Every HVAC design involves, as a first step, a problem-solving process, usually with the objective of determining the most appropriate type of HVAC system for a specific application. It is helpful to think of the problem-solving process as a series of logical steps, each of which must be performed in order to obtain the best results.

Although there are various ways of defining the process, the following sequence has been found useful:

1. Define the objective. What is the end result desired? For HVAC the objective usually is to provide an HVAC system which will control the environment within required parameters, at a life-cycle cost compatible with the need. Keep in mind that the cost will relate to the needs of the process. More precise control of the environment almost always means greater cost.

2. Define the problem. The problem, in this illustration, is to select the proper HVAC systems and equipment to meet the objectives. The problem must be clearly and completely defined so that the proposed solutions can be shown to solve the problem.

3. Define alternative solutions. Brainstorming is useful here. There are always several different ways to solve any problem. If remodeling or renovation is involved, one alternative is to do nothing.

4. Evaluate the alternatives. Each alternative must be evaluated for effectiveness and cost. Note that ‘‘doing nothing’’ always has a cost equal to the opportunity, or energy, or efficiency ‘‘lost’’ by not doing something else.

5. Select an alternative. Many factors enter into the selection process—effectiveness, cost, availability, practicality, and others. There are intangible factors, too, such as an owner’s desire for a particular type of equipment.
6. Check. Does the selected alternative really solve the problem?
7. Implement the selected alternative. Design, construct, and operate the system.
8. Evaluate. Have the problems been solved? The objectives met? What improvements might be made in the next design?

Many undertakings fail, or are weak in the end result, due to failing to satisfy one or more of these problem-solving increments. There is an art in being able to identify the key issue, or the critical success factors, or the truly beneficial alternative.

Sometimes the evaluation will be clouded by constraint of time, budget, or prejudice. Occasionally
there is an error in assumption or calculation that goes unchecked. The best defense against disappointment is the presence of good training and good experience in the responsible group.

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