By Justin Becker
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) recently released long-range weather outlook, significant portions of the United States are likely in store for a hotter-than-average summer in 2023. While some of the country has already experienced stints of triple-digit temperatures, heat waves will inevitably hit many areas of the country in July and August, which are historically the hottest months of the year in the U.S.
During periods of extreme heat, HVAC systems often operate at, or in some cases beyond, ASHRAE design temperature limits to keep buildings cool for long stretches of time. This added strain on a complex HVAC system significantly increases the chance of malfunctions and system failures, particularly if there are any weaknesses or areas where preventive maintenance (PM) has lapsed.
Due to the influx of emergency repair calls HVAC experts receive during the peak summer months, facility managers may also have to wait longer for a repair. Unresolved supply chain issues coupled with a seasonal increase in demand for parts may also result in as much as 25% longer lead times for certain components.
For mission-critical operations, even seconds or minutes of system downtime can spell catastrophe. Failure to prepare HVAC systems for upcoming hot weather can have dire consequences, including significant losses in production time and revenue as well as damages to critical equipment which can overheat or malfunction if not kept cool.
To avoid potential adverse impacts of heat waves on mission-critical HVAC systems, facility managers must take the following precautions:
1. Test Back-Up Cooling Systems
Some facilities such as data centers have back-up cooling in server rooms to protect vital equipment. These split systems require their own monitoring and maintenance and should not be overlooked.
2. Have a Back-Up Power Source
While not a direct component of your HVAC system, a continuous, reliable power supply is a critical factor in keeping facilities on line. Ensure generators and Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) systems are tested and functional.
3. Enable Automatic Restart
In the case of a power outage, brown out, or power surge, it is crucial to configure HVAC systems to automatically restart in order to maintain uninterrupted service and avoid extended periods without cooling, especially when outages strike overnight or on weekends.
4. Keep Critical Spare Parts On Hand
While it may be impractical to keep a spare cooling tower lying around, many critical spare parts such as starters, VFDs, contractors, and relays can easily be kept on hand. As most system failures are electrical, having these components readily available can be invaluable, especially amidst increased lead times for certain parts which are further exacerbated due to heightened demand during the summer months.
5. Develop A Contingency Plan For Summer Heat
Having a proactive plan to keep facilities up and running is the best way to avoid making rash, reactive decisions under pressure. Consider setting up an agreement or account with a company that provides rentals for temporary chillers or spot coolers. In the event of a power outage, having a previously established relationship increases the likelihood of securing temporary cooling solutions. For some facilities, adding water or electrical tie-ins where temporary chillers or coolers can quickly be brought on line might also be worth exploring.
6. Ensure Preventive Maintenance is Up-To-Date
Regular preventive maintenance (PM) is the best way to evaluate your system for any weak spots, leaks, deteriorating parts or inefficiencies that can eventually cause major issues with your cooling system if not proactively addressed. As part of comprehensive PM, ensure chillers and cooling towers are clean and ready for the cooling season.
Taking precautionary measures to evaluate and prepare HVAC systems ahead of potential heat waves is the best way for mission-critical facilities to maintain uninterrupted, continuous service and avoid costly system downtimes and losses in production and revenue, while also protecting vital equipment. While summer is officially underway, many areas of the country have not yet reached triple-digit temperatures, so there is still time for facility managers to optimize their cooling systems before the first heat wave strikes their area.
For best results, facility managers should enlist a trained and credentialed HVAC expert who has the technical expertise required to properly evaluate, effectively diagnose and fix any system issues. It’s vital to select a certified professional who is well-versed in mission-critical facilities as they can serve as an invaluable resource when it comes to developing and maintaining custom cooling and heating solutions for complex operations.
Becker joined Mechanical Service Corporation as an HVAC tradesman and project manager in 2012, and after ten years working in the field, he transitioned his skillset to Technical Sales and was tapped by MSC to direct the expansion of the company’s marketing and sales programs. In this role, Becker works closely with the company’s highly-trained service technicians and engineers to provide clients across specialty and mission-critical environments with comprehensive HVAC and building automation expertise and solutions.