The HVAC system in the new Sister of Saint Joseph Motherhouse needed to meet the requirements of the sisters, namely energy efficiency, individual control capability, and quiet operation. The building also had to meet the requirements of the New York State Health Code for Nursing Homes.
When the Sisters of Saint Joseph (SSJ) of Rochester, NY determined that their 75-year-old Motherhouse and infirmary no longer served the needs of their congregation, they undertook the daunting process of building a new facility. This process took five years, involved unprecedented levels of coordination between team members, and resulted in a state-of-the-art Motherhouse and senior living facility that will serve as a foundation for the congregation's ministries for many years to come.


In 17th-century Europe, a small group of women in Le Puy, France felt themselves called to serve God's people in a different way - by going out into their city, seeing what the needs were, and then trying to meet those needs by doing "any works of which women were capable."1

This was the origin of the order. The congregation spread quickly throughout Europe, interrupted for a few years by the French Revolution. In 1836, a small group of sisters left France to come to Carondelet, MO. In 1850, four of these women came to Canandaigua, NY. This community grew into today's SSJ of Rochester, with over 350 vowed members, over 100 associates, and countless friends and supporters.

For over 75 years, the Motherhouse and infirmary, located on the campus of Nazareth College, in Pittsford, NY, has been a center for their life and ministries. In 1997, the congregation entered into a strategic planning process, one goal of which was to look at the use of their current properties and to identify their future needs.

Design Criteria

To assist the sisters in developing the initial design criteria for their new home, a team of individuals from inside and outside of the congregation was assembled. After many meetings and discussions, this team determined that, due to the declining population and increasing age of the sisters, the new Motherhouse would need to meet three fundamental requirements.

  • The new facility could be smaller than their current 160,000-sq-ft Motherhouse.
  • The new facility should be very energy efficient in order to reduce the operating costs of the Motherhouse.
  • The new facility should better meet the needs of their elderly population than the current Motherhouse and infirmary.

In addition to these fundamental requirements, key spatial requirements were identified. These included independent living dorm-style apartments, assisted living, and skilled nursing rooms along with a common core that would include a full service kitchen, dining hall, chapel, and service and office spaces.

Once the initial design criteria was identified, SSJ retained the services of Erdman Anthony and Associates, Inc., to further define the mechanical, electrical, and structural requirements of the new facility. Engineers from Erdman Anthony spent time studying the systems servicing the existing Motherhouse and infirmary.

Additionally, they met with and interviewed the residents to develop a list of features that the new systems would have to include in order for them to live comfortably and perform their work.

To help reduce noise, more than 100 horizontal heat pumps were installed above the ceilings in nonsleeping rooms, and the first 10 ft of the supply and return ductwork was lined with acoustic insulation.

Existing Conditions

The existing Motherhouse and infirmary were located on the outskirts of a college campus. The new facility would be located on a section of property adjacent to the campus. This piece of property contained sections that had been farmland, wetland, and forever wild. It bordered two world-renowned golf courses, yet it was also partially bordered by a neighborhood. The fact that the site contained so many variables would pose many design and political issues dramatically affecting the project's schedule and budget. Because portions of the site had been forever wild, an archeological dig had to be performed and the site was examined for the existence of an oak opening (a section of trees that had been untouched by man).

Additionally, the fact that a creek ran through the site created wetlands that had to be addressed; this involved coordination between the local municipality, college, golf courses, and a nearby shopping center. All of these issues had to be resolved before a site permit would be issued.

As far as the existing buildings' mechanical systems, both buildings used steam from a central boiler plant and cast iron radiators for heat. There was no central cooling system or humidity control and operable windows provided ventilation. The building shell, while being very thick, provided little insulation value, and the Motherhouse did not have a building control system. The life safety systems were minimal, and the facility did not have an automatic sprinkler system. The existing infirmary did not meet the current requirements for nursing homes and was limited in size. The lack of nursing beds and life safety systems were of great concern to the sisters due to their increasing age.

Education And Investigation

The first step in selecting the best mechanical systems for the new Motherhouse involved educating the sisters on the different types of systems available along with their pros and cons.

