A fan coil unit (FCU) is a simple device consisting of a heating and/or cooling heat exchanger or 'coil' and fan. It is part of an HVAC system found in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. A fan coil unit is a diverse device sometimes using ductwork, and is used to control the temperature in the space where it is installed, or serve multiple spaces. It is controlled either by a manual on/off switch or by a thermostat, which controls the throughput of water to the heat exchanger using a control valve and/or the fan speed.
Fan Coil Unit falls principally into two main types: blow through and draw through. As the names suggest, in the first type the fans are fitted such that they blow through the heat exchanger, and in the other type the fans are fitted after the coil such that they draw air through it. Draw through units are considered thermally superior, as ordinarily they make better use of the heat exchanger. However they are more expensive, as they require a chassis to hold the fans whereas a blow-through unit typically consists of a set of fans bolted straight to a coil.
A concealed fan coil unit will typically be installed within an accessible ceiling void or services zone. The return air grille and supply air diffuser, typically set flush into the ceiling, will be ducted to and from the fan coil unit and thus allows a great degree of flexibility for locating the grilles to suit the ceiling layout and/or the partition layout within a space. It is quite common for the return air not to be ducted and to use the ceiling void as a return air plenum.
Fan coil units circulate hot or cold water through a coil in order to condition a space. The unit gets its hot or cold water from a central plant, or mechanical room containing equipment for removing heat from the central building's closed-loop. The equipment used can consist of machines used to remove heat such as a chiller or a cooling tower and equipment for adding heat to the building's water such as a boiler or a commercial water heater.
Depending upon the selected chilled water temperatures and the relative humidity of the space, it is likely that the cooling coil will dehumidify the entering air stream, and as a by product of this process, it will at times produce a condensate which will need to be carried to drain. The fan coil unit will contain a purpose designed drip tray with drain connection for this purpose. The simplest means to drain the condensate from multiple fan coil units will be by a network of pipework laid to falls to a suitable point. Alternatively a condensate pump may be employed where space for such gravity pipework is limited.
Speed control of the fan motors within a fan coil unit is partly used to control the heating and cooling output desired from the unit. Some manufacturers accomplish speed control by adjusting the taps on an AC transformer supplying the power to the fan motor. Typically this would require adjustment at the commissioning stage of the building construction process and is therefore set for life at a fixed speed. Other manufacturers provide custom-wound Permanent Split Capacitor (PSC) motors with speed taps in the windings, set to the desired speed levels for the fan coil unit design. A simple speed selector switch (Off-High-Medium-Low) is provided for the local room occupant to control the fan speed. Typically this speed selector switch is integral to the room thermostat, and is set manually or is controlled automatically by the digital room thermostat. Building Energy Management Systems can be used for automatic fan speed and temperature control. Fan motors are typically AC Shaded Pole or Permanent Split Capacitor. More recent developments include brushless DC designs with electronic commutation. Compared to units with asynchronous 3-speed motors, the fan coil units with brushless motors will reduce the power consumption up to 70%.
DC motors allow the speed of the fans within a Fan Coil Unit to be controlled by means of a 0-10 Volt input 'Signal' to the motor/s, the transformers and speed switches associated with AC Fan Coils are not required. Up to a signal voltage of 2.5 Volts (which may vary with different fan/motor manufacturers) the fan will be in a stopped condition but as the signal voltage is increased, the fan will seamlessly increase in speed until the maximum is reached at a signal Voltage of 10 Volts. Fan Coils will generally operate between approximately 4 Volts and 7.5 Volts because below 4 Volts the air volumes are ineffective and above 7.5 Volts the Fan Coil is likely to be too noisy for most commercial applications.
The reason that these DC Fan Coil Units are, despite their apparent relative complexity, becoming more popular is their improved energy efficiency levels compared to their AC motor driven counterparts of only a few years ago. A straight swap, AC to DC, will reduce electrical consumption by 50% but applying Demand and Occupancy dependent fan speed control can take the savings to as much as 80%. In areas of the world where there are legally enforceable energy efficiency requirements for Fan Coils (such as the UK), DC Fan Coil Units are rapidly becoming the only choice.
In high-rise residential construction, typically each fan coil unit requires a rectangular through-penetration in the concrete slab on top of which it sits. Usually, there are either 2 or 4 pipes made of ABS, steel or copper that go through the floor. The pipes are usually insulated with refrigeration insulation, such as acrylonitrile butadiene/polyvinyl chloride (AB/PVC) flexible foam (Rubatex or Armaflex brands) on all pipes, or at least on the chilled water lines to prevent condensate from forming.