By Ron Porter, LEED AP
Across the country, a growing percentage of construction projects are based on a building retrofit plan rather than new construction. Whether to save costs, improve energy consumption, or implement new health and safety standards, a retrofit is almost always in the cards during the lifetime of a commercial or residential building, and is often the best value choice compared to new construction.
A large component of building retrofit is bringing HVAC technology up to current energy and comfort standards. In terms of hydronic Room Fan Coil systems, building owners have three upgrade choices: repair, refurbish, or replace. In the past, refurbishing and repairing equipment was more cost-effective than replacement. Building owners and operators struggle to maximize the life of their mechanical system and postpone major upgrade or replacement cost. Yet, these efforts often prove to be temporary, with refurbishment and repair providing an additional 5-7 years (on average) of serviceable life to the average fan coil unit.
Historically, fan coil replacement requires a costly remodeling project involving several construction trades. New solutions have become available, providing an opportunity to retrofit aging vertical stack (high-rise) fan coil units. The solution package provides a replacement chassis designed to fit into existing wall cabinets, thus replacing all internal components. This design reduces or eliminates major renovation expenses such as carpentry, dry-wall and surface finishing, cleanup, and impact on occupants.
Consider the following factors when deciding to repair, refurbish, or replace hydronic Room Fan Coil equipment in a retrofit scenario.
Facility HVAC Requirements
Replacing an old fan coil unit with a new model of the same design seems like the simplest and quickest solution, but the building requirements and application may be very different, when compared to the original design and occupancy plan. Occupant comfort should be high on your list of concerns, along with energy efficiency, cost of operation, and meeting current mechanical and ventilation code requirements. Building occupancy patterns and needs may have changed since the original system was installed. However, if the needs have not changed then fan coil refit may be the best solution.
Although the initial equipment repair costs may not appear to be significant, the life-cycle cost of new and more efficient equipment could be lower, considering that additional future repairs are avoided. New replacement chassis can seamlessly slide into existing infrastructure on a room-by-room basis, reducing the impact of a large-scale renovation shutdown on building occupancy and operation. Hotel customers have reported their experience of completed fan coil unit refit performed in less than four hours. The result is often no loss of room revenue. The same method, when used in a dormitory, commercial building, or multi-family housing, can help complete a building renovation project within a limited time window.
The refit and renovation process provides an opportunity to improve operation and tune the equipment performance to meet the current needs of the space. Thermostat and fan motor technology have changed considerably over the last few years, both with significant impact on operating efficiency and sequence of operation. Recent improvements in coil design can be used to benefit the occupant comfort and quality of life through better ventilation and humidity control sequences.
New products have entered the market which offer benefits to building owners and operators planning to refit their building fan coil equipment. Facility managers can discover the latest cost-effective retrofit solutions for room air conditioning and comfort needs.
Porter is a system application specialist with International Environmental Corporation (IEC), an Oklahoma City-based company that specializes in the engineering, design, and manufacturing of a wide range of hydronic fan coil systems for building applications that include hospitality, education, healthcare, multi-family residences, and offices.