The HVAC Factor: Maintaining Comfort In A Changing Environment

Matt Stavis

By Matt Stavis
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Energy efficiency retrofits in commercial buildings are booming, and heightened activity is expected to continue through at least 2013, according to a report released last fall by Pike Research. This report also asserted that these investments can really expand, with payback periods ranging from a few months to a few years, depending on the upgrades undertaken.

While renovating might be a good step for a facility, it is crucial to plan ahead as a building renovation is a complex process with multiple evolving elements. From an HVAC standpoint, ensuring that temperature, humidity levels, and power are reliably maintained throughout the renovation schedule is critical.

To avoid potential problems, facility managers (fms) should carefully consider the possibilities when planning a renovation project. These include:

  • Changes in capacity;
  • Certification/warranty issues;
  • Employee/occupant comfort and productivity;
  • Backup equipment;
  • Dehumidification; and
  • Door to door delivery.

Changes in capacity: A renovation project can cause significant changes in the cooling, heating, and power requirements of a space. If square footage and/or high load equipment will be added, the facility’s existing system may lack capacity. Conversely, removing or repurposing space may lead to existing systems overwhelming the space. Using temporary rental equipment can be an ideal solution in these situations. Reservations for, and plans to install, rental systems can effectively meet ongoing cooling, heating, and power demands while renovation work is completed.

Certification/warranty issues:
Renovation projects frequently produce significant dust and other particulate contamination. These contaminants can damage the permanent building systems, void warranties, and reduce the likelihood of obtaining certifications such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). To avoid these complications, fms can plan for temporary HVAC systems to condition affected spaces in lieu of existing systems until upgrades are complete.

Employee/occupant comfort and productivity: The comfort of employees and other occupants can significantly influence their productivity. While it is not necessary to provide the same environment during renovation that is required during periods of normal operation, preventing temperature extremes can positively impact the time and overall cost of the project. A temporary cooling/heating solution can effectively mitigate these conditions and keep both occupants and work crews productive.

Backup: Renovation projects can introduce planned—and unplanned—interruptions of existing building systems. A standby rental system provides an “insurance policy,” dramatically lowering risk in the event of a catastrophic outage.

Dehumidification: When applying renovation finishes to surfaces (e.g., drywall, hardwood, paint), humidity control often becomes crucial. Rental equipment, such as desiccant dehumidifiers, package units, and air handlers/chillers, can be used to deal with these issues and maintain humidity at required levels.

Door to door delivery:
In deciding to bring in temporary HVAC equipment during a renovation, fms should be able to rent anything they need for the duration of the project. Equipment often brought in for this purpose includes power generators, air conditioners, and components of chilled water systems. Rental suppliers will usually transport the equipment directly to the facility site, and most will provide necessary ancillary materials, such as hoses, flex ducts, cables, and pumps to ensure an efficient connection to the facility. Some of the equipment commonly found in rental fleets includes:

  • Components of chilled water systems, including air-cooled water chillers (10 to 500 ton) and water-cooled water chillers (225 to 1,000 ton)
  • Cooling towers (250 to 750 ton)
  • Air conditioning units (10 to 50 ton)
  • Power generators (25 to 2,000 kW)
  • Air handlers (5,000 to 25,000 cfm)

Creating The Agreement

Renting equipment is usually a straightforward process. Fms can consult with their vendors’ local account representatives to determine what is needed; those reps should be able to provide a proposal to meet a facility’s needs for periods as short as one week to as long as several months. Once an fm signs off on the proposal, the vendor will mobilize needed equipment and deliver it to the site according to the fm’s desired schedule. Once on-site, the equipment can be connected by the facilities staff, a qualified contractor, or by the rental company; most rental companies will provide whatever level of support is needed.

Should any challenges arise with the equipment during the rental period, an fm should expect his or her account representative to help resolve them. Additionally, if maintenance is needed for the equipment, the rental company should be able to provide a technician to execute any needed repairs.

Renovation projects can put a facility’s HVAC infrastructure at significant risk. Fortunately, there are resources available to mitigate the risks and keep a renovation progressing smoothly. Planning ahead for rental equipment can play a critical role in the success of a project.

Stavis is business development manager of Rental Services for Trane ( In this position, he collaborates with customers in a variety of industries to meet their rental needs. Stavis holds a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular biology from Vanderbilt University and a Master’s in Business Administration degree in finance from the University of Miami.

To read a summary of the Pike Research report mentioned in this article, visit: Share your renovation experiences, or send your thoughts on this topic to