Museum upgrades climate controls, reduces energy use

Johnson sustainability
Jason Koski/University Photography
Lou Damiani, left, campus energy and sustainability project coordinator and Peter Gould, Johnson Museum director of finance and administration, at an environmental control panel on the museum's lower level.

New climate controls and other sustainability improvements at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art have reduced the building’s overall energy usage by more than 40 percent.

This was a major buildingwide upgrade for the I.M. Pei-designed museum, built in 1973. The project, part of Cornell’s Energy Conservation Initiative (ECI), began with an energy study in 2014, after the museum added a new wing in 2011.

“The museum has very specific needs in terms of temperature and humidity control, because the collections are valuable,” said Lou Damiani, campus energy and sustainability project coordinator. “What’s important is to minimize daily fluctuations in temperature and humidity.”

The work, completed in August 2016, took about four months on site and included ultra-high-efficiency steam wands for humidification; controls for outdoor air ventilation; an all-new, fully automated logic control system and remote sensors throughout the museum. The air delivery system was changed to a variable (instead of constant) air volume system, “so each space gets what it needs to maintain temperature and humidity, for comfort and the collection,” Damiani said.

Close monitoring and adjustments by the Energy Conservation Controls Team have continued, including “fine-tuning the programming and the air and water flow that conditions the spaces,” he said. “That constant tuning helps us to have high building performance and save energy.”

As of April 17, he said, energy use for cooling (chilled water) is down 56 percent for the year; heating (steam) has been reduced 26 percent; and electricity use has been lowered 22 percent, from the same period in 2016.

“We’re making the building as smart and efficient as possible, to make it react to the demands of weather, carbon dioxide or other things,” Damiani said.

There are eight HVAC air handlers delivering air to 34 zones in the six-story, concrete-and-glass building, each with its own humidifying system connected to sensors. “That data is communicated to the air handler program, and the system has the ability to reset, to reduce energy use based on what the zones are doing,” said control technician Peter Meenan.

Controlling temperature and relative humidity requires adjustments from season to season.

“The building envelope is low-performance,” said Peter Gould, the museum’s deputy director and director of finance and administration. “In a perfect world, we would be able to maintain precisely 50 percent humidity year-round, but we can’t. Over the fall and early winter we gradually lower the humidity to minimize condensation buildup on the windows, which in some galleries reach 60 feet.”

Gould said one of the last facility improvement measures recommended by the prior energy study is nearly completed: replacing fluorescent and incandescent lighting with LED bulbs.

“We are very excited with the progress we’ve made to achieve a balance between energy sustainability and care of collections,” said Stephanie Wiles, the museum’s Richard J. Schwartz Director. “There will always be challenges inherent in a historic building such as ours that contain large single-pane glass window spans, but teaming up with our Cornell colleagues helped us make the best possible decisions and was a great collaborative effort. We look forward to continuing to make improvements over the coming years.”

The approximately $600,000 project at the museum was the last of more than 25 major building upgrades (and 10 to 15 minor ones) completed in the ECI’s Phase I, from 2010-2016. Most projects in the $33 million initiative will have a four- to five-year payback in energy savings, according to Damiani.

“All the small things we do matter, but these are major projects and have immediate payback and return,” he said. “In most of these buildings we are reducing or stopping simultaneous heating and cooling, and simultaneous humidifying and dehumidifying, and just making the building smarter with the technology that’s out there today. Cornell is very progressive and very proactive in this field, in trying to be green and reduce its carbon footprint.”

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Joe Schwartz