In Ames, Iowa, students who stuck around Iowa State University (ISU) for the summer often found the university’s massive 236,000-square-foot Lied Recreation Athletic Center uninhabitable. On those sweltering summer days, the temperature inside the massive brick facility would escalate into triple digits, with no air conditioning or effective ventilation to offset the stifling heat.

For part of the summer, the facility was not only useless — it was dangerous. Clearly, something needed to be done to cool the facility, but installing air conditioning was not an option. Luckily, there was a plan B.

Too Hot to Handle

When the Lied Recreation Athletic Center was built in 1990, it did not have air conditioning, nor did it have any other way to adequately circulate the air inside the main gym.

“It would get so hot that there would be days we’d have to close the whole building,” said Mike Giles, director of recreation services for ISU. “It would get above 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity. It made for a very uncomfortable atmosphere.”

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Then, in 2008, Lied underwent an HVAC makeover, and the part of the athletic center that housed the locker rooms, fitness and weight training areas, and racquetball courts was outfitted with air conditioning for the first time. But installing air conditioning in the large central gym area — which is home to more than a dozen basketball courts, a practice football field, and two running tracks — would cost the university upward of $3.2 million and require 500 tons of cooling capacity.

“It’s a huge amount of air and a huge space,” Giles said. “Because that area is so massive, we had to go to the next step to say, ‘hey, we have to move the air.’”

After exploring its options, the university decided to install several high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans from Big Ass Fans.

A Cool Solution

Since air conditioning the main gym was out of the question, the university looked for alternative ways to ventilate the space.

“They had to go with large fans because of the mounting heights,” said Christian Taber, senior applications engineer for Big Ass Fans. “They’re primarily placed over the basketball courts and football field, and you can’t put them low because the basketball hoops are retractable. You have all these things that conflict with it.”

Giles said ISU went with Big Ass Fans because they “really allowed for the air movement to help make that space a little more comfortable in the winter and the summer.”

Jason Hollan, manager of systems engineering for Big Ass Fans, said the fans were a logical choice for the university.

“At ISU, their biggest concern was keeping people cool in the summertime,” Hollan said. “What the fans do is produce a column or jet of air that is about the same size or diameter of the fan. That air will hit the ground and spread out in all directions. As it’s spreading out, it hits your skin and works with your body’s natural cooling process of evaporation to make you feel cooler. They don’t necessarily lower the temperature of a space, but they can cool the people.”

In the end, ISU installed 10 Powerfoil®X Plus fans ranging 20-24 feet in diameter as well as 12 6-foot Pivot fans to serve as ceiling fans in other areas of the building, including the air conditioned areas.

“The real beauty of the fans is the size and the scale at which they operate,” Hollan added. “They circulate a huge volume of air, and they do it at a low speed. This allows you, say in the winter time, to be able to gently push the warmer air at the top of the building down and circulate it so you get a consistent temperature, but you do it so slowly that it doesn’t create a draft.”

Giles said the fans work beautifully and have made the gym usable again at all times of the year.

“Even on the hottest days, we can maintain a temperature in the 80s on the big gymnasium side,” he said. “Because of the fans, and because we’ve also installed skylights and a new roof, we’re able to control that space a lot better than before.”

Cost Savings

But controlling the climate inside the gym much more effectively than ever before is not the only benefit ISU has received from installing the HVLS fans. Hollan said the fans, in addition to making the area inhabitable again in the summer, also save the university a significant amount of money.

“If you look at the total cost of the project, it was a huge savings — a couple million dollars savings,” Hollan said. “In terms of annual savings, the fans cost maybe a couple bucks a day if you run them full speed.”

Taber agreed, saying, “there’s no way we we’re anywhere near that.” He added, “It was considerably less to put the fans in, and there’s a lower operating cost.”

Though using fans can only cool the space to a point, Taber said it was the best choice for the university, given its location and the fact that the Lied facility is not used as much in the summer as during other seasons. “I wouldn’t say it’s as cool as air conditioning would be,” he said, “but it’s a heck of a lot better than nothing.”

Publication date: 4/22/2013