How Does an HVAC System Work?


Welcome back! It's good to see you again.
If this is your first time here, here's a quick link to Level 1: What's Powering the Campus?

These bonus levels are all about energy savings. You'll get to learn about the energy conservation and energy efficiency projects our engineering team works on, and how they've saved over $1 million dollars. Let's first start with how an HVAC system works, because it's a big part of energy savings on the UC Davis campus. 

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

The campus HVAC systems are responsible for the heating and cooling of our buildings, and they're different from the ones you'd typically see in your home or apartment. The buildings on campus are so big, there is equipment called an air handling unit. These air handlers, along with other mechanical equipment such as fans, dampers, reheat coils, and more, make up the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. 


As you saw in Level 1 of Trim the Waste, the campus uses electricity and natural gas to make chilled water and steam, respectively. Chilled water and steam are sent to campus buildings via underground pipes, and the air handlers use both to heat or cool outside air before sending it into the building. This conditioned air travels through the building in ducting (sometimes hidden above the ceilings) and enters through the vents you see above, next to, or beneath you. 

Heating and Cooling
From Start to Finish


The heating and cooling of a building is controlled by something called an HVAC Controls System. We have a central control system on campus that serves most of the buildings on campus. The controls system is programmed using sensors in the air handler, ducting, and the rooms' thermostats, which is a complex process. These sensors and the control system's programming is where a large portion of the energy engineers' work takes place. 

What You Can’t See in an HVAC System

There’s a lot going on behind-the-scenes in an HVAC system. Check out the comparison below of a floorplan (what you’d experience when walking a building) to the mechanical drawing (what an engineer uses to work with the HVAC system).

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NEXT: How DO we save energy on campus?