Imagine trying to crank out a research paper in the dead of a Las Vegas summer without air conditioning in your building. Keeping campus buildings filtered with cool, clean air in the dead of summer is necessary for the health and vitality of students, staff, and faculty.
The university’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) shop ensures buildings are comfortable while monitoring air quality.
The importance of filters became top-of-mind for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. Across campus, HVAC unit filters have all been replaced with MERV-13 filters that have a longer life span and a larger surface area to collect dirt and harmful particles.
“Our biggest environmental concern is removing chemicals in our systems that could harm the environment,” Lead HVAC Technician Steven Joseph said.
The HVAC team is phasing out R-22 refrigerant in package AC units and air handlers. R-22 contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that deplete the ozone layer that protects the earth from the sun's radiation. The university will replace this with recycled and reclaimed EPA-approved refrigerants. So far, 65% of the units on campus have been replaced with units that use eco-friendly refrigerants.
The team is working to replace old inefficient units with SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) units rated 13 and higher that consume less energy.
At the same time, building automation analyzes trends to make sure that our units aren’t running at full power when there is nobody in a building.
The HVAC shop works in tandem with the building automation team to conserve energy. Building Automation uses instrumentation, sensors, and other automated systems to measure temperature, humidity, air, and water flow. Most buildings on campus use systems that adjust the amount of air in a given space to either cool (more air) or heat the space (less air). Building Automation writes software that controls these systems to manage the algorithms to keep our buildings running efficiently while reducing our carbon footprint.
Ever wondered what those large towers are at the McDermott Physical Education Complex (MPE) on Harmon? That’s UNLV's Satellite Energy Plant which distributes chilled water to several buildings on campus. The system has two 150 horsepower pumps capable of distributing 3,300 gallons per minute. The team uses smart valves and other equipment to prevent over-pumping and reduce energy consumption. These valves, operated remotely, control when and how the pumps work.
Such sustainable practices save on UNLV’s energy bill, and more importantly, the earth’s vital resources.
“Our goal is to provide the best indoor research and educational environment possible, while at the same time reducing our energy consumption,” Building Automation Supervisor Hugh Orr said.
Indeed, without the work of these technicians, on-campus experiences could be in jeopardy. The vivarium in White Hall, for example, is used for research involving animal and plant life. The Building Automation team ensures that these laboratories are a safe and natural environment for plants and animals.