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HVAC Maintenance Plans: The What, Why and How of Maintaining Your HVAC System

Harvest Integrated

08.09.21

Setting up an HVAC system is a big investment. Unfortunately, HVAC maintenance is often treated as an afterthought. Too often, maintenance is not addressed in the planning phase and indoor agriculture facility operations teams find themselves with the task of figuring things out as they go.  

This approach is erroneous. 

Your HVAC system must be protected just like any other investment. To do this, an HVAC maintenance plan is a must. 

The What: What is The Purpose of an HVAC Maintenance Plan?

A maintenance plan documents all the work that needs to be done regularly to maintain an HVAC system. Instead of waiting for problems to arise, a good maintenance plan helps you avoid the problems, or at least identify them and minimize any damage. It also makes controlling costs and enhancing HVAC performance easier. Essentially, the plan promotes a proactive approach to maintenance, helping to ensure maximum efficiency and avoiding the hassles that come with a broken system. 

The Why: Why is an HVAC Maintenance Plan Important?

The best way to understand why a maintenance plan is important is to look at the cost of improper maintenance. 

Among the things that can go wrong in an indoor agriculture facility, the failure of an HVAC system is one of the most serious. The system controls critical indoor environment elements that have a significant impact on crop yield and quality. When an HVAC system is not maintained, your crops will suffer. Additionally, lack of HVAC maintenance has a dramatic effect on utility bills and it can cause your system to underperform or even break down. For instance, poorly lubricated components can increase energy consumption. Dirty parts can cause common problems such as reduced airflow and bad indoor air quality, resulting in higher operating costs. 

Failure to maintain an HVAC system can result in expensive disruptions, which can often be catastrophic. This is where a maintenance plan comes in. It can help extend your HVAC equipment’s life span, increase performance, reduce operating costs and eliminate costly repairs. 

The How: What Should Be Included in HVAC Maintenance Plans?

Each facility is unique so what gets included in HVAC maintenance will differ, but each plan should always include some fundamentals. 

1. A guide to routine maintenance  

A major part of the HVAC maintenance plan is, of course, the maintenance part. At the very basic level, you need to understand the general maintenance requirements and how complex they are. You also need to detail what routine maintenance entails and how often this occurs to ensure the best HVAC performance. A regular HVAC maintenance schedule is particularly important since taking too long between maintenances can make it easier for some common yet costly problems (e.g. leaks and clogged filters) to wreak havoc on your entire system. 

The extent of the processes that need to be undertaken will vary, but most plans will include a full inspection and tune-up of your system. To make sure that the inspections yield good results, it’s prudent to have a pre-established HVAC system maintenance checklist that details what needs to be looked at. Some common things to look at include:

  • Thermostat checks and repairs
  • Cleaning out airways
  • Air conditioning and filter changes 
  • Lubrication and refrigerant checks
  • Insulation work
  • Electrical connection checks

It’s worth having professionals take over this part of the maintenance plan. HVAC maintenance isn’t just about basic cleaning and component changes. Proper maintenance is far more complex and extends to specialty tasks such as water treatment and lubrication. It’s better to contract your HVAC maintenance to a knowledgeable third party than try to keep everything in-house only to seek expert help once things have gone wrong. There’s often a misconception that expert maintenance is expensive. However, in addition to responding to emergencies, reputable HVAC manufacturers usually offer affordable and efficient maintenance with their systems.

A lot of maintenance plans focus on system checks. Yes, regular HVAC system checks are essential, but the reality is that they are not enough on their own. If you want to ensure optimal system performance and efficiency, your maintenance plan needs to go beyond system checks. The plan should address the following issues as well. 

2. A Robust Monitoring System

HVAC problems don’t always wait for maintenance to come along. That is why it’s advisable to support your HVAC system maintenance checklist and HVAC maintenance schedule with a robust monitoring system. Such a system is good for detecting any changes in system behavior that need to be attended to quickly. Monitoring your HVAC system can also help determine future maintenance requirements. For example, the climate parameters you monitor and the identified anomalies can give you valuable insight into what needs to be included in your routine maintenance. 

3. A Contingency Plan

No system is foolproof. Things break down and systems fail. Without a contingency plan, serious losses are not out of the question. 

Your maintenance plan must include a backup plan that details what happens in case of any system malfunction. Whether it’s a separate dehumidifier or a backup generator, you need a solid contingency plan. If too many additional systems are not ideal, you can invest in a specialized HVAC system that allows your facility to keep running even during a component failure. 

4. A Plan for Balancing Costs and Value

An HVAC system must deliver value, otherwise, it’s not worth it. Your maintenance plan should include a way to keep track of the cost of maintaining the system. This can include things such as how much energy the system uses or how often you have to deal with breakdowns and undertake repairs. Keeping track of this will make it easier to know when the system is no longer providing value and needs replacing.   

Getting The Best HVAC Maintenance Plan For Your Business

The long-term costs of ignoring HVAC maintenance far outweigh any short-term savings you can enjoy from skipping regular checks. Optimizing HVAC performance through preventative maintenance has several benefits including increased efficiency and fewer repairs, both of which will contribute to business growth. 

You can enjoy these benefits with the help of an effective maintenance plan. A proper maintenance plan will look at all the fundamentals and blend them with a knowledgeable operations team and the right  HVAC vendor. This is because these two parties play a big role in determining how well your maintenance goes. For example, if you choose an HVAC vendor who provides a complex system with little to no support, you will probably struggle with creating and executing a maintenance plan. On the other hand, if your operations team doesn’t understand the system or who to call for support, your maintenance plan will likely be ineffectual. 

It’s important to reiterate that an HVAC system is a substantial investment, so it must provide returns. A maintenance plan will help you get those returns.