Movie Theaters


Movie Theatre

Most new movie houses or motion picture theaters are dedicated to this type of 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, and require great care when locating air distribution systems. Movie theaters 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 only a partially full house for most showings. The lobbies are used for purchasing concessions and waiting for the current showing to finish and for the house to be 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 in a movie theater as it is 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 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 movie theaters often operate at low occupancy. Lobbies and exit passages are typically designed for 20 to 30 square feet per person.

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

Typical System

Large, older theaters typically have a central chilled/hot water system. However, 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.

Energy Saving Recommendations

  • Older and/or inefficient systems should be upgraded or replaced, particularly if CFC refrigerants are used.
  • Renovate older buildings so that they have modern heating and cooling systems, and consider adding thermal storage.
  • Retrofit systems 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 systems with a "free cooling" heat exchanger in a tower/chilled water plant system.
  • Adding 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, dressing room showers, and restrooms. Hot water consumption varies significantly among individual facilities. If a restaurant is 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 and uses direct resistance or gas heaters, and, in some cases, point-of-use heaters.

Energy Saving Recommendations

If existing water heating systems are inefficient or inadequate, they should be promptly replaced with efficient, modern equipment. You may also wish to add timer controls and/or better insulation on storage tanks. The ASHRAE Applications Handbook chapter on Service Water Heating analyzes typical hot water use data as well as estimating procedures.

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