Three Earth-friendly HVAC Solutions to Save Universities Big Money

HVAC for universities

When Loyola University set out to create a green living environment for their students, they came to F.E. Moran to design and install a geothermal heat pump HVAC system for the San Francisco Hall, Wright Hall, and Winter Garden tower buildings.  Loyola University isn’t the only urban college clamoring for green HVAC.  It is becoming a trend among urban campuses to build green buildings.  City college campuses have less space than more traditional state universities.  They need to utilize every last square foot, while also appealing to the millennial student population who finds green, sustainable living not only appealing, but a necessity.  There are several choices to reduce the carbon footprint while also lowering utility bills such as building automation or right-sizing, but with a 400% efficiency, geothermal HVAC is a natural choice for these universities.

The Exorbitant Costs of College Utilities

United States colleges spend an average of $1.10 per square foot on electricity and 18 cents per square foot on natural gas annually.  For the average university, 28% of the utility costs are from heating costs and 4% are from cooling costs.  For the average 50,000 square foot campus building, schools are paying $55,000 annually in electricity and $9,000 annually in natural gas.  What can schools do to curb their utility costs while also creating a green environment?


As HVAC systems age, they need to be maintained so they can run as efficiently as possible.  That is where commissioning, re-commissioning, and retro-commissioning comes into play.  If schools are looking for a way to save on utility bills without replacing their current HVAC system, commissioning is a good option.  An MSCA Star Certified Service Technician/NEBB Certified Balance Technician can properly test, analyze, and adjust the campus’ HVAC system to ensure that it operates as efficiently as possible.

College campuses that commission their HVAC systems on average save 25% in energy bills annually.  For a 50,000 square foot college campus building, a $16,000 savings can be expected annually per building.  It costs $2,500 - $20,000 to commission that 50,000 square foot building, but the return on investment is seen within two years.

Geothermal HVAC Systems

Another option, is installing a new HVAC system.  If a school wants eco-friendly HVAC that provides low lifetime costs, a geothermal HVAC system is the way to go.  Geothermal systems are 400% efficient, making them the most environmentally friendly systems available.  In addition, campus buildings save money through increased utility savings and very little need for mechanical service – no mechanical failures are possible with geothermal systems.

Another bonus of geothermal HVAC is space efficiency.  The only equipment needed within the building are heat pumps.  There is also no need for a mechanical room or cooling tower, which makes this type of HVAC system ideal for urban schools with a limited foot print.

Geothermal systems work because the ground is warmer than the outside air in the winter and cooler in the summer.  A well loop is installed 200-300 feet underground.  The loop can be installed either horizontally or vertically to meet space requirements.  Within the loop, water flows, pulling the heat from the ground into the water during the winter and the cold from the ground in the summer.     A series of small pipes in the ground that go to the building allow the temperature from the ground to transfer to the property.  Instead of heating or cooling being created, it is transferred from the ground.  No fuel needs to burn.  The only equipment needed is heat pumps in the building and a ground loop.

During the winter, the ground loop circulates water which absorbs heat and returns it to the indoor heat pump.  The heat pump then distributes the warm air into the building.  In the summer, the indoor heat pump takes the hot air from the building and pulls it into the ground loop where it is cooled.  The cool air is then sent back to the heat pump and distributed through the building, cooling it.  The efficient design of geothermal HVAC uses no natural gas and very little electricity.  The EPA has determined that geothermal systems are the most efficient, environmentally clean, and cost effective space comfort systems available.

Building Automation System (BAS)

School funding is questionable each year.  What if a RIF could be avoided by simply automating the building controls?  Properties can save 5-30% on utility bills a year with a BAS.  Properties will not be heating or cooling an unoccupied building or lighting an empty classroom.  Equip classrooms with light sensors to turn on and off with movement.  Add a BAS like Computrols to control the temperature of the building.  The temperature can be set to automatically turn down during off hours and up before school begins.  An added benefit is increased Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).  A BAS can be set up to monitor temperature and humidity as well as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide to ensure that IAQ is at its best.  

Benefits of Efficient HVAC for Schools

Schools see enormous utility bills.  A typical 50,000 square foot college building can expect to spend $55,000 a year on electricity and $9,000 a year on natural gas.  By commissioning the current HVAC system, that 50,000 square foot building could save $16,000 in one year. With a Geothermal system, universities could save nearly $20,000 per building in utilities annually.  A BAS system could, on average, save a university $11,200 a year on utility bills.

For schools considering Geothermal systems, they have an added benefit of safety.  No propane, natural gas, or other fuel source is used to heat the system.  Carbon monoxide poisoning is eliminated.  Additionally, because there is no outdoor air conditioning unit, there are no spinning blades that could cause damage.

Geothermal systems are incredibly durable and low maintenance.  Most loops have a fifty year warranty and the heat pumps have a 25 year warranty.  There are no moving parts in the underground piping, so no maintenance is needed.  There is no outdoor equipment that is exposed to the elements, eliminating the risk of rust or other weather damage.  Schools can expect these systems to last at least 30 years.

With the constant competition for students and the demand for lower tuition, universities need to find ways to operate on less.  By choosing smart HVAC solutions, colleges and universities can save tens of thousands of dollars per building.  

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