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What Is a Chilled Beam?

Jason Candanedo
Jason Candanedo

A chilled beam is a heating and cooling system created for larger buildings. The chilled beam system has a heat exchanger, also known as a beam, that is attached to the ceiling and contains a series of pipes. The water running in these pipes is either hot or cold, depending on whether the room is being heated or cooled. For example, when the beam is cooled by cold water in the pipes, the air around the pipes cools and lower toward the floor. Heating works using similar principles.

Chilled beams are found in two forms: an active beam or a passive beam. The difference between beams is the mechanism used to heat or cool the unit. Also, chilled beams are different from the chilled ceiling system. The chilled beam relies on the beam itself as the system of delivery, and the chilled ceiling relies on metal plates installed in the ceiling to transmit the heat or cold, with the actual pipes being behind these plates. This system renders the chilled ceiling less effective in terms of heating or cooling a room, because a the beam in a chilled beam system is actually exposed.


The chilled beam is a good system to keep costs down. A system that takes in air and cools or heats it, then transfers the heated or cooled air out into the room uses more energy than a chilled beam system. Chilled beams do not create noise, they do not require much space, and they do not need intense maintenance.

Chilled beam systems do have their drawbacks, though. Rooms that contain ceilings higher than 8 feet (2.4 m) cannot use a chilled beam system, because air will not adequately circulate, rendering the system non-effective. It also is recommended that chilled beam systems not be placed in rooms or environments that contain high levels of humidity. When humidity comes in contact with the beam, condensation might result. When this occurs, droplets will form on the surface of the pipe and drop down, which can cause damage to the floor or any items on which the water drips.

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