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Keeping an industrial HVAC system in tip-top shape can help prevent unexpected and expensive repairs and premature replacement. In addition, proper maintenance of industrial HVAC systems keeps building occupants more comfortable and alleviates indoor air quality issues. Proper maintenance also helps an industrial HVAC system achieve the highest level of efficiency it is designed to meet, which can stabilize or even lower utility costs.

Just as the auto mechanic needs tools to keep a car running problem free, a building owner or facilities manager needs the proper tools to keep an industrial HVAC system running smoothly. Here are some tools to help insure your industrial HVAC systems perform to expectations:

1. Sharp senses.

Perhaps the most important tools needed to prevent industrial HVAC issues are the your own eyes, ears and nose. Keeping an eye on the air vents can help you discover if mold or other pollutants are entering occupied space. Listening for abnormal noises or vibrations can tip us off to necessary maintenance. Lastly, musty odors can be a tip-off to HVAC issues as well. Talk with building occupants and ask them about the building’s air quality. Listen to people’s complaints and take them seriously.

2. New air filters.

Filters are simply porous membranes that allow air to flow through them, and all filters cause some pressure loss as air flows across them. The longer a filter has been in use, the greater that pressure loss becomes because the build-up of impurities on the filter reduces airflow. Increased pressure loss increases energy demand because the fans that move air through the system have to work harder. Forcing equipment to work harder than optimum increases the risk of failure.

Filters should be replaced regularly, so inspect them routinely and, based on what you observe, determine how often they should be replaced. Also consider if the filters you are using are the best for the job. There are several different types of filters available, all with differing MERV ratings, which measure a filter’s ability to remove particles from the air. Types of air filters common in commercial HVAC systems include:

  • Washable air filters. These are typically used in industrial processes where high filter efficiency is not required.
  • Fiberglass filters. These disposable air filters are the most common type. They consist of layered fiberglass fibers.
  • Polyester and pleated filters. These are similar to fiberglass filters but usually have a higher resistance to airflow and better dust-stopping ability.
  • High efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters. These filter air at a very fine scale.

Choice of filter and frequency of replacement depends on both the HVAC equipment and the type of facility. For example, high efficiency filters are required in manufacturing facilities with clean rooms. Consult with your commercial HVAC contractor or system manufacturer to make sure you are getting the right type of filtering.

3. Elbow grease and appropriate cleaners.

Cleaning evaporator and condenser coils helps prevent long-term damage and loss. This should be done at least once or twice a year. Why? Because mold can grow on evaporator coils due to their constant dampness, plus the supply side of the coil is always in contact with dirty outside air. Condenser coils should be kept clean because dirt will cause them to degrade. While dirty condenser coils won’t affect indoor air quality, cleaning them can improve energy efficiency.

It’s easier to keep coils clean with regular maintenance than to remove microbial growth once it starts. Antimicrobial treatments may be needed to stop the growth of mold and to eliminate microorganisms; a cleaning product that stays on the surface for a prescribed length of time may be necessary. Removing built-up fungal growth from metal surfaces is also challenging, but aggressive cleaners may not be recommended. Again, keeping coils clean from the start will reduce the time and energy you spend on maintenance.

4. A two-year calendar.

Some maintenance tasks are needed more frequently than others. Schedule them like any other appointments. Here are a few tasks and suggested frequency (you may want to check with your commercial HVAC contractor or system manufacturer for their preferred maintenance schedule):

  • Twice annually: Inspect fan, bearings and belts. Clean fan blades. Self-lubricating bearings on fans require the bearing cassette to be replaced when they fail. Signs of failure include noise, vibration or heat coming from the bearing. Make sure bearings are not over or under-greased, as both can cause damage. Belts should be aligned to prevent wear and maintain proper tension.
  • Also twice annually: Inspect and clean up the area around the air intake. Check for standing water around the air-handler. Water can cause mold to grow and the spores could be pulled into the ventilation system and distributed throughout the building.
  • Annually: Clean, lubricate and adjust dampers. Improper damper operation is a common problem in HVAC equipment, and can negatively affect indoor air quality and decrease efficiency.

5. A phone and the number of a trusted commercial HVAC contractor.

In order to get the most out of any HVAC repair, upgrade or replacement, work with a qualified commercial HVAC contractor. A qualified contractor can perform regular checkups and will teach a building owner or facilities manager when and how to perform necessary maintenance on a particular system.

Whether it is performed by someone in house or by a commercial HVAC contractor, regular maintenance is the key to keeping an industrial HVAC system running efficiently and effectively for as long as possible.

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