The Role of the HVAC in Sustainable Buildings

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The Role of the HVAC in Sustainable Buildings

Why the right type of HVAC system is so important

When thinking about things that negatively affect the environment – such as greenhouse gases – it’s easy to just focus on the obvious culprits like cars. And while gas-powered vehicles do account for a large percentage of pollution, there’s something else that’s a worse offender: buildings. Currently, buildings create about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. One reason for this has to do with inefficient HVAC systems. Fortunately, lately, there’s been a bigger focus on creating more sustainable buildings, with emphasis on two areas in particular: Passive House design and LEED certification.

What is Passive House design?

Buildings designed with Passive House standards have an airtight construction. This is combined with super insulation, high-performance windows and doors, and a special ventilation system, which allows occupants to enjoy a comfortable indoor temperature that requires very little energy consumption. In fact, most Passive House buildings only use about 10 percent of the amount of energy of buildings that don’t have these standards.

What does LEED certification mean?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. Created by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1998, LEED acts as a tool to help professionals design and build green homes and commercial structures. In order to achieve LEED certification, a project has to earn a certain number of credits based on a rating system that focuses on eight categories. Depending on how many credits a building earns, it can get one of four designations, with LEED Platinum at the top.

Factoring in an HVAC system for building sustainability

In order to be called sustainable or green, a building has to contain an efficient system for heating and cooling. Typical HVAC systems can’t make this claim. Whenever a central air system is turned on, for example, it affects the entire building. Warm or cool air gets sent to every room, regardless if there’s someone in there or not. Perhaps the bigger issue has to do with the makeup of the system, and specifically the fact that it requires ducts to operate. Almost one-third of the energy produced with central air can be wasted through ductwork.

HVAC systems play a very big role in LEED certification. In fact, in the rating system mentioned earlier, the Energy and Atmosphere category can be worth up to 38 points, which accounts for about 28 percent of the total number of points a building can obtain. And this is why non-traditional heating and cooling systems – like ductless mini splits – are becoming popular with residential and commercial property owners.

Why ductless mini split systems are integral to sustainable buildings

Ductless mini splits are some of the most energy efficient heating and cooling systems available. They accomplish this in a couple of different ways. First of all, unlike central air, they only provide warm or cool air to individual rooms or, in some cases, individual floors of a building. This allows the system to work only when and where it’s needed. Plus, because it doesn’t utilize ducts, there is much less wasted energy. Ductless mini splits also run much more efficiently, and the ones that are ENERGY STAR certified use 30 percent less energy than standard heating systems and 60 percent less energy than regular air conditioners.

Ductless systems also improve indoor air quality

Another category with a high point total for LEED certification is Indoor Air Quality. Ductless mini split systems also excel in this area. With central air, dirt and dust accumulate in the ducts, and these contaminants get blown back into the building. This is something that can never happen with a ductless system. Ductless mini splits also have filters that collect things like dust, pollen, and bacteria, which greatly improve the indoor air quality.

Even if you don’t live in a Passive House or it isn’t LEED certified, there are things you can do to make it more sustainable. Swapping out an old, inefficient HVAC for a ductless mini-split is an excellent place to start. See what mini-split systems ComfortUp offers.