M&E Engineering

Do you know the condition of your fan coil?

Thursday, October 24, 2019
By Mitchell Redshaw

Fan Coil Units (FCUs) are a vital, yet often overlooked part of an apartment/condo complex. Nevertheless, they are directly responsible for the climate control within the apartment complex in the form of heating and cooling. That makes them critical to the health of the building unit, both from an environmental and building efficiency perspective.

There are two models of FCUs that are found within an apartment or condo complex: the two-pipe-configuration and the four-pipe-configuration. The two-pipe configuration FCU is a dual temperature system which can only supply one type of climate at a time. Typically, this means the complex will set the system to produce cool air during warmer months, and warm air during the colder months. The four-pipe-configuration, on the other hand, has the capability to produce and distribute both hot and cold air at all times, which means the unit has full climate control at all times.

The standard lifespan of an FCU is about 20 to 30 years; however, industry experts will often anticipate the former. Over those decades, the FCU will experience standard issues pertaining to what’s commonly known as ‘wear and tear’, wherein components within the unit will eventually degrade and lose effectiveness. Moreover, as the unit ages, it becomes less efficient and has a direct impact on the environment’s air quality.

Insulation deterioration and mould are additional considerations. Over time, the insulation will erode and find itself within the FCU only to be circulated throughout the apartment unit. Meanwhile, mould can arise if the conditions are favourable for growth. The long-term health effects of both of these issues can be extremely harmful.

Refurbishment options

In the event that the FCU is past its life cycle, there are options for refurbishment:

1. Cleaning and Insulation replacement: Here, the internal FCU insulation is removed and the internal surfaces are thoroughly cleaned/ disinfected. Once cleaned and dried, new mould resistant insulation is installed.
2. Refurbishment with Energy Efficient Upgrade: This option looks to fully replace the components within the FCU that are exhibiting signs of excess wear and that require replacement or repair. The PCU motors are also replaced with EC motors which will extend the expected service life of the existing FCUs and improve the indoor air safety and quality.
3. Complete FCU replacement: Going with this option means completely replacing the existing FCU with a brand new unit. When considering the estimated age of the existing FCUs compared to their expected lifespan, replacing the entire unit makes sense. Doing so will provide all of the benefits of an energy efficient upgrade, as well as eliminate any concerns over the indoor air quality associated with the residues and moulds found within the original FCU.

Next steps

To find out the exact age or approximate time-frame of installation, residents should contact the building manager or manufacturer. The manufacturer will be able to estimate the current condition of the FCU based on several factors – predominantly the age of the building (which will most likely correlate with the FCU’s date of installation).

Buildings rely on a number of critical systems. And considering the health and building performance risks of leaving an aging FCU unchecked, it pays to stay diligent.

Mitchell Redshaw is with M & E Engineering, a professional multi-disciplined mechanical and electrical engineering consulting firm serving clients in the GTA and across Canada. For more, visit www.me-eng.com.

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