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HVAC codes and standards: cooling and energy

efficiency
Codes and standards dictate the design of HVAC systems; however, there are ways
to improve the design of non-residential buildings to achieve maximum energy
efficiency.
Gayle Davis, PE, CGD, CxA, Stanley Consultants, Austin, Texas
08/15/2016

Adopting codes and standards for energy efficiency

Designers in the HVAC industry must be familiar with codes and standards.
Standards define the industry's agreed-upon minimum technical requirements,
procedures, guidelines, and instructions for engineers, designers, or
manufacturers. They also establish the industry's minimum standard of care.
Standards in the United States are mostly voluntary consensus standards,
which means they are regularly maintained and are developed through a
consensus process. Examples of industry organizations that develop
voluntary consensus standards are ASHRAE,Sheet Metal and Air
Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA),NFPA, and IEEE.
These standards may or may not be written in enforceable language.

In contrast, a code is a standard that has been enacted into law by an


authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) such that a designer is legally required to
comply with that standard. The code may also include references to additional
standards that can also be enforced. This procedure is called, "incorporation
by reference." An AHJ may amend the standard to incorporate or remove
requirements, such as adding figures, charts, or tables, or amend the
standard's language, such as replacing the word "should" with "shall."

In the U.S., the Department of Energy (DOE) is required by the Energy


Conservation and Production Act to support, evaluate, and participate in
energy code development as managed by ASHRAE and the International
Code Council (ICC). DOE activities include evaluating energy and cost
benefits associated with changes to ASHRAE Standard 90.1: Energy
Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildingsand International
Energy Conservation Code (IECC). DOE evaluates ASHRAE Standard 90.1
as the reference standard for commercial-building energy efficiency, and
IECC as the reference standard for residential-building energy efficiency.

IECC and ASHRAE Standard 90.1 address building systems such as building
envelope, lighting (exterior and interior), minimum HVAC equipment
efficiency, HVAC systems, service water heating, and system controls. The
standards also set the minimum energy efficiency and system design
requirements. Both references have adopted code language to increase state
adoption and improve enforceability.

The U.S. does not have a national energy code or standard, even though the
federal government supports the development of energy codes and
standards. Because there is no national energy code, energy codes and
standards are adopted at the state and local jurisdiction levels. The path that
energy codes and standards take for adoption varies by locality. In general,
energy code adoption is initiated when the DOE issues a positive
determination based on the most recent version of ASHRAE Standard 90.1.
The publication of a positive review sets in motion statuary requirements
directing states and local authorities to certify they reviewed their building
codes. All necessary updates are completed to meet or exceed the current
edition of ASHRAE Standard 90.1. Many states also have their own code-
update cycles that occur independently of ASHRAE, DOE, and IECC updates.

Each new edition of


ASHRAE Standard 90.1 requires the DOE to issue adetermination on whether
the new edition will improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings over the
existing edition. On Sept. 26, 2014, the DOE released a final determination
that ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2013 would achieve 8.7% energy savings, 8.5%
source-energy savings, and 7.6% site-energy savings above buildings
designed under ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2010. Each state has 2 years to
adopt ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2013 or update its existing commercial building
codes and standards. With the 2014 determination, states will have until Sept.
26, 2016, to file compliance certifications with the DOE or request an
extension.

Figure 2 shows the status of state energy code adoption as of April 2016. The
codes, standards, and editions in force vary. Many states have adopted the
IECC commercial code, which allows for an alternate compliance path through
ASHRAE Standard 90.1. In jurisdictions that allow either compliance path, the
designer must choose either IECC or ASHRAE Standard 90.1 as the design
energy code and must complete the entire design using the chosen code.
Designers are encouraged to consult with their local permitting agency and
the AHJ to determine energy code requirements for states without an energy
code.

Table 1 provides a summary of the HVAC cooling system energy and


efficiency requirements according to the IECC and ASHRAE Standard 90.1.
Corresponding equivalent code requirements between IECC and ASHRAE
Standard 90.1 have been listed adjacent to each other where applicable. The
IECC and ASHRAE have worked together over the years to make the two
codes' language and requirements documents similar, if not identical.
However, some differences do exist between the two documents; most
notably, regarding allowable exemptions to particular code provisions.
Compliance with codes and standards

