HVAC System Decisions

Image courtesy Jenny Cestnik, Flickr

Image courtesy Jenny Cestnik, Flickr

By John Bergman, LEED AP, CEM

In recent years the selection of HVAC systems has become a very complicated task due to a host of new requirements.  The requirements are to attain higher energy efficiency, lower sound levels, LEED certification, increased ventilation, and Energy Star among others.  These have a large impact on the traditional aesthetic, utility, and cost requirements.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) publishes Standards and Guidelines relating to HVAC systems and issues.  ASHRAE has done a laudable job in producing standards that reflect advances in building technologies resulting in increased comfort, control, and energy savings.  The Federal Government requires that some of these standards be incorporated into building codes.

Meanwhile, in the past decade, there has been a strategy shift among HVAC manufacturers away from the sole mission of reducing costs to one of improving customers’ life cycle costs through better quality and much higher efficiencies.

These changes in standards and strategies have been accompanied by many new HVAC products and systems which have seriously complicated the choice and evaluation of the various options.  MEP consulting engineers are learning about and adopting new equipment and systems at the fastest rate ever.

New technologies include direct current electric motors known as Electronically Commutated Motors (ECM), magnetic bearing chillers, Variable Refrigerant Volume systems (VRV), sophisticated fan geometry, new types of panel construction for air handling units, chilled beams, radiant cooling, displacement ventilation, Combined Heat and Power (CHP), Dedicated Outside Air System fan terminals (DOAS), liquid desiccant air conditioning, heat pump chillers plus others.  Some of these technologies are new domestic developments, but most are mature foreign technologies.

Where do MEP engineers learn about these new systems and technologies?  Just about the only sources of information are industry trade journals and manufacturers and their representatives.  Unfortunately, trade journals are frequently behind the curve as most of their articles are written about past experiences.

Thus, the role of responsible manufacturers and their representatives has changed from being merchants to being trusted advisors.  MEP engineers and architects should identify and forge relationships with local trusted advisors who can work with them as part of a team to deliver the best value to clients.  The more highly qualified manufacturers’ representative firms now provide not only equipment, but also service, building automation and control systems, and parts stock.  The best manufacturers’ representative firms also provide many ancillary services for engineers, contractors, owners, and yes, architects.  These services include product and system education, system performance, cost data, plus application, installation, and maintenance instruction, computerized energy analysis, and rebate application.

MEP engineers and architects often fear that once inside the door, the manufacturers’ representative firm is going to start selling a product that he/she probably doesn’t want or need.  If you are dealing with a highly qualified manufacturers’ representative firm, the firm will have a broad portfolio of products and systems.  The firm would also be qualified to offer several possible system and product alternatives and not have to sell you on their one product.

With all these new products and technologies it becomes a challenge for an architect to explain options to his client in a coherent, understandable manner.  This is where the “trusted advisor” can be helpful because if your trusted advisor can explain it to you, you can explain it to your client.


John Bergman, LEED AP, CEM is the Marketing Director at Havtech, a large Columbia-based HVAC manufacturers’ representative. For more information, contact John Bergman at johnbergman@havtech.com or visit www.havtech.com.

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