We've made a technological breakthrough. The silos of Climb Up in Oklahoma City are now climate controlled. This is the largest investment in a single project at the climbing silos and arguably the best improvement to date. Climb Up in OKC is the first silo climbing gym - and to the best of our knowledge, the first re-purposed silo facility in the world to be retro-fitted with a geothermal climate control system.
While the dream of cooling and heating the silos has been around for years, it was never believed to be feasible given the scale of the project, the cost, and the practicality. Anyone that visited the silos in the early years can recall the stifling heat inside during the summer months and the bone-chilling cold of winter. Every year we dealt with "temperature issue" in various ways; in-room wall fans, infra-red heaters, space heaters, exhaust fan units, and portable A/C units. Going back to the earliest years (circa 2000) there were meat-locker clear-plastic curtains that hung in two doorways between the front office area and the main gym. It was an attempt at containing some tempered air in one portion of the silos. Problems persisted with keeping the air captured between those plastic partitions - especially when sweaty climbers moved through them like cars through wash shammies in a car wash. The clear plastic turned greasy and nasty.
In 2008 a large overhead exhaust fan was installed in the upper attic-house area which helped draw air through the silos. Air movement tended to be the best cooling feature but in the July and August heat the air would be 95 to 100 degrees - so it felt like climbing in a convection oven. Unfortunately the exhaust fan did nothing for the humidity.
Climb Up began addressing the feasibility in late Spring 2016 searching for companies that took our vision seriously. In several cases a "heat and air company" would visit the silos for an initial survey and not return our calls after the first visit. (As an aside, the silos tend to have that effect on contractors.) Perhaps fearing that there was no way they could accomplish such a massive project or realizing that the cost would be beyond our budget, we simply wouldn't hear from them again.
Through our own research it became apparent that geothermal was going to be the most likely solution in terms of cost and energy efficiency. Still, we questioned: was the structure even suited to such an application? Would it work once installed? Moving down the list of companies we found ComfortWorks. They were intrigued by the silos as an engineering problem and were eager to solve it.
The planning and engineering phase lasted several months and involved multiple surveys, on-sight visits, and brain-storming. There were a few times we thought the project might be stalled but we continued to work through the various issues. Trying to work within the confines of the existing concrete structure was a challenge. Figuring out the vent arrangements, air-flow through the tubes, location of the well-yard (for the 400' deep geo-pipes) and return-air system required ingenuity. Finally, we reached a decent, workable plan - arriving at a concept that allowed us to use the silo tubes themselves as the ductwork. With this multiple HVAC units are housed in the lower level/basement along with duct-work that is connected to each silo using existing entombed grain chutes. Air is circulated up into the tubes from below and drawn upwards via a the now retro-fitted upper fan unit then recirculated down through the middle silo. The circular air flow keeps the air dehumidified and balanced.
All of this would have not been possible without the incredible support and cooperation of our landlord. We were able to work with him to arrange a deal and help get the project funded. Installation work began in January 2017.
It took months of work but the system was activated in late June 2017 - the units were turned on for the first time and cool air was pumped into the silos. It was an amazing phenomenon to feel a difference in a space that had become so familiar for decades. Now we are well into July, the outside ambient temperature hovers around 100 degrees by mid-day but stepping inside the front door of the silos one is immediately greeted with a wash of cool air. For those visiting the silos for the first time, they'll think nothing of it - feels the same as stepping into the mall. In some sense, that's the point, for new visitors to not notice. People have come to expect all interior environments to be climate controlled - but for those of us that remember "how it used to be," they'll appreciate the difference.
At this point in the season we cannot yet report about what it will be like in winter, but having experienced the distinct difference it's made this summer we're hopefully it will have the same effect in the colder months. We are already looking forward to get cooling down outside so we can crank up the heat inside and see what it's like.