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NEWS | Nov. 12, 2013

Langley HVAC 'turns up the heat'

By Staff Sgt. Wesley Farnsworth 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

As the weather begins to change outside, the climate inside needs to be adjusted, resulting in air conditioning units shutting down and heating units starting up.

The Airmen of the 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron heating, ventilation and air conditioning shop are responsible for making the change happen. The shop oversees operations and repairs to all systems in more than 230 buildings around Langley, ensuring temperature standards are met to reduce costs and keep the base environmentally conscious.

To make the switch from cooling to heat for everyone's comfort, the HVAC shop follows an Air Combat Command policy that dictates heating may not begin until outside air temperature drops to 55 degrees Fahrenheit for four consecutive days. The policy also states administrative spaces are to be kept at 69 F, shop spaces at 65 F and warehouse spaces at 60 F. Temperatures have to be above 75 F for four consecutive days before the shop can begin the transition back to air conditioning.

With heat transition completed as of Oct. 25, Langley will not only see a drop in its electricity bill, but will also become more "green," as facilities will begin using natural gas to warm work centers and residence halls instead of electricity, said Donald White, 633rd CES base energy manager and utility engineer.

"Natural gas helps us be more environmentally friendly," said Mr. White. "Many electricity plants in Virginia still use coal and nuclear power to create electricity, which pollutes air.
"Using natural gas in the winter for heating is also less expensive, because electricity costs about two to three times more for each British thermal unit [BTU]."

Although all HVAC units on Langley use natural gas, Langley's buildings will have one of two different pipe systems, depending on when they were built -- two or four pipe.

Two-pipe systems, typically found in older buildings, can only carry cold or hot water to heat or cool a building. The HVAC shop must physically visit facilities with these systems and manually switch them over from air conditioning to heat, and vice versa.

Four-pipe systems, typically found in buildings built in the last 15-20 years, allow both hot and cold water to run simultaneously. They are typically controlled by an automation system that switches between systems as the weather warrants.

To maximize unit service life and cost savings, the HVAC shop repairs older systems, as long as the unit is not terribly inefficient, said White.

"The process of switching over from [air conditioning] to heat can take up to seven hours [for two-pipe systems], depending on the building," said Shelby Brown, HVAC shop foreman. "We had four crews working 80 hours to make the transition happen."

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Christopher White, 633rd CES HVAC journeyman, was one of the crew members responsible for making the switch. This time last year, White was an airman first class and learning the ropes. Now he is supervising a team and teaching Airmen the ways of the job.

"When I and two other Airmen started the changeover to heat, we had more than 20 buildings we were responsible for," said White. "Each one of those buildings took us about 30 minutes to complete, unless we found parts that needed to be replaced during our inspection, which would [cause the transition to take longer]."

Now that the transition has been completed and Langley is ready for the cold weather, the HVAC shop is responding to many service calls that come in on a daily basis, which White says only makes his job more enjoyable.

"It is a never-ending cycle, but it's rewarding to be able to help others," said White.