Laura Breit, Founder of Root Engineers, @rootengineers, shares some of the frequently asked questions her teams hears when it comes to HVAC for cannabis operations.
For a cannabis cultivation or processing facility, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) equipment selection is one of the largest expenses your business will come across – both from an upfront perspective, as well as an operating cost perspective.
The selection of your HVAC system can have a direct impact on three things: your product quality, your bottom line, and the overall sustainability of your business in terms of energy efficiency.
Because HVAC selection has such a direct impact on the success of your operation, it is not a decision that should be taken likely.
As engineers, my team and I have worked on a wide range of projects surrounding HVAC system selection in recent years.
While every operation will have different HVAC needs based on their short and long term goals, here are some of the most commonly asked questions we come across while completing HVAC projects.
Q: What are the most important factors to consider when selecting an HVAC system?
A: The first step is to examine your budget alongside your business plan and your short and long term goals.
Your unique budget and specific goals will dictate what kind of system your engineer will lead you toward.
If you are looking to the future for long-term growth, spending a little more on an energy efficient HVAC system up front can create significant cost savings down the road.
Another important consideration for both you and your designer is your operation’s unique temperature and humidity setpoint requirements, and the allowable swing outside of those setpoints.
As a grower, you likely have your own “special sauce” when it comes to temperature and humidity setpoints, but you also need to clarify how far outside these setpoints you will allow your HVAC system to operate.
If you want to stay in a very tight range, you will probably be best off choosing a system that has a higher first cost, but is more efficient in the long run.
If you can allow for more swing, you may be able to get away with a lower first cost system.
An engineer can help make sure your system is meeting your specific needs in the most efficient way possible.
Q: What are some common mistakes cultivation and processing operations make when selecting an HVAC system?
A: Beware of falling into the pricing or familiarity traps. One of the issues we see as engineers is business operators who choose a system because they are familiar with the brand name or believe they found a good deal.
They may have heard that the system they’ve chosen is the “best,” but it’s not necessarily the “best” for their specific operation. HVAC is not a one-size-fits-all process – there is no HVAC solution that will work for every operation.
By planning ahead and designing a system that is more customized for your facility and your business goals, you can save significant time and money (and headaches) right from the start.
The cannabis industry is still in its infancy when it comes to engineering, and we are constantly trying to make the process as easy to understand as possible.
By far, the biggest mistake that I have encountered is having to backtrack at the inspection stage because an operation didn’t bring in an engineer at the beginning.
Most jurisdictions require the stamp of a professional engineer for permitting and other regulatory stages, and scrambling to bring someone in on the backend can create unnecessary problems and delays.
In one case, our team was brought onto a project that already had an HVAC system installed, and the system didn’t actually meet the energy code for their jurisdiction.
This is an expensive problem to solve at the end of a project.
Q: What impact can HVAC system selection have on product quality?
A: From what our clients have told us, temperature and humidity control have a specific impact on the growth of cannabis plants, which is why HVAC selection is so important to an operation.
Maintaining proper environmental control can impact quality, which is why we try to minimize temperature and humidity swings in a space.
As an example, we had a client bring our team in to troubleshoot a problem with their HVAC system, and we found that the compressors were not operating correctly and creating large variances in temperature and humidity.
After we identified the problem, we were able to work with the team to provide steady temperature and humidity control, creating a more stable environment for the plants.
Making the right decision up front about your HVAC system can be critical to your success.
When you approach this important decision with the right knowledge, you will be in a position to make more educated decisions on how to run your operation efficiently and sustainably.
Author Bio: Laura Breit is the founder and owner of Oregon-based firms Root Engineers and ColeBreit Engineering. She is a professional mechanical engineer specializing in the design of HVAC, plumbing, and process systems for the cannabis industry. www.rootengineers.com @rootengineers