By Bryan Cordill
From the June 2020 Issue
The HVAC system is the lifeblood of any commercial building, which means choosing the proper system is a critical decision for the operational success of a facility. Whether selecting a system for a new building or replacing systems in an existing facility, there are several key features to consider when choosing an HVAC system for a commercial space. Reliability, cost-effectiveness, carbon footprint, efficiency, and facility location are all important factors.
Propane HVAC systems offer benefits that impact all of the stated factors above, but it’s only natural for facility managers to do their homework before deciding on an HVAC system and the energy source to power it. When choosing a system, many facility managers will have some questions along the way. These are some of the most common questions we at the Propane Research & Education Council (PERC) receive from facility managers regarding HVAC systems:
What are the benefits of propane versus other energy sources? When shopping for an HVAC system, facility owners and managers may think of considerations like brand, model, and cost, but they have a choice of what energy source they want to power that equipment, too.
Propane offers efficiency, lower emissions, reliability, and versatility in a wide variety of commercial applications—whether in office spaces, multifamily buildings, schools, restaurants, retail stores, or hospitals. Plus, with propane, facility managers can include first-rate amenities regardless of where their building is located. Because it’s stored on site, it’s not limited to locations accessible by the natural gas line.
In Apex, NV, Circle S Farms, an indoor cannabis cultivation and hydro-carbon extraction lab, relies on propane HVAC equipment to keep its operation running smoothly. The company built a greenhouse in an industrial park located outside of North Las Vegas, but was facing expensive utility costs. The park lacked sufficient utilities, including natural gas infrastructure, and in order to build a sub-station in the park, businesses were facing substantial costs.
By incorporating propane into the project, Circle S Farms was able to build its 32,500 square foot products space and 22,000 square foot grow center at this location. Propane is a portable fuel that can be stored on-site, either above ground or buried underground. The company worked with Delta Liquid Energy, a local propane supplier, who offered a competitive cost—which translated to a substantial ROI over same-sized electric HVAC equipment. Beyond the cost benefits of propane, Circle S Farms also relies on propane to meet the demanding HVAC requirements of its operation. Cannabis facilities need reliable, efficient HVAC equipment that can help maintain the ideal growing environment—which is why the company uses a propane gas heat pump.
Are high-efficiency systems worth the extra investment? The upfront costs associated with high-efficiency HVAC systems can be higher in comparison to other HVAC options, but the lifetime savings make high-efficiency systems are worth considering.
Propane systems offer best-in-class efficiency and, subsequently, decreased energy bills. Commercial propane furnaces, for example, have efficiency levels of 80% to 98.5% AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency). When comparing high-efficiency propane furnaces to standard heat pumps in several regions across the U.S.—the Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest—the annual energy costs of propane equipment offered significant savings. For example, in the Midwest, the annual energy costs of an ENERGY STAR-rated propane furnace came out to be $2,713, compared to $3,313 of an air source heat pump.1 Keep in mind, energy rates may vary by region. In addition, heavy electric demand at any given time, as would be the case with heat pumps, can increase demand charges.
How do I ensure I’m choosing the right-sized HVAC system? An HVAC system that’s not properly sized for a building can cause problems. If the system is too small, for instance, it may not be able to provide proper, efficient heating or cooling during extreme weather—which will leave the system running constantly, subsequently increasing energy consumption. On the other hand, if the system is too big, it will have trouble reducing the moisture in the air, which means the air will still feel humid and uncomfortable even after the thermostat switches off after reading the right temperature.
An HVAC system that’s properly sized for the commercial building, however, will heat and cool effectively and will ultimately be more comfortable for building occupants. There are formulas and guidelines available to help decision-makers calculate the optimal commercial HVAC size.
Can propane HVAC equipment help meet green building standards, like LEED? Efficiency upgrades are often measured in their environmental effectiveness by standards like the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
Here are a few ways that propane can help building owners and facility managers earn points toward LEED certification inside the facility and out on the grounds, too:
- Space and water heating. The energy and utility savings derived from propane-powered furnaces, boilers, and water heating systems can help exceed standard-efficiency systems.
- Propane autogas. LEED credit is available for buildings that install alternative fuel refueling stations or provide low-emitting and fuel efficient vehicles, maintenance vehicles, or buses, such as those powered by propane autogas.
- Mowers. The use of propane-powered mowers can help earn LEED points by achieving emissions reduction requirements from site management equipment.
¹ Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) study
Cordill is director of residential and commercial business development for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). To learn more about commercial propane HVAC systems, visit PERC at Propane.com/Commercial-Buildings.
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