Richmond Enterprises (San Antonio, TX), one of the oldest continually-operated franchisees in the Pizza Hut restaurant chain, has discovered a low-cost air conditioning solution for its new 5,000-sq-ft maintenance center.

In an effort to cool the newly-built maintenance center, which is connected to the 33-year-old franchisee's 9,500-sq-ft, headquarters/warehouse, Steve Richmond, director of maintenance, opted for cost-saving fabric ductwork manufactured by FabricAir Inc., (Louisville, KY), combined with ridge venting, a trendy building design technique that allows heat to escape through manually controlled dampers.

30% Operation Cost Savings

The design, which also includes three, 5-ton split system air conditioning units by York International Corp. (Norman, OK), generates an estimated 30% operational cost savings vs. conventional systems, according to Richmond.

"Pizza Hut's design format doesn't include an exposed ceiling, so we can't use it in our restaurants, but several of my independent restaurateur friends now like the fabric duct concept so much that they're going to use it in their next restaurant expansions," said Richmond, whose firm operates 30 restaurants in the 9,000-location chain.

The operational savings is generated from the design's heat load reduction. Heat continually rises and escapes through the ridge vents in the maintenance center's 20-ft-high pitched roof, which in turn lowers the building's cooling demands.

Meanwhile, the 300-linear ft of 14-in.-round fabric ductwork, which is suspended 16-ft-high, enhances the convection process by evenly spreading cooler, heavier air down to the bottom 75% of the structure. On cool days during winter months, electric heaters in the hvac system are thermostatically activated and the vents close to retain heat.

Richmond had originally considered other ductwork materials such as fiberglass and metal. En route to specifying the air conditioning system, he stumbled on the concept of fabric ductwork that's just beginning to surface in the United States after 30 years of use in European restaurants, natatoriums, office buildings, food processing plants, and other industrial applications. Fabric is more attractive than fiberglass, according to Richmond, and offers a 25% and 75% cost savings in materials and installation labor, respectively.

The fabric duct installation took a two-person crew from Alamo Mechanical (San Antonio), a mechanical contracting firm that specializes in light industrial applications, three hours to install. "Basically all we did was put some anchors in the wall for the suspension system and mounted the fabric duct onto the plenum collar and then strung the holders through the cable similar to hanging a shower curtain," said Doug Hefford, president, Alamo Mechanical. He plans to suggest fabric duct as a metal duct alternative on future bids. "The fact that sections were zipped together and ladders were used instead of labor-intensive scaffolding sped the job along quickly."

The Trendy New Fabric

Aesthetically, Richmond's choice of yellowish-orange duct brightened the drab industrial atmosphere created by the metal building's white walls and exposed steel joists.

Comfort-wise, Richmond likes the low-velocity airflow produced by fabric duct. Instead of a draft-producing register every several feet, which is standard with conventional metal duct, two custom-ordered linear outlets run the length of the ductwork and disperse an even, gentle airflow. "I have several trunk lines above our offices and there's absolutely no draft, all that's felt is the temperature I've set on the thermostat.

The best is yet to come, according to Richmond. When the duct needs periodic cleaning, Richmond's own crew can take it down and either clean it in-house or have it dry cleaned. ES

Caption: After Richmond Enterprises chose a yellowish-orange duct to brighten its interior, a two-person mechanical contracting crew completed the installation in three hours.ES