The Fine Art Of Climate Control

Grey air ventWhen the advances of technology finally allowed him to do so, Man built furnaces using a variety of different methods to keep himself comfortable when it was cold. A simple device known as a thermostat controlled the system and generally worked well if properly installed. A little later on, Man built systems that could not only heat but also cool his home. These also worked pretty well.
A Ceiling Air Vent
But somewhere along the line, when Man started to build large office buildings and other large business structures, someone, somewhere decided it would be a brilliant idea to have a centralized system consisting of an air handler device, heating and cooling systems that ran all the time--and a centralized thermostat to control the whole mess. This is where things started to go seriously wrong and what brought us to where we are today for William's Rant Of The Moment®.

Why the person who invented these continually malfunctioning systems wasn't brought out into the street and shot is absolutely beyond me. Of course, maybe it could have been because they are just too profitable...

TCS Basys Superstat SmallAt my place of work one of these monstrous systems is installed. It consists of a large air handler than can recirculate existing air or pull in outdoor air. There is an air conditioner unit and several boilers for heat. There is also a centralized controller that looks like a heavily hacked up modern home thermostat with wires running out of it. On the air handler are mounted many different outputs each with a small servo device that can switch the output between heated air or cold. In nearly every room there is at least one air outlet and a thermostat unit of the TCS/Basys brand.

To be fair, this system works well enough most of the time and nobody is particulary uncomfortable with it. It is probably one of the better behaved examples of such a system. But every now and then, like when the seasons change, the system fails to function correctly. It may do any number of entertaining leave the heat on or crank the air conditioning up to full bore. Although you can change settings on the thermostat "head unit" in each room, when the system gets into a mood like this, none of the settings will do anything. Worse yet, the system will lie to you. The thermostat will insist it is "heating" but cold air will be flying out of the ceiling vent at a speed just shy of what light travels at.

This has happened more than once at my place of employment and the only solution until the service people arrive is to use a hammer to get all the vent louvers shut. Needless to say this is quite involved as it requires pulling down the diffuser from the vent and then hammering on the lever that controls the louvers. It also produces entertaning howling noises and usually a tornado of papers in the last room that has an open vent.

I think a lot of these systems suffer badly from the fact that they can never truly be "off" and end up getting "confused" by mother nature shifting gears so quickly. There are times in a "normal" situation with just one furnace and air conditioner that it is desireable to just turn the thing off and get along with mother nature's climate for a while. Even though the head units have an "off" setting, choosing it does nothing except cause lukewarm air to come out of the vents at a low speed.

This system also seems to like to "eat" the thermostats that monitor each room. Quite a few of them have been replaced after being in service for only a few months or less. I have no idea why this is, but a very few rooms still have thermostats that are several years old and work fine.

I realize that installing one of these monstrous systems is a cost effective way for businesses to control the climate in their buildings, but I'd like to ask the designers of these things why they can't handle such basic things as working properly, season changes and the off command.
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