To address the HVAC requirements for the new Motherhouse, a list of possible systems was developed and compared. They included water source heat pumps, VAV, two- and four-pipe fancoils, and individual packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC) systems. A presentation was made to the SSJ by the design team, which described each system and provided information on how each system fit into their design criteria.

After this initial education session, both parties toured local facilities that were similar to their future facility. This allowed the sisters to see how each system worked firsthand and gave them an opportunity to point out what they liked and disliked about each system.

Based on the education and investigation activities, the sisters and their design team identified some major design criteria that the new HVAC systems would have to meet - specifically, energy efficiency, individual control, and quiet operation.

In addition to meeting these criteria, the selected systems would have to meet the requirements of the New York State Health Code for Nursing Homes. Even though the new facility would not be certified by the state as a nursing home, the future salability of the facility as a privately run senior living/nursing home was desired.

In addition to the design criteria identified by the client and the code requirements, it was the desire of the SSJ to pursue financial incentive rebates from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). These rebates would be based on system designs that would reduce electrical consumption in comparison to standard efficiency designs.

System Selection

Once the major design criteria for the new HVAC systems were identified, the possible system types were compared. Computer models for each system type were built, allowing for the construction costs, life-cycle costs, yearly energy usage, and maintenance expenses for each system to be estimated. This information was compiled and compared and a selection of water source heat pumps was made.

The selection of the water source heat pumps met the requirements identified in the initial design criteria. The various unique internal spaces (sleeping rooms, offices, community rooms, etc.) combined with the many different building facade exposures, would take advantage of the heat pumps shared piping systems to provide a very energy-efficient system. A heat-pump/closed-loop piping system "allows transfer of energy from satisfied spaces in the building to areas lacking sufficient energy. These systems achieve energy conservation by pumping heat from warm to cold spaces whenever they coexist anywhere in the building."2

In addition to the energy efficiency, the heat pump system could allow for individual control, would be very quiet if ducted and insulated properly, and would qualify for NYSERDA rebate incentives through its "New Construction" program custom measures feature.

To supplement the water source heat pumps during heating, a hot water baseboard radiation system was included. Since the existing Motherhouse had steam radiators located at the exterior walls, the sisters were used to the comfort these provided. The perimeter radiation would reduce potential downdrafts from glazing, which would otherwise be perceived as uncomfortable by the elderly occupants and be staged as the primary heat source, but since it was sized to make up the wall losses and not to satisfy the total space demand, it would complement the heat pump system for total space conditioning.

Besides the HVAC systems, other mechanical systems selected included multiple exhaust systems; makeup air systems for kitchen and laundry spaces; domestic hot, cold, and tempered water systems; softened water; storm and sanitary drainage; natural gas piping; medical grade oxygen piping; and automatic sprinkler and standpipe systems.

The ventilation and makeup air systems at the Motherhouse included three 100% rooftop AHUs, two DX cooling and one for heating only. Each unit delivered zone-neutral air directly ducted to the return air ductwork of each of the water source heat pumps.

Working With The Community

Since the new Motherhouse would be a unique facility which partially bordered a residential neighborhood, significant levels of coordination and understanding between the SSJ, local residents, and municipalities had to occur. This resulted in formal and informal town meetings where local residents could ask questions and express opinions regarding the impact the project would have on their neighborhood. This resulted in design changes such as the building's setback from the road, the height and intensity of the site lighting, and the landscaping around the site.

Besides the local residents, the town's building officials were very much involved in the design process. Due to the sister's average ages and health concerns, the new facility's life safety features were closely coordinated with the local fire marshal. This resulted in major upgrades to the various life safety systems above what would be required by code. These upgrades included additional horns and strobes added to the fire alarm system, the upgrading of the automatic sprinkler systems serving the residential portions of the facility from a NFPA-13R residential system to a NFPA-13 Light Hazard classification, the addition of a NFPA-14 Class I manual wet standpipe system, the placement of additional site hydrants and fire department connections, and the addition of a nurse call system.

