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Four steps to help ensure optimal HVAC cooling this summer

Author : Chris Smith, head of temperature control, Aggreko Northern Europe

24 August 2016

Summer is here, putting pressure on HVAC and refrigeration plant, such as air conditioners, chillers and air handling systems, as they face the challenge of ensuring reliable cooling as temperatures rise.

Hotter weather can overburden HVAC and refrigeration plant. For every extra degree in ambient temperature over a designed specification, the cooling kW output of equipment reduces.

This can make it difficult to maintain required temperatures and kW cooling capacity during warmer weather. As a result, systems can be prone to breakdowns.

This is a particular risk for sites with older equipment and where servicing and maintenance is not as robust as it should be.

System failures can lead to a closure of buildings, unhappy clients and employees, and consequential financial losses.

FM managers seeking to optimise cooling performance and avoid system breakdowns this summer can follow these headline practices.

1. Don't ignore preventative maintenance

If your maintenance regime involves little more than changing the oil, there could be problems in store.

Maintenance should include thorough cleaning and regular maintenance of your complete plant, including chillers, cooling towers, heat exchangers and air handlers.

Maintenance should include thorough cleaning and regular maintenance of condensers to ensure that they continue to operate efficiently. Higher ambient temperatures will put a huge strain on condensers as they work harder to reject excess heat.

They will need special attention if, over the year, attempts have been made to increase cooling by spraying water over them. Over time this destroys the fins, resulting in major capacity loss, even during the cooler winter months.

In addition, heat exchangers are prone to fouling or corrosion problems, which can develop gradually, or spring up without warning as they are difficult to spot.

If a plant isn’t maintained to work to its full capacity, it can mean shutting down a site if it fails, resulting in capital expenditure running into the tens of thousands.

Complete replacement of a chiller system or heat exchanger can take months. Regular, general equipment maintenance schedules should also include preventing system leakage, e.g the plant refrigerants, control calibration, electrical checks and water treatment.

Maintenance periods don’t have to mean reduced or lost production. Using rental equipment to support your site’s existing systems or to temporarily replace them is an easy option.

2. Learn from your plant’s history by examining data from previous summers

It's important to learn lessons from previous summers by reflecting on past experience. If there were any minor issues last summer, chances are that these will reappear as major issues this year.

Examine historical system efficiency data and trends to check how your systems coped with higher ambient temperatures.

If you saw dips in performance then you may need to act soon to ensure the system hasn’t deteriorated over the past 12 months. Use this to analyse risk and build a robust risk management strategy.

3. Upsize your refrigeration capacity or supplement existing cooling

You may have expanded your site or building’s footprint without increasing your cooling capacity. Or your current plant may be starting to deteriorate in performance.

During winter months the existing cooling infrastructure might suffice, but higher ambient temperatures over the summer may highlight the insufficiency of your cooling capacity.

It might be time to consider investment in upgrading or increasing your cooling infrastructure to deal with this annual capacity demand, but with this occurring only approximately 20% of any given year, it may be difficult to justify the expenditure.

A more cost effective alternative may be to supplement your existing plant with temporary cooling equipment to manage hotter weather conditions.

This will avoid capital expense and has the flexibility to be scaled up or down depending on the site’s demand. An initial site survey to understand your potential requirements will ensure additional cooling plant can be onsite quickly when required.

4. Have a well-rehearsed contingency plan in case disaster strikes

If your HVAC or refrigeration equipment breaks down, every minute counts before you are faced with closing down a building, letting customers down and sending staff home.

It's critical to have a robust, well-rehearsed emergency plan in place. This will include reactive maintenance and repair procedures to cover every eventuality and a 24/7 on-call process for engineers.

It is also essential to have considered what temporary back-up equipment you may need while your on-site equipment is out of action. Consider discussing your needs with a rental temperature control equipment supplier so you can build a contingency plan should the ‘worst case scenario’ occur.

A reputable supplier will spend time with you on-site, understanding your needs, identifying the most suitable equipment to meet them and producing a detailed site plan.

This should take into account specific technical, logistical, safety and training issues, so everything is considered and planned for in advance.

In this way you can ensure fast and effective installation and commissioning to get the process back up and running as quickly as possible.

You should also agree appropriate lead times and costs for installation and delivery, maintenance and refuelling requirements, as well as decommissioning.

Disaster planning enables sites to implement a temporary fix quickly, while a long-term solution is found.

For the facilities manager, this level of proactive planning can mean reductions in insurance premiums over time as it demonstrates you are doing everything they can to avoid a site shutdown.

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