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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Boiler Retrofits and Decarbonization in Existing Buildings: HVAC Designer Interviews

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-SA' version 4.0 license

In this study, we investigate methods to reduce carbon emissions from existing large commercial buildings with central natural gas-fired boilers used for space heating. This research explores opportunities to reduce natural gas use through improved building operations and through building decarbonization. We conducted one-hour interviews with 17 mechanical HVAC designers, together having over 350 years of industry experience, professional tenures at engineering consulting firms and design/build firms, and project work in California, New York, Texas, Alaska, the United Kingdom, and Canada. We asked a mix of quantitative and qualitative questions, covering four topic areas: General Background, Peak Heating Load and Boiler Selection, Boiler Controls, and Existing Building Decarbonization. The interviews yielded insight into industry practices, including determining peak heating load, equipment redundancy, boiler staging controls, Heating Hot Water temperature resets, challenges of building electrification, and design considerations for building decarbonization. From the interview results, we developed five key findings: (1) New boilers are oversized, (2) Actual building load distributions are not available, (3) Heating Hot Water temperatures are too high, (4) Boiler end-of-life is not the best electrification opportunity, (5) Reduce building emissions even if all-electric is infeasible. There are many challenges to reducing carbon emissions from existing buildings, but we conclude there are also many opportunities to make immediate positive change.

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