Because the new Motherhouse would present significantly higher demands on the local utilities than typically found in the residential neighborhood, coordination with the natural gas and electric utilities provider was critical. The natural gas demand of the new facility resulted in an upgrade in the gas main supplying the area and new electrical poles and wires were added.

Start, Stop, Now Start Again

Once the design development and system selection phases had been completed, the design team began the detailed design activities. Architect Jim Bridges of Harrison Bridges & Associates (Pittsford, NY) and his team set up offices within the existing Motherhouse. This allowed for direct interaction with the sisters and helped customize the design to their needs. Bridges noted, "They wanted all the functionality of the new building in terms of state-of-the-art life safety, conveniences, amenities for the elderly congregation."3Concurrently with the architectural design, the engineering team from Erdman Anthony began the detailed design activities for the mechanical, electrical, and structural systems for the new Motherhouse.

At the time when the detailed design began, the project was scheduled to follow the design-bid-build construction format. Due to budget and schedule constraints, this process changed halfway into the development of the bid documents when the sisters hired a construction manager (CM) for the project.

Since a CM was now on board, the process changed to a D-B construction format. Representatives from various construction trades were introduced into the design team in order to provide input into the constructability and cost of the design. This temporarily put a hold on the development of the design documents and a review of the entire design to date was undertaken.

One example of this was, based on cost implications, the suggestion of gas-fired PTAC units in place of the water source heat pumps. This suggestion resulted in the design team reopening the education and investigation activities phase. It was discovered that a local senior living facility used the PTAC units, and a tour was conducted. It was agreed by the sisters that while the use of the PTAC units would provide for individual control at an initial lower cost, the appearance and noise of the units did not fit into the overall design scheme of the new Motherhouse.

Once the agreement on the mechanical systems was reached, activities began to switch toward value engineering cost saving changes to the design. This resulted in the reduction in both the number of heat pump zones and the linear feet of fintube radiation.

In addition to mechanical cost saving changes, significant architectural changes were made. These included an overall reduction in square footage and height of the facility. This change in building height would prove to be a major challenge to the mechanical design. Because noise control and serviceability of the heat pumps were so important to the overall design, the correct placement of the heat pumps was critical. The reduction in building height dramatically limited the spaces available to accept a heat pump. It was decided that, due to the fact that the project was now D-B, the detailed coordination for the project would be conducted in the field. Based on this understanding, the production of the bid/construction documents resumed.

The Bidding Is Complete, Now What?

Before the completion of the design documents, the CM and the sisters decided it would be beneficial to bid the project. This presented challenges to the design team because the design documents were generated after coordination with specific contractors and to a D-B level of detail.

To further complicate matters, the contractors involved in the design process did not end up being the low bidders. While the winning bidders were all quality firms who ended up performing very well on the project, the fact that they were not involved in the design resulted in enormous coordination issues. The extent of this coordination was best represented when the engineering manager from Erdman Anthony, the mechanical contractor, and the ductwork fabrication contractor spent a day together in front of a CAD/CAM station to work through some difficult coordination issues.

Obviously, this level of coordination and cooperation between the engineering and construction teams is not the norm, but it showed the commitment that everyone involved in the project had to the sisters. The sisters not only endeared themselves to the entire design and construction teams by their history of community involvement, but by their personal expressions of gratitude. This involved starting each meeting with a prayer for the artisans working on their new home and hosting luncheons for the entire construction team. The result was an atmosphere not normally found on a construction site.

The Nuts And Bolts

The final design and installation of the water source heat pump system included the use of over 100 Carrier Model 50 RHR horizontal heat pumps. They were installed above the ceilings in nonsleeping rooms in order to minimize noise and provide accessibility for maintenance. To further minimize noise, the first 10 ft of the supply and return ductwork was lined with a closed-cell elastomeric acoustic insulation. The heat pump system also included two Lochinvar CHN 1800 natural gas boilers and an Evapco ATW closed circuit evaporative cooler rated at 4,500 MBtuh and 900 gpm. Two 25-hp, high-efficiency pumps with VFDs circulated the heat pump piping loop. The heat pump system was zoned so that each heat pump supported an average of four sleeping rooms or a block of similar occupancy spaces.

