With many states offering rebates to encourage green initiatives, it also makes sense to take advantage of the benefits of energy conservation.
One area where it can be difficult to curb costs, however, is climate control. Heating and air conditioning large spaces such as auditoriums, natatoriums, lecture halls and athletic facilities is expensive, and keeping such spaces comfortable can require hefty energy expenditures. Retrofitting these areas with greener HVAC systems is even more expensive. One energy-efficient and cost-effective way to keep students, staff and visitors warm in the winter and cool in the summer is incorporating large-diameter fans into existing HVAC systems.
CLIMATE CONTROL 101: HIGH COSTS FOR HIGHER ED
Educational institutions spend almost $14 billion annually on energy, according to ENERGY STAR, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that promotes efficiency and sets standards for energy-efficient consumer products.
Heating, cooling and ventilation accounted for approximately 35 percent of energy consumption by college and university education buildings in 2003, the most-recent year for which data are available, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Making climate control more efficient is a huge step in reducing overall energy usage in a college or university.
Large spaces like those found in universities—including lecture halls, auditoriums and athletic facilities—are notoriously difficult to keep comfortable for occupants. Additionally, the infrequent occupancy of lecture halls and classrooms and the constant opening and closing of doors present challenges to climate control. Small fans don’t provide adequate air circulation, and air conditioning and heating systems have to work harder to fill the large space.
With heat, what’s called temperature stratification becomes a roadblock: In spaces with high ceilings, warm air rises and gets trapped at the ceiling, requiring heaters to run longer and hotter to get warm air down to the occupant level. Some older buildings lack air conditioning entirely, relying instead on small fans or noisy window units that are inadequate for the needs of the space.
THE FAN FIX
Large-diameter fans can significantly decrease the strain on existing HVAC systems and make unconditioned spaces feel more comfortable. With diameters up to 24 feet, these fans move air on a much larger scale and are engineered to work in places with high ceilings and open floor plans.
These fans move columns of air to the floor and then spread the air out through the room, creating a current. This moving air can produce a cooling effect of up to 10⁰F, dramatically improving occupant comfort without taxing the HVAC system. Because occupants feel cooler, building managers can increase thermostat setpoints by 5 to 7 degrees, significantly decreasing the energy used by the system.
Additionally, large fans work to keep spaces more comfortable in the winter. Setting these fans at a low speed sends warm air pooling near the ceiling back down to occupant level without creating an uncomfortable draft, saving money on expensive heating bills.
The fans work to equalize the temperature in a room, creating uniform comfort throughout the space. By mixing the air, they reduce temperature differentials from 20-degrees (e.g. 90⁰F at the ceiling, 70⁰F at the floor) to 2-degrees (a comfortable 70⁰F to 72⁰F throughout).
FREEDOM AQUATIC AND FITNESS CENTER AT GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY
The George Mason Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center provides year-round programming for recreational, social, cultural, and educational activities. Designed to serve a variety of groups beyond just George Mason students—including school and community groups,elderly community members, persons with disabilities, youth, and the general public—the Freedom Center.
In addition to a range of programming designed to appeal to both children and adults, the 110,000 square foot facility, found on the Prince William campus, offers two pools, family locker rooms, a whirlpool, a full gym, strength and cardio conditioning studios, a racquetball course, and even a child care center.
The Center, a joint project of Prince William County, the City of Manassas, and George Mason University, is the result of innovative thinking and collaboration among community leaders and administration. Freedom is still one of the largest fitness and aquatic centers in the region, with George Mason University attending to all aspects of daily operation and administration.
AIR STRATIFICATION IN THE HANNIBAL LAGRANGE GYMNASIUM
Hannibal-LaGrange University, a private university in Hannibal, Missouri, had serious problems with air stratification in its gymnasium. During the bitterly cold Missouri winters, the warm, moist air from their heaters became trapped at the top of the gym’s 30-foot ceiling. In addition to high heating bills, it also sent condensation dripping down to the wooden gym floor.
The gym was uncomfortable in the summer, too. The space was not air conditioned, and rising heat made the area near the top of the grandstands uncomfortable for students during ceremonies and competitions year round.
The university installed two 24-foot and two 16-foot diameter fans in the gym a week before the university’s commencement ceremony. The 2,000 attendees were kept cool and comfortable, even without air conditioning. Since the installation of the fans, condensation problems have stopped, and the space retains a more uniform temperature, saving money and increasing energy efficiency.
“Our gym plays a large role in campus life and in the community,” said Hannibal-LaGrange physical plant director Joe Miller. “These fans have really done the job. We expect a bump in events this year, because of the increased comfort.”
MAINTAINING CONSTANT TEMPERATURES IN THE FREEDOM CENTER
George Mason University struggled to maintain consistent temperatures at its Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Fairfax, Virginia. The 1,010-square-foot space with 30-foot ceilings lacked adequate air circulation. Not only did this make the facility uncomfortably warm, it also contributed to an unhealthy buildup of chloramines at the pool surface, a problem common in natatoriums.
The university installed two 24-foot diameter fans to provide much-needed airflow and eliminate the stagnant hot spots throughout the space. Officials believe the fans have helped circulate the heavier chloramine-laden air so it can reach the ventilation system and exit the space, making the natatorium healthier for swimmers. The efficient fans contributed to the green initiatives already in place at George Mason, decreasing the university’s overall energy consumption.
Large-diameter fans can work in concert with existing HVAC systems to save significant amounts of energy, especially in large, high-ceilinged spaces that normally require excessive heating and air conditioning to keep conditions comfortable for occupants. These fans improve air circulation to make spaces more comfortable all year while reducing energy consumption.
Large-diameter fans are a relatively simple fix for many universities—far less expensive and invasive than retrofitting existing HVAC systems, and much quicker to install. As part of an existing green initiative or a new strategy to reduce energy consumption, large-diameter fans can help make a campus more environmentally friendly while reducing costs and increasing comfort.
is a writer for Big Fans. Based in Lexington, Kentucky, Big Fans is the world’s pre-eminent designer and manufacturer of large diameter, low speed fans and LED lights for industrial, agricultural, commercial and residential use. For more information, visit www.bigfans.com.