Maximizing Your Yield with Optimal HVAC Design, Installation & Maintenance
When most people visualize starting a cannabis business, they see themselves helping patients liberate themselves from pain. They think of tapping into a new and exciting market. They think about profits, potential, and the progress our country is making toward more open-minded perspectives around cannabis. They don’t think about HVAC.
Aspiring entrepreneurs often fail to consider some of the less exciting details of running a successful cannabis grow operation. They don’t deliberate about the heating and air conditioning systems they’ll need – or the ways in which their location’s geography, weather, and elevation can affect their profit margins for indoor cultivation.
One of the biggest overhead expenses of running a cannabis cultivation business is the cost of your HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Cooling) system and the energy consumed to operate it. Most business owners don’t dig deep enough to learn how to optimize their HVAC to save big bucks.
At Higher Yields Cannabis Consulting, we design and build the HVAC systems cannabis business owners need to maintain the optimal climate for successful grow facilities. From facility design to installing and maintaining equipment, we work with owners to maximize their crop yield while minimizing the overhead costs of heating, cooling, ventilation, and atmosphere control.
As you plan your dream facility – especially if you’re in the license application phase – consider these important elements of your HVAC needs that most cannabis entrepreneurs overlook.
Your Light & Plant Count Impacts HVAC Needs
How many lights will you need? Well, how many plants will be in your grow operation? The two go hand in hand.
Lights emit heat and your plant count predicts water use and transpiration – a fancy word for the moisture your plants emit through the pores on their leaves. The answers to these questions are critical data we plug into your set design to determine your HVAC equipment size.
On average, experts recommend a half-ton of cooling per light. If you’re thinking that’s a lot of AC, you’re correct – especially when you consider that an average 1,200 square foot home requires only a two-ton unit.
You may also be wondering: how do I know how many lights I’ll need? This is an art and a science that is based, in part, on grower preference. Lighting has its own set of formulas that can be used to calculate coverage. An architect or engineer well-versed in cannabis facility design can help you determine the precise capacity you need.
Location, Humidity & Building Type
Our goal is to maintain a relative humidity less than 50%, though the exact percentage can be based on the discretion of the grower. Some of our recent projects in Michigan and Oklahoma had us battling high humidity levels, which is a burly beast to wrangle.
It’s imperative to mitigate the effects of outdoor humidity so it doesn’t saturate and harm the grow. Then, the heat output from grow lights and outdoor temperatures, outside humidity, and moisture from your environment drive your cooling needs. Air conditioning plays a part in removing both heat and humidity from the air.
Your building envelope is another element that figures into the HVAC equation. Factors that can help determine your building’s HVAC design and specs include how tightly a building is sealed, its vapor barrier, and whether or not it’s in a heating or cooling climate area.
Also, airflow is another integral part of your indoor climate. Setting up your room or building’s discharge and return airflows properly ensures that conditioned air reaches every inch of your grow equally.
AC vs Dehumidifiers
Air conditioners and dehumidifiers are mechanically similar. AC removes both heat and humidity from the indoor environment and supplies cold air in the process. On the flip side, dehumidifiers have a fan to pull in moist air and push out warm air.
While air conditioners move this warm air outside, dehumidifiers dump it inside, negating any cooling effect. Both systems produce condensate (aka, moisture) that must be drained or emptied.
Supplementing air conditioning with dehumidifiers in more humid climates can help you achieve an additional 15% moisture reduction.
Coddling Your Cannabis
Cannabis plants are said to prefer a Mediterranean climate. Since we can’t send your cultivars to a resort in Mykonos, we do everything possible to enhance their formative months in an indoor nursery.
In an indoor climate-controlled setting, plants seem happiest when the ambient temperature is between 68-78 F. Even if you’re growing in Alaska in the winter, you’re going to need some form of air conditioning. (Yes, really.)
The heat from your lights alone will require that you have it, but be aware that winter temperatures can damage air conditioning systems.
When grow facilities have to run the air conditioning in the winter, you have to trick the HVAC system into thinking it’s running in a summertime setting to protect the functionality of the HVAC unit and prevent damage that can pose a risk to your HVAC investment.
Air conditioners use a cycle that involves changing a refrigerant from a liquid to a gas, and back again. At colder temperatures, the pressure buildup that creates this back-and-forth can’t occur. The refrigerant remains liquid and can seriously damage your unit’s compressor.
We can stop the system’s fan, which creates the necessary internal build-up of pressure. Once it hits the desired point of pressure, the fan kicks on and dissipates the heat and pressure off the refrigerant – as in normal operation. The pressure then falls, the fan shuts off, and the process continues to repeat.
As they say, don’t try this at home – and don’t do it at all without professional guidance. Unless you’re trained, never tinker with your HVAC system. If it’s not happy, no one’s happy – least of all, your plants.
Invest in Reliable Equipment
In the cannabis industry, you’ve got to invest in a reliable HVAC system. One of the foremost considerations when choosing a product is how easy it will be to obtain the parts to fix it if it fails. Some growers opt for ductless mini-split units, the majority of which are made in South Korea.
If a compressor goes down in one of these, it can take upward of two weeks just to get the part. If you happen to be at the crucial, flowering stage of your grow, the consequences can be costly. It pays to plan for future repairs and build an HVAC system that will be easy to work on, handle, and maintain.
After 12 years of experience, Higher Yields Consulting Services has had the best results with Carrier brand units. We use an 18 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) unit that lies on the upper end of energy efficiency. There are a few higher efficiency options, but they come with more bells and whistles (i.e. more stuff to break).
Keeping a Cool Head
Entry-level growers may not be fully prepared for the cost and upkeep that their HVAC system requires. Educating yourself about how important it is to help your plants grow in good health will make you understand how vital it is to your success – and hopefully help relieve any sticker shock.
From equipment placement to the length of your refrigeration lines, many obvious and subtle factors go into designing a facility and HVAC system to minimize cost and maximize your bottom line. There are rarely two facilities alike. Your specific floor plan and where and when the sun hits your building all impact heating and cooling decisions and performance.
Do you have questions about how you can optimize your existing facility or design the most efficient facility to include on your license application? We’ll work with you to create a climate for success.
Reach out to us at Higher Yields Cannabis Consulting for a consultation.