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Replacing an old, inefficient HVAC system doesn't need to be a financial burden. It can be a company's chance to cut energy costs. Engineers have a much better understanding of the heating and cooling demands on commercial buildings. New HVAC designs waste less energy and less money. Here are some strategies to consider when investing in a new HVAC system:
- Invest in the highest-efficiency boiler, furnace, chiller, air handler and rooftop unit that your company can afford. High-efficiency systems use less energy and cost less in utility bills.
- Recalculate the energy load on your building. Chances are the building and its use have changed since the previous system was installed.
- With better building efficiency, you may be able to install a smaller and less costly HVAC system. Simple measures like reducing the lighting level, insulating windows and sealing duct leaks may decrease HVAC demands.
- Appliances and other equipment also can emit heat and strain your HVAC system. Evaluate their use and energy costs.
- Consider automating energy management. Various new computerized systems adjust air flow and temperature based on occupancy, building use and other factors.
Your commercial HVAC system is probably your biggest energy consumer. But regular tuneups may cut your energy bill by 5 percent. If a major problem is found, your savings can be more. Take simple maintenance steps like inspecting cooling and heating equipment monthly, and performing routine maintenance:
- In the summer, set the thermostat at a higher level, or turn off the cooling system when your building is not in use.
- Don't let small repairs pile up and items go unchecked. Clean outdoor condensing units, which can get clogged with dirt and dust that block air flow. When the compressor works harder to discharge hot air, it increases energy costs.
- Inspect heating and cooling ducts for leaks, which can waste a lot of energy. Clean or replace air filters. Calibrate thermostats.
- Get the EPA's free online tool for tracking the energy use in your building. The National Energy Performance Rating System scores buildings on a scale of 1 to 100.
Control energy costs by automating your commercial HVAC system with an energy management system. The system also is known as a building automation system (BAS), and may integrate other building services, such as security and fire prevention:
* Use an energy management system to track building traffic and find the best time of day to start cooling a building and maintaining a desired temperature.
* Ask about Web browser interfaces, a recent innovation in energy management systems. The interfaces allow for easy-to-use centralized management of HVAC systems and other services for buildings at different locations.
* Define your goals for an energy management system, then do research on the Internet for information and resources. The future seems limitless for automating energy efficiency in building services.
Currently, a third of U.S. buildings -- all greater than 100,000 square feet -- use these automated systems. Estimates are they can save at least 10 percent of overall building energy consumption. The savings are even more for buildings that lack efficient HVAC systems. In addition to saving energy, these systems may also reduce the costs of overall building maintenance.
Plan for the phaseout of standard refrigerants in commercial HVAC systems. Building owners and facilities managers need to inventory the refrigerants their cooling systems use and determine if these products will be available in the future. The inventory can help businesses decide whether to make major repairs on existing HVAC systems or replace them because of new federal requirements for ozone-friendly refrigerants.
If a company already plans to buy a new HVAC system, the purchasing manager should find out what type of refrigerant it uses and how much longer it will be manufactured.
By 2030, the Environmental Protection Agency will ban refrigerants that contain chlorine, because they deplete the earth's ozone layer. The deadline seems like the distant future, but commercial HVAC systems have long lifespans, and the phaseout involves ending production of the most common air-conditioning refrigerant -- HCFC-22 -- by 2010.
A company may be out of luck if its commercial HVAC system cannot use the new, ozone-friendly refrigerants. Look for replacement refrigerants for HFC-22. They include HFC-134A, R-410A and R-410B.
Keep your company out of the red with high energy costs by investing in green products and green design. Green design is used in new construction to reduce demands on commercial HVAC systems that often run continuously. To lower cooling costs in new buildings, architects can face a building away from direct sunlight. Green products include windows that optimize sunlight and reduce the need for artificial lights that strain cooling systems.
Companies should consider investing in HVAC systems that use non-polluting refrigerants -- a green product that won't harm the environment. The EPA is phasing out ozone-damaging refrigerants for a family of refrigerants that don't contain chlorine.
Get advice and help when investing in a commercial HVAC system. Learn about new technologies that allow companies to save thousands of dollars in energy costs.
Here are some publications and software tools for assisting businesses in choosing the best HVAC systems for their needs:
* ASHRAE is the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers. The association publishes four handbooks on HVAC systems.
* APACHE is a program that analyzes buildings' energy loads and uses. The Applications Program for Air-Conditioning and Heating Engineers also provides simulations of HVAC systems.
* BTU Analysis Plus is a program that calculates heat loads and does heat load studies of commercial buildings.
* Energy Trainer for Energy Managers HVAC Module offers four hours of training on improving energy efficiency with commercial HVAC systems.
Operating commercial HVAC systems are a big business expense, accounting for 40 to 60 percent of a building's energy use. Here are ways to ease costs and get high-efficiency comfort with HVAC systems:
- Do routine maintenance. Check motors, belts and steam traps; replace filters; and clean coils and boiler heat transfer surfaces.
- Adjust the HVAC systems to match the hours when the building is in use. It may be possible to reduce heating temperatures by 10 to 15 degrees in unoccupied buildings overnight.
- Consider an automated energy management system that will alter indoor air flow and temperature based on the outside climate and building use.
- Conduct an energy audit. Study the use and traffic in your building. Identify the peak hours of heavy use and when the building is unoccupied.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|