HVAC Insider Smart Maintenance Saves Money

HVAC Insider

 With harsh winters and blistering hot summers, those living in Chicagoland’s condominium and townhome communities understand the importance of properly  working heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.  

 That’s why it’s important for managers and residents to know who is responsible for what and  how to properly maintain these systems, which could be a single heating/cooling  system for the entire building or individual furnace or cooling systems in each  unit. After all, in residences such as large high-rise buildings or townhome  communities, a variety of HVAC technologies can be found. HVAC is the umbrella  term for the system that includes all the equipment used to ventilate, heat and  cool the building, move the air through the ductwork, and have that air  filtered and clean for the occupants.  

 David Burggren, vice president of sales at Midwest Mechanical in Lombard says  that there are a variety of different HVAC systems. “It varies dramatically. Some buildings have systems that are very centralized,  other buildings have systems that are very decentralized and have much more of  the equipment in the tenant or owner's spaces. One of the common things that we  are looking at with a condo or high rise building is that there will be some  level of equipment that supports the building, the common spaces, even if the  tenants each have their own air conditioning units,” he says.  

 Burggren says that water-cooled or chiller boiler systems are also popular and  efficient for large condo buildings. They combine the chiller, boiler, pumps  and controls into a single package for simple installation and maintenance. A  water-cooled system has a cooling tower which cools water that serves all units  in a building, rather than each unit having its own.  

 “Water cooled systems are more efficient than an air-cooled chiller. They cost  more up front and there can some additional maintenance costs but they are 30  to 50 percent more efficient,” he says.  

 Proper Care

 HVAC systems are one of the largest and most important systems in your building  so regular maintenance is critical. It is key to first determine what  maintenance can be performed at the level of the unit owner, what needs to be  addressed by the property manager and finally, what situations or problems  should only be tackled by a trained and certified professional.  

 Burggren suggests meeting with a heating and cooling company to discuss what is  required of the particular system in your building, understanding what  maintenance needs to be performed and when and how best to allocate the budget  reserved to maintaining the HVAC system. “It's sort of a customer tailored program depending on the equipment itself, the  budget, the expectations and the issues that the folks want to confront,” he says.  

 Many industry professionals will agree that checking and changing of the unit  filter is a key step in ensuring the health and longevity of your HVAC system.  

 Michael J. Carpenter, vice president of Althoff Industries, Inc. in Crystal Lake  says that filters should be changed or washed quarterly. He also suggests that  coils be washed annually, but those in relatively close proximity to cottonwood  trees and pollutants may require coils to be cleaned an additional time during  the cooling season.  

 Burggren also stresses the importance of cleaning as part of HVAC maintenance. “Whether we are talking about cleaning the coils that provide the cool and warm  air, replacing filters or cleaning electrical components, keeping the varying  parts of the system clean is irrespective of the season and is a reoccurring  task,” he advises.  

 According to Michael Vinick, president of Duct & Vent Cleaning of America, and a board member of the National Air Duct Cleaners  Association (NADCA), every time the furnace or air conditioner is in operation,  dust, dirt particles, debris, pollen, pet dander and other pollutants are drawn  into the duct system and must be cleaned.  

 In addition to these tasks, there are a number of checkups that should be  performed by your heating and cooling company to ensure that your system is as  efficient and effective as possible. John Lillis, vice president of residential  sales at All Temp Heating & Air Conditioning, which covers the entire Chicago area, says that a certified  professional will check the voltage and amperage of all motors with a meter,  check for adequate refrigerant charge, check the belts and adjust tension,  adjust the burner and check for vibrations and noise, just to name a few items.    

 Finally, unit owners and property managers should pay special attention to  energy consumption, as it is a clear indicator of system perfomance.  

 “Most units brand new are operating at 80-85% efficiency,”says Don David from DRF Total Property Solutions in Plainfield. “ The older they get the less in efficient they are. When your energy bills are growing outside of the normal therm usage, there is  probably a problem  

 What If?

 With the economic problems facing many buildings and residents in 2012,  sometimes routine or mundane maintenance tasks may be skipped, causing harm.  

 “The biggest mistake, and we see it daily, Property managers are reactive as  opposed to being proactive. There is no urgency because the unit is running  today. The thought of it not running tomorrow is sometimes an afterthought,” says David.  

