ELMIRA, NY — Ice hockey locker rooms typically smell moldy and feel chillingly damp from a mixture of cold rink air and lingering humidity generated by showers, sweaty bodies, and poor ventilation that lacks an infusion of outdoor air.

The 20-year-old locker room of the ice rink at the Murray Athletic Center of Elmira College, Elmira, NY, was no different until hvac engineers and contractors came up with the idea of using makeup air dehumidifiers to correct the poor indoor air quality problem.

Retrofitting of the existing 6,000-sq-ft men’s locker room and building a new 1,000-sq-ft women’s locker room for Elmira’s new NCAA Division III women’s hockey team was part of an overall $1.4 million athletic facility remodel that included a sports medicine area, storage space, and offices. Now the locker rooms are as modern looking as the Murray Athletic Center’s three 36,000-sq-ft geodesic domes that house the ice rink, tennis courts, and basketball court.

“The humidity control in the locker rooms has made a tremendous difference in keeping things dry, eliminating warping, and just maintaining better air quality,” said Patricia Thompson, Elmira’s vice president of athletics and health services.

Charles R. Wilson, P.E., president of Charles R. Wilson Engineering P.C., Ithaca, NY, used two makeup air dehumidifiers manufactured by Dectron Internationale, Roswell, GA, as the heart of the hvac retrofit. Southern Tier Custom Fabricators, Elmira, NY, and Buchanan Heating & Plumbing, Horseheads, NY, were the sheet metal/mechanical contractor and piping contractor, respectively, on the project.

Typically, locker rooms are ignored in ventilation designs. “Some older locker rooms may have exhaust fans, which draw cold damp air from the ice rink, but most don’t bring in outside air because it adds humidity in the summer and is too expensive to heat in the winter,” said Steve Brandt, P.E., president, D.F. Brandt Inc., a Kirkville, NY-based hvac manufacturers representative that assisted Wilson on the locker room ventilation design.

To accommodate the sublevel existing locker room, Wilson specified a rooftop RK-100 Dry-O-Tron® dehumidifier mounted at ground level, bur with enough space to run supply duct from the bottom of the unit and through a locker room window. Because it’s a retrofit, the men’s locker room dehumidifier also has an on-board boiler for backup space heating when hot gas reheat can’t fulfill winter heating requirements.

To properly size the equipment, Wilson calculated the moisture loads produced by outside air humidity, the showers, and the load introduced to the locker room by the players. “Hockey locker rooms have more humidity and dampness problems due to the fact that they tend to be quite a bit colder than say a football facility,” said Wilson. “Hockey gear causes odor problems as well.”

The 30-year-old building also had an existing boiler that vented from the locker room. Therefore, the direct-fired burners’ combustion also added moisture.

Now the new outdoor unit introduces dried outside air to the locker room and combines it with partial exhausting and recirculation when humidity levels rise. Aside from dehumidification, the Dry-O-Tron cools the space in summer and heats the space with hot gas reheat along with the on-board backup boiler when needed. During day operation, the 3,425 cfm of air is exhausted with a Cook Fan Co. fan. Nighttime operation exhausts only 1,425 cfm and returns the rest to the makeup air dehumidifier for energy savings.

The new women’s locker room is below grade also, but was built into the ground with a ground-level mezzanine mechanical room that houses a Dry-O-Tron DK-80 makeup air dehumidifier and a Lochinvar (Lebanon, TN) 650,000-Btu backup boiler. Because architect Larry Foor, Foor Associates Architects, Elmira, NY, separated the 235-sq-ft mechanical room from the space, the equipment can be serviced while the locker room is utilized.

Like the men’s locker room design, the women’s locker room uses the Dry-O-Tron to dehumidify the space in summer and the boiler heats the space in winter. During day operation, the 3,375 cfm of air is exhausted with an exhaust fan, while nighttime operation exhausts only 1,425 cfm with the remainder recirculated back to the outdoor air dehumidifier.

Using outdoor air dehumidifiers for locker rooms might be the wave of the future for state-of-the-art ice rink facilities, according to Wilson, who has also designed building systems for the ice rink of Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. “This is a comprehensive hvac design for a small college like Elmira that gives it a total facility that’s comparable to a much larger school like Cornell, which is an Ivy League powerhouse in ice hickey,” Wilson said.

“You can ask any hockey player what they think of ice rink locker rooms and the answer will always be the same — they’re the nastiest places to be. But maybe the use of dehumidifiers is the answer to this age-old problem,” said Brandt.

Publication date: 04/08/2002