In addition to the previously mentioned codes and standards, the following


resources may provide additional guidance and recommendations for high-
performance building system design. ASHRAE Standard 189.1 Standard for
the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings "provides total building
sustainability guidance for designing, building, and operating high-
performance green buildings." This standard may be applied to new
construction, additions, and renovations to buildings. If ASHRAE Standard
189.1 is used for the design effort, the minimum system design requirements
and equipment-efficiency requirements presented in that standard supersede
the requirements presented in ASHRAE Standard 90.1. For example,
ASHRAE Standard 90.1 requires demand-control ventilation (DCV) for high-
occupancy areas served by systems with one or more of the following
features: air-side economizer, automatic modulating outdoor air (OA) damper,
or outdoor airflow greater than 3,000 cfm. ASHRAE Standard 189.1 revises
the DCV requirement to include systems with an outdoor airflow greater than
1,000 cfm, thereby increasing the potential for energy-saving opportunities.
Designers may find the ASHRAEStandard 189.1 User's Manual helpful
because it provides explanatory material that further elaborate on the
requirements and intent of the ASHRAE Standard 189.1.

ASHRAE's Advanced Energy Design Guides (AEDG) series also provides


design and energy efficiency recommendations for various building types
based on improvements to ASHRAE Standard 90.1 requirements. While the
AEDG series was developed based on previous versions of ASHRAE
Standard 90.1, the recommendations can still be applied to buildings designed
to ASHRAE 90.1-2013 for possible energy savings. These guides provide
recommendations on building envelope, fenestration, lighting systems, HVAC
systems, service water heating, and plug/process loads arranged by climate
zone. Even though the AEDGs are centered on new construction, the
recommendations can be applied to renovations. While many of the AEDG
recommendations are simply selecting between systems, the owner should be
brought into the design process to ensure that the project goals are being met
and the maintenance staff has the expertise to service the systems.

Establish project goals for energy efficiency

The design and use of high-performance HVAC equipment can result in


significant energy and cost savings. Each design discipline has specific
design requirements that must be met to comply with code. Each design
discipline may also be presented with various opportunities for energy savings
throughout the design phase. It should be noted and understood that energy
savings in one discipline may enhance or detract savings and opportunities in
another. This interaction applies not only to HVAC systems, but also to the
envelope, lighting system, and, if under the control of the design team, the
selection of office equipment. For the above reasons, design-team members
must effectively communicate their design intent and required coordination
items throughout the design process.

The first step in designing any efficient, effective HVAC system is to decide on
energy goals early in the design process. Whether the project is new
construction or a renovation, a thorough understanding of the owner's project
requirements and budgetary constraints is critical. This is often accomplished
through a "basis of design" document that clearly communicates the design
team's understanding of the owner's requirements, project goals for energy
efficiency, and goals to achieve or exceed the minimum code requirements
per the owner's directives. These initial decisions will direct the selection of
HVAC systems and equipment. A building that meets minimum energy code
requirements will have a different HVAC system strategy and components
than a building that achieves 30% energy savings beyond code minimum. In
addition, highly efficient designs using high-performance HVAC systems most
often require added effort and collaboration from all design-team members as
compared with conventional designs.

HVAC cooling loads and equipment selection

For any new-construction or renovation project, a comprehensive knowledge


of the building environment is critical. Many components affect HVAC loads
and energy consumption including building envelope, fenestration (glazing
and doors), lighting, plug loads, occupancy, and sequence of operations, to
name a few. IECC and ASHRAE Standard 90.1 require building heating and
cooling loads to be determined per ASHRAE Standard 183 or an "approved
equivalent computational procedure." Standard 183 provides methods and
guidelines for developing building HVAC load calculations. Remember,
heating- and cooling-load calculations are not the same as building energy
modeling. Energy models analyze the proposed design energy requirements
as the system operates over the entire year. Load calculations measure the
energy that the HVAC system must add or remove from the zone to maintain
the design conditions.

Accurate HVAC load calculations lead to properly sized equipment. Modern


computer-aided load analysis tools allow the designer to reduce excess
oversizing by removing many uncertainties, such as diversity, equipment
loads, shading, and weather. Designers should consider equipment safety
factors carefully, or not apply them at all, to avoid unnecessarily oversized
equipment. For example, it is unreasonable to apply a safety factor to the
calculated building load when the load is assumed to occur on the hottest
weather design day with all zones at peak conditions, all lights on, all
equipment operating, and each room is occupied by the maximum number of
occupants allowed by fire code (higher occupancy than is reasonable).
Oversized equipment may operate less efficiently and at a higher capital cost.
This affects the owner's project budget and operating expense. In addition,
oversized cooling equipment may cycle excessively or not effectively
dehumidify.

