When Cheap gets Expensive

The consequences of compromising on heating and cooling equipment maintenance
Thursday, October 1, 2015

The easiest and least expensive course of action in the short term often ends up being the costliest one. Putting off preventative maintenance when it comes to heating and cooling equipment is no exception. Although there may be a marginal benefit—a bit of extra effort avoided and money saved in the short run—the path of least resistance and lowest cost could lead to a very expensive crisis for property owners.

Neglecting and avoiding preventative maintenance can lead to equipment failure, expensive repairs or the need for complete replacement. However, the real cost is usually incurred in the immediate aftermath of a breakdown, such as having to bring in portable heaters for a large multi-residential building in the dead of winter. Almost always, the cost of responding to and controlling a crisis is higher than the final repair and quite a bit higher than the cumulative cost of preventative maintenance.

“Preventative maintenance on HVAC equipment is an easy way for property owners and managers to ensure stability, predictability and efficiency, not to mention a good way to avoid a crisis that could impact all their residents,” says Geoff Atkinson, Director of Enercare Commercial Services. “Most people don’t think twice about changing the oil in their cars or rotating their tires. The same common sense principles for car maintenance apply to HVAC equipment.”

When properly maintained, heating and cooling equipment operates at maximum efficiency, leading to energy savings and improved air quality. It also helps building owners and operators meet the standards and regulations set out by law.

What to look for

Most manufacturers suggest monthly visual inspections by a building manager and regular scheduled service by a qualified technician. For non-experts, there are two telltale signs that equipment is not operating at peak levels: a lack of hot or cool air in the building and a spike in energy bills compared against the same month in the previous year. Both can usually be tied back to the most common maintenance-related issues, even in high-efficiency equipment:

  • Dirty air filter and/or evaporator and condenser coils
  • Refrigerant leaks
  • Blown fuses
  • Electric control failure
  • Thermostat problems

Addressing the issues above leads not only to peace of mind, but also to measurable and immediate increases in efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy and ENERGY STAR websites, performing specific maintenance can lead to an increase in efficiency of up to 15 percent. Some common maintenance tasks include:

  • Replacing dirty filters
  • Cleaning coils and drain channels
  • Using a fin comb to straighten coil fins
  • Cleaning debris and leaves from the fan, compressor and condenser
  • Optimizing burner efficiency
  • Removing soot from burners
  • Adjusting operating sequence

Don’t compromise on reliability and efficiency

“In my experience, building managers who neglect to perform regular maintenance either don’t appreciate the potential consequences of a crisis or are so strapped for cash that they can only think about the short term,” says Geoff Atkinson. “They don’t understand how expensive this can get.”

“Dominator boilers are designed for commercial applications where space is limited, such as in older multi-residential buildings,” said Geoff Atkinson. “With efficiencies up to 85 per cent, the Dominator is among the best non-condensing boilers in the market.”

“With this caliber of equipment, you’re getting high performance and residents benefit from the reliability of the equipment. Why compromise efficiency and livability by putting off preventative maintenance?”

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