 He says that this type of attitude can lead to increased maintenance and upkeep  costs as well as a bigger hole in your wallet. “Not performing regular maintenance has one major cost: It is costly. If a system goes down, panic sets in. “I need heat now” usually means, please open your wallet. From a green standpoint, without regular maintenance, you are leaving a larger  carbon foot print. Your utility costs go over budget and the equipment has a much shorter life  span.”  

 It is also critical to maintain and check up on new equipment and not neglect  systems just because they are recently purchased or installed.  

 “One of the biggest mistakes is to not take care of new equipment. It’s easy to think that you don’t have to perform maintenance, since it’s new. However, the life expectancy of your equipment gets shorter with every  maintenance missed,” says Carpenter.  

 Greener Options

 With today’s environmentally-friendly way of thinking, a number of HVAC green/energy  innovations are finding their ways into Chicago. Burggren said he is surprised  at the number of buildings that do not take advantage of energy-saving  equipment and practices such as programmable thermostats which “have been been on the market for a long-time.”  

 One popular product that he mentions is a variable frequency drive. It helps fans and pump motors run more efficiently and eliminate the hard stops and  starts that they make. “The harsh stopping of the fans and pumps is like city driving on your car, it is  less efficient and tougher on the the car.” The drive controls the rotational speed of an alternating current (AC) electric  motor by controlling the frequency of the electrical power supplied to the  motor.  

 Another green HVAC technology that has been around for a while but has seen  increased popularity is an automated system that allows you to control the  duration and intensity of your heating and cooling.  

 “Building automation systems allow you to schedule and monitor your systems. Areas can be set as “Unoccupied” when not in use, and temperatures do not have to be set at optimal settings. This saves you money on energy usage. Being able to monitor your systems can offer you advanced warning to problems  with your equipment,” says Carpenter.  

 David adds that modulating boilers are yet another eco-friendly option for condo  systems. “Condensing and modulating boilers are a new technology. They run at a consistent level as opposed to quick start quick off. Think of flooring the accelerator in your car-not efficient. Slowly ramping up speed in your car is more efficient. This the same way a modulating boiler runs.”  

 Other co-gen technologies include micro-turbines and fuel cells. By making  continuous use of both electricity and thermal energy, condominium residents  can save up to 35 percent on overall energy costs.  

 Also slowly coming into play are the addition of photovoltaic panels, a method  of generating electric power by converting solar radiation into direct-current  electricity using semiconductors that exhibit the photovoltaic effect. The  direct current is converted into alternating current and connected to the  building electrical distribution system.  

 While some of these green innovations are optional for communities, increased  government regulations and overall heightened environmental awareness are  making certain mandates for HVAC units.  

 “In 2006 the government mandated all air conditioners had to be at least 13SEER  (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio), which means that the efficiency was  increased by on average 15% from the older models. In 2009 all new air  conditioners had to be freon free, which means the refrigerant being used was  changed to allow the air conditioners to achieve higher efficiencies, freon was  considered to a unfriendly environmental refrigerant,” explains Lillis.  

 He continues to say that “next year all chimney vented furnace that require replacement will have to be  vented with PVC through the side wall of the structure or up through the roof.  This will present challenges in town homes and condos due to the nature of the  structure’s configuration.”  

 Final Thoughts

 Since the life expectancy of an HVAC system is approximately 20 to 30 years,  maintaining it correctly should have it working up to and possibly beyond those  years. Without proper maintenance, breakdowns will occur and you may be looking at a  full system replacement years earlier than expected.  

 “Long-term, corrective maintenance over the life of a piece of equipment will  extend the life or prevent the early replacement, which is a dramatic cost  benefit to the building,” says Burggren.  

 He says that there was a property management study done that confirmed that  doing the correct level of maintenance was financially beneficial to the owners  and managers of the building. One of the key components was that doing  preventative maintenance will keep your unexpected repair costs go down.  

 “I think that is pretty intuitive. If we do better maintenance on something, we  will prevent break downs and prevent premature system replacement.” 

 Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland  Cooperator. Editorial Assistant Maggie Puniewska contributed to this article.


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