April 20, 2021
Commercial HVAC Service Plan: What Facilities Managers Should Know
As a facilities manager, you are responsible for ensuring that all your properties stay in excellent condition so they can serve their purpose. This includes every aspect, from the HVAC system to landscaping to overall building maintenance. Learn more about commercial HVAC service or commercial HVAC maintenance. Get a better understanding of the differences between the two and why they are important for buildings.
What Is the Difference Between Commercial HVAC Service and Maintenance Programs?
Technically speaking, there is a difference between the two. Commercial HVAC service refers to taking care of repairs or replacement. Commercial HVAC maintenance covers preventative maintenance designed to prevent future issues and improve performance.
For commercial properties, HVAC maintenance should be done about four times each year. This will typically include the general maintenance tasks. Expect tasks like:
- Lubricating the moving parts.
- Cleaning the coils and elements.
- Cleaning the drains.
- Checking and replacing air filters.
- Checking belts for wear.
- Testing the safety controls.
- Analyzing the air delivery for proper airflow.
- Inspecting the ducts for potential leaks.
- Monitoring the refrigerant pressure.
- Checking for carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Confirming the calibration of the thermostat.
- Verifying the refrigerant charge.
Most routine commercial HVAC maintenance will also include an inspection, so your contractor or company can spot any potential issues early on. They will likely focus extra attention on the connections, thermostat, and motor.
You will want to hire a company for HVAC service anytime that you notice an issue. Examples would be if the building fails to maintain the correct temperature, there is poor airflow, the utility bills have increased dramatically, or odd smells are coming from the system.
It is common for commercial HVAC maintenance to lead to service, especially if your contractor notices anything wrong with the system. Depending on the service required and the materials and time it involves, they may take care of it there and then, or they may schedule an appointment for later.
Why Should FM’s Create a Service and Repair Plan?
Your service and repair plan outlines when and how you will take care of the HVAC system. It should include the schedule for regular maintenance as well as what tasks will be performed. And, include a chain of events to follow if an issue arises, whether it is spotted during maintenance or appears at some other time.
They Keeps You Organized
The main goal of your HVAC service and repair plan is to help you stay organized. Facility managers have so many responsibilities that it can be challenging to keep track of them. Having a plan prevents the need to make complicated decisions at a moment’s notice. It even eliminates the need to have to think on your feet to remember what steps to take.
If something happens with the HVAC system, you can just consult your plan. There, you will find what steps you need to take as well as the contact information for the HVAC company you work with.
Consider Getting the Other Type of Service and Repair Plan – Hiring a Company for Regular Service
The term “service and repair plan” can actually refer to more than one thing. Your plan as the facility manager refers to what actions you will take if issues arise. Most HVAC companies also offer plans. These allow you to pay for your regular maintenance and potentially additional services with an annual or monthly fee instead of having to pay for each instance. It also saves you the hassle of finding someone to care for your HVAC system when the need arises.
Facility managers should consider getting one of these service and repair plans for the following potential benefits:
- No need to find a contractor every time.
- Expenses are more regular and therefore easier to plan.
- Ensures you do not forget about regular maintenance, as you already paid for it.
- Makes you the priority ahead of one-time clients, making it easier to get appointments.
The Benefits of Creating A Quarterly Commercial HVAC Preventative Maintenance Schedule
Ideally, your schedule for commercial HVAC service should include quarterly preventative maintenance. Most HVAC professionals agree that this is the ideal interval for service. Creating and following this quarterly schedule will give you a long list of benefits.
One of the biggest reasons to follow the recommended maintenance schedule is to reduce the risk of repairs in the future. There are several aspects to this. First, HVAC systems that are well-maintained are less likely to break down and cause problems. Second, every time you have routine maintenance done, an HVAC professional will look at your system. This gives them the chance to catch small issues before they can become serious. As with most things in life, a small issue with your HVAC system can significantly worsen over time.
Reduce HVAC Downtime During Repairs
Many repairs require the HVAC system to be off or at least part of the system to be off. Sometimes the issue that causes the need for repairs will actually prevent the system from working. In either of these situations, you may be left without a functional HVAC system for a few days or more.
That can be anywhere from annoying to very harmful to buildings you manage depending on the type of property and other factors. For example, imagine you manage the building that houses a store in the height of summer, and the HVAC goes down for a few days. The store will lose sales as people will not want to shop there. This will reflect poorly on your skills as a facilities manager.
Or, consider if you manage an apartment building. If the HVAC goes down in the summer, you may have to compensate tenants. Maybe you would have to give them a discount on rent or provide them with fans. At the very least, you would have grouchy tenants, once again reflecting poorly on your skills.
Improve the System’s Life Span
The average commercial HVAC system can last between 10 and 15 years. The best way to maximize this life span is to take care of the system. This comes from the already-mentioned benefits, namely preventing the need for repairs.
Improve Indoor Air Quality
Taking care of preventative maintenance on your HVAC system will also help significantly with indoor air quality. That is because HVAC systems are connected to indoor air quality. They can carry spores, bacteria, or viruses. You never want to spread polluted air to the people inside your building. Depending on the business, it can be harmful to workers, customers, and residents. It can lead to issues like asthma attacks, flu-like illnesses, and eye or nose irritation.
Improve Overall Comfort
Taking care of regular maintenance helps you ensure that your HVAC system works at peak capacity. This results in the ability to achieve the temperatures you want and more stable temperatures. This means that no matter the type of building you manage, the people inside it can enjoy a comfortable interior temperature regardless of the exterior temperature.
With the building’s interior at a comfortable temperature, everyone inside can work productively. This may not seem to affect you as the facilities manager as well as it would the building owner or the business owner, but it helps you in several ways. First, improved employee productivity reflects well on your skills as the facilities manager. It shows that you create a stable, comfortable environment that boosts the owner’s bottom line. That could help you keep your job and may even help you get a raise.
