Upgrade Season

It is almost comfortable outside. Mother Nature hasn’t yet committed to the warm 70s, but we have a good few days of 50s and 60s ahead. We’re going to have about two months where our HVAC systems can sit nearly idle, untouched and unneeded. This is your ideal corridor for major maintenance and installing new systems altogether. Depending on the scale of your facility, you may well need it.

Perfect Weather

From a comfort-perspective, the very beginning of Spring is an ideal time. We’re well acclimated to cool weather and the slow move into the low sixties and seventies means we can be comfortable without any HVAC equipment. We can open the windows for a few days and no one is going to be inconvenienced by it. We can shut down the building’s plumbing and install temporary accommodations outdoors and it won’t be painful or disruptive to your employees for a few days.

This rare window is different from the fall. Being cold is inherently uncomfortable and harder to compensate for than being too warm going from winter into spring. In the fall, if you get a very cold day, there’s little you can do to heat the building without buying every space heater in the city. In the spring if you get a warm day, tell your employees it’s Casual Friday all week, shorts and t-shirts approved. Open a window or leave the front doors open. The shifting weather patterns will ensure some good, breezy days too.

Why Does This Matter?

The bigger your facility is, the more complicated an HVAC upgrade becomes. Even for a home owner, you want to do this upgrade when it will not cause discomfort. Replacing a heater or air conditioner, even under rush-circumstances is a week long endeavor to order in parts and do the work for a single housing unit. Now consider an industrial scale system involves permits, cranes, and a lot of work. If you’re going to do that economically, without rush shipping, you’ll do it when there’s time and opportunity, like the start of Spring.

For the largest-scale upgrades, something for a large factory or hotel, you would start the upgrade process likely no later than the end of March. The first step in the process is consulting with your HVAC Professional and performing inspections of the facility. If you’re getting a new rooftop unit, then the roof and structural supports of your facility need to be studied to determine just how big of a unit you can safely install. If you’re upgrading a furnace, the foundation needs to be studied to see what it can accommodate and the room has to be examined to see what can be installed or if a wall has to be removed for the work.

We’re serious about that last one. We have seen facilities where there were never any accommodations made for replacing a boiler. The facility had large, room-filling boilers installed in their basement during construction, the first floor was put over those rooms. When it became necessary to replace the decades-old boilers, a trench had to be dug into the side of the building, several interior and an exterior wall removed, and a lot of labor-intensive work was performed. Not all upgrades can be these simple swap in/swap out operations. Sometimes our predecessors set us up to fail hard.

The majority of the prep work like this should be done ahead of time, during the awful, cold months when you can’t actually get started on the installation work. You want to make the best of that window of opportunity, right?

A Small Window for AC

The installation time period for air conditioning is narrower than heating. This goes for packaged systems too. You must have this equipment working before it gets hot out. In some cases, OSHA laws may require it. Many facilities can reach lethal temperatures in a heat wave, and open an entirely new can of warms.

Once the equipment has been acquired, the old system needs to be shutdown, certain parts of your facility will likely have to be marked as off-limits for safety reasons, and a team of perhaps two dozen contractors can get to work. This is another area where warm weather is ideal. During the winter, it snow storms, ice, and other hazards can make it dangerous for contractors to work or in some cases illegal if conditions are bad enough to violate OSHA restrictions. Warm weather is ideal for contractors as much as employees and guests.

The old system will need to be removed. This process is usually pretty fast. Generally speaking everything removed is going to be sent for recycling or other safe disposal. The old system need not be handled with care except where it’s mounted to your building and attaches to your wiring and fittings. The connections from your existing system can probably be re-used for the new one, with some slight adjustments to move them wherever necessary to connect with the new equipment.

Extensive planning ahead of time will ensure that you have every single needed part and a few spares on hand. If a particular fitting is not there, and you need it, then you may well lose days of work for which your contractors may be on the clock and you might be on the hook.

In some cases, the work may be more extensive. New connections for power may be necessary or it may be a significant upgrade, like going from a separating heating and cooling system to a large packaged system. New connections would be necessary for the new heating system.

A Wider Window for Heating

The other angle here is your heating system. If you’re replacing a furnace or boiler, that’s not integrated directly into your cooling system, you can take your time on that nearly all summer long. Depending on the installation, your facility may lose hot water service during the upgrade process, but in large part, that won’t be an issue to most businesses.

The existing system can be removed gradually by a minimum of contractors working regular hours. There’s no rush and no need for overtime. Your existing maintenance workers may be able to do a significant amount of the removal of the old equipment. Crucially, unlike air conditioners, which involve outdoor and often roof work, the furnace can be comfortably worked on inside, in all weather conditions.

Replacement and upgrade options for furnaces are different from AC. In air conditioner upgrades, it’s more common to replace an entire unit after a long lifetime. Industrial furnaces however, have some margin for upgrading individual components without necessarily an outright replacement. Every component of an air conditioner needs to be properly sized to the others, the same is somewhat true to a furnace, but there’s fewer parts and more options.

Consider for example, a large boiler unit. The boiler/heat exhcanger, made of solid cast iron, and in perfectly healthy shape. The burner however, is a 1970s vintage unit that was used to retrofit this from a coal-fired to an oil-fired system. Instead of replacing that large tank/heat exchanger assembly, it is entirely viable to add insulation to it, replace the burner, and even add a few sensors to better measure water and steam pressure and temperature to more efficiently manage the unit. The new burner meanwhile allows for alternate fuel choices, increased heating capacity (within reason), and greater efficiency.

Optimize Your Upgrade

Take advantage of the good weather, plan ahead, and you can shave tens of thousands or more off the cost of an HVAC Upgrade.

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