In some parts of the world, such as in the United Kingdom, air conditioning can be thought of as a bit of an expensive extravagance. In other parts, where warmer climates are the norm for most of the year, air con is an absolute necessity that many cannot live without in their recording studios. Deciding whether or not your recording studio needs air conditioning depends on a number of circumstances personal to you which include:
Budget: The amount of money you are prepared to invest into sourcing an appropriate system and have it installed by a trusted and certified trade’s person.
Personal Preference: The temperature you are most comfortable working in for long periods of time.
Your Gear: The heat your gear generates in your studio.
In this article we explore this topic with the aim to help you decide whether or not you need an air conditioning system installed in your studio. We share a number of points based on our own experiences as well as share several key areas you need to take into serious consideration before you take the plunge into the world of recording studio air conditioning.
Here are a number of key areas you should take into account before you take the plunge into the world of recording studio air conditioning:
What Is The Typical Climate In Your Part Of The World?
Some parts of the world are lucky enough to get hot weather all year round. Countries like the UK a temperate climate for the most part, with occasional spikes in temperature and humidity occurring a few times a year. In hotter climates an air con is a no-brainer for a studio but if you live in a cooler country then you should consider whether the investment in an air conditioning system will be good value for money as you may find you only use it for the occasional heatwave.
I live in the UK, from my own personal experiences air conditioning in a recording studio is a very useful asset to have all year round. My recording studio is built with many layers of thermal insolation and sound absorbing materials, which together also do a great job of keeping heat from the outside world entering the inside room in the hot summer months, however, for the bulk of the year this design works against me as these layers of materials traps heat inside my studio. This is where my air conditioning system pays for itself as you can use it to cool the internal structural walls, which helps me maintain a cool and comfortable environment to work in throughout the year.
What Is The Air Flow Like In Your Studio?
My recording studio only has one opening to the outside world, the main door. This choice was intentional to aid the soundproofing strategy:
While having only one opening helped the integrity of our soundproofing, it sadly does very little for natural airflow. However, this is the challenge of any studio design, the need for isolation from the outside world means that normal ventilation solutions won’t work, as they break the sound isolation requirement. This is when ventilation and air con systems need to be carefully thought out to aid air flow. If air flow is minimal in your studio. In reality you need a ventilation system to bring in fresh air without braking the sound isolation and an air conditioning system to deal with the build up of heat due to the sound isolation and acoustic treatment.
How Much Heat Does Your Studio Gear Generate?
Don’t underestimate how much heat is generated by your beloved studio gear. Owners of old vintage mixing consoles know the importance of air conditioning as many of the old iconic desks of yesteryear were prone to overheating quickly which often led to damage to the inner components.
Tower computers such as the old cheese-grater Mac Pros and tube guitar amps heat up the room over the course of a day, which because of the treatment and isolation cannot disperse.
Ventilation And Heat Solution
When he was building his studio back in 2001, Mike was very conscious to learn from the mistakes from his first studio. One of those mistakes was the floating floor and so for his current studio Mike wanted to make sure he had a proper floating floor solution that wouldn’t fail. You can learn more about this in Mike’s article Studio And Acoustic Design. Floor And Ceiling Solutions. Another mistake was not having any ventilation, other than being able to open the door and window, which of course destroys the isolation for as long as the door and window are open. For his current studio Mike chose to have 2 solutions to need for fresh air and cooling.
Mike has a floor to ceiling 19" rack, which you can see above and a seperate computer cupboard below. Rather than allow the hot air from the rack and computer cupboard to come into the room and then so make the air conditioning work harder, Mike chose to create a negative pressure ventilation and heat removal system by sucking the hot air directly out of both the computer cupboard and rack, through very long and wiggly ducts to the outside world (as you can see in the image above) and thereby reduce the noise coming back down the ducts to a minimum. Each duct, from the computer cupboard and rack has a fan and to reduce the speed, and so the noise they produced, Mike ran them in series.
Check out this video that Mike shot back in 2013 showing his computer cupboard and how the ventilation works…
Creating the negative pressure by sucking the hot air out from the equipment rack and computer board Mike then added another long and wiggly duct, all of which he lost in the roof space above the studio, to allow the negative pressure to draw fresh air in via another long and wiggy duct and a vent in the roof.
This had the win-win of removing a lot of the heat created by the equipment in his studio and providing a continuous source of fresh air, all without needing to turn on the air conditioning. This design means that Mike only needs to turn on his air con when the outside temperature gets very warm.
Modified Standalone Air Conditioning Unit
Working on a budget, Mike bought a low cost 10,000 BTU stand-alone air con unit, the sort that are free standing in the room and push the hot air out via a duct through an open window. Now, of course, the open window idea was a non starter in a studio! It would destroy the isolation. What he did instead, was to install the air con unit in the roof space away from the studio and to attach more long wiggly ducting to it so he could duct the cold air from the air con unit into the studio, and pull the warm air out from the studio and back into the unit. In addition, he routed the heat output from the air con, that would normally go through an open window, to the outside world using more long wiggly ducts to roof vents.
He modified the controls on the unit and ended up with a simple on/off control with an air con system he could have on whenever he needed it, for about £200 in 2001.
Mike is now planning to replace this unit, which is over 18 years old with a new one that has control over bluetooth via an app.
Can You Afford The Running Costs?
