The Significance of HVAC Systems

By Extended Studies


How often do we consider the quality of the air in the indoor spaces we inhabit?

The importance of indoor air quality frequently goes unnoticed despite its profound impact on our daily lives. While individuals may notice uncomfortable temperatures or unpleasant odors, the quality of indoor air is frequently neglected. It is crucial to recognize how our health, comfort, and overall quality of life are impacted by the regulatory systems governing indoor air quality, specifically Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems.

HVAC systems are present in all buildings. While we commonly associate heating and cooling systems with adjusting temperatures in households and offices, refrigeration and HVAC systems serve a multitude of critical roles beyond these contexts. For instance, refrigeration systems are indispensable in preserving food freshness in grocery stores and restaurants, while HVAC systems promote energy efficiency in large commercial and industrial establishments. Additionally, HVAC systems play a critical role in establishing and maintaining a healthy indoor environment in sensitive spaces such as hospitals, laboratories, and surgical rooms, where air quality is of paramount importance.

"These systems surround us," affirms Frank Shadpour, PE, ASHRAE Fellow, and principal instructor for the HVAC Systems Design and Control Program at UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies. "For residential and commercial office buildings, HVAC is primarily employed to ensure occupant comfort. However, in the case of a surgical suite in a hospital, the HVAC system's role is crucial in maintaining the optimal temperature, humidity, air pressure, and air purity to ensure proper infection control measures required for safe patient surgeries. The more advanced the building, the more intricate the HVAC design and control systems."

Furthermore, he highlights how HVAC systems contribute to maintaining air quality and cabin pressure in airplanes.

"Despite being inconspicuous, HVAC systems play a substantial role in our lives. Without them, humanity would suffer tremendously," Frank emphasizes.

The Importance of HVAC Systems

Anyone who has received an electric bill understands that power and electricity usage peak during the hottest summer days and the coldest winter days. Failing to monitor these peaks can lead to hefty utility bills. This situation is even more pronounced in large buildings. With the rising costs of utilities and the increasing focus on decarbonization, the proper design of HVAC and control systems is becoming increasingly critical in the built environment.

"HVAC systems within buildings consume a substantial amount of energy, sometimes accounting for as much as 40% to 60% of the total energy usage for the entire building," Frank explains. "A building owner might approach us and say, “My building consumes five million dollars’ worth of energy annually. What can you do to help us reduce this cost to four million annually?' Through proper HVAC and control design, one can provide a solution to such a problem with a payback period of less than one year. In other words, a well-functioning HVAC system can save a building owner a million dollars a year in perpetuity. Thus, these systems often pay for themselves."

The focus on the efficiency of HVAC also has a significant impact on reducing our collective carbon footprint as a society.

"Today we are looking at buildings that are Net-Zero Energy; meaning on an annual basis, the building uses no more energy that it produces with renewable resources, such as solar panels or other technologies," Frank highlights. “As you can guess, you cannot have a Net-Zero Energy building without an energy-efficient HVAC system.”

Given their potential to save building owners millions of dollars in utility costs while decreasing overall energy consumption, it becomes clear why the ability to provide well-designed HVAC systems is in high demand.

The Importance of the HVAC Systems Design and Control Certificate Program

HVAC systems are indispensable for our daily lives, considering the comfort they provide and their ability to maintain critical aspects of our work environment. However, the HVAC industry is facing a significant challenge.

"The primary issue plaguing the HVAC industry in the United States today is a shortage of skilled workers," Frank remarks. "There is a lack of available professionals to hire, to the point where we are even attempting to recruit HVAC experts from other countries."

"Furthermore, the most prestigious and costly universities in the country do not offer HVAC and Control-specific curricula to their students. They focus on teaching mechanical theory and algorithms, content not tailored to the trade." Frank continues.

"The HVAC Systems Design and Control Program provided by the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies is one of the few outlets that offer this invaluable education and certification. This program addresses the latest available HVAC technologies and has been consistently successful year after year. Graduates of this program are often immediately hired for new HVAC positions or promoted within their current jobs."

While job prospects are a significant consideration, individuals also enroll in the certificate program for other reasons.

"We have witnessed numerous students enrolling in this program to switch careers," Frank shares. "For instance, there was a mechanical engineer who used to design aerospace gadgets but decided to transition to the built environment, focusing on designing HVAC systems to improve energy efficiency and support decarbonization efforts."

Frank also highlights that the program offers a direct approach to the profession, which is particularly appealing to individuals seeking trade-specific knowledge for practical application in the real world.

The Unique Challenge of HVAC Education

The HVAC industry comprises various professionals. Engineers and designers are responsible for system design, while skilled installers and technicians play a crucial role in system maintenance. The installation and maintenance of HVAC systems typically require workers with different skillsets compared to those involved in engineering and design. Typically, individuals with backgrounds in construction or facility management perform the physical work of installing and maintaining HVAC systems, while engineers and designers primarily work on computers. Building owners and administrators aim to ensure efficient and effective system operation for the benefit of building occupants while striving to minimize energy consumption.

Frank mentions that his courses have an equal distribution of students from each of these three backgrounds. Although it may seem complex teaching to all aspects of the trade, Frank believes it presents a unique experience and advantage.

"Whether the students are engineers, maintenance personnel, or facility owners, they all share a common concern when they enroll in my courses: “How to design and maintain an efficient HVAC system," Frank states. "Our courses are designed to bring these professionals together so that they can learn from one another and gain a comprehensive view of the industry as a whole."

One of the most popular projects in each course is the Special Project, where students collaborate in teams to design a specific aspect of an HVAC system for a building.

"I encourage students to form teams with members from diverse backgrounds or careers," Frank explains. "For example, contractors should choose to collaborate with engineers, while engineers should partner with installers or building owners/administrators."

"Design-focused individuals often don't fully appreciate the practical considerations when it comes to installing these systems on-site. They need to consider equipment access and maintenance. Installers, on the other hand, gain insights into the design process of these systems."

"Students learn a great deal when they have the opportunity to gain experience from someone with a different background, as it allows them to see challenges and solutions from a different perspective."

Expanding the Program Online/Live-Online

Frank takes immense pride in the HVAC program, and rightfully so. As the original instructor, he has been instrumental in its growth and success.

"I started this program with a single course back in 1987," Frank recalls. "Over the years, we gradually expanded to offer a comprehensive five-course certificate program."

Frank is particularly excited about the program's expansion into a combination of online and live-online format.

"We are witnessing tremendous interest from individuals outside of San Diego," Frank notes. "In the past, students traveled from locations such as Las Vegas, Texas, Los Angeles, Arizona, and New York to attend these courses in person. Now, with the availability of online and live-online courses, we have eliminated this burden and made the program more accessible to students across the country."

By offering courses online and live-online, Frank hopes to reach new students and bolster the number of skilled HVAC engineers, designers, installers, and facility managers/maintenance personnel in the workforce.

"The HVAC courses prioritize real-world applications and provide insights into the latest practical solutions in the HVAC industry," Frank affirms. "They lay the foundation for designing superior HVAC systems."

To learn more about the HVAC Systems Design and Control Program at UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies, please visit the program page.

Posted: 8/3/2023 8:00:00 AM with 0 comments
Filed under: HVAC

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