MLS Facility Opts for VRF, Thanks to the Guidance of a Woman Business Enterprise
Carbone & Associates demonstrates the benefits, flexibility, and goal-scoring ability of VRF at a new soccer establishment.
Soccer is the fourth most popular sport in the U.S. and the second-fastest-growing sport in America, according to Nielsen Sports. Major League Soccer (MLS) experienced a 27% rise in interest since 2012. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 7% of Americans cited soccer as their favorite sport to watch, which falls just 2% behind “America’s Pastime” of baseball.
This surge has spawned a new, world-class MLS training facility on the East Coast. This complex, including the 42,000-square-foot building, will span 68 acres and feature a combination of natural grass surfaces and turf pitch fields. Six professional-grade fields will be situated outside the facility.
The establishment will also include a state-of-the-art fitness and medical center, which includes a team dining and lounge space; office space for the club’s technical staff and front office; and numerous other amenities. The $35 million, privately financed development will be one of the most expansive team facilities in the MLS, when completed.
In America, across new athletic facilities and beyond, variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems are quickly becoming optimum HVAC selections.
“It really started as a niche product, where we looked at buildings that didn’t have space or a lot of ductwork, but now we’re seeing that this can be applied to basically any building,” said Scott Gilchrist, regional sales manager, Pacific region, LG Electronics.
Interestingly, with continuous improvements and advancements in VRF and building automation technology, this equipment/system choice is approximately 7% preferred versus all HVAC systems in the U.S and in parallel with soccer’s 7% preference over a similar timeline.
Also surging in the HVAC engineering realm is the presence of women business enterprises (WBE). From the start of the 21st century, women-owned businesses have increased 1.5 times the national average, according to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. But, within the building industry, only 7% of businesses are owned by women. In the HVAC industry, just 1.2% of all employees are women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Based on these statistics, it’s fair but unfortunate to say there are very few WBE equipment manufacturer representative companies in the HVAC industry. One of those WBE enterprises is the manufacturer representative that provided the VRF equipment and dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS) units for this project, Carbone & Associates LLC (C&A), Somerville, Massachusetts.
The VRF Surge
The HVAC systems serving this complex were originally engineered to be fan coil systems, but the design team reconsidered a possible VRF engineered solution that would be more energy-efficient and less intrusive to the ceiling spaces.
Darcy Carbone, president of C&A and an experienced design engineer, commissioning agent, and recently certified WBE firm owner, worked with the HVAC consulting design engineering team to complete a VRF solution that would include a DOAS for building ventilation.
While conventional HVAC systems deliver heating or cooling with a constant flow of refrigerant, VRF sends varied volumes of refrigerant to evaporators within each fan coil unit (FCU), which serve various spaces and deliver comfort to meet unique set points throughout the building.
VRF units deliver cooling much like chilled water supply (CHWS) delivers comfort to each chilled water FCU. The flow varies based on the space’s thermostat’s call for cooling. With VRF, it’s only the refrigerant that varies.
In the heating mode, VRF units utilize the same refrigerant they do for cooling. In a CHWS, during the heating mode of operation, a hot water supply (HWS) is required to feed the FCU via a four-pipe system or the less preferred two-pipe system with or without an auxiliary 1-Kw electric heating coil within each unit.
Outside on the roof, the heat pump compressor/condenser unit acts as the refrigeration unit as well as the boiler versus a more traditional FCU system using a refrigeration unit and a boiler to provide the heating and air conditioning during the year. The VRF FCU evaporator cooling coil is individually controlled, which means you can heat, cool, or even simultaneously heat and cool multiple areas served by a single HVAC system, depending on the type of VRF system you choose (heat pump or heat recovery application). The branch controller will alternate the FCU refrigerant piping connections with suction, discharge, and high/low pressure lines based on the mode of operation — heating or cooling. Varying the amounts of refrigerant allows occupants to be comfortable even if they are in different rooms with significantly different demands. This type of VRF heat recovery performance allows indoor units the ability to either heat or cool but not simultaneously, thus avoiding energy waste.
A total of 40 heat recovery FCUs serve the new soccer offices, equating to approximately one FCU per 1,000 square feet to accommodate the diversity of the occupied space and its hours of operation. These units were a combination of concealed, high-static-type units mixed with a few wall-mounted heating and cooling FCUs. The capacity of these FCUs varied from 1/3 ton to 4-ton cooling and 1- to 20-MBtuh heating per unit.
Each of the three outdoor condenser/compressor installations were within the 36-48 ton range resulting in an overall 440 square feet per ton of cooling capacity and 432 MBtuh heating capacity concluding in approximately 40 Btuh per square foot of heating capacity.
The DOAS system was a 9,000-cfm outdoor air unit providing ventilation and using an energy recovery wheel rated at approximately 80% efficiency during the heating and cooling seasons.
