HVAC maintenance tips heading into the fall season
Facility managers who take a proactive rather than a reactive HVAC maintenance approach heading into the fall heating season will benefit in the long run.
By Mike Miazga
The Labor Day time frame signals a changing of the guard on the calendar. Children typically are headed back to school, those summer hours at the office are a thing of the past, and that long holiday weekend likely involved one last late-summer outdoor gathering with family and friends.
That time of the year also signals a changing of the guard when it comes to HVAC equipment and preparing it for the fall season and the ensuing heating demand onslaught.
“After Labor Day typically is where we see a huge surge in the call center because people are starting to turn on the equipment and prepare for the fall,” says Mark Orlovsky, PE, service, warranty, and quality manager at Racine, Wisconsin- based Modine Mfg. Co. “You can tell the customers who have a really good preventive maintenance (PM) schedule vs. more of a reactive maintenance—almost an emergency maintenance mindset.”
Orlovsky hopes facility managers and building engineers have a PM schedule already in place looking at common pain points such as filters and belts. “The simple things,” he says. “A common thing we see in the fall after the equipment has not been operating over the summertime is you can wind up with dirt and bugs in the units—either it won’t light completely or not light at all. That solution is as simple as cleaning off a pilot assembly and burners. We also see a lot of pressure switch or pilot assembly replacement.”
Orlovsky says a PM strategy in a building depends on what’s going on in that space and the amount of equipment needed to maintain operations.
“Some equipment is used for more process-related applications,” he explains. “For instance, HVAC equipment in a greenhouse is pretty critical. You are at high risk if you lose a crop. A lot of greenhouses have redundant equipment, stock extra parts, and do PM checks. Some equipment might be less critical. If you have a factory with multiple unit heaters, it’s not the end of the world if you lose one. In that instance, they can do reactive maintenance rather than proactive.”
Eye On Energy Efficiency
With energy efficiency continuing to be an important topic in the HVAC realm, Orlovsky stresses the need for facility managers and building engineers to have that PM plan of attack firmly in place as buildings head into the fall heating season.
“A lot of times, people are spending money upfront to get an efficient piece of equipment, and when we get pictures of that piece of equipment, some simple things such as a filter change or cleaning out the coils could help them with efficiency,” he points out. “Over time, the performance degrades and the energy efficiency degrades because people have not kept up with that maintenance. Again, it could be as simple as brushing out the dirt that gets into the coil. Even an AC outdoor unit can get bugs, dirt, and cottonwood in there—all of that reduces the efficiency of the products.”
To that point, Orlovsky notes Modine sees more buildings and facilities trending toward the reactive side of maintenance as opposed to taking a more preventive and proactive approach.
“It’s probably related to not having a core maintenance group anymore because of reduced staffing in that maintenance area,” he says.
Orlovsky’s solution is as simple as having a pen and paper nearby.
“I’m really big on checklists,” he says. “Modine has a checklist it publishes. From an asset management standpoint, take a look at how critical a particular piece of equipment is to the application and that will dictate how much time you spend on maintenance. If it’s redundant, you spend less time. We would rate process-related heat at a lot higher risk than if there is redundant equipment. Even with reduced staffing, there are some really good software programs to help you manage preventive maintenance.”
And high atop that PM checklist, Orlovsky suggests, is simply turning on the unit. “Fire it off and let it go completely through its sequence of operations,” he says. “Verify that the connections are tight, the belts are tight, and the filters have been replaced. Many times, you can determine an issue based on where it stops in the sequence of operation, and that could be as simple as a control or switch or input into the control. Also, check the inlet gas pressure to the unit to make sure the right amount of heat is coming out. Control settings are very important in getting the longest length out of a piece of equipment.”
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Another topic that has risen in importance, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, is indoor air quality. Orlovsky says IAQ has to be front of mind when putting a fall PM action plan in place.
“The pandemic brought indoor air quality to the forefront of everybody’s thinking,” he says. “One strategy is to increase the efficiency of the filters, or we are seeing schools bringing in additional outside air to improve air quality. With that, it’s even more important to do that regular maintenance. The filters are doing their job collecting more of the particles, but they have to be changed more often.”
Looking ahead, Orlovsky sees a third leg to the maintenance stool being added—predictive.
“One of the things Modine is looking at in some of the larger rooftop units is that more predictive type of maintenance where by adding additional sensors it gives you a target window and allows for scheduling the replacement of critical parts prior to failure,” he explains . “With some of the simpler units, you have control boards with additional diagnostics to help ID problems through a trouble code, so if you are doing that fall maintenance, you can ID an issue and narrow things down rather than keep replacing parts until you find the problem.”
Orlovsky’s advice to facility and building maintenance stakeholders is simple: Go the preventive route in the fall rather than find yourself in a reactive situation when heat is badly needed in an emergency situation.
“If people spend time to do PM up front, they will reduce emergencies during the season and reduce or eliminate that downtime to repair and service equipment,” he says.
Miazga is a 30-year media/public relations veteran whose award-winning writing and editing career has spanned newspapers, sports magazines, a professional sports league. and business-to-business trade publications. This article was written on behalf of Ripley PR, a leading public relations agency serving the manufacturing, construction, franchising, and home services industries.