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HVAC Systems: Repair or Replace?

June 10, 2014 | 1 comment

High energy bills, occupant discomfort, productivity loss, sick tenants – these can all be symptoms of possible HVAC system trouble. But once you determine that your commercial building’s HVAC system needs help, how do you solve the problem? Invest in HVAC repair or incur the costs of a new HVAC system?

There are many factors to consider when making this decision; high on the list are relevant utility rebates or HVAC tax credits. Your local utility can also provide this helpful information.

No matter which route you choose – HVAC repair or replacement – a properly maintained system will often perform better and longer. Whether you’re starting with a brand new HVAC system, or maintaining a decades-old system, HVAC maintenance such as re-commissioning, coil cleaning, and duct check and repair will help your system operate efficiently and prevent unnecessary repair or replacement.

HVAC Repair
HVAC trouble doesn’t automatically mean replacement. If you’re experiencing one of these problems, it’s possible that repair or upgrades could be a solution:

  • Loud noises or squeaking from the HVAC system
  • Inconsistent temperatures throughout the building
  • Increased gas or electric bills
  • Frequent HVAC system cycling
  • HVAC system start-up trouble
  • Moisture control problems
  • Tenant/occupant discomfort

Depending on the age and condition of the HVAC system – and the problems being experienced – HVAC repairs or upgrades could range from retrofitting system components (air-side economizer, boiler, heat pump, etc.) to installing high-performance window film to reduce solar heat gain and lengthen HVAC run times.

According to research from the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), the average cost per square foot for an HVAC retrofit is $8.49. Based on a survey of 129 commercial buildings, this same research indicates that first-year savings for an HVAC retrofit is approximately $300,000. (These figures depend on the size of the building, the size of the system, the type of HVAC upgrade being performed, etc.)

HVAC Replacement
You could conceivably repair an HVAC system indefinitely if the components were available, but that isn’t always the wisest decision when you factor in time and money, as well as the high energy usage of aging components. When equipment reaches a certain point, it may no longer be a solid return on investment to repair an old or oversized system. According to most manufacturers, if your HVAC equipment was installed in the mid to late ‘90s, it’s now nearing the end of its service life (which is estimated to be about 15 years). If age, increasingly inefficient operation, or frequent repairs are occurring with your system, HVAC replacement may be an option.

Lennox Commercial offers these cost estimates for replacing individual HVAC system components on a 7.5-ton rooftop unit:

  • Condenser coil: $1,500
  • Condenser fan motor: $350 each
  • Compressor: $1,200 each
  • Evaporator coil: $1,500
  • Heat exchanger: $1,800
  • Blower motor: $500

If several components need to be fixed or replaced on your system, you may experience higher long-term ROI by investing in a new, high-efficiency HVAC system. Performing a life-cycle cost analysis (comparing your current system’s condition, efficiency, and remaining lifecycle with the cost of a new system) can help you determine the payback on repair vs. replacement.

When purchasing a new system, make sure you take into account the estimated future costs associated with maintaining and repairing the system.

Have you had to make the HVAC repair-or-replace decision? How did you choose?

1 Comment

  1. patrick schuler
    May 23, 2015

    I am a Hands on F/M. I have replaced and rebuilt systems myself I have recently started a business on my own where I clean and service Cooling Towers, Evaps, Condensers coils and perform related maintenance as needed. This not only prolongs the equipment but also saves money having a clean well serviced system

    Pat Schuler
    Engineer Maintenance
    (443) 834-3741

    give us a try

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