Putting HVAC maintenance in the spotlight

What to discuss at your next board meeting when it comes to maintenance contracts 
Thursday, May 18, 2023
By Chris Dewar and Val Khomenko

Within a typical mid- to high-rise residential building, HVAC systems account for 70 per cent of total energy spend. While the rising gas and energy spent is often in the limelight during board meetings, a proper review of the existing maintenance program rarely takes centre stage.

With the rising costs of inflation on condominiums, boards are often looking at ways they can cut expenses and still maintain a high level of service from each contractor. Your HVAC contract should be an exception to this.

Seldom are condo boards and management companies made up of HVAC experts. In this case, how can managers properly engage the board to proactively look at their maintenance provider for ways they can reduce their energy consumption, defer their capital costs, and ensure their equipment is running as intended? Short answer: it’s time to make HVAC great again.

Look to industry standards

Repairs and capital replacement are frequently discussed when the subject of HVAC maintenance is raised. It is assumed that regular maintenance activities are carried out routinely and repairs ensure when system parts are no longer viable. What does the actual maintenance entail?

ASHRAE (The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineering Standards), which is a body that governs the HVAC industry, creates best practices for the commercial and residential sectors on how to best maintain your mechanical equipment. Ensure your maintenance contract, at the very least, encompasses these recommendations, such as:

1. Power washing of the condenser coil on cooling equipment, such as make-up air units with cooling, split systems and air cooled chillers: By doing this, you can reduce the energy spend of the equipment during the cooling seasons by 10 to 15 per cent, all while extending the life span.

2. Annual burner cleaning of boilers: Regardless of the efficiency of the boilers, the burners need to be cleaned annually to ensure they are operating at peak efficiency. This is often overlooked by contractors or an optional quote; however, guaranteeing this is part of your maintenance contract will ensure your boilers are working when in high-demand, reduce gas consumption and extend the life of the equipment.

3. Filter change frequencies in make-up air and air handling units: Dirty filters in make-up air units cause the piece of equipment to work much harder to satisfy the demand in the building. As a result, the unit will draw up to 15 per cent energy to pressurize the hallways and building. By changing filters on a proper scheduled frequency, be it monthly or quarterly, you can make sure the piece of equipment is working as intended. During construction, increasing the frequency of filter changes will prevent filters from plugging-up and starving the unit of air.

Spare HVAC from cuts

What HVAC contractors do, or don’t do, during maintenance has a significant impact on the repairs, service calls and utilities consumed by mechanical equipment.

Your HVAC maintenance contractor is responsible for maintaining the equipment that impacts, in some cases, $100,000 worth of utilities and $1 million of assets.

By understanding that maintenance contracts are simply an allotment of hours and materials, spending a bit more money on your maintenance agreement will in theory mean that you are purchasing more hours to properly maintain these critical assets.

Ensuring your maintenance contract meets the recommendations of the major equipment’s manufacturer will safeguard the building from premature failure and higher-than-expected energy bills. Your chosen contractor should be factory-trained on these assets and help guide recommendations.

Planning an annual review meeting with the contractor’s operations team and property management will allow the team to have a true snapshot of where the building is today, and where the building should move towards in the following years. Looking at the data of service calls and repairs specific to each asset will help predict where smaller capital upgrades or replacements are needed, as HVAC equipment is often overlooked in reserve fund studies. Having this thorough review helps building managers come better prepared to any meetings with the chosen engineer and client.

Healthy HVAC, healthy residents

Indoor air quality is an important topic across the HVAC industry post global pandemic. Think of the make-up air unit as the lungs of the building. Changing filters with proper frequency will ensure clean air. Filtered hallways also mean less time cleaning the grills of the vents in the corridors.

Legionella is also a big talking point in the industry. Confirming that domestic hot water boilers are providing temperatures above 140 F to the storage tank and then mixed with cold water at the mixing valves will eliminate any chances for legionella growth in the storage tanks.

Often, mixing valves stop working and boiler output temperatures are turned down to below 135 F. As mixing valves are the responsibility of plumbers, and the boilers the responsibility of your HVAC provider, choosing a contractor that can handle both tradelines will make sure you’re working towards a safe solution for the building and its equipment.

There is no room for error when it comes to HVAC systems and maintenance. Make this a focal point of discussion, perhaps with an out-of-the-box presentation to spice-up the topic into an interesting, forward-thinking conversation.

Chris Dewar is the Director of Sales, Eastern Division at Naylor Building Partnerships. He is a passionate consultant and enjoys helping managers and boards make better decisions on how to manage their mechanical systems. Chris has been able to properly advise, write and standardize mechanical maintenance agreements for some of the largest property management companies in Canada. Raising the bar for the HVAC industry is of the utmost importance for him. Chris has surrounded himself with experts at Naylor to make sure his team can successfully execute maintenance and projects on complex mechanical equipment.

Val Khomenko is a Regional Condominium Manager with ICON Property Management Ltd. based in Toronto, Ontario, providing condominium management services in the Greater Toronto Area. Val can be reached at val@iconpm.ca


2 thoughts on “Putting HVAC maintenance in the spotlight

  1. Excellent advice! And what can the condo corporation / building management do to encourage condo unit owners to maintain their unit’s fan coil or heat pump, when the unit owner is responsible for these units? An overflowing condensate tray often impacts units below them. As a house and condo unit inspector, I often find evidence these units (whether unit owned or building owned) are not being maintained; ie dirty filters, rusty trays. We educate our clients about maintenance, and tell them to contact the building management to source filters or make sure filters and units are maintained. But most condo units are almost never inspected by a home inspector, so it is likely not even on the radar of most owners.

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