The benefits of VRF — its high-efficiency electrical performance compared to the originally considered fan coil unit system as well as the opportunity to have 40-space comfort zones — was enough to sway the owner.
In addition, the capability to program each space thermostat with its own occupied-unoccupied cycle will allow the building to maximize it energy conservation. Some rooms can now be programmed to unoccupied mode while others may continue to operate in occupied mode for extended hours of operation, when applicable.
Although this building is brand new, this application offered the MLS team owner the opportunity to renovate these spaces at a later date relatively easy because of the use of refrigerant piping versus other HVAC system applications that may require heating and cooling piping.
The entire VRF-DOAS installation’s automatic controls were engineered to be capable of integrating with the owner’s campus-wide BAS computer to further optimize the operation and energy conservation management of this facility collecting data over time to make operational decisions.
The WBE Surge
This soccer project received assistance from C&A, an HVAC equipment manufacturer representative startup firm. When the MLS building owner and HVAC contractor chose to “break the mold” by purchasing the VRF equipment through a WBE equipment manufacturer representative, C&A provided the necessary answers.
For the most part, an equipment manufacturer representative is a “commodity” business. Typically, more than one manufacturer will provide similar equipment, and the buyer is tasked with choosing the least expensive equipment. To reinforce the project owner’s choice to contract with C&A, Carbone had already positioned her company to differentiate it from her competition with a business plan that included the following value-added equipment manufacturer representative support to this project as well as her other projects:
- With VRF system applications becoming more popular, C&A is aiming to establish a training center during the first quarter of 2020 that offers a refrigeration system certification program for technicians to become skilled and certified in the VRF installation, testing, and startup of these installations. This hands-on training, delivered by a C&A-certified refrigeration mechanic instructor, allows attendees to complete the course and be certified by the VRF manufacturer who, in this case, was LG Electronics.
- Provide a unique two-phase submittal approach versus the traditional shop drawing submittal at the start of construction. Phase one of the C&A submittal is the traditional equipment shop drawings, electrical data, unit sizes and capacities, etc. Once approved by the design engineer, a second-phase submission is arranged between contractor and project owner’s operation and maintenance (O&M) staff that is unique within the HVAC industry: a three-ring binder that includes the suggested planned maintenance (PM) work orders with special instructions, tasking, frequency, etc. Based on the maintenance information, Carbone also includes the estimated annual total hours to maintain all equipment furnished to maximize the useful equipment service life of the equipment, e.g., the soccer facility project’s VRF and DOAS equipment, in her executive summary report. This information is delivered to the building owner well in advance of the project’s closeout so his or her facility staff can populate its computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system. The team can then simply use the PM work orders provided or provide this information to the installing HVAC contractor for an annual service contract proposal. Carbone’s mantra is, “Begin to close out the job at the start.”
At the phase-two submittal turnover meeting, the building’s O&M staff said, “We had never seen this done [suggested PM work orders] in the past, and this certainly allowed us to get far more familiar with asset management for this project long before the systems were scheduled to be completed, started up, commissioned, or the job was closed out.”
C&A offered a few additional deal-making plans, including:
- The manufacturer’s representative provided educational “practitioner” programs for refrigeration mechanics, design engineers, contractors, commissioning agents, energy consultants, owner representatives, and facility personnel focused on the real-world skills needed to be a success in this building industry that complement the theoretical curriculum that is provided in technical high schools, colleges, and universities.
- C&A provided standard, “all-in-one” VRF and DOAS equipment specifications for the consulting engineer to use. These included a more detailed automatic temperature control (ATC) sequence of operations than currently exists. A sequence-by-sequence narrative in sync with this standard design specification template is an embedded commissioning functional performance test (FPT) document. This “breaking–the-mold” design document is based on Carbone’s past design engineering and commissioning experience, so, now, she has combined all three components into one comprehensive document.
Carbone’s reasoning for this unique business plan is to allow the design team, HVAC contractor, and owner of the project access to the HVAC contract documents so that commissioning of the ATC sequences can occur with or without a third-party commissioning agent, thus assuring the facility O&M group the systems will be commissioned.
This information, provided in the design phase contract specification for the project, will allow the design engineer or a third-party commissioning agent to make sure this quality assurance process can occur when the HVAC contractor demonstrates the system’s sequence-by-sequence performance to the building owner’s O&M staff. In addition, the HVAC contractor can use these FPT documents when providing VRF system training to his or her staff.
With a surge in the popularity of soccer in the U.S., this project opportunity provided an MLS team owner, the design team, and the HVAC contractor the opportunity to introduce what is considered a better, more efficient, and more flexible VRF system for the application. In sync with this venture, the team empowered a WBE firm to contribute to the project’s success. Carbone’s goal of making a difference as a WBE manufacturer’s representative came true as C&A’s VRF system design and her unique two-phased equipment submittal process has proven beneficial for the contractor and the facility’s energy usage.