Sports, entertainment venues: HVAC systems

Sports arenas and entertainment facilities involve complex engineering solutions. Five consulting engineers offer advice on HVAC, ventilation, indoor air quality, and more.


Keith Cooper, PE, President, McClure Engineering, St. Louis. Courtesy: McClure EngineeringDouglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire Protection Engineer, Clark County, Nevada. Courtesy: Clark County, NevadaBill Larwood, PE, LEED AP, Senior Vice President/Project Principal, Syska Hennessey Group, Los Angeles. Courtesy: Syska Hennessey GroupKevin Lewis, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Lenexa, Kansas. Courtesy: Henderson EngineersBruce McKinlay, Principal, Arup, Los Angeles. Courtesy: Arup

Participants (left to right):

Keith Cooper, PE, President, McClure Engineering, St. Louis

Douglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire Protection Engineer, Clark County, Nevada

Bill Larwood, PE, LEED AP, Senior Vice President/Project Principal, Syska Hennessey Group, Los Angeles

Kevin Lewis, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Lenexa, Kansas

Bruce McKinlay, Principal, Arup, Los Angeles   

CSE: What unique requirements do HVAC systems have that you wouldn’t encounter on other structures?

McKinlay: For sports venues, large quantities of ventilation typically are required to meet occupancy demands. In addition, there are significant latent loads from the occupants. These factors normally require air handling systems to be designed with both humidification and dehumidification. In addition, the systems are often used intermittently and are required to bring the house to setpoints quickly after the arena fills up and lights are turned on. Because of the large ventilation loads, there is significant opportunity to save energy through air side heat recovery from exhaust air streams. This is typically done through run-around coils, air heat exchangers, and heat pipes.

Engineers at Arup worked on Miller Park, a 42,500-seat stadium that is home to the Milwaukee Brewers. The facility is among the first sports arenas to include a retractable roof and climate conditioning in the bowl. Courtesy: Tim GriffithEvans: HVAC systems also may be designed to provide smoke management functions. This can substantially complicate the HVAC design. The designers must determine if it is more cost-effective to have a dedicated smoke management system, or if it should be combined with the HVAC system. In order to design the smoke management system, the expected fire size must be taken into account. If the design intends to keep smoke above head height to allow safe evacuation, this can further complicate the smoke management design.

Larwood: Arenas with hockey games must maintain air with low humidity, which can be tricky considering that these venues’ doors are continually being opened before and during the event. We’ve approached these venues by sub-cooling the air to less than 50 F to remove moisture and then reheating to maintain comfort. Of course, security continues to be a factor in the design of HVAC systems for sports and entertainment venues—the location of outside air intakes should always be considered to minimized chemical threats.

Lewis: The biggest issue in sports and entertainment venues is typically the size and location of the units. Depending on where the units are located, you need very large ductwork to supply and return air. You also need a close proximity to an outside wall so you can provide a louver with the capacity to bring in adequate outside air. In most conditions, we typically work with custom air-handling unit (AHU) manufacturers to be able to work around structural and head height limitations and still provide an energy-efficient solution. Because our units are custom, it gives us design flexibility to provide the necessary cooling/heating and bypass coils to meet the supply demands of multiple event types.

Cooper: Dehumidification and high latent loads become typical considerations in many of these facilities. Large and varied uses may dictate unique air distribution challenges. Ventilation controls must be able to accommodate large swings in outside air requirements often over relatively short time periods. Pools demand special temperature, humidity, and air movement controls. They also present opportunities for energy recovery and demand close attention to vapor barriers.

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