Restore To Extend Equipment Life

With indoor air quality a top concern in facilities, a circular economy approach gives existing HVAC equipment new life.

By Alan Wozniak
From the December 2021 Issue

Scarcity of raw materials is at the top of the list when it comes to circularity. Businesses across the country face unprecedented challenges as we transition to a post-pandemic world. The current supply chain disruptions affect business in every industry, large and small. For facility executives already facing concerns of airborne virus transmission in their buildings, the scarcity of raw materials for HVAC contractors further strains resources. A good strategy to take on these issues is by to close the loop and join the circular economy. In the case of HVAC restoration, it helps to achieve a circular economy in which limited virgin materials are used.circular economy

Closing the Loop. The comfort and health of occupants is a top priority for facility management and business owners, but concern about rising operational costs is never far behind. The impact of air quality on worker morale and productivity is well-documented. So is the effect of indoor air quality (IAQ) on the cognitive functioning of students in classrooms. This means HVAC systems must operate at peak efficiency to ensure safety and productivity, while keeping operating costs low.

Restoration circularity is a cost-effective way to achieve both, and this goes with the added benefit of lowering a facility’s carbon footprint. Unlike a linear economy that produces waste and increases carbon emissions, a circular economy closes that loop. It relies instead on repair, restoration, and the retrofitting of components instead of the “take, make, waste” system of the past. The circular economy reduces operating costs while improving IAQ.

Workers are concerned about the safety of the buildings where they work to the extent that many prefer to work from home, if possible. Some would rather seek other employment than return to buildings in which they feel unsafe. This puts business owners in the middle between safety concerns and rising operating costs. Eliminating this problem is easier and more affordable than many realize; it involves investing in restoring and not replacing mechanical systems. This also avoids many of the problems caused by supply chain disruptions.

Supply Chain Disruptions. It’s a fact that mechanical systems degrade over time. For HVAC equipment, the resulting inefficiency impacts IAQ. Not only does this make the indoor environment less comfortable, but it also increases the risk of illness. It can lead to mold and bacteria growth and thee increase of airborne virus transmission.

Adapting to an HVAC circular economy is a solution, not just for occupant safety and the current supply chain issues, but for the long-term health of U.S. businesses.

HVAC Restoration Circularity. The HVAC refurbishment process involves five steps to clean, restore, repair, and improve the performance of existing HVAC systems.

The first step is a thorough cleaning of the air handling unit (AHU) using high-temperature steam, low-pressure turbulence. This method knocks out built-up dirt and debris, which is then removed by an industrial-strength vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. The result is significantly improved airflow (upwards of 50%) and increased cooling capacity. It also extends the life of the coil. All reduce costs.

The HVAC restoration process also includes the removal of microbial infested, deteriorated fiberglass insulation. As this material degrades, microbial particles break loose becoming airborne traveling through the ductwork at six MPH and entering the occupied spaces potentially causing respiratory distress in building occupants.

Next, comes the ECM fan array upgrade—another step to improve AHU operation by making it more efficient. Retrofitting an air handler with a Q-PAC™ Fan Array or equivalent also means less maintenance, with no more motor, shaft, and belt service requirements.

Further protection includes the application of an antimicrobial coating to the AHU and drain pan. This method uses water-resistant paint that is applied after garnet blasting and sanding rusted areas. The process protects against moisture, extremes of hot and cold, and prevents rust, corrosion, and the growth of mold and bacteria. It also protects the evaporator coil.

The final step in HVAC restoration circularity is the installation of fiberglass-free zero-porosity material insulation. This material prevents moisture and microbial growth and keeps equipment running at peak efficiency while circulating clean air throughout the building.

Avoid Disruptions by Investing in Existing Systems. Rising freight rates, driver shortages, and transportation bottlenecks all combine to create headaches for industries across the country. HVAC refurbishment sidesteps many of these issues by improving equipment. The basic components of the AHU have remained relatively unchanged over the decades even as control systems have advanced. Even with improvements to control systems, the entire system is only good as the AHU. Therefore, it makes sense to spend the time to join the circular economy and invest in HVAC restoration. It’s not only smart, but also essential to the survival of businesses in an uncertain world.

circular economyA Certified Indoor Air Quality Professional (CIAQP) and Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant (CIEC), Wozniak is President and CEO of Pure Air Control Services, a nationally recognized IAQ firm headquartered in Clearwater, FL. Since 1984, Pure Air Control Services has provided IAQ services to governmental agencies, educational institutions, commercial properties, energy engineering firms and other mechanical contractors. In 2021, the company was acquired by RPM International and are now part of the Tremco Construction Products Group.

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