The perimeter fintube radiation system consisted of over 1,200 ft of fintube and cover, a Lochinvar Model CHN 0651 gas-fired boiler, and a Taco 5-hp pump with a high-efficiency motor and VFD. A single solenoid control valve regulated flow to an average of eight sleeping rooms that shared a common exposure.

The ventilation and makeup air systems consisted of three McQuay 100% rooftop AHUs. The first unit (12,000 cfm, 800 MBtuh gas-fired burner, 81 tons DX cooling) served the residential wings and the common core. The second unit (6,000 cfm, 400 MBtuh gas-fired burner, 37 tons DX cooling) served the skilled nursing and assisted living wings. Both units delivered "load-neutral" air directly ducted to the return air ductwork of each heat pump. Each unit was also connected to a Nortec gas-to-steam humidifier. The humidifiers were provided with a weatherproof enclosure and were mounted adjacent to the units. The third unit was heating-only (12,500 cfm) and provided makeup air for the commercial kitchen hood and laundry.

Approximately 30 Cook exhaust fans (models ACRU and SQN) were installed. These fans exhausted bathrooms, laundry rooms, and other utility spaces.

All of these systems were controlled by a Carrier Comfort Network DDC system. The control system's sequence of operation and points list was designed by Erdman Anthony's controls engineers and was installed by the mechanical contractors' (Kenron Industrial Air Conditioning) certified controls personnel.

In addition to these base mechanical systems, there were multiple smaller custom systems installed. These systems included a piped medical oxygen gas system that served 10 skilled nursing rooms and a standalone dehumidification system for the internal therapy pool area.

This view of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Motherhouse shows the closed circuit evaporative cooler and generator. The cooler is part of the heat pump system that includes two natural gas boilers and two high-efficiency pumps with VFDs. The heat pump system was zoned so that each heat pump supported an average of four sleeping rooms.

What Went Well (and Not so Well)

Overall the project was very successful. Sister Janice Morgan, president of the congregation, said, "We have so much we want to do, and this new facility will help us do it. It will save us money in the long run, enable us to do more and put more into ministry and give us more visibility in our new location."3The project was completed on time and only slightly above budget.

The mechanical and electrical systems were commissioned by an independent agent, on behalf of NYSERDA, and passed with flying colors. The commissioning process involved direct site inspection for the prequalified equipment and three full days of hands-on testing of the heat pump and controls systems. The testing process involved cycling each system through its capabilities and comparing visual inspections with what the computer control terminal was reporting to ensure that all systems were performing as designed. The overall design and installation resulted in over $200,000 in rebate incentives for the sisters. This was the result of an anticipated annual electrical energy savings of $130,000 over standard efficiency products and systems.

The biggest issue to arise, since the facility has been occupied, has been related to airflow. The sisters came from a building that had no forced air systems. Because of this, they were not used to feeling air movement. Even though great care had been taken in the design and installation of the ductwork systems to avoid noise (NC of 20 or less typical) and to position diffusers and grilles so as to limit air currents directed at the occupants, this still ended up causing some discomfort to some of the sisters. The fact that the sleeping rooms were small (approximately 275 sq ft) limited the placement of the terminals.

This issue has been addressed by further education along with some "tweaking" of the heat pump system. This has included turning some selected heat pumps from constant fan operation to fan cycling occupied mode. The system was designed to have the fans run constantly on low speed in order to help eliminate odors and help regulate space temperature. Testing on selected rooms has actually shown that the space maintained temperature for 36 hours with only a three-degree swing.

The minor issues aside, the project was a great learning experience for both the design team and contractors, providing the sisters with a state-of-the-art facility with which they can continue to serve the community for many years to come. ES

Erdman Anthony and Associates, Inc. is a multi-discipline, ISO 9001 certified, consulting engineering company that specializes in infrastructure development. Erdman Anthony is headquartered in Rochester, NY and serves clients throughout the East Coast with offices in Buffalo, Albany, and Harrisburg, PA. Visit the website at