What Is a Chilled Beam System?

If you?ve been researching new ways to cool larger office or industrial spaces, chances are you?ve come across information on the chilled beam system. These systems are not suitable for residential use, but they can be extremely effective in other types of applications. They’ve been used more extensively overseas, but are rapidly gaining ground in the US.

How They Work

In a chilled beam system, cooled water is sent through pipes into a beam that runs across the ceiling of an area. The water chills the beam, which in turn passes that chill to the air in the room. As the air in contact with the beam cools, it also becomes denser and sinks, thereby making room for warmer air to rise from below and contact the beam. In this way, air is both cooled and circulated throughout the room.

Active vs Passive

Chilled beam systems are available in both active and passive implementations. Passive systems rely solely on the natural convection currents to circulate air and bring warmer air into contact with the beam. Active systems, on the other hand, make use of a central air handler and ducts to bring new air into contact with the beam and circulate air around the space to be cooled.

Passive systems, of course, use less energy than active ones, but their application is also more limited. Active chilled beam systems are still much more energy efficient than many other types of industrial or commercial cooling systems and they can be integrated into many more types of spaces.

System Advantages

Energy efficiency is certainly a very attractive feature of chilled beam systems, but they have several other solid selling points. For one thing, chilled beams operate extremely quietly because of their lack of moving parts. This also makes them much easier and cheaper to install and maintain. And because of the simplicity of their design, chilled beam systems don’t require that a large amount of space be devoted to a machine room or control center, making them an excellent choice when space is at a premium.


Of course, chilled beam systems aren’t without their drawbacks. For one thing, these systems can cost quite a bit more than other more conventional systems because they must be imported from overseas. There is also a limit to how much cooling they can accomplish because if the temperature of the beam itself drops below a certain level, condensation will begin to form.


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