Auto Dealership Embraces Comfort, Efficiency of Air Curtains

Published in the January 18, 2016 issue of The NEWS

HERMITAGE, Pa. — In the competitive auto-retailing economy, car dealerships, including Hermitage, Pennsylvania-based Mel Grata Chevrolet/Toyota, are always looking for a competitive edge. And, the staff at Mel Grata is confident a recent investment in climate-controlled indoor air comfort will greatly improve customer satisfaction, especially during cold Pennsylvania winters.

Instead of fighting inclement weather, Mel Grata customers now drive through one of two new climate-controlled service/staging areas featuring doorway air curtains. The air curtains, also referred to as air doors, efficiently separate the indoor/outdoor environments to maintain indoor temperatures. This service is especially beneficial during morning rush hours when the door opens several times.

Berner's Industrial Direct Drive 12 Air Curtains over car dealership service garage doors.

Growth Spurt

The company’s Chevrolet service area was recently expanded into a 2,000-square-foot, newly remodeled three-bay space. The separate 1,500-square-foot Toyota service area supports a two-bay, four-door space. Both buildings adjoin the main 75,000-square-foot dealership’s showroom complex. Industrial Direct Drive 12 Series air curtains with three-speed motors, manufactured by Berner Intl., seal each of the seven 12-by-12-foot doorways with a controlled air stream to protect against outdoor air infiltration during hundreds of daily door cycles.

“Without the air curtains, it would take several minutes for the heating system to recover our 70°F set point temperature that keeps customers and employees comfortable from outdoor elements,” said company president Mel Grata, who conceived the idea after seeing air curtains in action on trucking dock slips, vestibules, and retail store entrances. “With the air curtains, the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much when doors open.”

Besides creating a comfortable environment, the air curtains are projected to pay for themselves within two years in energy costs, according to a Berner energy audit. The savings accentuate the dealership’s green construction efforts that also included high-efficiency HVAC systems and recycled building materials. Enough green strategies, including the air curtains, have been instituted into the two service buildings that the project could potentially earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which is a current trend in auto retailing, according to Grata.

Berner’s sales staff was instrumental in training the HVAC contractor, General Maintenance Contractors, New Castle, Pennsylvania, and Grata’s maintenance staff on a coordinated installation effort. For example, the mechanisms and rails of overhead doors common to service bay operations can be problematic by obstructing air curtain discharge. Therefore, Berner wall and extension brackets allow the air curtains to be installed far enough away from the wall and past the door track as to not impede door rollups, yet still maintain the proper volume, velocity, and uniformity (VVU) that is critical to doorway air-sealing performance.

Air Curtains 101

Air curtains consist of a metal cabinet that’s typically mounted above the length of a doorway. Air is drawn through the air intake, accelerated by a fan into a plenum, and distributed along the full length of the discharge nozzle. The nozzle and aerofoil-shaped vanes’ angles are critical for creating a uniform airstream and minimal turbulence. Proper air discharge creates a jet stream that meets the floor near the threshold where approximately 80 percent of the air is returned to the building. Sizing an air curtain is critical to proper performance. Sizing factors include door dimensions, type of use, climate, prevailing winds, exterior temperature, and building pressurization.

Accurate manufacturer performance specifications are also critical to efficacy; therefore, General Maintenance Contractors chose air curtains certified by the Air Movement & Control Association (AMCA), a trade association dedicated to certifying manufacturers’ air-performance statistics on all types of air-movement devices, including blowers, fans, motors, and air curtains.

AMCA performance certification combined with Berner’s standard in-house powder coating with colors aesthetically matching Chevrolet and Toyota corporate colors in the interior design helped steer Grata to the brand, according to Arthur Arena, president of General Maintenance Contractors.


The Toyota building, which includes a service center, a waiting area, offices, and other rooms, features four high-efficiency packaged HVAC rooftop units manufactured by the Luxaire division of Johnson Controls Inc. The 180,000-Btu gas-fired heating units range 4-7.5 ton. For additional air comfort near the doors, Arena specified three ceiling-mounted 100,000-Btu HeatStar tube-style radiant heaters by Enerco Corp.

The Chevrolet building has a similar arrangement of packaged rooftop units and radiant heaters, including a temperature controller by Honeywell Intl. Inc., that controls all the equipment and maintains temperature through energy-efficient staging programmed by General Maintenance Contractors.

The project has created a comfortable and very aesthetic environment in which to bring cars and authorize service arrangements, while also efficiently using energy.

“We’ve had no air comfort complaints from customers or employees, even on the coldest winter days, and that’s good for business,” said Grata.