While the scenery is beautiful, the temperatures in Lexington are not always so pretty. Summers are usually hot and humid, while winters can be bitterly cold. In an ideal world, every building in the city would have a furnace and air conditioner installed to keep occupants comfortable throughout the year. However, that's simply not possible, as some structures were not designed to accommodate comprehensive ducted systems.
Ruskin, a manufacturer of louvers and dampers, occupies just such a building here. Its 80,000-square-foot manufacturing facility is housed in a former warehouse, which has concrete walls, 30-foot-high ceilings, no windows, and no economical way to provide heating and cooling to the entire space. With employees complaining about being hot in the summer and cold in the winter, something needed to be done. Fortunately for Ruskin, the solution presented itself in the form of some truly Big Ass Fans.
WINTER OF DISCONTENTRuskin's manufacturing facility does have some heat. A gas furnace, which is capable of keeping the structure at between 55Â° and 60Â°F, is located in the center of the building. Those employees who work near the furnace are much warmer than most of their colleagues who work around the perimeter of the building.
Mitch Bruck, the plant manager of Ruskin's Lexington plant, said when he first came to the facility two years ago, he often saw employees working in their winter coats. "During the cold months, this was not the kind of environment that you would want your spouse, children, grandmother, or neighbor to have to work in. Not only did employees complain about the temperature, but I would suggest that we were losing employees as a result of the working conditions."
It wasn't just in the winter that employees were complaining, they also expressed discontent during the hot and humid summers, during which the temperatures in the facility were sometimes unbearable. "Picture this building - we have no windows, and all we had were some personal fans blowing the air around. It was kind of like stirring mud, it didn't change much," said Bruck.
It was obvious that something had to be done, so Bruck and his plant maintenance technician, Gary Simmons, researched how to provide better comfort levels in the plant. Initially, Simmons looked at mounting blower stands at the ceiling level in order to improve heat distribution around the perimeter of the building, but he soon discovered that the roof would not accommodate the heavy equipment.
Ruskin's landlord suggested that Simmons look at installing large fans in the ceiling, which could circulate the air and improve employees' comfort. The landlord even suggested that Simmons and Bruck tour one of their other properties, which had these types of fans installed. The men did just that and were impressed with what they saw. "We had spontaneous conversations with the employees who worked there, and they told us that their comfort level had changed dramatically once the fans were installed," said Bruck.
CHANGES ARE MADEIn April 2005, Ruskin took the plunge and installed four 24-foot Powerfoilâ„¢ fans by Big Ass Fans. In the summer, one of these fans can move over 337,000 cubic feet of air per minute (cfm). During the winter, the fans move at slower speeds, which destratifies the air, allowing the facility to lower its thermostat setting with no loss of comfort. Conservatively, a facility using one of these fans for destratification can save between 3 and 5 percent per month on their heating bills.
After the first four fans were installed, a dead zone was discovered in the middle of the plant, so a fifth fan was installed. With all five fans in place, the temperature differential was perhaps only 3Â°-4Â° at the employee level, but the sensation of air movement made all the difference. "The fans really help to not only homogenize the air and lower the overall temperature, but you actually get this wind chill feeling on your skin and in the summer, that's a positive thing," said Bruck.
During the winter, the fans' slower speeds do not create the same kind of wind chill, however, they do more evenly distribute the heat from the furnace. Last winter, instead of having temperatures in the 55Â°-60Â° range, the perimeter of the building regularly reached the mid to upper 60s. Although that may not be office temperature conditions, employees gave positive feedback, and Bruck stated proudly that he did not see one single coat worn during the winter months.
Installing the fans was a breeze, too. According to Bruck, it was a straightforward process and the plant's own electricians handled the installation themselves. Three of the first four original fans went up in three days, due to their locations and also the lack of interference with the ceiling profile. The fourth fan was installed over a populated manufacturing area, and there were also some obstructions in the ceiling, so that one took a bit longer.
"Overall, the installation couldn't be easier," said Bruck. "You put the bracket up and the motor and the shaft, then you add the blades to it. The blades are lightweight but just a little awkward for people to handle, because each one is 12 feet long. Our staff did a great job putting everything together."
The initial cost of each fan was between $4,000 and $6,000, and Ruskin is getting a benefit on its energy bills as well. Consider that the company spent about $15,000 on 50 personal fans, and each one of those fans drew about 9 amps, while each of the 24-foot fans draws 4 amps each. That's quite a savings for the factory according to Bruck.
Given that the fan installation at Ruskin's Lexington plant has resulted in lower energy bills and more comfortable employees, it's hard to believe there could be any other issues. However, there is an expenditure the company had not anticipated: There was a need to invest in additional paperweights. "We're not paperless in our factory yet, and we needed quite a few more paperweights to hold everything down. The fans move strongly enough that they'll clear your desk," laughed Bruck.
Sounds like a good problem to have in the humid Bluegrass state.
Publication date: 07/24/2006