05 Feb 2020

The Do’s and Don’ts of HVAC Maintenance

Aggreko cooling equipment in front of a facility
 

It’s easy to push looking after your HVAC system down the list of priorities when you have business-critical tasks to think about. The trouble is, if you leave it too long and the system breaks down, this will cause you serious problems. 

Unplanned HVAC outages make it extremely difficult to control environmental conditions in your office or facility. This may mean you have to put production on hold, close the building or even throw away spoiled goods and materials. This can have serious financial consequences.

That’s why you need an HVAC maintenance strategy. But how should you go about it? How regularly do you need to schedule upkeep and repair tasks? What should you be able to undertake yourself, in-house – and what things do you need to leave to the professionals? And is it possible to stay productive even during maintenance periods?

Let’s dive in and find out.

Crucial Maintenance Task for HVAC Systems

As we’ll see in a moment, not all HVAC repair and maintenance tasks are easy to perform yourself, without the help of a trained professional. Some, though, are simple enough. Here are the 12 most important steps that you need to repeat on a regular basis, to help extend the life of your system.

1. Replace Filters 

It’s vital that you regularly remove and replace any filters in your cooling and your heating equipment. Over time, these get blocked and dirty, affecting performance and eventually leading to a breakdown. 
 

2. Clear the Air Ducts 

Like filters, the air ducts in the equipment eventually get clogged up with dust and dirt. It’s vital that you clean these out thoroughly every two years, minimum.
 

3. Clean Vital Parts 

The most important parts to focus on are the blower assembly, ignition system, condenser, evaporator coils and drip pan. If grime and dirt build up on these, it can lead to unplanned outages.
 

4. Inspect the Fan 

Make sure this is working properly. Take a look at the bearings and belts too, checking for wear and tear.
 

5. Lubricate all Moving Parts 

The most important of these are the motors. You don’t want these wearing down or getting jammed.
 

6. Clean and Adjust Dampers 

You’ll need to do this around once a year. Manually adjusting the dampers allows you to control the flow of air around the building.
 

7. Check the Refrigerant Charge 

If it’s running low, you’ll need to resupply this.
 

8. Test the Controls

This includes the safety controls, thermostat and the fan and blower motors. It’s important to make sure they’ll all working as they should before you find you really need them.

 

9. Inspect the Electrical Connections 

Look out for any obvious problems like breakages, fraying, burn marks and so on. 
 

10. Use Common Sense

Don’t ignore any weird sounds or smells coming from the system. If your gut tells you there’s something wrong, you’re almost certainly right. 

 

11. Check the Heat Exchanger and Burner Assembly

Perform this task each year as the weather starts to cool down, in preparation for winter. Typically, a simple way to do this without having to disassemble anything is to turn the furnace fan on but leave the heating system off. If the flame jumps around or seems distorted, that’s a good sign that something inside is cracked or broken.

 

12. Run Careful Inspections for Gas Leaks

Exactly how to do this will depend on the model of your HVAC system, so pay close attention to the manufacturer’s instructions.
 
Those are the basics covered. For anything more complicated, you really do need to leave things to maintenance professionals. 
 

How Often Should You Schedule Maintenance?

While the steps outlined above are a good start, don’t treat them as substitutes for professional maintenance. 

As a rule of thumb, you’ll need to schedule the latter at least twice a year. That’s once in spring, just before the weather gets warmer, to check the health of the cooling system, and once in fall, just before it starts to get cold, to make sure the heating is working properly. If you put a lot of strain on your system, you may need to schedule routine maintenance more frequently. 

It may be tempting to put off maintenance for as long as possible, especially if you’re worried about taking a hit to your productivity, but don’t take the risk. As we’ve seen, this can get a lot more expensive in the long run. It’s best to fine-tune the system while it’s still ticking over than to wait for preventable problems to turn into serious disasters. 

Bear in mind, too, that while different parts wear out at different rates, the older your HVAC units get, the less reliable they will be. Most start to break down entirely after around 20 years.
 

Should You Replace Your System?

As your system gets older, the cost of emergency repairs and proactive maintenance soars, too. Once this gets to above around 5% of the total cost of replacing the unit, it’s likely to be more cost-effective to get a new one. 
 
That’s partly because the cost of repairs will eventually add up to the price tag of the unit, but also because a clunky old HVAC system will under perform, inflating your energy costs in the meantime. Plus, if something serious breaks, like pipes, pumps, or electrical components, this can cause extensive and expensive flooding or electrical damage.
 

Renting Temporary Equipment 

The good news is that you don’t have to shut down normal operations during scheduled maintenance periods. If you rent temporary heating and cooling units in advance, you’ll be able to keep the ambient temperature in the building optimal for critical processes. The right utilities provider should even be able to make the transition seamless, with no loss of uptime at all.
 

Final Thoughts

Regular, proactive maintenance of your HVAC system is essential for avoiding nasty surprises and keeping your budgets under control in the long term. You can protect your profit margins even more effectively simply by working with a temporary utilities partner to plan these maintenance periods, allowing you to stay productive year-round.