was a whisper this year, prompting FM to prepare campus for air conditioning
slightly ahead of schedule - even as early as this week. The process begins
with refilling chiller coils in high priority spaces, including residences and
buildings/rooms where exams are being held. Preparing the system for cooling in an annual routine that can take a
couple of weeks to complete and may lead to a little discomfort during the
transition. As with every Spring, warmer than normal building
temperatures can be expected at Western as a result of the seasonally variant
The fluctuations in outdoor conditions during the early Spring and Fall are
known as the 'shoulder season' and present an annual challenge for Western’s
heating and cooling provider.
Plant operators monitor boilers and chillers
When compared to the
average household, the size and complexity of Western’s district heating and
cooling system (from the central power plant) has significant differences.
For example, a quick flick of a switch on the thermostat at home and the
air conditioning kicks in. Turn it the other way and the furnace fires up. On
campus however, the switch from providing cool air to buildings in the summer
to warm air in the winter is much more involved. Furthermore, once there is a
commitment to begin cooling campus buildings, it isn’t feasible to reverse the
process until the following Fall. In many of our building
the same infrastructure and distribution pipes are shared between the
heating and cooling system. As a result, warm and cold air cannot be
generated and sent through a building at the same time. “It’s like comparing a freighter to an outboard
motorboat,” say Facilities Management Communications Officer, Brandon Watson.
“You can’t make sudden adjustments with such a large vessel– you must begin
planning and executing well in advance if you are turning around”.
One of the chillers cooling campus over the summer
The systems are massive. Chillers, which are
located both in the south plant and in the basement of Natural Sciences
building, produce enough capacity to cool about 5,000 homes. Steam, used for
heating indoor air, is produced in the south plant. In the winter months, the
boilers can push out 400,000 pounds of steam an hour to Western buildings and
University Hospital – enough to heat 40 Budweiser Gardens. Aside from the enormity of the system, the decision
to switch from heating to cooling on campus relies on other factors. Weather
plays the greatest role in determining the schedules. If there are hot days
ahead, Facilities Management may initiate the switch to air conditioning in
early April. However, by filling coils to early, sub-zero outdoor temperatures
could return and damage the water filled pipes. “Splits in the coils are problematic,” says Watson.
“Depending on the rupture, whole coils may need to be repaired or replaced,
putting efforts to cool the buildings again next year behind schedule. We continue
to balance protecting our infrastructure with keeping campus comfortable during
the shoulder seasons. I hope our clients will continue to be patient as we get
the freighter turned around.” Community members experiencing warm temperatures
this Spring are encouraged to contact Facilities Management at ext. 83304 or
online at www.uwo.ca/fm. The concern may be related to the shoulder season or
there may be a need for repairs to system, such as, improper control settings
or fan and pump failures. The Division will maintain a record of customer calls
in order to create a profile to be used to improve the system moving forward.