Are You Cooling Your Building with Lawn Sprinklers?

6-3-13 air conditioners and sprinklers modified

I visited a local brewpub this past hot and sunny Saturday and noticed a peculiar sight outside this popular watering hole.  Two lawn sprinklers were being used alongside the building, but there was no grass. Evidently the poor business owner is having trouble keeping his establishment cool during these hot days. Using reasonable Building Science principles, the corrective action was to increase the cooling of the refrigerant in the condensers by adding a continuous shower of water. All things considered, it’s a quick and cheap way to improve your system’s cooling capacity for the short term. Unfortunately the continuous flow of moisture is not the greatest thing for the building, the equipment, the electrical system, or the patrons navigating the sidewalk feeling as if they were being cooled while in line for the roller coaster at an amusement park.

This situation is a real failure, and far too common. First, the architect placed a major portion of the HVAC system in the front of the building. I suppose this may have happened due to convenience but it seriously detracts from the building’s facade. But wait! The solution is simple! Just build a five foot high brick wall on two sides, and create a little courtyard where all the condensers can sit out of sight. Or so it must have seemed.

Condensers work by lowering the temperature of the refrigerant by moving outside air across the coil. The air flows in through the sides and out the top. To ensure proper cooling, the manufacturers specify a minimum clearance on most, if not all, sides of the unit. In this case the units are positioned right next to each other and to add insult to injury, the courtyard created by the building and the separation walls allow for almost no horizontal air flow into the sides of the condensers (except for the small access corridor in the rear of the picture). This design failure forces heated air that has just passed through the coils to recycle as it’s drawn back down into the confined space again and again.

The reason I show this picture (beside the fact that it cracks me up) is to highlight that, in my opinion, the architect failed on multiple levels. This early 1900’s building was retrofitted into a popular restaurant/bar, but the architect failed to to accommodate  the energy demands of the structure. The lack of air-sealing and insulation upgrades have led to a structure that requires the massive amount of tonnage seen in the photo.  And despite it’s size, the system still can’t maintain comfortable temperatures due to poor planning.

The good news is the locally brewed beer is great, and the building owner got a personal invitation to our next class on Deep Energy Retrofits June 12. If he decides to join us for this four hour session  I’m confident he will walk away with proven techniques to vastly improve his building’s performance. He may even find a better use for his lawn sprinkler.













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