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Vivarium Retrocommissioning

©2017 This excerpt taken from the article of the same name which appeared in ASHRAE Journal, vol. 59, no. 10, October 2017

By Adam Wheeler, P.E., Member ASHRAE

About the Author
Adam Wheeler, P.E., is principal at Sherrill Engineering, Inc., in San Francisco.

Some people picture a poorly maintained or “neglected” building when they think of candidates for retrocommissioning. But, the particular requirements of well-maintained critical facilities such as vivariums may mean they’re good candidates, too. Sometimes, these buildings need retrocommissioning because the rigors of day-to-day work overshadow efficiency concerns. Or, owners defer conservation measures—vivarium owners aren’t inclined to make changes that may endanger the animals if systems are working adequately.

When a San Francisco university’s vivarium needed energy and operation improvements, however, the solution was carefully implemented monitoring-based retrocommissioning. The result is a building that meets the unique needs of its animal and human occupants and saves the university more than $200,000 per year.


Vivarium Design Considerations/Challenges

Like all research laboratories, vivariums tend to be big energy consumers, largely due to ventilation requirements. The six-floor University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) specialized vivarium is no exception. Temperature, humidity and ventilation must be maintained within strict limits to care responsibly for the animals, to ensure comfort and safety of the humans working with them, and to safeguard the investments of knowledge, time and money made in the animals. A small subpopulation of animals can represent an investment of years of work and six or seven figures that can be put at risk by a small oversight.

Consequently, redundancy of mechanical and electrical systems is critical, and great care must be taken in any work done affecting occupied areas. When these systems are working adequately, great concern exists on the part of users, operators and maintenance staff over any proposed modifications. A good deal of trust, careful planning and thorough explanation are required if energy-efficiency measures (EEMs) are to be implemented.

Special design considerations for vivariums include:

  • Consistent pressurization regimes both to protect vulnerable animals and to isolate pathogens within subpopulations;
  • Ventilation requirements that are not always informed by current technology and practices but are prescribed by regulatory and accrediting organizations;
  • The interfacing of the HVAC system with “process equipment” that can vary widely in detail between or even within vivariums, such as racks of cages that must provide consistent temperature and ventilation conditions at very low flows to tens of thousands of housing units, or automated washing and sterilizing equipment;
  • Designing and building systems that can be operated reliably by personnel of varying ability and experience.

Vivariums demand creative solutions from HVAC professionals at all levels since standard practices are often not adequate for starting, balancing and operating these systems.


Project Summary

UCSF’s vivarium building was built in 2003 – 2005 as a state-of-the-art facility with 88,813 gross ft2 (8251 gross m2) of conditioned space. Its monitoring-based commissioning project was undertaken in 2013 to improve building energy efficiency and operation.


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