Setting up and operating an HVAC system is no small task. You want to get the maximum return on the invested capital, but there are countless aspects that need attention – from the actual designing of the system to keeping up with evolving technologies, increasing efficiency and acing system maintenance. Getting any one of these aspects wrong can lead to poor returns so you have to make the right decisions at every stage, taking care to avoid the following common challenges that can cost you good HVAC performance.
1. Choosing the wrong HVAC system for your grow
The good thing about doing business in the modern age is that you get access to countless manufacturers of different types of equipment, HVAC systems included. You get your pick of system type, but there’s a catch – choose the wrong system, and you may have jeopardized the success of your crop and the entire operation. Optimal environmental control affects not only plant health, but other factors including overall energy consumption and operating costs.
The issue of HVAC cost
It’s critical to choose a system that delivers the expected performance and maximizes ROI. A lot of times, businesses are not prepared for the true cost of a good HVAC system. There’s often a tendency to under-specify HVAC system requirements and choosing a system with the lowest initial cost. However, such a system may end up being costly to install and operate.
For example, a cheap, underbuilt system may not be able to match the environmental requirements of a grow space with precision as changes occur in the outside environment. This can cost you crop quality and overall profitability. Furthermore, a cheap HVAC system may end up requiring supplemental dehumidifiers that make operating and maintenance that much harder. Likewise, a cheap system may not support the remote logging of operating statistics, thus making it difficult to maintain optimal performance or troubleshoot problems as they arise.
Granted, a good HVAC system can be expensive, but it’s worth it, i.e. in most cases the high capital costs are offset by lower installation and maintenance costs, plus increased grow facility efficiencies. But despite HVAC cost playing a role in HVAC system selection, it shouldn’t be the only factor you base your selection on. You need to prioritize how much value you will get from the system.
How to choose the right system to get top HVAC performance
Selecting the best HVAC system involves analyzing numerous factors, but these factors are not equal. Some have more bearing than others, with the following being some of the significant ones.
Efficiency: The right HVAC system will have the ability to adequately meet both the sensible and latent cooling needs of the grow space in an accurate and energy-efficient manner. Precision is particularly important for achieving efficiency since less-than-ideal environmental factors will wreak havoc in the grow space, leading to problems such as slow growth, pests, mold and disease.
The need for supplemental dehumidification: A good system will offer comprehensive and efficient heating, dehumidification and air conditioning without the need for supplemental dehumidification. Such a comprehensive solution is generally easier to scale compared to one that relies on many supplemental units.
Reliability: In addition to precision, an HVAC system must be reliable. This means providing good performance over the expected lifetime.
It’s important to note that all the crucial elements you need to look out for when choosing the right system are linked to one critical aspect – HVAC design. Consequently, design is one of the factors that can cost you HVAC performance.
2. Lacking a clear understanding of indoor grow HVAC design elements
An HVAC design process that is based on conventional rule-of-thumb guesstimates may work in other applications, but it’s way too inaccurate for today’s indoor growing environment. Use such a design process and you’ll likely end up with an HVAC system that doesn’t do anything for your grow efficiency and business growth.
Indoor cultivation HVAC systems are very different from comfort cooling HVAC systems, i.e. instead of primarily focusing on creating comfortable temperatures, indoor grow HVAC systems must be designed for significant loads and operations. For instance, in a traditional cooling comfort application, the desired air temperature is often determined without much consideration for humidity. However, humidity is a critical element in indoor grow rooms, and as such, should always be factored in.
Because of how specialized indoor cultivation environments are, most of the comfort cooling archetypes cannot be applied to them and this is where some growers make a mistake. Instead of designing a system that is customized to heat, cool and dehumidify the space, they will opt for a conventional system. But the fact remains that creating the best HVAC system for the indoor grow spaces starts with a well-tailored design.
How to design your HVAC system correctly
Designing the right system for your grow comes down to understanding your grow and the conditions it requires to thrive. Each grow op is unique with its own unique requirements, therefore, basing your design on what works for other ops may not necessarily work out in your favor. Your design should be determined by factors such as the crop you are growing, your grow facility size, the climate in your grow facility location, type of building structure, your budget and grow room loads.
There are numerous things to consider when designing an HVAC system, but some top things to keep in mind include:
System complexity. The complexity of a system plays a big role in determining how efficient the system will be. Do remember that more complexity doesn’t necessarily translate into better performance. In fact, increased complexity may be detrimental to achieving efficiency. For example, a complicated system that is difficult to operate can make it difficult to achieve the required operational efficiency. Additionally, a complex system may be expensive to execute and it may be difficult to maintain.
Redundancy. Indoor grow facilities can’t afford any downtime and so it’s important to design a system that has redundant features that act as a backup if one component fails.
Scalability. It’s easy to overlook scalability when designing an HVAC system, but the right time to consider how well a system scales is when designing it. You should design a system that you can scale easily and cost-effectively as your operation grows and production increases. To avoid incurring high upfront capital costs, consider an HVAC system like Harvest Power™. The system allows you to scale as your business grows so you only spend money when you need to.
The HVAC design process is complex. This is one of the reasons why some growers end up choosing the easy way out and opting for less than ideal systems. In light of this, it’s important to note that sometimes getting the design right comes down to working with experienced people. This brings us to another common mistake that can cause your HVAC system to underperform – collaborating with people who are not familiar with specialized HVAC systems.
3. Working with a team that’s not “grow savvy”
While HVAC systems are common, people who know how to build specialized HVAC systems for indoor grow facilities are not so common. In many cases, growers reach out to professionals who don’t have enough experience designing and developing HVAC systems that meet the environmental requirements of grow rooms.
Given that grow rooms have significantly more variables at play compared to standard environments, it’s unsurprising that working with teams that are not “grow room HVAC savvy” is a challenge that can cost HVAC performance. Many HVAC designers and engineers are unfamiliar with the specific application of grow room HVAC such as the careful modeling of external factors, grow cycles, humidity and temperature specifications, transpiration rates, and lighting loads, just to name a few. As such, there tends to be a familiar solution bias where HVAC engineers use familiar models they have applied successfully in the past instead of creating tailored solutions for each specific grow.
How to choose the right people for HVAC design and setup
The best way to get the right HVAC system designed for your grow op is to work directly with competent professionals who know the workings of indoor grows. Find engineers, consultants and equipment manufacturers who are best suited to advise you on equipment application and those who have the expertise to properly model the many load factors and variations that your grow facility will require. Whoever you work with should be able to explain why certain solutions are better than others, elaborating on the specific details about HVAC design criteria.
The right people will not base the final HVAC decision on the lowest cost without considering the important factors of the decision process from design to installation and maintenance. Nonetheless, while working with experts is important, you should always remain proactive and deeply involved in all the decisions. Experienced people are there to help you get the best HVAC system performance, but at the same time, there are many potential areas where they can underserve your business goals and long-term interests. You must carefully evaluate all decisions to see how they affect your operation beyond the initial design and setup phase.
Not sure how to get started finding the right people to work with? Read “How to choose the right grow room HVAC consultant.”
Avoiding common problems for the best HVAC performance
In view of the exceptional impact HVAC system performance has on the success and profitability of an indoor grow operation, avoiding these common mistakes is imperative. Success in the indoor cultivation industry favors those who make the right HVAC system choices.