4 HVAC System Warning Signs and What to Do About Them

PG&E
4 HVAC System Warning Signs and What to Do About Them

Sooner or later every business owner or manager is faced with the prospect of repairing, retrofitting or replacing the building's heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Those who put off upgrading their system in hopes of deferring costs do so at their own peril. Waiting until it's too late only leads to greater expenses down the road.


Even if a system failure is not imminent, commercial HVAC systems that are aging or have not been properly maintained are operating inefficiently and are costing businesses or building owners money. They can also lead to health, comfort and productivity issues among employees and customers.


Working with an HVAC contractor to head off problems before they become emergencies will help save businesses money and headaches. Fortunately, there are several warning signs they can watch for that will indicate the need for an HVAC repair, retrofit or even a replacement.


1. Utility bills are rising
A business or building's utility bills can suddenly rise for a number of reasons, including rate increases, energy misuses by employees and inefficient commercial HVAC system operation. Businesses can figure out if the HVAC system is the culprit by monitoring their utility bills and comparing current gas and electricity use with prior use. Then they can evaluate the way the HVAC system has been used in the past and how it is used now. If there haven't been any changes in the electricity or gas rate, usage patterns or weather conditions, the higher bills are probably a sign that the HVAC is not performing as efficiently as it should.


2. Deteriorating air quality and airflow
Building owners and managers want their work environment to be as healthy and productive as possible, and clean air and balanced airflow are vital. Upgrading commercial HVAC systems with demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) and enhanced ventilation control (EVC) can solve many air quality and airflow problems.


3. Heating or cooling of indoor spaces is uneven
Employee complaints about an uncomfortable work environment may indicate that heating and cooling systems are cycling on and off too frequently. An HVAC system may need to be retro-commissioned if standard tune-ups and adjustments don't resolve the issue.


4. The HVAC system is old
Simply knowing the age of a building's current HVAC system can serve as a key warning sign and will help make working with an HVAC contractor on repair decisions much simpler. The older the system, the more likely it is that replacement will be the best option. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, furnaces and boilers usually need to be replaced at least once every 18 to 24 years. Air conditioners usually need to be replaced after 15 years.1 Businesses with air conditioners more than 10 years old should consider installing an advanced digital economizer control (ADEC) system. ADECs detect and report problems with sensors, dampers and other components so that energy efficiency can be maintained.2


Being on the lookout for these warning signs is a best practice for building owners and business managers. Businesses can also prevent or delay these warning signs from occurring during the normal lifespan of the commercial HVAC system by working with an HVAC contractor to set up a long-term quality maintenance program.


PG&E's Commercial HVAC Optimization Program, for example, can get businesses into the pattern of maintaining their HVAC unit to prevent system failures that can threaten business operations.3 Should the need arise to replace the HVAC system, a detailed quality maintenance plan will help maintain efficiency by laying the groundwork for the optimal way to use the HVAC system over the course of its operational lifespan.


Buildings and businesses whose commercial HVAC systems are currently working well can take several simple HVAC repair measures to maintain their efficiency. These include installing new insulation, tightening the building's shell by looking for and sealing any cracks, changing air filters, tuning up HVAC equipment and installing efficiency controls, such as programmable thermostats.


It is paramount that businesses and building owners considering repairs, retrofits or replacements for their commercial HVAC system work with a qualified HVAC contractor to ensure that the installation is performed properly. Improper installation can reduce HVAC system efficiency by up to 30%.4 To avoid mitigating the effectiveness of a new or repaired system, businesses should do their homework before choosing an HVAC technician. PG&E's Trade Professional Alliance Online Directory can help businesses find contractors to help with an HVAC repair or replacement.

Download "The Complete Guide to Working with a Lighting or HVAC Contractor" eBook from PG&E and go beyond the deliberation stage in repairing or replacing an HVAC system. Explore product and incentive options with a contractor to improve system operation and further develop a long-term quality maintenance plan.


Referenced in article:


  1. ASHRAE (PDF, 17 KB)
  2. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PDF, 2.0 MB)
  3. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  4. ENERGY STAR