Energy Management Department

Two Pipe vs. Four Pipe Heating/Cooling Systems

The University of Alabama currently uses two different methods of heating and cooling.  The two types of Fan Coil/Unit Ventilator systems available are two-pipe and four-pipe.  The two or four-pipe designation refers to the water distribution system serving the climate control equipment in a building.  For example, a two-pipe system includes only one supply line and only one return line to the unit.  Depending upon the system, fan coil units and unit ventilators served by a two-pipe system contain only one coil which serves as the heating and cooling coil, depending upon the system.  The four-pipe system includes a distribution system that contains both hot water supply with return lines and a chilled water supply with return lines.

Two-pipe systems are less flexible than a four-pipe system.  The entire building is in either heating mode or cooling mode.  The changeover from heating to cooling or vice versa is made manually, and there is always the possibility that unusual weather patterns might cause some occupant discomfort.  A four-pipe system on the other hand has supply and return piping.  Four-pipe systems can supply heat to one room while cooling another.   However, in the University‚Äôs case, a four-pipe system may not always provide comfort.  Some buildings on campus get their hot water from the campus Steam Plant.  The campus Steam Plant is only activated during the winter months so hot water may not be available to some buildings on a cool fall day.

Overall, the majority of the buildings on campus are on a two-pipe system.  This means when winter starts to set in, the two-pipe system must be switched from cold water to hot water.  If the weather changes and it warms up for a few days, the occupants of a two-pipe building could become uncomfortable.  The building system could then be switched back to cold water, but the manual switchover requires a couple of days.  By the time this is accomplished, the weather could cool off again.  So as you can see, when it comes to heating and cooling a space with a two-pipe system, especially in our fluctuating Alabama weather, it is a guessing game.  
Two-pipe buildings include Morgan Hall, Woods Quad buildings, Little Hall, and Graves Hall.  Four-pipe buildings include Ferguson Center, Student Services, Bevill, Bruno Library, and the Blount Building.

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