Both IECC and ASHRAE Standard 90.1 mandate minimum equipment-


efficiency standards for all HVAC equipment. These minimum efficiencies
represent the "worst legal" equipment allowed in the design. Designers should
develop and maintain working relationships with manufacturer representatives
as a means to use them as a resource during the design process. Reviewing
the AEDG may provide an idea for enhanced cooling-equipment efficiencies
based on the climate-specific tables for consideration. Request two or three
equipment or system selections from the vendor and perform a simple
payback analysis to justify any added equipment cost to the owner.

Designers should also consider the following when selecting cooling


equipment. HVAC cooling systems are sized to meet design cooling
conditions that meteorologically occur 1% to 2% (88 to 175 hours/year) of the
year. This means that the systems are intentionally oversized at least 98% to
99% (8,585 to 8,672 hours/year) of the time. Consequently, cooling systems
almost never operate at full design load. Typical systems operate at 50% or
less of their rated maximum capacity. This makes part-load equipment
performance a critical consideration for cooling equipment sizing. Consider
selecting equipment and systems that can operate efficiently at part load,
such as the following code-required systems:

Variable air volume (VAV) fan systems with variable speed drive and
static pressure reset controls
Variable capacity pump systems with variable speed pump systems with
pressure-reset controls
Variable capacity chiller systems with variable speed compressors
Variable capacity cooling tower systems with variable speed fans and
reset controls
Temperature-reset controls:
o Air-side supply-air-temperature reset
o Water-side systems for chilled-water-temperature reset and
condenser-water-temperature reset.

An example of a
supply-air-temperature reset schedule is shown in Figure 3. Air-side systems
with cooling-only zones (electrical rooms, telecommunications closets, etc.)
require consideration of these critical zones, as they may prevent the air
handling unit (AHU) system from resetting the supply-air temperature (SAT). If
critical zones are served by the AHU system, the system should be capable of
meeting the zone loads at the reset SAT. Often, critical zones are served by
dedicated systems separate from the central AHU systems. The above
considerations would also apply to chilled-water-reset strategies.

Cooling system design and controls

As previously mentioned, there are many ways to design a cooling system.


For example, chilled-water systems can be designed for high-temperature
differentials of 12 to 18 F delta T. Designing a chilled-water system to
operate at higher temperature differentials has the potential to reduce the
equipment cost and energy use as compared with the traditional 10 F delta T
approach. This design strategy decreases the required water-flow rate and
reduces pump energy. Higher differential temperatures have the added
benefit of requiring small pipe sizes and reducing the pipe-installation cost.

Another approach would be to produce low-temperature water (38 to 40 F).


Producing a lower leaving water temperature does use more chiller energy
that may not be offset by gains in pumping and fan energy savings. However,
low-temperature chilled-water systems are often used with thermal-storage
systems. Chillers may be operated during off-peak electrical periods or when
the equipment operates more efficiently to store energy (such as ice or water)
for cooling the building during the day when electric rates are higher. Utilities
may offer a better electric rate to "shift" the chiller load to off-peak hours,
which may present the owner with savings even though the selected chiller is
less efficient.

An additional energy-saving opportunity is to implement a chilled-water


temperature reset schedule. The temperature can be reset based on OA
temperature, zone-cooling demand, or both.

Comfort-cooling systems may require a water-side or air-side economizer to


provide free cooling when outdoor conditions are able to fully meet or partially
meet the cooling load. ASHRAE Standard 90.1 does not require air-side
economizers in climate zones 1A or 1B because of limited operation hours in
these hot and humid climates. All other climate zones require economizers on
systems with a cooling capacity greater than or equal to 54,000 Btu/h. A fixed,
dry-bulb temperature-type air-side economizer, schematically shown in Figure
4, enable point in a warm and humid climate would be 65 F. In cooler, dryer
climates, the high-limit setpoint is higher. Economizer requirements for
comfort cooling can be waived, provided the cooling system efficiency meets
or exceeds the percent improvement listed in ASHRAE Standard 90.1, Table
6.5.1-3, for a particular climate zone.
Besides minimum system design requirements, IECC and ASHRAE Standard
90.1 establish minimum HVAC control required for systems. The following
items are required to meet this minimum standard:

Group zones into similar thermostatic control zones controlled by a


single thermostat. For example, exterior zones and interior zones
cannot be zoned together.
Building automation systems (BAS) must employ time-of-day schedules
and have night-setback/setup temperature setpoints. This is preferred
over programmable thermostats because the occupants cannot override
the zone setpoint.
Optimal start controls for individual air systems must have a supply-air
capacity greater than 10,000 cfm. A system with optimal start controls
saves energy by reducing the HVAC system run time hours.
Multiple-zone VAV systems must employ a supply-air-temperature reset
schedule based on OA temperature, zone-cooling demand, or a
combination.
Systems with direct digital control of individual zone boxes must report
to the central control panel and have a static pressure reset schedule
based on the zone requiring the most pressure.

