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Commercial HVAC Equipment Maintenance: Critical or Optional?

How crucial is changing the oil on your car? That question may depend a little bit on whether you consider a car as a commodity or an asset. If you consider your car to be a commodity, it’s basically a throwaway item that you use until you either tire of it or it leaves you stranded on the side of the road. If you’re not changing your oil, the latter scenario is more likely than not. If you consider your car an asset, you’re going to follow the manufacturer’s recommended oil change schedule of anywhere from 3,000 miles to 15,000 miles, depending on usage, conditions, and oil type. With regular oil changes and maintenance, the lifespan of a car should easily allow you to travel 200,000 miles or more. If you’re planning to keep your car and treat it as an asset, changing the oil is critical.

But what does car maintenance have to do with HVAC equipment maintenance? That’s an easy question: mechanical components require consistent maintenance because moving parts wear, require lubrication, and can even go out of alignment, causing damage to other parts. Like cars, commercial HVAC systems have a lot of mechanical components that need regular attention.

Maintenance can be done either before a failure occurs or after. It’s a lot easier to deal with maintenance before a failure occurs, which is why preventive maintenance is such a hot topic in the HVAC industry.

But is maintenance critical or optional? Let’s review a few reasons why it could be important to maintain mechanical equipment.

  1. Downtime. Downtime can be incredibly expensive, or even deadly, depending on the application. Let’s think about a 99°F multi-day heatwave in Charleston, SC in the middle of July. In a hospital, there are patients who may be fighting for their lives. If the HVAC system shuts down for even a few hours in an unplanned emergency, it could mean not only extreme discomfort but even death for some patients. On the flip side, if that hospital plans for regular maintenance according to the manufacturer’s recommendations of all critical components in their system, they can plan for downtime when patient loads are low and/or during milder days of the year. In this example, regular maintenance is critical and not optional. For HVAC systems and equipment operating for industrial situations, unplanned downtime can mean the loss of thousands or even millions of dollars in lost production. In these situations, regular maintenance is also critical.

  2. Energy use. Equipment operating at peak performance simply runs better than equipment that needs lubrication or parts replaced. Running your equipment at the highest levels of efficiency ensures that less energy is used overall. Is maintenance in this case critical or optional? Pretty critical if you want to save your company up to 30% or so on your building’s energy bill.

  3. Equipment life. Let’s be frank: commercial HVAC equipment and systems can be expensive. Because of those initial costs, it’s important to keep equipment running if it remains viable to keep from purchasing costly replacements. Cooling towers, with appropriate maintenance, can last around 20 years. The life expectancy of an air handling unit should be around 25 years or more with proper preventive maintenance. Without it, it could break down in as few as five years or even less. Again, in this example, maintenance becomes critical and not optional.

Given these scenarios, it does appear that maintenance of commercial HVAC systems is critical and not optional. But how do building owners and maintenance teams go about ensuring that this expensive equipment is maintained properly? First, we recommend that you have access to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedules for every piece of equipment you own. Second, you should either hire an experienced facilities team and/or set up a preventive maintenance agreement with a reputable commercial HVAC service mechanical contractor who knows how these systems work.

Maintenance for commercial HVAC equipment should never be considered optional. Invest in maintenance now to ensure your system hums along at peak performance for many years to come.

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