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Flow Safe insert saves Staten Island College $700,000 a year in energy costs
FAIRFAX, Va. – Clean air is obviously important to good health, but for scientists, instructors, students, researchers and chemists working in labs across the country, clean air is vital to their safety and well-being. Fume hoods prevent toxins, smoke and chemical vapors from escaping into the air, keeping building occupants safe. Many fume hoods, however, run inefficiently, exhausting air at a much higher rate than needed.
The National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC) works with contractors to convert fume hoods, allowing for more efficient air flow and energy cost savings for building owners.
Bob Morris, engineer and CEO of Flow Safe, began studying fume hood performance when his twin brother was exposed to chemicals. The problem he found was many fume hoods were installed and treated like laboratory furniture. In 1998, his first solution was to create a more energy-efficient fume hood, which resulted in a hood that used 60 percent less energy. Six years later, he designed a fume hood conversion insert to upgrade existing fume hoods in order to achieve the same efficiency of a new high-performance, low-airflow hood.
Tearing out existing, structurally sound fume hoods to replace them with newer versions didn’t make much sense to Morris.
“The question came in as to why we couldn’t fix the existing hoods. There are 2 million of these across the country,” Morris said. “When we throw the existing fume hoods away, we throw away all the energy it took to create them the first time. We save the pollution and energy from the first time and upgrade it.”
According to Morris, 35 to 45 percent of all energy consumed on a university research campus is used by the laboratories.
“When the hoods weren’t working, they thought the answer was it didn’t use enough air,” Morris said. “So, they kept increasing the amount of air flow. It was counter intuitive.”
The fume hood conversion kit Morris created is an insert that changes the shape inside the hood and makes the damper automatic. The converted hoods are then put through the ASHRAE 110 prescribed test by a certified technician. Flow Safe guarantees the energy savings as well as zero spill tracer gas performance, he added.
To date, 4,000 fume hoods have been converted. Three buildings in the City University of New York (CUNY) college system have had hoods converted and air flow rebalanced to create a more energy-efficient work environment.
Queens College’s science building will soon undergo fume hood conversion.
The conversion of 82 fume hoods inside the 6S Science Building at the College of Staten Island was completed two years ago, and the college is saving 15 percent of its $4.5 million energy bill. This was largely due to the reduction of air flow. Typically, good lab practice is six to eight air changes per hour. The labs at the college were up to 20 air changes an hour to satisfy the old hoods’ ventilation requirements.
“We reduced the air flow in the building to eight air changes. The bills are down $700,000 a year,” said Art Fasolino, director of energy and facility sustainability for the CUNY system. “It’s pretty significant. The College of Staten Island has 15 buildings. Just lowering the cost $700,000 is like lowering it 15 percent. And that’s one building on the entire campus.”
The efficiency of the conversions allowed contractors to downscale the system and add a working humidification system, exhaust fans and boilers to make it all more efficient. The system controls also are easy, so maintenance is kept low. The materials and labor for the project cost $13.5 million.
“To replace fume hoods is time-consuming and expensive. Plus, you’d have to shut down the labs for two weeks,” Fasolino said. “If you’ve got a number of older science buildings, I think you’d be foolish not to not at least evaluate installing a kit instead. If I had an older building where the fume hoods were older but good structurally, I’d look into it.”
In 2012, NEMIC awarded Virginia Tech a $200,000 grant to document the efficiency of fume hood conversions in the context of lab spaces. The results are expected to be released this summer.
“It will convince people of its worth,” said Vince DelVacchio, owner of Keystone TAB Consulting, LLC, which has performed fume hood conversions in Pennsylvania. “It’s not just the money they’re saving, it’s the pollutants. It’s not using less energy from just the hoods but using less energy for everything.”
The National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC) is a not-for-profit organization jointly funded by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association). NEMIC identifies opportunities, seeking to create or expand employment for SMART members and programs that assist SMACNA contractors.
For more information on emerging market opportunities in the sheet metal and air conditioning industry, contact the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC) at www.nemionline.org or call 703-739-7100.