Last week we looked at the Going, Going…Gone?: HVAC Replacement 101
EVALUATING THE EQUIPMENT
Now that you have taken all the preceding into account, how do you evaluate the equipment itself? Obviously, if you can afford it, an evaluation from a mechanical engineer is a great approach.
However, that is not an option for many churches, nor is it always necessary. That is especially true if you have no structural changes and you have common systems in place.
As you look at all the system component data you have gathered, first evaluation point is the age of the unit.
That is not always the primary driver, but it is an important one. It should be weighted with the amount of run-time the unit has annually and if it serves a critical use area. For example, a 20-year-old unit would generally be a prime candidate for replacement. However, if it is still functioning and only serves a couple of classrooms that are scheduled infrequently, that would drop it lower in priority than a 12-year-old unit that runs 5-7 days a week and serves preschool classrooms. The ROI and functional return on operations is much lower on the 20-year-old unit.
The next evaluation point is a visual one.
How does the unit look? Is the paint and informational tags faded and illegible? Are the fins on the coils reminiscent of a braille sign? Is there a great deal of rust and oil marks in and around the unit? Does it look good or not? All of these can indicate a unit that is got some potential issues that are more than skin deep. Roof top units that are severely weathered can indicate that they are either old, or in an area that has environmental conditions that deteriorate mechanical equipment. Either condition increases the need to consider replacement, as well as making sure if you are near salt-water or industrial parks you consider coated coils and other parts specified for harsher environments.
Next, you should consider the type of refrigerant being used.
If it is R-22, make plans sooner rather than later. R-22 is no longer manufactured making the amount remaining very expensive. One suggestion is that if you have several units that utilize R-22 on your campus but cannot change them all out at once…have your HVAC contractor purchase recovery tanks for you, and when they pump down each unit (as you can replace them) store the used R-22 on your campus. Use it for your other units as you limp them along until you can replace them. The cost of a recovery tank is made back the first time you must add a pound of R-22 to one of your older units.
Finally, how is your HVAC controlled?
If it has a proprietary control system that can only be utilized with a specific thermostat or control system, it can be a problem.
If your HVAC company is not an authorized rep of that brand, getting parts or trouble-shooting issues can be problematic. Internal controls in the unit are great, but it should be able to be turned on or off through a readily available communicating thermostat.
When an older unit with proprietary controls starts to fail, it may save you money in the mid and long-term to replace it sooner. A unit that requires advanced controls to operate is a unit that is very inefficient when the controls are not operating correctly.
The preceding is intended to help get you started on the evaluation of your facility equipment. It always starts with data collection; what is it, how old is it, where does it serve, how often? Once you know that, you can start evaluating the rest of the physical conditions.
Trust your instincts, if it does not look right, it probably isn’t. There is a great deal of information on why changing a unit out is beneficial, this hopefully helps you begin to prioritize your investments.