Movie Theaters


Movie Theatre

Most new movie houses or motion picture theaters are dedicated to this type presentation and do not include stages, orchestra pits or dressing rooms as do performing arts theaters. The latest trend is multi-plex theaters having as many as 24 or more individual units, each playing a different movie. Some theaters are located in shopping malls; others are stand-alone.

Older theaters, like legitimate theaters, can be very elaborately decorated, requiring great care in locating air distribution systems. They are different from legitimate theaters in several ways. Performances are usually continuous, starting in the morning or mid-afternoon, depending on the location. Most operate with a partially full house for most showings. The lobbies are used for purchasing candy, popcorn and drinks, and waiting for the current showing to finish and the house is quickly cleaned of larger debris. Some lobbies include an electronic game lounge. Due to the high-powered sound systems in most houses, background noise control is not nearly as important as in a performing arts theater.

The box office is located in the lobby in new theaters or in a small separate unit, and is typically open only when the theater is open.


Movie theaters typically operate for 6 to 12 or more hours a day. Therefore, pre-cooling is not usually applicable, except for the first matinee. Seating is well-defined, and lights are dimmed when the movies begin. Low load performance is quite important since these theaters often operate at low occupancy. Lobbies and exit passages are typically designed for 20 to 30 sq. ft. per person.

Projection booths are a special design problem. Significant heat sources are the projector light, sound equipment, and dimming equipment. Although some may be air-conditioned, most operate with a negative pressure, simply exhausting theater air through the projection room and out through the projector housing. In some cases, filtered supply air is used to minimize soiling the lenses.

Typical System

Large older theaters typically have a central chilled/hot water system. Newer theaters often use multiple unitary roof- or slab-mounted gas heat/electric cooling or heat pumps, each serving one of the units and the lobby area.

Recommendations/Energy Services Opportunities

  • Older inefficient systems should be investigated for upgrading or replacement, particularly if CFC refrigerants are used.
  • Renovate older buildings with modern heating and cooling systems, and consider adding thermal storage, and improving the acoustics and audience sight lines to the screen.
  • Consider using geothermal heat pumps with the loop integrated with the ice-maker or other refrigeration equipment. This also minimizes outdoor equipment subject to weather damage or vandalism.
  • Retrofit with heat reclaim coils or air-to-air heat recovery devices. Such recovery devices can reduce energy consumption by transferring 40 to 80% of the sensible and latent heat between the exhaust air and supply air streams.
  • Retrofit "free cooling" heat exchanger in a tower/chilled water plant system.
  • Add energy management systems with a central panel may allow individual air-conditioning systems or units to be monitored for maintenance and operating purposes.

Water Heating

Movie Theatre II

Hot water is used for cleanup and rest rooms. Hot water consumption varies significantly among individual facilities. If a restaurant in included in the building, it should be handled separately.

Typical System

Water heating is not a major energy user. Most water heating is done separately from the building heating system using direct resistance or gas heaters; and in some cases, point-of-use heaters.

Recommendations/Energy Services Opportunities

If existing water heating systems are inefficient or inadequate, replace with modern efficient equipment. Also add better insulation on storage tanks, or timer controls. Point of use heaters should be considered in restrooms if tanks heaters are currently being used. The ASHRAE Applications Handbook Chapter on Service Water Heating publishes typical hot water use data as well as estimating procedures.

Links to Related Topics

Multi-Use Complexes
Full Service Hotels
Motels (sleeping only)
Convention Centers
Sports Arenas
Performing Theaters
Concert Halls