College campus engineering: Codes and standards, HVAC, fire and life safety

Colleges and universities bear the important responsibility of molding the minds of future generations. To tackle the formidable task, such institutions require the expertise of engineers to ensure the complex buildings on campuses (laboratories, classrooms, computer centers) meet their needs.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer December 13, 2012


CSE: How have changing HVAC, fire protection, and/or electrical codes and standards affected your work in colleges?

Lembo: It is rare to find a dormitory building constructed 30 years ago with air conditioning for each residential unit. Today, air conditioning each individual unit is a standard adopted by many higher educational facilities. How to reduce the energy consumption with the addition of air conditioning is always the question. One successful method is to implement window sensors interlocked with the air conditioning unit. It is common to walk through an occupied dorm that is conditioned with windows wide open and the air conditioning unit operating. Adding window sensors would de-energize the air conditioning unit when windows are left open.

Broge: Most building codes change gradually over a period of time, allowing both the designers and owners to become versed with most code changes and their design impacts. Sustainability codes and standards have been more accelerated, significantly impacting the design of institutional systems. State and institutional enactment of significantly “better than code” energy standards, particularly in certain high-energy-consuming building types, has created challenges. We are currently involved in the design of a larger institutional physical sciences research building whose program includes a large high-density data center. The building model predicted the data center would account for more than 50% of the entire building’s energy consumption. The state requires the building, including its processes, to be 30% more energy efficient than the energy code allows. With a fixed budget, and with limitations on the use of renewable energy sources, it became impossible to meet the requirement without significant diversion of the project’s program funding—a scenario that could well result in a reduced project program space. Fortunately, the state agency regulating state building projects was able to grant an exception to the energy consumed by the large amount of servers planned for the data center.

CSE: How do such codes/standards vary from region to region?

Lembo: We are noticing that many states have their own specific mandates. We recently completed a performing arts center design at New Mexico State University. The project needed to meet a governor’s mandate in which energy consumption in a newly constructed building shall be 50% better when compared to a building of similar use and occupancy. Similarly, we see such mandates in Connecticut, in which any state-funded projects must perform 21% better than ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007 for energy costs.

Broge: We have seen state and regional codes across the country becoming somewhat more uniform as the International Building Code series has gained acceptance. State and local code authorities are gradually removing their “state-isms” from their own unique code requirements—and are becoming more accepting of the international code requirements as they are written. There continue to be exceptions, but standardization of codes and standards will obviously help the design community with both design improvement and code compliance.

CSE: What trends, systems, or products have affected changes in fire detection/suppression systems in colleges?

Lembo: Due to the various tragic dormitory type fires (and “close calls”) across the country, many institutions have taken a progressive approach in protecting their assets (students and faculty) by installing fire sprinkler systems within new construction or, more importantly, retrofitting existing buildings. Many other jurisdictions in which universities reside have instituted local ordinances, making fire sprinklers a requirement. Over the years there has been an increased sensitivity among campuses regarding fire safety, security, early notification, etc., and networking these components together is the ultimate goal; fire sprinklers are only one major facet. Students as well as parents have increased their expected levels of protection. Installing fire sprinklers ultimately and indirectly creates a higher level learning environment. 

CSE: What unique requirements do HVAC systems in colleges have?

Broge: Our firm primarily designs technically complex science and technology buildings for our college and university clients. By their nature, these buildings consume large quantities of energy, generally with HVAC systems leading the consumption. Our institutional clients place great emphasis on designing safe yet sustainable HVAC systems. Another priority is to design systems that require less maintenance, generally requiring systems with fewer components and less complex equipment. We will often use larger fans and pumps so we can reduce the number of them.

Lembo: Properly sizing of HVAC systems to address the diversity due to occupant fluctuations. The concern is not to oversize the mechanical systems which could attribute to higher energy usage.

CSE: Describe the use of fans and ventilation equipment to enhance indoor air quality (IAQ) in a recent college project.

Lembo: In designing two recent dormitories for Fairfield University, first ventilation air was increased by 30% greater than ASHRAE Standard 60.1; finally, the design employed an energy recovery wheel that would pretreat the outside air with the exhaust air removed from the building.

Broge: For the research buildings our firm normally designs, IAQ is addressed through a variety of technologies and strategies. Research buildings by nature have considerable quantities of once-through air (outside air that is used for a single ventilation pass in the building and then exhausted). This flushes contaminants and odors from laboratories where a return air system would simply spread contaminants to other spaces. We use air movement and space pressurization strategies to contain and remove space contaminants by cascading ventilation air from cleaner spaces to dirtier spaces, such as from a corridor to a laboratory. Use of higher ventilation air filtration efficiencies—perhaps 90% efficient filters—is also commonly used today. When we design larger classrooms and lecture spaces, we try to use such distribution strategies as vertical displacement ventilation to more directly carry contaminants away from occupants. We are considering all of the above strategies in an engineering sciences building currently under design.

CSE: Describe a recent boiler or chiller plant college campus project.

Broge: Our firm is currently in final design of a larger project that will expand an existing central campus chilled water plant. The addition will function as a totally separate plant. The project will add 10,000 tons of new capacity (two 5,000-ton electric drive chillers) in a building sized to allow for an additional 20,000 tons to be added in the future. Four 5,000-ton cooling tower cells will be installed with the initial work, with roof framing and support for two additional 5,000-ton towers cells in the future. The initial installation of the four tower cells will lower condenser water temperatures and result in a net energy savings. Another design feature of the new plant is the use of electric drive variable flow primary pumping into a central campus distribution system that is currently connected with three existing plants set up to pump in a primary/secondary arrangement. New 54-in. chilled water supply and return mains will be bored under an existing greenhouse complex to connect to existing campus infrastructure. Controls will comply with the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) standards due to the existing power generation complex.

Continue to: Colleges campus engineering: Challenges, retrofitting, renewable energy systems