Vaneaxial fans reduce installation and energy costs for Chicago firm

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Unique design improves efficiency and reduces noise

By Rae Jane Araujo

A high tech firm that installed a custom air handling unit with vaneaxial fans on the roof of its new downtown Chicago headquarters lowered their energy and installation costs and reduced noise compared to the fan wall design they initially considered. This unique design means employees can enjoy the perks of their rooftop garden with far less noise and vibration.

Choosing the right fan in the air handling unit for renovated high tech headquarters

A major national high tech firm moved its Chicago headquarters to the Fulton Street area as part of a neighborhood revitalization effort. The building, which was formerly a meat freezer locker, was gutted and completely renovated. When selecting the rooftop air handling unit, engineers were looking for a design that minimized noise, because the rooftop area contains an outside garden and employee snack bar.

The original design for the air handling unit included a fan wall for both supply and return. For the past 10-15 years, the fan wall concept has been the favored approach for high rise building ventilation. The idea is that the ventilation unit can still operate if one fan happens to go down. Also, the fan unit length is shorter, reducing the overall length of the air handling unit. The smaller footprint can save on the total air handling unit cost.

BTU Company, Inc, a professional manufacturer’s representative firm in the HVAC and refrigeration industries, and BBM Engineering, worked with the project engineering design firm WMA Consulting Engineers, Ltd. to instead consider the use of JM Evase Vaneaxial fans by Howden American Fan Company.

The sales rep explained that vaneaxial fans perform better and can save on energy costs. He performed a calculation showing that the static pressure on the fan wall is higher than a vaneaxial fan, due to losses on the outlet of the fan. This increased the overall total motor horsepower of the fan wall compared to the vaneaxial fans.

Table 1 shows the comparison between the vaneaxial design and the original fan wall design. The vaneaxial design resulted in 371.91 horsepower in operating load savings.

Table 1 – Comparison of Fan wall vs Vaneaxial

150,000 cubic feet per minute (CFM) total

Number Array Each fan performance Total building load for 3 AH units BHP Saving (operating load)
Fan wall – 305.97 operating HP load 21 3 (fans) high x 7 (fans) wide 7,143 CFM @ 6.718” external static pressure (ESP)*

(*extra static plenum loss)

14.57 BHP/fan – 15 HP motors

945 HP
Vaneaxial fans – 182 BHP operating HP load 2 2 fans

(50” ID)

75,000 CFM @ 6.0” total pressure 91.00 BHP/fan

100HP motors

600 HP 371.91 HP


Unique evase design reduces turbulence and noise

The team also designed the inlet and outlet of the vaneaxial fan in the air handling unit to be more efficient and quieter using an evase casing, a piece of the fan casing that increases in size as the air moves through the fan. This option makes the fan more compact. The design, shown in Figure 1, provides a static regain and reduces the overall brake horsepower (BHP). It reduces turbulence through the fan on the downstream and lowers noise.

Figure 1
Fans designed with an evase, for example the JM Evase Vaneaxial Fan recommended for this application, can save energy over the installed life of the system by recovering the kinetic energy contained in the high velocity air stream’s mass.

Fans designed with an evase can save energy over the installed life of the system by recovering the kinetic energy contained in the high velocity air stream’s mass. These fans recover energy by converting the velocity pressure in the system into static pressure using a built-in discharge cone, which allows the diffusion of the high velocity airstream to slow to a lower rate. This causes an effective conversion of velocity pressure into static pressure. When applied to the installation, the resulting reduced static pressure allows the fan system to perform more efficiently at reduced static pressures, with resulting lower energy consumption.

Since you don’t have to specify a discharge cone for the system, the fan’s overall footprint is reduced. Air velocity is low enough for outlet damper and shutters to operate without fear that these relatively sensitive components will be destroyed by high velocity flutter.

The evase fan design incorporated integral stationary anti-rotation guide vanes to enhance the regain effect by slowing the rotation imparted to the airstream by the fan impeller and recovering rotational energy losses, while reducing fan noise generation. A separately formed impeller casing was used to ensure uniform minimal tip clearance for full pressure development.

The design for this custom air handling unit also includes an inlet trap with a special bullet (pod) inside to direct the air. With vaneaxial fans there is a hub and blades are attached to the hub, the bullet is designed to be the same size as the hub, so there are no concerns about vortices around the hub. A specially made sound trap with turning vanes designed by BBM Engineering helps reduce the sound as it goes down into the rest of the building.

Figure 2 shows the custom air handling unit designed for the Chicago project. The top photo shows the evase design, with the duct increasing in size as the air moves through the air handling unit. The fans start out at the inlet at 50 inches inside diameter (ID) and then expand to 55 inches ID at the outlet around the motor. The bottom photo illustrates the cart onto which the fan is mounted to make it maintenance-friendly. The cart is fitted with rollers and neoprene flex connectors on each side. To change an impeller or motor, maintenance personnel simply unbolt the connectors and roll out the cart with the fan to service it.

Figure 2

The air handling unit was broken up into four pieces so it could be shipped easily and minimize shipping costs. Figure 3 shows the installation of the different pieces onto the roof. In the top photo, the crew is lowering the filter bank; the vaneaxial fans, shown in green, have already been placed.  The bottom photo shows the crew completing the assembly.

Figure 3

Over the long haul, using JM Evase Vaneaxial fans has enabled this tech company to reduce its operating energy costs. And with the air handling’s noise-reducing design their employees can listen to the sounds of silence as they enjoy the view and a snack on the roof.