How HVAC Systems Work
There are myriad ways to heat and cool commercial buildings, as well as many construction techniques and other factors that can enhance the equipment that was chosen to keep the occupants comfortable for a reasonable price.
As with every construction project, the initial cost is one of the most important considerations as to the type and configuration of any HVAC system(s). But concern about the environment and streamlined operating and maintenance costs are also of paramount concern to the businesses and organizations that occupy these facilities. Many building owners and occupants demand a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), which includes the ongoing cost of Maintenance, Repair, and Operation (MRO) as well as a need for sustainable and abundant energy to power the HVAC Systems.
The needs of the owner and occupants of any given commercial building – and importantly, it’s intended use – are assessed by the architects and mechanical engineers that design the building and mechanical systems. After a budget and other requirements for the building’s use are identified and understood, the proper HVAC system(s) are then designed.
The type of HVAC System(s) and how they’re designed to work in a commercial building are selected based upon:
- The temperature requirements of each space within the building
- The humidification/dehumidification needs throughout the spaces
- The initial construction cost, ongoing operating costs, and maintenance costs of the HVAC system
- Space constraints
Once these requirements are understood, the mechanical engineer can choose from the following general categories of HVAC Systems:
- Central Plant
- Secondary/Zonal Systems
- Distribution Systems
Central Plant HVAC Systems include boilers, chillers, and cooling towers – a few pieces of large equipment that use pumps, piping, and control valves to move hot and cold water with relatively small conveyances around a building.
Secondary and Zonal Systems use packaged and unitary systems comprised of fan coils, air handlers, VAVs, and economizers where the heating and cooling equipment is distributed throughout a commercial building for more granular control for different applications under the same roof.
Finally, distribution systems are the conveyances for these first two general categories and include ductwork, diffusers, and registers and for hydronic systems the piping, pumps, and valves, amongst other equipment that comprise the complete system.
Typical fuels used to power the HVAC systems in commercial buildings are electricity and gas. Efficiency of the fuel matters for TCO. Not only the efficiency of the equipment, but the efficiency at the source of the power.
A complete and efficient design of the HVAC Systems in commercial buildings depends not only on the forgoing factors. The architect’s building design and use of materials also plays a large role in what the mechanical engineer will design. For example, the extent of the use of glass could impact portions of the building – those facing south during summer and shoulder seasons could add a large heat load that has to be dealt with in terms of the type of equipment that can most efficiently handle such scenarios.
The final outcome of HVAC Systems working in commercial buildings is a feat of engineering that combines cost efficiency, versatility, and comfort as part of the facilities’ form and function.
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