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Is It Possible To Make Air Conditioning More Sustainable?

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 1/28/2016

Most commercial and retail buildings still run on energy gained from burning fossil fuels, a method that is no longer sustainable. Other than transitioning to green energy, are there any other ways to optimize air conditioning in our buildings?

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    HVAC units are responsible for around 40% of a building’s energy consumption and cooling and ventilation contribute to a large part of this expenditure. With global temperatures only set to rise over the next few decades, we could even see this figure increase, as the demand for cooler offices, tower blocks and shopping centres rises.

    Unfortunately, greener energy is still considered a pricy compromise by many property owners and carbon emissions actually went up by 10% in 2012. So what’s the solution? With carbon neutral buildings still a little way over the horizon, more needs to be done to make existing air conditioning more efficient.

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    Preventing Energy Loss

    One way to increase the efficiency of a machine is to ensure it’s always performing to the best of its ability. An air conditioner that is only running on half measures because of a damaged heat pump or a blocked filter will have to work harder to cool a room, burning more energy in the process. Preventative maintenance can stop these problems from becoming a burden on the unit, helping reduce the amount of wasted energy.

    Poorly maintained AC units can result in around a 60% increase in energy consumption, compared to units that receive routine tune-ups. While many property owners will wait for components parts to completely breakdown before replacing them, preventative maintenance means you can extend the lifespan of your AC and reduce the rate at which it uses up power. Patching up leaks, insulating exposed ductwork and cleaning out dirt are all easy ways to maximise performance, without overspending.

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    Designing Energy Efficient Buildings

    Although the commercial property industry is coming round to the idea of sustainable builds, there is still a lot more than can be done. Currently, new buildings are simply meeting government regulations, which may not be enough to reduce their energy consumption dramatically. If this trend continues, then we will still be consuming large amounts of power over the preceding decades, with properties built today still very much functional in the years to come.

    However, buildings can be designed to be more energy efficient, relying less on electrical forms of HVAC and more on natural ventilation and cooling. HVAC contractors can work with architects to induce natural airflow in a building, simply by altering its design. Creating more openings in the structure of a property enables heat convection, which drives warm air out of the building in a process known as passive cooling. Solar shading is another example of this, mainly used in arid countries to prevent heat from entering a building. Natural heat-absorbing materials are placed on the roof and walls to reduce the temperature inside by as much as 4.5°C. While this doesn’t negate the need for ACs entirely, it does help minimise their workload and lower energy consumption in the process.

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    Incentivising Stricter Energy Use

    You can make all the changes to performance and design you want, but if the occupants of your building don’t listen to advice on temperature regulation it can all be for nothing. With tighter controls, commercial properties can reduce their energy consumption by up to 10%, even in areas of high population. One of the main influences on people’s habits is incentives and offering a reward for smarter energy use can be a small price to pay in the long run.

    Offices can particularly benefit from these schemes, as employee interference can be a major factor in energy loss. Staff will often tamper with vents or modify the thermostat settings, in order to regulate temperatures, without thinking about the effect it will have on the AC itself. By rewarding those who show initiative in saving energy, you can move towards a cleaner, greener workplace.

    Author Bio: Tony Ellerker has worked in the building services and construction industry for over twenty years. He is currently the director of Blakes M&E Building Services, who provide pre planned maintenance, re-active repairs and installations of all mechanical and electrical systems throughout London and the South East.