Building efficient colleges and universities: HVAC and sustainable buildings/energy efficiency

Colleges and universities face a long list of challenges, as do the engineers tasked to help construct and modify the facilities at these institutions. Here, experienced professionals share their knowledge regarding HVAC and sustainable buildings/energy efficiency.



  • Don Harrisberger, PE, LEED AP, Principal Engineer, Southland Engineering, Los Angeles
  • Timothy J. LaRose, PE, Vice President Development, Education & JENSEN HUGHES Academy, JENSEN HUGHES, Warwick, R.I.
  • Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP, BEAP, BEMP, Senior Energy Engineer, Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis
  • Robin Mosley, PE, LEED AP, Associate Partner, Syska Hennessy Group Inc., Newport Beach, Calif.
  • Liza Sandman, PE, Project Manager, RMF Engineering, Charleston, S.C.
  • John Teeter, PE, Mechanical Department Manager, Dewberry, Raleigh, N.C.


Lecture classrooms require close attention to HVAC background noise and acoustics. Courtesy: Southland EngineeringCSE: What unique HVAC requirements do college and university facilities have that you wouldn’t encounter in other buildings?

Laue: College and university facilities vary in nature and can include many building types including residence halls, dining facilities, classrooms, offices, labs, medical, parking, etc. Each building type has their own HVAC design requirements with differing maintenance requirements. Understanding the facility maintenance team’s tolerance for newer systems, different manufacturers, new sequences of operation, etc. is key to developing HVAC requirements for new or renovated buildings. By looking at the design through a total cost-of-ownership lens that includes maintenance and replacement of systems as well as operator experience with the HVAC system, the true value of the designed systems can be identified.

Mosley: Most campuses have central chilled-water, steam, or hot-water utilities. These are brought into the building to serve built-up air handling units (AHUs) and heat-exchange equipment. Many universities meter these services to provide accurate billing of the energy usage for each individual building. Integrating these systems for the benefit of the whole campus is critical. Maximizing the Delta T of the chilled water on the campus central plant is done through smart use of these services within the new or renovated building and their associated terminal AHU coils, heat exchangers, etc.

Teeter: Many college and university buildings have multiple functions or usage in the same building. One building may house laboratories, research spaces, administrative spaces, lecture halls, and classrooms, all of which may have vastly different requirements for temperature, humidity, filtration, exhaust, and ventilation.

CSE: Have you specified distinctive HVAC systems on any such facilities? What unusual or infrequently specified products or systems did you use to meet challenging HVAC needs?

Teeter: In a recent project, one research area required lower temperature and humidity setpoints that could not be achieved with traditional HVAC systems. This single space in a much larger building required a separate desiccant system to achieve the design criteria. In addition to the desiccant system design requirements, thermal and vapor barrier separation from the surrounding spaces needed to be carefully coordinated with the design architect.

Mosley: I have used vertical flooded shell and tube heat exchangers to replace inefficient pressure-reducing stations on select projects. This method enhances the building and campus energy efficiency when steam is used.

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