Fernando Viesca sits in his office in Paine Hall, checking temperatures and humidity levels in the four buildings he manages for the Music Department on the new Direct Digital Control system. “When I arrived at Harvard in 2001, you couldn’t even change the building’s HVAC settings, let alone adjust them electronically with any precision. The basement was a giant labyrinth of pipes, and there were valves we couldn’t turn because they were stuck and rusted so badly. Now everything is computerized and I have real-time updates about what’s happening in almost every part of my buildings,” Viesca says.
In 2001 the control system was still run in DOS and there were five separate cooling systems serving his buildings, each added as demand grew over the past half-century. “The first thing I did was to renovate as much of the old system as I could,” he recalls. “We went through valve by valve and either unstuck or replaced them until we could adjust settings properly.” These renovations alone saved 60% in energy use, just by correctly adjusting the existing system and eliminating wasted energy.
Viesca also has to accommodate the unique challenges that come with running a building complex with music as its primary focus. For recording studios, a normal HVAC system doesn’t work because it’s too loud and interferes with the music and recording, so a special team researched and installed chilled beam technology that chills air at the ceiling and allows it to sink down silently. Likewise, the music lockers and instrument storage must be kept at a very precise humidity level to avoid warping and ruining the instruments, some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is climate control taken to a whole new level; just as important as controlling the temperature of a science experiment in a lab, but this time on a building-wide scale.
The same is true in the Loeb Music Library, where temperature and humidity levels used to fluctuate wildly with the old ventilation system. “When I arrived, everything was completely out of whack and there was mold starting to grow on some of the very old and valuable books and sheet music,” he explains. “It cost us $20,000 just to repair the damage done to the papers themselves, and we still had to install a new air drying system to better regulate conditions.”
The new HVAC and water systems installed during the 2011-2012 renovations have helped him tremendously in his pursuit of efficiency. Although there are still kinks to be worked out (misplaced temperature sensors recently cause fire sprinklers to dump 400 gallons of water on the concert hall and his office), the new system is a vast improvement over the old. Among other improvements almost every inlet and outlet has real-time sensors, allowing Viesca to check and update settings from his office and save time and manpower. The chilled beam technology has produced a 20% energy savings on cooling, and new low-flow faucets and fixtures have the potential to save even more in water costs. He is also experimenting with a more optimal distribution of steam heat, and has already seen a significant reduction in steam required to heat the buildings.
Viesca is still learning how to take advantage of the new system, but already has plenty of new ideas to keep saving energy. He is still waiting for LED technology to develop to a place where he can change all his light fixtures, but in the meantime he has saved 30% on lighting energy by updating CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) to the most efficient T5 model and installing dimmer switches throughout his buildings.
With a background in management of a large condo-hotel complex in Mexico City, Viesca has always seen making people comfortable as his top priority. It’s the way he approached the hotel business, and it’s the way he approaches his job now. “Of course energy savings are important, but what I’m really here to do is make people comfortable,” he says. “Then I can worry about saving energy and money. People are naturally more frugal at home, but at work they expect a certain level of comfort, so the challenge is to find the balance between providing that comfort and still saving as many resources as possible.”