Best Practices in HVAC System Maintenance to Optimize Efficiency

by Aanchal Singh, Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst - Building Management Technologies — March 2016 — There have been tremendous advancements in the facilities management environment over the last several years. A fast growing phenomenon that is positively impacting facility managers (FMs) to better handle the systems is integration and interoperatibility. Thanks to growing IT convergence and rapid data transmission, it is now feasible to link a variety of processes and systems. Functions from fire and security to equipment such as boilers, chillers and variable speed drives can be linked to the overall building automation system (BAS). FMs have the ability to leverage all assets to full capacity, most particularly the HVAC systems that constitute an integral part of the building management system. HVAC systems in typical commercial buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of total energy use. The demand for HVAC equipment in North America accounts for $17 billion in 2014 growing at a CAGR of 5-6% through 2020. With this increased demand, the requirements for HVAC support services have increased simultaneously1. Keeping HVAC systems running properly and at peak efficiency is the first step in managing facility energy use.

FMs can ensure maximum operational efficiency from a building’s HVAC system through:

  • Measurement and verification: Measuring energy consumption of the entire building through a single meter offers a broad indication of energy consumption across the facility. It also serves as an early alert should issues arise, but it doesn’t identify where the problem is. Hence, FMs could decide to sub-meter HVAC systems in order to achieve operational efficiency. The reason why sub-metering is essential is because this method measures electrical usage and identifies peak demands. Additionally, the process of sub-metering provides timely and accurate data, and can set off critical alarms when system components are not functioning at optimum levels.
  • Monitoring and maintenance: According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), regardless of size, HVAC systems represent a large amount of energy use and cost. Regular monitoring and maintenance can optimize energy performance and management. On a consistent basis, FMs can adjust and calibrate controls systems such as thermostats to accurately heat and cool different building zones.
    Additionally, implementing a timer strategy to regulate HVAC use during the non-peak hours of the day, week and month or unoccupied hours is a useful tip. Regular inspection of the HVAC system also requires other necessary steps such as cleaning/replacing air filters and dampers to ensure top HVAC performance. Frost and Sullivan analysis indicates that government regulation such as the MERV-13 particle capture efficiency under the ASHRAE is becoming increasingly mandatory propelling facility owners to buy HVAC replacement filters in order to maintain energy efficiency and indoor air quality. Hence, demand for HVAC air filters is likely to reach 2.3 billion in 2022 depicting a growth rate of 6.1 percent2 is an indication that facility and building owners are increasingly demanding new HVAC air filters as a part of their routine maintenance. Overtime, heating and AC ducts could get exposed to the outside elements putting more pressure on the performance; hence, periodic inspection of heating ducts can lead to significant savings. FMs can also conduct minor improvements in the building envelope systems such as repairing leaky windows that could put more pressure on the HVAC functions. In addition to this, keeping external doors closed when possible; especially during high and low temperature periods can save energy use3.
    Another important aspect is that the FMs often consider maintenance as nothing more than overhead expenses. This is because after all, reducing overhead costs increases profit margins. This should not be the case for HVAC maintenance procedures, resources and proper planning needs to be structured in a way that planned and predictive maintenance becomes a regular part of the HVAC inspection and maintenance. Analysis indicates that FMs that have comprehensive plans and predictive maintenance programs in place show drastic decreases in maintenance costs.
  • Decisions on HVAC equipment replacement: Light-commercial HVAC products are designed for a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. Analysis indicates that at least 76.8 -80% of the all HVAC replacements are made for ‘end of life’ reasons. Replacement of HVAC equipment requires some level of scrutiny and inspection before a FM decides to replace a system. The reason being any replacement can be a high-cost measure for the building owners. FMs can conduct checks on sensors, adjustments in control sequences or they could even hire a professional engineer to make small changes or repairs. Building owners like to see low-cost or even no-cost measures, so any small changes or alterations that can be done to the systems can help in save energy use. Additionally, before any replacements or repair, regular energy audits can provide energy efficient checklists to ensure equipment is operating at intended energy levels so that no energy lost is reported and replacements can be done more effectively.

FMs and building owners can streamline day-to-day business processes to optimize performance and increase efficiency of the HVAC and BAS on the whole. It is sometimes required to make sure all integrated systems are audited for their performance, not just one system. In addition, if facility executives have the right budgetary support they can carry on their mission of ensuring HVAC operational efficiency properly. FMs understand that ignoring HVAC maintenance can be very costly to the owners. If FMs are able to identify the real cost savings associated with comprehensive maintenance and monitoring plans, then the entire process will result in an improvement in the bottom line.

1Analysis of the Global HVAC Equipment Market- The Need for Energy Efficiency and Increased Performance Will Drive Growth. Frost and Sullivan, 2015

2The North American HVAC Air Filters Market – Increased Customer Awareness and Air Quality Requirements will Drive Market Growth. Frost and Sullivan, 2015

3US Department Of Energy- Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

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