By Amber Forest
Preventative Maintenance to Cure Your HVAC Woes
When it comes to a building’s Heating Ventilating & Air Conditioning (HVAC) system, often it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind. That is, of course, until it’s not working on the hottest or coldest day of the year. This reactive approach can cause many operational issues, with increased costs and repairs being at the top of the list. Driving a car for miles on a flat tire or without oil is unsafe and would cause considerable damage to the inner workings of the vehicle. A building’s HVAC system is no different – equipment neglect is never a good thing.
Here are a few common issues to look for in your HVAC system:
Plugged, Low Quality or Dirty Air Filters
Low quality, plugged or dirty air filters can reduce air flow, increase energy costs and cause poor indoor air quality. The main purpose of a furnace filter is to protect the blower fan from all the dust, hair and other particles that the return air duct pulls in. While it does help maintain the building’s indoor air quality, an air filters primary job is to protect the blower fan, not to clean the air as many people believe. Clean filters result in a better running fan causing lower energy costs, proper airflow, increased indoor air quality and comfort.
If a system has air conditioning, there will be coils that need to be maintained. Typically, on air-cooled units, there are two coils: the evaporator (inside the furnace plenum) and the condenser (mounted outside). Keeping the coils clean allows for proper air flow. Dirt can cause coils to freeze up creating high operating temperatures as the equipment runs continuously trying to meet the temperature set point. This continuous running causes stress and unnecessary wear and tear decreasing the overall life of the equipment.
Loose or Cracked Belts
The belts in your HVAC system are one of the key components of the system. If they are loose, cracked or improperly installed they’ll wear prematurely. A broken belt will cause complete equipment shutdown instantly stopping the flow of hot or cooled air.
Standing Water and Leaky Pipes
Standing water in or around your HVAC system is a hint that something isn’t right. It can be caused by a leak in the heating or cooling system which, over time, can damage the equipment and the property itself. The white noise sound of a toilet running, or the musical ‘tap, tap, tap’ of a leaky faucet are not only the sounds of money flowing down the drain; these can also be signs of piping wearing out and an affect on the hot water recirculation line. Often people assume that water or flood damage can be claimed on insurance, however an unattended standing water or leaky pipe claim can have a big impact on a condo corporation’s insurance policy after only one claim.
A gas burner is typically found in a furnace, rooftop unit or makeup air system. Gas burners can have a deposit of carbon when subjected to incomplete combustion. When covered with a substantial carbon build up, the burners run inefficiently and can create a fire hazard. The inefficient burners cause equipment to run longer and hotter than normal, increasing operating costs and decreasing equipment lifespan/expectancy.
Poor housekeeping around HVAC equipment such as improperly stored filters, motors or belts are not only a safety hazard but can also ruin new parts or, cause damage such as leaks or rust in the area. Properly cleaning around equipment not only looks good but is also important for the longevity of the equipment and safety of the building and its inhabitants.
All of this is great to know but how do HVAC equipment issues actually impact real-life situations?
We received a call from a new client whose in house team had exhausted all the obvious possibilities to explain why a makeup air unit was constantly running in the dead of Edmonton’s winter. VETS’ Facility Service technicians diagnosed the problem and discovered that a faulty CO2 sensor located in the parkade was responsible for the problem. The CO2 sensor was consistently, mistakenly registering high levels of CO2, causing the unit to work overtime in an effort to expel the gas. This type of misreading can be caused by improper calibration or a faulty sensor. Unfortunately, prior to solving the issue, the incessant running of the equipment cost the condo corporation as a whole (every unit owner) $30 000 in gas in one single month.
Benjamin Franklin had the right idea when he said: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. The individual who is proactive with regular preventive maintenance on their vehicle: diligent about getting regular oil changes and checking the tire pressure before a long road trip, for example, could see the benefits by not having to replace the car prematurely and incurring unexpected costs. Building owners who understand the risks of putting off regular preventive maintenance are better able to manage their assets and their budgets, keeping risks of unplanned spending or uncomfortable building occupants top of mind.
Amber Forest is the Sales Manager at VETS Facility Services. Founded in 1921, VETS’ purpose is to provide healthy and comfortable environments and is also the winner of the 2018 BOMA Pinnacle Award for Customer Service.