By John W. Conover IV
As temperatures rise, days grow longer, and hay-fever season kicks in, building owners and facilities managers/operators are busy winding down from the winter and gearing up for the cooling season.
This spring, take proactive measures to ensure that your building's systems will operate at peak efficiency while maintaining comfortable, healthy, and productive indoor conditions through the summer months.
During the pre-season HVAC check-up, it may be a good time to not only have your HVAC specialist conduct routine spring inspection and maintenance, but to also review your building's finances, performance, and energy efficiency, and take steps to stay on target as you prepare for the cooling season.
Any major maintenance and repairs to cooling equipment should have been done in the wintertime, but now is also a good time to check and repair any damage to the heating system and building envelope that may have occurred during the cold weather.
Spring is the best time to schedule repairs to fix damage or to address degradation to the boiler, furnace, heat pumps, ductwork, steam traps, or other critical components of the heating system. This will give you enough time to order parts and cost-effectively complete work before next winter.
In the spring, also make sure that any underground distribution piping is in good condition and that lines have not been damaged during the cold weather.
Spring is in the Air
Maintain healthy indoor air quality. Stay alert to spring activities that could affect indoor air quality (IAQ), such as cleaning, painting, insecticide spraying, or landscaping near intake vents. Make sure that the ventilation system is maintaining proper air flow and distribution, and that fans are clean.
When conducting springtime cleaning or remodeling, be sure to evaluate the environmental impact of products being used and allow for proper air circulation.
Control moisture. To prevent growth of bacteria, mold, and dust mites, check to make sure that humidification and dehumidification systems are working properly and repair any areas that might allow moisture penetration, such as wall cracks or leaky windows.
Address IAQ proactively. Your preventive-maintenance routine should include regular testing for temperature, humidity, toxic gases, particulates, and biological pollutants. By benchmarking the facility's IAQ, you can proactively identify and resolve problems.
Comfort Control through Weather Changes
It can be challenging to control indoor comfort during springtime weather fluctuations. In the spring, it is also important to make sure that building controls are reset to reflect changes in occupancy schedules, temperature, and daylight.
Many factors impact occupant comfort, such as temperature, humidity, air movement, vertical and horizontal temperature differences, and temperature drift, as well as lighting conditions. Whatever the weather conditions, you'll want to ensure that your building's systems are in top shape to control these factors as best as possible to keep occupant complaints to a minimum and ensure productivity and facility performance.
Closely monitor thermostat settings. During the spring, you may need to switch back and forth between heating and cooling systems. If temperatures fluctuate during the day, make sure that heating and air-conditioning systems do not needlessly activate simultaneously and waste energy. Also, make any necessary changes to physical spaces to help maintain desired temperatures, such as removing obstructions from air vents.
Adjust lighting to occupancy. Ensure that HVAC and lighting systems reflect changes in occupancy schedules. Take advantage of longer days and complement artificial lighting with sunlight to maintain comfortable lighting levels while saving energy.
Test cooling systems and implement a contingency plan. In the spring, take a look at cooling-system equipment, including chillers, cooling towers, rooftop units, fans, pumps, and coils, to make sure that everything is ready for start-up. On a day when the building is not occupied, crank up the air-conditioning. If you have conducted upgrades or retrofits during the winter, you'll want to make sure that the new equipment is ready to perform before the hot weather arrives.
Your contingency cooling plan should already be in place, including equipment back-up systems, emergency generators, and staff preparation. In the spring, conduct a drill and make any necessary adjustments to the plan or equipment.
If your portfolio includes facilities where cooling systems are critical to operations (such as industrial plants or large commercial buildings), talk with your HVAC provider about temporary cooling programs to prevent unplanned facility shutdowns.
Conduct predictive maintenance on heating systems. The transitional seasons are an important time in your predictive-maintenance schedule. Predictive maintenance is a proactive approach to making sure that your building's systems remain in peak operating condition. It includes regular inspection and testing of equipment to predict and take corrective actions to prevent potential problems and maximize efficiency.
Conduct post-heating season diagnostics, such as vibration or oil analyses, to check for efficiency issues or parts degradation and address potential problems proactively.
Check the building envelope. During spring cleaning, take the opportunity to conduct a total building-envelope inspection and check for wintertime damage. Inspect flue stacks, chimneys, HVAC roof curbs and ductwork, gas lines, electrical conduits, roof drains, weather stripping, and door/window seals and set repair work in motion.
Ensure Springtime Energy Performance
Make heating-efficiency improvements. During the transition between heating and cooling seasons, evaluate your winter utility bills and target the areas where you can improve efficiency next heating season (such as better aligning space heating with occupancy schedules).
Negotiate next winter's rates. In the spring, re-evaluate your energy-procurement program. Review purchasing agreements for fuel, oil, and gas and negotiate contracts for the coming winter before rates increase.
In many areas, you can secure lower electricity rates by reducing energy consumption during on-peak times (when the energy grid is most strained). Plan for summer occupancy schedules to ensure that air-conditioning loads will match demand.
With a little preparation this spring, you can ensure that your facility will make a smooth and efficient transition into the summer.
John W. Conover IV is president of Piscataway, NJ-based Trane's commercial systems business (www.trane.com/commercial) in the Americas region.