When is it Time to Upgrade a Building's HVAC System?

Gary Fagilde
air vents

Industry reports show that up to 75% of the estimated 9 million commercial rooftop heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units in the U.S. aren't running efficiently.1 With energy costs of primary concern, business owners and managers will want to make sure that their buildings are not among that overwhelming majority.

That large proportion of HVAC systems also shows that, unless a building's rooftop unit has been upgraded, retrofitted or replaced in the past two years, it is likely in need of some work. In addition to working with a contractor, businesses need to pay attention to tell-tale signs that may confirm it is time to upgrade their HVAC system.

Signs for an HVAC system upgrade
There are many factors that can indicate whether a building's HVAC system is in need of an upgrade.

  1. It's an older unit.
    If it's been more than five years since a building's HVAC unit was installed, then it might be time for HVAC retrofits.
  2. High utility bills.
    If utility bills have experienced a significant uptick, an HVAC upgrade could help to lessen those costs in both the short and long term.
  3. Frequent repairs are needed.
    Maintenance is one of the biggest costs of continuing to run an out-of-date HVAC system. HVAC upgrades and retrofits are a relatively affordable and easy way to limit those types of costs in the future.
  4. Temperature control is problematic.
    When it becomes difficult or impossible to maintain comfortable interior temperatures, HVAC retrofits allow business owners or managers to regain control over the indoor environment.
  5. Poor air quality and excessive dust.
    Poor air quality and excessive dust are two of the hard-to-see issues that can result from an HVAC system in need of an upgrade. It is essential to address them because they play a big a role in maintaining a comfortable and healthy work environment.
  6. Overly noisy HVAC equipment.
    One of the most obvious factors that signal it is time for an upgrade may be when employees and customers comment that they can't hear themselves over the noise of an older HVAC system.

Benefits of upgrading an HVAC system
Sometimes business owners or managers are reluctant to make necessary upgrades because of the up-front costs or perceived technical difficulty of doing so. However, with the help of a qualified HVAC contractor and financing assistance from utility companies such as PG&E, most, if not all, of those concerns can be alleviated.

PG&E rebates2 specifically for HVAC projects help to ease upfront costs and can lead to an extremely fast return on investment for HVAC retrofits and upgrades. As for any technical worries, while HVAC systems can be complex, locating qualified HVAC contractors by region is easy with PG&E's "Finding a Contractor" tool.3

Ultimately, an HVAC upgrade can help business owners and managers save money by significantly lowering monthly utility bills and maintenance costs. Those upgrades and retrofits also lead to less energy consumption and can help businesses gain compliance with the newest updates to California's Title 24 Building Standards Code.

Fortunately, there are many types of HVAC upgrades from which to choose. That makes it easier for business owners and managers to find the ones that are right for their building and fit within their budgets. Some of those upgrades include:

  • Natural gas furnaces.Switching to a natural gas furnace produces cleaner emissions and uses less energy.
  • Variable speed motors.VSMs conserve energy by changing motor speeds on a natural gas furnace according to indoor climate conditions, using less energy in non-demanding scenarios.
  • Replacement multi-speed brushless permanent magnet blower motors.This HVAC retrofit is super-efficient and is a simple replacement for older blower motors.
  • Variable frequency drives.One of the most efficient HVAC upgrades that can be made, VFDs cut waste by modulating HVAC fan speed based on indoor climate readings.
  • Advanced digital economizer controls.ADECs maintain energy efficiency by detecting and reporting problems with sensors, dampers or other HVAC components.
  • Notched V-belts.By upgrading from solid V-belts to notched V-belts to drive packaged HVAC fans, businesses can realize a noticeable drop in energy usage and monthly utility bills. A step beyond the standard power transmission belt, notched belts' grooves help reduce the bending resistance of the belt. As a result, they are 2% more efficient than standard V-belts because they run cooler and last longer.4

HVAC installation guidance
In order to determine what kinds of HVAC upgrades and retrofits fit each business and building, it is best to work with a qualified HVAC contractor. For more information on finding and working with an HVAC contractor, please reference PG&E or state and federal governments. "The Complete Guide to Working with a Lighting or HVAC Contractor" eBook from PG&E.

Referenced in article:

  1. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  2. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  3. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  4. U.S. Department of Energy