Most modern air conditioning units for single room purposes, such as home recording studios, are fairly economical these days especially if you use them frugally. My air conditioning engineer recommended that I blast my system for 5 minutes on maximum cooling at the start of the day to lower the ambient temperate of the room then switch to eco mode for the rest of the day. I was told that air con units typically use the most electricity on power up so it’s smart to not keep turning off and on the system throughout the day. Instead, set a comfortable temp and run on low throughout the day.
My monthly cost for my 16,000 BTU air conditioning system is around £30 which I think is very reasonable considering I use it nearly every day.
We can’t talk about the cool benefits of air conditioning without considering the negative impact these have on the environment and the effects of climate change. The New York Times published an article called How Bad Is Your Air-Conditioner for the Planet?, which raises some interesting points about HFC gases used in air con systems. If these leak from your system they contribute to global warming. If for any reason you feel your system has a leak or isn’t working as it should, you must call an engineer out at once to come and repair it.
In short, you really need to think about the impact your air conditioning is going to have on not only your monthly budget and electricity bill but also the environmental impact in regards to energy usage and possible damage to the atmosphere in the event of a system failure… food for though, always consult your engineer if in doubt about the economy of your system.
Where Are The Best Places To Locate Air Conditioning Units?
Most air conditioning systems are what is called a split system and come in two main components:
Inside Unit: The inside unit houses a coil box containing an evaporator, which allows for the refrigerant cooling fluid inside the coil to evaporate and absorb heat. Once the heat is absorbed from inside your studio it leaves nothing but cool air to be sent back into your room. A small pipe to the outside world is needed to drain the condensation otherwise you’ll end up with puddles on the floor. However, for studio use you will need to consider the noise of the fan in the inside unit. These units are designed for domestic and small offices where the noise level requirements are not as stringent as we need for studio use.
Outside Unit: This is where the heat from inside your studio is dispersed. The outside unit contains a fan compressor and condenser coil. Heat absorbed from your studio’s air is transferred to the refrigerant and then pumped to the outdoor unit.
When these are installed they are linked together with piping through the structure of a building. The easiest form of install is a “Wall To Wall” method in which there is a very small distance between both units with minimal plumbing and cable runs required.
Wall to wall air conditioning installs may not be an option for everyone as this method relies on having the space available on the same wall both inside and outside the studio. A professional air conditioning engineer will recommend the best route for plumbing. They will most likely recommend you install the inside unit as far away from the main studio entrance as this will minimise the risk of your lovely cool air escaping out to other rooms or the outside world.
There are typically two main types of inside air conditioning units you can chose from:
High Wall Mounted Units:
The types of units are what most people picture in their minds when they think of air conditioning. They work brilliantly but some recording studios, my studio included, have limited space on the walls due to having lots of acoustic panels being placed around the room. If you haven’t got the space for an inside unit that can be installed high up a wall then consider a low wall mounted unit.
Low Wall Mounted Units
These resemble domestic wall radiators and sit neatly just above the floor. These are useful if wall space is limited. They can, like in my studio, tuck neatly behind studio racks which means wall space is saved in the rest of the studio for other gear to be placed in.
When choosing an area to position the outside unit you need to be aware that it’s going to produce a lot of warm air. If your studio is in an outhouse in your garden then the area around where you want the outside unit to be needs to be clear of trees and vegetation as the constant flow of warm area will kill surrounding bushes and plants.
Also, consider that leaves can get sucked into these units quite easily, which can damage your system or at the very least have you calling an engineer to come around and service your system more regularly than you would like.
You may also want to take aesthetics into consideration as you may not want the outside on display, after all these units aren’t the prettiest of things to look at. Outside units can be placed on heavy duty bracket that fix to the external walls of your studio, but in a studio application this may not be the best thing to do…
The low frequency vibrations from the fan will rumble through your walls, even if you have spent a lot of time and money building a soundproof studio. The vibrations from outside air con units are not insignificant, a fact I did not consider when reinstalling my system a few years back into my current studio. A way round this would be to put the unit on the floor on a solid concrete or brick base. As long as the outside unit is level and secured in place you will have no trouble with the low end rumble transmitting through to your recording studio.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All - The Size Of Your Room Matters
When considering an air conditioning system it is essential to take into account the dimensions and volume of your studio. This needs to match the recommended BTU of an air con system. If you get a unit, which is too small and underpowered you may struggle to maintain a cool temperature meaning you may have to run your system on high for long periods which isn’t very economical.
Room Dimensions: 25' by 34'
Square Footage: 850
A quick online search through most professional air conditioner providers will reveal many tables which will help you find the correct BTU spec for your studio air con needs.
However you also need to consider that because a studio is so well insulated, thanks to the acoustic isolation and treatment, as well as the significant heat produced by the equipment in your studio, you may need a higher specced unit than the normal recommendation as these are based on domestic or small office spaces without all the extra insulation and equipment.
When in doubt…
Always Seek Professional Advice And Installation Services
I can’t stress this enough - Always seek professional advice. Do not attempt an air con install by yourself. There are many kits out there promising “Easy Install”, but ignore those strap lines. Easy install marketing isn’t for the consumer DIY man. Specialist tools are required to plumb the two units together, which will ensure a safe and reliable system for years to come. If you are handy with a drill you could course drill the holes in preparation of the tradesperson but I recommend you don’t bother as they may have better ideas for placement.