a fabric first approach that will not be possible because this approach generally prioritises the energy efficiency of a property from conception, at the start of the design and development process.
However, it’s worth conducting an audit to ensure all that is possible is being done to minimise the need for energy consumption by:
- Increasing air tightness by employing the best possible insulation in the right places.
- Eliminating thermal bridging wherever possible.
- Optimising solar gain and natural ventilation.
- Exploiting the thermal mass of the building itself.
- Recovering the energy from building occupants, electronic devices, machinery, and so on.
Once you have optimised the fabric of the building, you can begin to consider other ways to save energy. So, for example:
- Ensure HVAC equipment is correctly sized.
- Upgrade controls and employ smart controls wherever possible.
- Consider retrofitting older HVAC systems (it can be a false economy to struggle on with worn-out or outdated equipment).
- Set temperature zones to avoid heating or cooling areas unnecessarily.
- Employ best maintenance practice.
The last point is particularly important to save energy and carbon as well as to reduce bills. The most effective way to tackle your HVAC maintenance needs is to seek the guidance of a professional. But more than this, it is critical that you take specialist advice on the specific type of equipment you are thinking of specifying.
Maintenance is best tackled by employing the five-step continuous improvement cycle which involves the following: Determine where you are now with a maintenance audit; decide where you want to get to by setting performance targets; plan how to get there by adopting a series of measurable stages; implement the plan, and then return to the first step to start the process all over again.
Preventative HVAC maintenance
There is no substitution for preventive maintenance because it boosts reliability, improves energy efficiency, helps you plan effectively, and is designed to ensure the best possible operation of equipment and avoid expensive, disruptive unforeseen equipment failure or shutdowns.
Preventive maintenance – which includes tests, measurements, adjustments, parts replacement, and cleaning performed specifically to preclude faults – is essentially a two-part procedure: ensure the plant is operating at its highest possible efficiency and maintain this performance.
It involves a number of steps, including maintain a daily operating log and compare the performance you record with design and start-up data; check for leaks and moisture ingress; if appropriate, treat water with suitable chemicals to reduce scale and corrosion and prevent biological growth, and keep HVAC equipment clean.
Indeed, cleaning and changing filters as part of a planned HVAC maintenance programme can reduce the likelihood of equipment failure and boost the energy efficiency of the equipment.
Lastly, remember that good housekeeping is a critical part of good maintenance practice, so:
- Check the thermostat to ensure it is working at its optimum level.
- Check refrigerant levels and have the system inspected by professionals if there appears to be any leakage.
- Have condensers and coils checked professionally at regular intervals.
- Fit programmable thermostats and the latest smart technology where possible.
- Ideally, set timers so that there is no cooling when the building is unoccupied.
- Time-control each unit in localised cooling systems to avoid out-of-hours operation.
- Check temperature settings. Find out the temperature at which your HVAC system switches on, and your heating system switches off (the wider the temperature gap the better).
- Make any necessary repairs straightaway.
- Ensure furniture doesn’t obstruct air pathways.
By adopting these measures, universities will reduce the chance of HVAC system failure. But, equally importantly, t carbon dioxide emissions will be cut by improving the overall system’s operation.
And, returning to the theme outlined at the start of this blog, you will save thousands of pounds in wasted expense on energy.
To find out more about our mechanical services designed to enhance the efficiency of university HVAC systems, click here.