Seeing Green in Your Fitness Facility's HVAC System

The HVAC system (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) is a crucial but often overlooked component in the gym setting as it relates to creating a healthy, comfortable environment for your members. Most people associate HVAC with temperature control via the thermostat. Although temperature regulation plays an important role in creating a comfortable environment, it often overshadows the other main component of the system—ventilation.

Ventilation involves introducing fresh air into the interior while removing the old, stale air. One of the main functions of the system is to remove the CO2 produced within the space from occupant ventilation and replace it with oxygen-rich air from the outside. Another function of the system is to remove harmful chemicals in the interior space, such as volatile organic compounds, and other small particles, such as dust suspended in the air. In addition, the system serves to decrease humidity within the space by extracting the high water content within the air.

Fitness facilities are a unique and challenging environment for HVAC systems because the act of exercise by a large group of people causes heat to be released as a by-product from energy production, which causes a rise in room temperature. Sweat produced via exercise evaporates into the air, raising humidity levels. Finally, exercisers increase the amount of CO2 produced. All of these factors create a strain on the HVAC system unique to the health club setting.

Club operators can “green” their HVAC systems by using a multi-level approach. Natural methods are the best option but they must be planned during the design phase. Natural methods include windows that open for ventilation and climate control with proper glazing techniques. Preventative maintenance, such as replacing air filters and cleaning air vents regularly, also is important. Energy-efficient mechanical methods, such as fans to increase air circulation, also can be adopted.

Regardless of the system, mechanical or natural, it is important to implement a monitoring system to make sure CO2 levels stay within acceptable ranges. Basic guidelines for the HVAC system set forth by the ACMS include acceptable temperature ranges of 68 degrees to 78 degrees (depending upon space usage), humidity of 60 percent or less, and air circulation of 8 percent to 12 percent. LEED certifications set the standards much higher and include categories such as monitoring (as mentioned above).

When we think about green design, energy reduction instantly enters our mind. Let’s face it—many people are hopping on the bandwagon merely to decrease their energy bills. Unfortunately, this does not mean turning the thermostat up or even off. The HVAC system functions to create a healthy, comfortable environment for your members. Some club owners may be fortunate enough to be able to incorporate design elements to increase natural ventilation and control temperature fluctuations, thereby reducing the dependency on the HVAC mechanical systems. Club owners who don’t have this option should look beyond reducing energy consumption and run the HVAC system with your members’ health and comfort as your main concern, incorporating other design elements and practices to reduce energy usage.

And remember, another benefit to running the HVAC relates to your bottom line—you will extend the life of your equipment by creating a climate that creates less harmful elements.

Kurt Broadhag, MS, CSCS, LEED AP, is a fitness professional with more than 15 years of experience in personal training and gym design. He is president of both K Allan Consulting, a firm specializing in health club design and management, and 23D Gym Design, which develops both two- and three-dimensional fitness center layouts. Broadhag can be reached at (310) 601-7768 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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