Is “Run it Until it Breaks” a Good HVAC Cost Savings Strategy?

The downturn in the economy has forced many companies and organizations to make some tough choices in spending cutbacks. A common place to cut back is outside vendors who perform maintenance. This strategy needs to be looked at more closely.

The comfort of tenants, air quality, proper ventilation, cooling for processes and efficient HVAC equipment operation is critical to the success of facilities operations. When things are humming along, it seems prudent to cut back on maintenance. However, equipment is usually running efficiently due to the investment in maintenance of the equipment.

A new strategy is to run equipment to failure and fix it if it breaks, with the thought that delaying any cash outlays for as long as possible is a good policy. As with any mechanical system, this is costly and usually untimely. This kind of stress on equipment shortens the life and affects the operation and efficiency. Although utility costs in Utah are among the nations lowest, it is still a significant expense to hinder the efficiency of equipment. And spending more because of poorly maintained equipment is just one of the hidden costs of curtailed maintenance.

Many organizations have looked at having current, in-house staff personnel take over the maintenance of HVAC equipment. Although nice in theory, it puts a lot of stress and added responsibility to already thin resources. Without proper training and experience, asking untrained staff to do additional HVAC tasks is like asking a car mechanic to repair diesel trucks since they are both vehicles.

Another trend has been the entrance of residential contractors into the commercial marketplace. The housing market has been soft for a number of years, and in an effort to survive, many companies have claimed to provide service for commercial equipment but only have residential equipment history. The low price usually is an indication that they are not familiar with what resources it will take to handle sophisticated equipment. No one wants to be taken advantage of, but having inexperienced or unqualified personnel work on one of your largest investments is like turning the keys of a car over to a small child who has ridden in a car.

A large food and supplement manufacturer cut back on preventative maintenance for several years due to a downturn in sales. When they started to regularly maintain their equipment again, they realized a 10 percent repair savings the first year and a 46 percent savings the second year. They also were able to extend the life of their existing equipment several years, thus delaying capital expenditures.

If cutting back on HVAC preventative maintenance is on your budget agenda, consider the short- and long-term costs. The sweetness of a low price is soon forgotten with poor performance and increased operating cost.

Jim Woodward

Jim Woodard is sales manager for CCI Mechanical, Inc., a 50-year-old, Salt Lake City based, full-service design build mechanical contractor.