December 15, 2017
By Tim Robb Institutional and commercial facilities find many reasons to put regular HVAC maintenance and cleaning on the back burner. Building owners and facility executives often see the cost of proper maintenance equipment as prohibitive, or the organization lacks trained staff to perform the maintenance. In extreme cases, it can be easier for leadership to practice “decision by spreadsheet” and allocate resources to other areas. In all cases, the lack of routine maintenance practices is akin to just crossing fingers and hoping equipment keeps running.
However, just like people get annual physicals to monitor their health or take their vehicles in for oil changes, a facility’s HVAC equipment needs to be assessed regularly. Even simple cleaning can drastically reduce major issues. Maintenance and engineering managers are responsible for making sure equipment is running properly and at maximum efficiency. How can managers make the case to building owners that maintenance is worth the investment? They can emphasize these potential benefits of a commitment to maintenance. Bottom-line benefits Cost is certainly one reason management might defer maintenance or choose to overlook it. While there are costs to getting started — equipment and staff or outsourced service — not performing maintenance can be even more costly. Equipment that has been cleaned regularly and inspected will run more efficiently. For example, even regular cleaning of evaporator and condenser coils help improve system efficiency and longevity because the coils do not have to work harder to make up for accumulated dust, dirt and other debris. Regular maintenance can reduce the chances of more extensive repairs or even system replacement down the road, and it provides valuable benchmarks that managers can note ahead of larger issues. Before meeting with top executives to discuss the importance of maintenance, managers should pull together potential cost savings that would result from efficient HVAC systems. Studies conducted at Southern California Edison’s Technology Test Center show that dirty evaporator and condenser coils can reduce cooling capacity by up to 40 percent, which can make quite an impact on a company’s bottom line. Inventory insights A variety of maintenance tools and equipment — including coil cleaners, tube cleaners, cooling tower fill cleaners, industrial vacuums and cleaning chemicals — can help technicians get the job done. It is important for managers to specify the most appropriate tools for the facility’s needs. With advances in design and functionality, one person can manage much of today’s equipment, which reduces the amount of staff and resources needed to perform the maintenance. Clean-in-place solutions als can minimize downtime. Managers should make the time to identify the tools and equipment that will make technicians’ jobs easier, and they should highlight the benefits and end results. Worker productivity It can be difficult to see the benefits of regular maintenance if technicians do not perform actual cleaning correctly. Training is key for effectiveness and can prevent damage to the system due to improper use of the tools or equipment. It is important that technicians be thoroughly trained on the tools and the process. Many professional organizations, such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). can provide the appropriate training and certification. Occupant health Not only does regular maintenance increase efficiencies. It also helps prevent potential health risks and improves indoor air quality, benefitting the occupants and visitors. Deferring maintenance can lead to harmful and even deadly bacteria, such as Legionella. Common symptoms of poor indoor air quality include headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These symptoms can result in employees taking sick time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, companies can lose roughly $1,700 per employee each year because of productivity losses due to an employee’s absence. To achieve these benefits, managers can create an overall plan that demonstrates the value of ongoing maintenance. Tim Robb is vice president of marketing and strategic business development with Goodway Technologies, www.goodway.com.