Tell me how to cool my events space in the absence of air conditioning!
June 6, 2017 6:01 AM   Subscribe

I run an arts nonprofit that rents a floor of a commercial building in New York City. Our central air conditioning recently broke down and will be exorbitantly expensive to fix. We hold frequent events and are worried about broiling ourselves and our guests. What do we do? I'd love any suggestions! (Additionally, any recommendations on very silent fans?)

-- The floor we rent is about 4,000 square feet. Our events space is in the middle and surrounded by offices on the two narrow sides and the elevator and two interior offices on the third longer side.

-- There are two offices on one side and three on the other that have window accessibility. We were thinking of buying window units to try to cool the space. However, given that the events space is in the middle, we're concerned that the window units won't reach it. Can we do this with a number of window units and leaving various doors open?

-- There is a duct that goes across the top of the space. We were told we could add a mechanism to push air through the duct toward the center, though we don't quite understand this.

-- We also use fans to cool the main space, but they tend to not contribute very much coolness and be very noisy. I would totally love recommendations of very cool-looking and quiet fans.
posted by johnasdf to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Fans can pull air from cooler places to warmer places. Consider cool stairwells or a basement as sources of cool air, along with windows. You can use the fan close to the source of cool air and/or at the other end of the space you want to cool, to get a directional flow going. I know a space with two levels where they put a fan at the door facing outward, and a fan on the second floor above the stairs, to get that effect of pulling air through. It's one way to keep noisy fans away from the central event space.
posted by ramenopres at 6:21 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

What is your ceiling height? You could install some commercial/industrial ceiling fans, but the blades have to be at least 10 feet off the floor, and there needs to be a few feet of clearance above them, too.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:27 AM on June 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

You need a building engineer to assess this based on the space, not strangers on the internet. But based on my experience running event spaces, AC is what it takes to effectively cool a room this size.

I will tell you as a likeminded professional in a competitive nonprofit events market like NYC that you are risking harming your reputation and your revenue if you do not fix your AC. You are a nonprofit and you host events - one miserable sweaty event in the heat of the summer and you'll lose your donors and patrons. If you host an event without AC and don't tell your renters in advance, and they show up and there is no AC, they could sue for breach of contract, and persnickety clients will. There could be news coverage, arts patrons talk to one another, you'll have a PR issue on your hands as well as an AC issue.

I'm so sorry that this isn't what you wanted to hear. Perhaps you can talk to your insurance for repair costs?
posted by juniperesque at 6:45 AM on June 6, 2017 [33 favorites]

If you sell tickets to an event that won't have aircon, please, please, PLEASE have a warning on your ticket-sale website.

For some of us, lack of airconditioning = heat exhaustion, or other serious medical unpleasantnesses.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 7:14 AM on June 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have to agree with the above posters -- it's a detriment to your organization, and possibly a medical and legal headache, if you don't have working air conditioning in your party zone.

Also, why is fixing the A/C your responsibility to fix? You say you're renting the space, why isn't your landlord taking this on? If it's just your floor losing A/C, you have to ask them why, and if it's just the whole building, you and the other tenants have a right to withhold rent until it's fixed.

No amount of fans is going to change the fact that an unventilated room on an upper floor of a NYC building in the summer will get above 90F.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:26 AM on June 6, 2017 [10 favorites]

I absolutely would not attend an indoor summertime event without A/C. You've gotta fix the unit, or stop hosting events until you can. What Juniperesque says is absolutely true: you're playing with fire here, and could do immense damage to your organization.
posted by uberchet at 7:32 AM on June 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

Others have hit the organizational/reputation reasons you need a mechanical engineering professional to help solve this. From a purely technical standpoint I'll add the following comments:

1. Window air conditioners are only able to handle a very modest amount of cooling. Enough for a few people and their activities. So, no, window units in side offices won't cut it. You would also likely be shocked at the jump in your electric bill as they fought 24/7 to condition your space.
2. People create an immense amount of heat. Each individual is like adding another 100W lightbulb to the space. When you host an event you are suddenly loading a space with a huge amount of heat and you need special equipment or a huge amount of air flow to deal with that.
3. People also add a great deal of moisture to a space, and carbon dioxide. Air conditioning isn't just about cooling, it is also about de-humidification and ventilation. All of these need to be in balance for appropriate comfort.
4. Fans in a space add a bit of comfort through air movement, but also add heat to the space.
5. You need rather tall ceilings for comfort benefits from rising hot air. If you have 12' or more this will at least help, but then any sort of ceiling fan is just pushing the warm air back down unless you have a place for it to escape.

In some climates it is possible to achieve indoor comfort through cross-ventilation, fans and other more passive factors. A three side enclosed space in New York City is not one of those spaces. This simply needs the investment to be fixed right. Or a strategic shift that keeps events happening in other spaces during summer months.

One final note: find a contractor or professional that you understand. It's likely that the exorbitant expense to you is a small job to them so many may be short and dismissive, but you deserve to know what you are investing in - and what your options are. There are likely multiple ways to repair and/or upgrade equipment serving your space. Get proposals. And of course make sure you aren't paying to fix any device that is your landlord's responsibility.
posted by meinvt at 7:47 AM on June 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

For quiet fans, Dyson do bladeless fans that are meant to be very quiet.
posted by terretu at 8:03 AM on June 6, 2017

In the interim, consider holding outdoor events.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:46 AM on June 6, 2017

There are companies in NYC whose business is temporary commercial and industrial air conditioning. Like these guys for instance. I'm sure they would be happy to let you know your options and give you a quote.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 9:15 AM on June 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, check your lease, which may or may not allocate HVAC responsibilities to you, before you pay anybody anything.

Otherwise, I have to join in the chorus. Unless it was a literal crisis occurring at the last minute, the first non-airconditioned event I attended for your group would be the last.
posted by praemunire at 9:21 AM on June 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

Ceiling fans are pretty effective, IMHO.
posted by latkes at 11:03 AM on June 6, 2017

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