Throughout the years, many different HVAC systems and control strategies
have been created to standardize control sequences and aid in the design
process. ASHRAE developed a set of control sequences for commonly used
HVAC systems. These sequences provide a good starting point for the
designer who can expand the sequences to suit the particular HVAC system
requirements, state codes and standards, and owner's requirements.

Because control sequences are key in achieving energy management and


savings, ASHRAE has recently created a committee tasked to develop and
maintain the "best-of-class control sequences that will meet or exceed the
requirements of ASHRAE Standards 55, 62.1, and 90.1." The efforts of this
committee resulted in the creation of Guideline 36. These high-performance,
efficient sequences are meant to control air-side systems that use fully
programmable, modern direct digital control (DDC) BAS, such as variable
speed and capacity equipment. As of today, these sequences are under a
public review (draft) period and have yet to be finalized. When formally
published, these standardized sequences will provide the industry with
premium building controls that will yield high-performance systems.

Cooling ventilation and energy-recovery systems


Dedicated outdoor air systems (DOAS) can reduce energy consumption by
removing the ventilation OA conditioning and dehumidification load from the
zone-cooling loads. A separate DOAS unit will heat, cool, and dehumidify the
OA to deliver dry, neutral air to the space. This has the added effect of
offsetting the space-latent load provided that the ventilation-air dewpoint
temperature is sufficiently below the zone dewpoint temperature. DOAS
configurations may include direct-exchange (DX) coils, chilled-water coils,
indirect gas-fired heating, hot-water coils, steam coils, and an energy-recovery
device. Dedicated OA systems can be used in conjunction with single-zone or
multiple-zone systems. More than one strategy may be used to further reduce
DOAS energy costs.

Consider supplying cold OA rather than neutral-temperature air directly


to the zone. This can reduce cooling energy and can partially meet the
zone sensible-cooling load. The terminal HVAC equipment capacity
must then be reduced to account for the cooling-load offset caused by
the cold OA supply. Note that many design paths can be taken, and
many other factors, such as space humidity, should also be considered
during the design process.
Integrate demand-control ventilation (DCV) with modulating dampers
and airflow-measuring stations with the dedicated OA system. DCV can
use a combination of space carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors in heavily
occupied zones and occupancy sensors in normally unoccupied and
limited-occupancy zones. ASHRAE Standard 62.1 outlines when a
system must use DCV. The control sequence of operation can be
complex, but a general guide is presented in ASHRAE Standard 62.1.

Exhaust-air energy recovery is used to precondition the OA stream by moving


energy to and from the exhaust airstream. This can be achieved with sensible
heat-exchange devices (sensible energy transfer only) or total energy-
exchange devices (sensible and latent energy transfer). During cooling
operation, the OA is pre-cooled and partially dehumidified. During heating
operation, the OA is preheated and partially humidified. Commonly used air-
side energy-recovery devices are run-around loops, plate heat exchangers,
total energy wheels, and heat wheels. Table 6.5.6.1 provides exact conditions
when an HVAC system requires energy recovery. The requirements are
based on climate zone, percent OA, and design supply airflow. When an
energy-recovery device is required, the system must have a minimum 50%
effectiveness.

The exhaust and outdoor airflows should be balanced as close as possible to


maximize energy transfer and to maintain building pressurization. Bypass
dampers must be installed around the energy-recovery device when an HVAC
system uses an air-side economizer. It is imperative to downsize the heating
and cooling equipment based on the adjusted design loads with energy
recovery. Right-sizing the heating and cooling equipment will have a
cascading energy savings (such as reduced pumping power, downsized
chillers, and boilers).

Maximizing HVAC cooling system designs for comfort cooling and energy
savings requires a good understanding of owner and local code-related
requirements; defined energy goals; complete interdisciplinary coordination;
efficient and right-sized equipment selection; and multiple design iterations.
With these steps and understandings, designers are better prepared to tackle
many of the system design challenges encountered in comfort cooling.

Gayle Davis, PE, CGD, CxA is a project manager/mechanical engineer


with Stanley Consultants. He has experience in project management, design
and commissioning of mechanical systems for building services, central
heating and cooling plants, and industrial facilities.

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