When summer arrives, staying comfortable takes more than simply setting the office thermostat to “cool.” In fact, maintaining temperatures in commercial buildings requires months of preparation and ongoing maintenance, which demand a lot from HVAC systems and maintenance staff. High heat can age some of the most important components of the system, such as the coils, pumps and chiller condensers, and degradation can occur rapidly, sometimes in as little as a three month span.
For building owners and property management, maintaining ideal indoor environments for lease paying tenants is a critical area of focus. When leasing an office space, tenants prioritize a problem-free environment provided by, among other factors, optimal HVAC conditions.
Due in part to global climate change that will affect major metropolitan areas, there is a predicted increase in value of the HVAC system market over the next seven years. In order to reduce their costs from old HVAC systems, consumers are replacing their old systems with newer, more efficient systems.
Environmental conditions, such as heat, daylight savings and low and high humidity levels can put strain on a building’s HVAC operations, potentially creating HVAC failure. Luckily, this blog post details those factors and provides tips within a preventative maintenance program.
What are the potential causes of HVAC failure in the summertime?
There are three primary enemies of HVAC equipment during the summer: humidity, heat and seasonal events.
Balancing the humidity level of an HVAC system is important to maintaining the system. The wetter the air coming through the system, the harder it is for the system to extract heat and cool it. And the harder the extraction process, the harder the motor needs to run, which means that the cost of cooling the air will increase and the system will experience more strain.
Because humidification levels are a balancing act, humidity controls occur at different points in the day:
- An HVAC system’s dehumidification system should start running at 4 a.m.
- The humidification system should begin running at night
By being consistent with these humidification systems, the overall piece of equipment can remain stable and run at a reasonable rate. As Dante Landi, Portfolio Manager with Able Services in NYC, says, “If you control the humidity, you control the efficiency of how the system is working.”
Heat, or energy, tends to warp certain types and thicknesses of metal. This can create vibration issues on a number of components of the system, including pumps and cooling tower fans, causing them to wobble, shake and vibrate until they fail.
Environmental and Seasonal Events
There are also a number of activities and environmental events that occur during the summer:
- In Chicago, cottonwood trees release a significant amount of fluffy seeds into the air, causing a need to monitor air filters.
- In New York City, budgets on construction projects continue to grow, and with them comes a significant amount of dust and debris that gets caught in the filters of HVAC systems.
- California and the Pacific Northwest have experienced seasonal wildfires that have impacted the quality of outside air that gets pulled into buildings.
So how do you go about preventing HVAC failure? Any maintenance expert will tell you the same thing: Implement a robust preventative maintenance program.
Prevent HVAC failure with a preventative maintenance program.
Implementing a preventative maintenance program helps to reduce costs, avoid critical damage to the system, improve system efficiencies and provide continuous system support. But a preventative maintenance program isn’t just a single, annual event.
Whether your HVAC system runs on a few cycles a day or 24/7/365, continued preventative maintenance should take place year round. According to Landi, “Redundancy is key.” There should be multiple units in a system, and if one fails the other still works.
1. An Early Start
According to Charles Parisi, Portfolio Engineering Manager with Able Services NYC, a maintenance program for an HVAC system occurs all year long. It requires preparation for the next season while delivering tenant comfort and an efficient operation everyday.
Preparing systems for the summer in the winter months gauges an HVAC system’s needs. If a system isn’t run prior to its usual seasonal time of operation, the assumption is that everything works and nothing changed since it was last used. Preparation in February or March allows for more time to notice the “what ifs,” such as internal coil leaks, component replacements and overall inspections.
To ensure maintenance begins in the late winter months, Parisi notes that “the previous year’s budget needs to be adjusted and everything needs to be finalized before [the] end of the year, to ensure there’s a budget for preventative maintenance.”
An early start to HVAC system maintenance includes an early start to the day. The process of cooling a facility should begin around 4 a.m. rather than at 10 a.m., when it’s already hot outside.
2. Routine Inspections
Routine inspection of equipment allows maintenance personnel to catch potential issues before equipment failure creates costly problems. Inspections can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Visual inspection of water and churn lines: Due to the level of vapor in an HVAC system, pipes often sweat, creating rust and potential breakage.
- Sound tests: The sound of an HVAC system can signal potential issues, especially the sound of loose bearings within the unit.
- Analysis tests: This practice creates an overall picture of the unit and includes total system balance, functional performance testing and control system verification.
3. Cleanings and Replacements
The inspections above lead to the following steps to ensure the system continues to operate efficiently:
- Cleaning coils: Coils are one of the top priorities on a maintenance crew’s list. Coils often deal with drainage issues due to vapor creation and circulation of outdoor air, which collects a lot of dirt and debris.
- Maintaining thermostats: Thermostats rely on sensors to read external air temperature. Routine maintenance for thermostats tests the accuracy of the readings. Technicians should inspect and clean as necessary.
- Changing air filters: As we mentioned earlier, a lot of environmental and seasonal factors can create a significant buildup of dirt and debris in HVAC systems, to create inefficiencies in the system. By implementing routine filter cleaning and replacement, you can avoid a stuffy and unpleasant environment.
- Treating system water: Stagnant water in cooling towers can cause microbial growth, potentially causing serious outbreaks of Legionella. By testing the water daily, maintenance professionals can chemically treat the water. Water treatment also contributes to preventing corrosion and copper buildup, which can cause poor circulation and heat transfer. Watch our video about preventing Legionella.
Beat the summer heat with Able Services.
Many tenants never see the inner workings of a building, and the idea that there are a variety of systems and people to keep them comfortable in their office is secondary to the beauty of a lobby, the speed of an elevator and the cleanliness of a restroom. Although tenants may not think about a building's HVAC system, building engineers, property managers and building owners know that properly maintained HVAC systems can make or break the attractiveness of a building to companies seeking to lease space.
With a knowledgeable, attentive team of facility engineers who perform preventative maintenance tasks, you can trust that your systems will run efficiently. As Able Services knows, HVAC systems vary widely in brand and design. We differentiate ourselves with our extensive vendor list that allows us to orchestrate the right set of professionals to help our clients out of bleak scenarios, regardless of the on-site equipment.
Ready to beat the summer heat with Able Services? Request a quote today.