A large number of building systems which affect University users are grouped into the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) category. The general office environment, including indoor air quality, is an area where Utilities strives to provide an optimal level of service.

Air Handlers

Air Handlers assist with the provision of Air Conditioning to the buildings. An air handler, or Air Handling Unit (AHU), is a device used as part of an HVAC system. Air handlers usually connect to ductwork that distributes the conditioned air through the building, and returns it to the AHU.


Boilers generate hot water and heating for campus buildings. Due to the vital nature of these machines, many areas on campus are setup such that multiple boilers feed a single location, and thus, the failure of one boiler will not be noticeable to building occupants. Boilers feed water into an enclosed vessel where it is heated and transformed into steam. The steam is then circulated throughout the loop to generate heat for the buildings on campus.


Chillers assist with the provision of Air Conditioning to the buildings. They remove heat from liquid via a vapor-compression or absorption refrigeration cycle. The chilled water obtained is used to cool and dehumidify air. Air conditioning systems distribute this chilled water to heat exchangers, or coils, in Air Handling Units (AHUs), and used water is returned to the chiller. The cooling coils transfer heat from the air to the chilled water, cooling and dehumidifying the air stream.

Cooling Towers

Cooling towers also assist with the provision of Air Conditioning to the buildings. They are evaporative coolers that use the evaporation of water to reject heat that occurs from processes like cooling the circulating water used in building air conditioning. HVAC cooling towers reject heat from a chiller. Santa Clara University uses wet cooling towers, operating on the principle of evaporation. Water cooled chillers, as opposed to air-cooled chillers, are used because of their energy efficiency.