Convention Centers


Convention Center

Convention centers are typically enclosed, high-bay, long-span buildings that can accommodate a wide variety of functions. They subseequently require a complex energy system that is designed to provide power, light, complete environmental control, water, telephone and communication lines to the main hall and to individual exhibit spaces. All systems must be highly flexible, since the building income is dependent on the time it takes to change from one function to the next. These functions can vary widely, from huge banquets or beauty pageants, to an automobile, restaurant, machine tool show, special exhibitions, or even a zoological convention complete with animals.

These centers usually include restaurants, concession stands, bars, parking garages, offices, TV and radio broadcasting studios, and breakout meeting rooms. Occupancy can range from 15 to 30 people up to thousands. In some cases, sports arenas and auditoriums are also included in the center.


HVAC system flexibility is obviously key. Multiple speed fans are often considered, but air diffusing and cooling system performance at low fan speed must be factored into the design.

Industrial shows can have a high sensible load with a peak power load of 20 watts per square foot, plus occupancy of 40 to 50 square feet per person, plus lighting. Design experience indicates a maximum power load of 10 watts per square foot works best, since peak loads are often very intermittent. In situations where the main hall is used for meetings, there is more latent load.

Loads should be determined for each space, because areas are often selectively used, depending on the size of the group or number of exhibit booths; however, with a central plant system, a block load should also be determined.

Typical System

As these are typically very large facilities, these buildings traditionally use a multiplicity of air-handling units served from a central chilled/hot water plant in order to serve the wide HVAC load variations. All-air systems with multiple speed fans and/or VAV systems are commonly used, with provision for operating with 100% outdoor air. Provisions for direct exhaust are also made to accommodate situations where trucks are in the hall loading or unloading, and when odor generating events are in progress (restaurant or printing industry shows, circuses, etc.). Excess exhaust air from the main halls is usually used to ventilate storage areas.

The smaller meeting, or breakout, rooms have high peak loads but operate infrequently. They are usually handled with individual air-handlers, roof-top units, or from a VAV system. Box offices, office, and restaurant spaces that operate at higher and differing hours from the main hall should be supplied by separate systems.

Boat Show

Energy Saving Recommendations

Central plant designs may also incorporate heat recovery, thermal storage, and other energy conservation opportunities such as variable speed drive water pumps, and temperature reset on chilled and hot water distribution circuits. These complexes are also excellent opportunities for a central control system for fire, smoke, and security, billing for central plant use, maintenance control and operations, and energy management.

Suggestions include:

  • Adding odor control with carbon filters and controlled recirculation in order to reduce fresh air intake
  • Older and/or inefficient chiller systems should be upgraded or replaced, particularly if CFC refrigerants are used
  • Continuous tube infrared heating systems may provide substantial savings in high heating climates due to the high bay layout
  • Where demand and/or on-peak energy costs are high; look into thermal storage
  • Implement any energy conservation concepts discussed above that are not already in use
  • Replace antiquated or inappropriate control systems

Water Heating

Hot water is used for food preparation, cleanup, and rest rooms. Dishwashing is usually not a significant load. In most facilities, peak usage occurs during the cleanup period, typically soon after opening and immediately prior to closing. Hot water consumption varies significantly among individual facilities. Please refer to the specific section of this library for more detailed information.

Most water heating is done separately from the building heating system and uses direct resistance or gas heaters, and, in some cases, point-of-use heaters.


Most convention centers will have a number of restaurants and eating areas. Please refer to the Food Service section of this guide for specific information.


There are three basic lighting requirements commonly found in convention centers: high bay, meeting room, and offices. The high bay areas are usually designed with parabolic metal halide systems. The meeting rooms are usually a mix of incandescent chandeliers, recessed incandescent spots, and recessed fluorescent fixtures. The offices and restrooms are usually recessed fluorescent fixtures.

Energy Saving Recommendations

The high bay areas are already using fairly efficient lighting. However, controls should be added, if not already in place, to allow for reduced lighting in unoccupied spaces. The system should be flexible enough to provide enough light for a full range of activities from security, to set-up/take-down, to an actual show. Pulse-start metal halide lamps should be considered as replacements when existing lamps fail.

Energy efficient lamps and even some compact fluorescent spots should be considered for the recessed incandescent spots located in the meeting halls, but be cognizant of the dimming requirements. The spot should be turned off whenever dimming is not required and the fluorescent fixtures should provide enough light for the task at hand. The recessed fluorescent systems should be re-lamped and re-ballasted with T-8 Fluorescent tubes and electronic ballast.

The office lighting systems should be re-lamped and re-ballasted with T-8 Fluorescent tubes and electronic ballast. Lenses should be cleaned and new reflectors should be added if there is insufficient lighting.

All incandescent and fluorescent exit signs should be replaced with LED exit signs. Battery backup may be required on some or all exit signs.

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