Energy savings, safety, and comfort: Paynesville City Hall receives new HVAC system


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With the HVAC upgrade, city staff no longer need to use space heaters to keep warm in their offices.

The City of Paynesville sensed for some time that they needed to replace their Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system in their city hall. But when the HVAC unit shook loose from the roof and crossed electrical wires, which brought smoke into the building, the project took on greater urgency.

City staff had struggled to regulate the building’s temperature. The building’s over-designed, computer-controlled ventilation system wasn’t functioning properly—turning up the temperature in one zone would make temperatures unbearably cold in another. “People’s fingers and toes were turning blue,” said Paynesville City Administrator, Renee Eckerly. Staff brought in electric space heaters to place under their desks (increasing electric demand) and constantly adjusted the building’s numerous thermostats in fruitless attempts to try and balance the temperature. The staff also avoided bringing makeup air (outside air circulated through HVAC systems) into the building as it would make the building too cool. “Anytime the makeup air was on, it was impossible to keep the building warm,” said Eckerly. The system clearly needed an update.

The city had been saving money for several years for such an update, but hadn’t been able to save enough to finance a new project. Then one day the staff began to smell smoke. The city’s Police Chief searched in vain for the source, and finally told Eckerly, “You’re going to have to call the fire department.” A 911 call was made and the fire department was dispatched. What they discovered was an HVAC unit trying desperately to escape from its rooftop perch, pulling electrical wires with it. “It had shaken loose from the roof,” said Eckerly. There was simply no more time to wait.

Conveniently, shortly after this incident, Eckerly heard about an opportunity offered by the State of Minnesota’s Department of Commerce: Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG). The EECBG dollars, available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), provided funding for Minnesota local governments to reduce energy use, create and retain jobs, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. She applied for funding to replace the HVAC system and to upgrade the lighting in the fire hall.

Working with local contractors, the city replaced the unruly HVAC unit with two smaller units, one for the offices and a separate one for the council chambers. Eckerly said that there has been a tremendous improvement in the level of comfort in the building: “Nobody is using space heaters any longer.” The units are controlled by separate thermostats and temperature sensors are located in several places throughout the building. “We don’t touch the thermostats anymore,” she said, “The building is always very comfortable.” From an energy usage standpoint, it’s also important to note that the building’s overall electricity use has dropped since installing the new system, likely from eliminating the need for space heaters.

The HVAC contractor on the project was Voss Plumbing & Heating of Paynesville. Eckerly was told that the project kept three employees working through the winter that otherwise would have been laid off.

In addition to the benefit of energy savings, Eckerly believes the health of employees has been improved as the city can again bring in outside makeup air rather than re-circulating air within the building.

The total amount of the EECBG grant award was $47,098 and the city contributed an additional $4,496. “It worked out beautifully,” said Eckerly. “The timing was just right for what we needed.”

Project snapshot:

  • Project details: HVAC replacement with a 3-ton roof unit with economizer and a 7.5 ton unit with economizer
  • Project cost: $50,115

See more local government success stories from the Division of Energy Resources >>

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Local Government Energy Action About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

This year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

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