Additionally, you and your team will have to do things in the building, at least occasionally. You will benefit from that increased productivity when doing so. Even if you are the only member of your team, you will find it easier to work more effectively. You may also notice that contractors are more productive when cleaning or making repairs. After all, it is much easier to work in a climate-controlled environment than the freezing cold or sweltering heat.
Maintaining your commercial HVAC system helps it function as designed. This results in improved energy efficiency. The difference largely comes down to the dust that can accumulate in your HVAC ducts over time. As more dust accumulates, it restricts the airflow. With less airflow, the system must work harder to maintain your chosen temperature. By cleaning the ducts regularly as part of maintenance, you eliminate this problem and let the system function at peak efficiency.
Lower Operating Costs
That reduction in energy from regular maintenance means that you will find yourself with lower operating costs for the HVAC system. This combines with other savings that we have mentioned, meaning that regular maintenance saves you money by:
- Improving energy efficiency and therefore reducing your energy bills.
- Reducing the need for expensive repairs.
- Decreasing the need for emergency repairs that come with higher fees because of urgency.
- Lessening the need for downtime during repairs.
- Extending the life span of the HVAC system, lowering its overall cost per year.
Help You Plan for the Future
When you regularly work with an HVAC technician, they will also be able to help you plan for the future. This will come in the form of letting you know ahead of time if you will need an expensive repair or if you may need to replace the system soon.
This type of forewarning gives you more time to prepare, both financially and in terms of time involved. For example, you could plan the repairs or replacements for a time when the system being down would have the least effect, such as during holidays when fewer people are in the building.
You can also plan financially. Essentially, it will let you know that you will have to allocate part of the building maintenance budget to the repairs or replacement in the future. This gives you time to minimize spending in other areas. It can also give you time to plan how to balance that cost with other upcoming expensive repairs.
Protect Your Warranty
It is likely that your HVAC system came with a warranty. If you are still in the warranty period, there is likely a requirement for regular maintenance since this is so important for the overall functionality of the system.
In other words, if you skip even just one quarterly maintenance appointment, you may void your warranty. That could lead to high repair costs in the future, especially in the case of large buildings.
Repair or Replace: The Difficult Task Facility Managers Face With Their Commercial HVAC Units
One of the toughest decisions facility managers face regarding commercial HVAC service and maintenance is whether you should repair or replace the HVAC system. If you have an HVAC technician you can trust to be honest with you, instead of pushing a sale, you can ask their opinion. Otherwise, you will want to consider the following factors.
Cost to Maintain
Take a few minutes to think about how much it costs you to maintain your current HVAC unit. If it is constantly breaking down and needing repairs or replacement parts, you likely spend a lot of money on it. At some point, it becomes more expensive to keep repairing the unit than it would be to just replace it. Look at how much you have spent in the past few years and decide if it is still worth spending money on repairs.
Other Consequences of Repairs
The cost to maintain the system is directly related to the repairs. But there are also other reasons you may want to replace an HVAC system that needs repairs too frequently. This can do more work for you in terms of scheduling appointments. It can also increase the system’s downtime or decrease its reliability.
Potential Efficiency Improvements
Technology in HVAC systems seems to constantly advance. The units made today are more efficient than those from a decade or so ago. This means that when you replace your system, you are likely to be able to find a more energy-efficient unit. That could lead to direct savings on utility bills.
Facilities managers shouldn’t typically replace the system just to get a more efficient one. However, it is worth considering if other factors also line up.
Other New Technology
Efficiency is not the only improvement to come from newer HVAC systems. You may also find other new technologies and features on the newer units. As with efficiency, you don’t want this to be the sole reason for an upgrade, but if it combines with other factors, go ahead and replace the unit.
Age of the Unit
Most HVAC technicians will suggest you start considering replacing the system when it is around 15 to 20 years old or older. At this point, you want to seriously consider the overall condition of the unit and the other factors mentioned here.
If your system is still in great shape, you can likely keep using it. However, if it needs too many repairs or there are dramatically better options available, you may want to replace the system when it gets older.
How to Hire A Qualified Mechanical Contractor for Maintenance and Repair
You want to make sure that you hire a qualified mechanical contractor for your commercial HVAC service or maintenance needs. To ensure that they are qualified, consider the following factors:
- Experience: Confirm that they have experience not only with HVAC systems in general but with the type of system in your building and other commercial buildings.
- Credentials: Consider technicians with at least one industry certification. There are several quality ones.
- Licensing: Make sure that your chosen contractor meets all of your state’s licensing requirements.
- Insurance: Only hire contractors with liability insurance, as this protects the property as well as workers in the case of injury.
- References: Don’t just accept the contractor’s experience at face value. Ask to see references or look for contractors using recommendations.
During the process of hiring someone, ask for estimates and compare a few options before settling on one. This will let you get the best value and quality. Always get those estimates in writing.
Energy Efficiency Benefits With a Regularly Maintained Commercial HVAC System
Regular maintenance improves the energy efficiency of your commercial HVAC system. It essentially ensures that the ducts are clear enough to allow for airflow and that everything else is in proper working order. This results in the system not having to work harder than normal. But how much of a difference can it make?
Some research shows that following proper maintenance guidelines can save you 5 to 40% in energy costs overall. This depends on the system in question, your HVAC use, and other factors.
Just one of many tasks as a facilities manager is to take care of the commercial HVAC systems. The maintenance, which is preventative, and service, which is reactive, are important. Staying on top of regular maintenance will reduce overall costs and provide other benefits for you, the building’s owner, and its occupants.