More Than a Thermostat

A combination of mechanical equipment, motor-operated zone dampers, zone temperature sensors, programmable controllers and an IP-enabled server comprise a Rockwall VAV system.

Single-Zone Constant-Volume

The simplest format control system has a basic programmable thermostat that sequences heating and cooling for multiple rooms served by a single fan/furnace unit: all spaces served by this unit heat and cool equally. While its simplicity is a plus, its inefficiency is a big minus. Unless every space served by the air handling unit has the same occupancy (people in every space over the same time period), unused spaces inherently waste energy.

Multi-Zone Variable-Volume

Although a multi-zone variable-volume (VAV) control system adds cost, it yields excellent long-term benefits to the owner.

  • Perfect air balance
  • Perfect comfort
  • Lower operating cost
  • Fully automatic -- needs no human adjustments, automatic seasonal changeover
  • Intelligent -- resolves issues and transmits appropriate messages to service personnel
  • Conserves energy by not conditioning unoccupied spaces
  • Effectively extends capacity over same-design constant-volume systems, depending on variability of loads

Rockwall VAV monitors the use of all zones, it is self-aware, it 'learns' and it 'understands' how each zone behaves. A variety of specialized sensors and techniques inform the control system when a space occupies and when it becomes vacant. Heuristic algorithms track human use of spaces over seven days to develop profiles to assure comfortable re-entry of each space. For optimum control, Rockwall Controls applies a broad array of zone sensors that best suit respective zones.

Unoccupied Mode

While unoccupied, Rockwall VAV modulates the zone damper and sequences the central air handling unit to allow temperature naturally rise and fall between a maximum unoccupied cooling set point (nominally 85OF) and a minimum unoccupied heating set point (nominally 65OF). Depending on materials (works of art, antique furniture, sensitive plants, etc.) within the conditioned zone, logical control may include a relative humidity sensor. This mode provides maximum energy conservation.

Occupied Mode

While spaces occupy, the control system modulates respective zone dampers and activates central air handling unit equipment to precisely maintain zone temperature. An algorithm weighs cooling and heating demand by aggregate zones of a given air handling unit and sequences refrigeration, heating and supply fan to satisfy all the zones.

Automatic Air Balance

The inherent beauty of VAV is its self-balancing characteristic. Due to the way each zone damper individually modulates to precisely control temperature while automatically compensating for changes in cooling load, assures precise delivery of conditioned air to each respective zone.

Add Space without Adding Cost

Depending on load variability, the differences in demand for either heating or cooling between spaces served by a given air handling unit, it is possible to extend a five-ton air conditioning to cover a seven-ton load. What's the catch? There is no catch. All those features enumerated under "Prescription for Success" must align for Rockwall VAV to work satisfactorily.

Assuming not all zones occupy at the same time, capacity unused by unoccupied zones can easily be diverted to occupied zones through addition of a properly designed air distribution network.

Looking Under the Hood -- A Technical Discussion

Conversion of a single-zone air-handling system to VAV challenges the central mechanical equipment. Operating as a constant-volume system, the fan moves constant airflow through the cooling coil. This is important, because the air must remain in the coil long enough for the coil to absorb heat from the air, but fast enough to expel condensed moisture from the fins of the coil. If too fast, space relative humidity is high; if too slow, the cooling coil can freeze over.

VAV introduces an important issue: tight coupling between the zone dampers and the supply fan. Our solution is to de-couple fan-coil airflow from zone airflow. Refer to the following diagram.

Rockwall VAV with 8 Zones

In order to optimize fan airflow to the heat exchanger coil, we must de-couple zone variable-air volume (VAV) airflow from the constant-volume (C AV) airflow required of the heat exchanger. A de-coupler air valve, responding to airflow, fan discharge pressure, fan motor current and the fan curve, modulates to maintain relatively constant airflow through the coil.

It is helpful to understand this discussion relates to geothermal air conditioning systems that use super energy-efficient ECM (electrically commutated motor) fan motors. These DC motors use approximately 75% less energy than conventional AC-powered fan motors.

ECM fan systems work in a low-pressure, low-velocity configuration for optimum

GE ECM 2.3 Motor Cutaway

efficiency. GE ECM motors are programmed by the air conditioning equipment manufacturer. Rockwall VAV communicates speed commands to the motor. The System analyzes motor current, input power, fan discharge pressure and leaving-air temperature to manage the fan for greatest operating efficiency.