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9 Winter Preparation Tips For Facility Managers

9 Winter Preparation Tips For Facility Managers

Winter can be a brutal season for facilities. Inclement weather strikes, unused heating systems get pressed into service, and sand and road salt can wreak havoc on landscaping. With the addition of the COVID-19 outbreak this year, winter is shaping up to be especially challenging. Here are 9 tips to help facilities weather the season:

1. Clean ducts and change filters in HVAC systems.

A dirty HVAC filter won't just make the air in a facility smell and feel bad, it'll negatively impact the health of the occupants. This is especially true now, as experts recommend switching from typical HVAC filters to ones that are more efficient at trapping small particles, to hopefully reduce the amount of SARS-CoV-2 virus in the air. More efficient filters get clogged and dirty more quickly, so be sure to swap them out before winter hits. Clean ducts to get rid of dust, debris, and mold spores. It might be a good idea to consider installing a UV sanitizer, as well -- it's a simple way to help eliminate airborne viral particles and keep them from being blown around by HVAC systems.

2. Get ready to increase ventilation.

It might seem counterintuitive, but research shows that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is capable of remaining airborne for longer than previously thought. This means that during winter, when facility managers typically focus on keeping their buildings' energy-efficient and sealed up tight, facilities could inadvertently create conditions that encourage the virus to spread indoors. Bringing in more air from outside, either via windows or through adjusting the HVAC system, can help dilute the number of viral particles in the air. It'll mean higher energy bills, but the payoff is healthier, safer employees and guests.

3. Clean out gutters.

Autumn leaves mean clogged gutters, and clogged gutters can mean water damage. Be proactive before winter storms hit, and remove leaves, sticks, and other debris from gutters. During winter, clean gutters regularly to keep them from being blocked by snow and ice.

4. Inspect the building's exterior and make any needed repairs.

The middle of winter isn't a great time to have to fix a leaking roof or repair a door, so facility managers should give their buildings a thorough inspection to spot any potential trouble spots. Check the heating system, window insulation, doors, plumbing, and attics, or crawl spaces. Making repairs now will save a lot of trouble in the long run.

5. Take inventory.

Winter's a terrible time to have to make the trip to buy supplies, and severe snow and ice can delay shipments. Don't wait for stocks to run low -- have spare supplies on hand in case of an emergency. This includes items like disinfectants and cleaning supplies, paper products, de-icing supplies, disposable masks, and hand sanitizer.

6. Get ready for power shortages.

Storms can knock out power lines, leaving facilities scrambling to keep operating. Downed power lines aren't the only concern this year, though -- as more places consume power to keep their buildings adequately heated with increased ventilation, there's going to be a higher demand put on power grids. Have emergency lighting, a backup generator, and a solid plan in place in case the power goes out.

7. Prepare outside spaces.

People generally don't spend as much time outdoors in winter, but it's still important to maintain the landscaping. Water plants regularly before the first frost, so they'll be able to weather the dry winter air. Add two to three inches of mulch around the base of plants to help insulate their roots and keep water from evaporating too quickly. Figure out a designated spot to pile snow that won't damage plants, or make plans to have snow professionally removed and hauled away. Determine what de-icing treatments are safest for landscaping, and make a plan for keeping plants protected.

8. Winterize cooling systems.

Chances are, cooling systems aren't going to see much use for the next few months. For facilities that shut off theirs during winter, it's especially important to make sure that they go into the season properly cleaned, drained, and maintained. For facilities that keep them running, make sure that they're properly protected against freezing.

9. Pay attention to unheated spaces.

Unheated spaces might not look like a big deal, but they're a huge problem for pipes. Plumbing that runs through an unheated room is at risk of freezing and bursting, leading to a big, expensive mess and an equally expensive emergency visit from a plumber. Shut off the water and drain pipes that feed unheated rooms, or, if that's not possible, work out a way to insulate the pipes and keep the rooms warm enough to prevent freezing. Winter is a tough season. Proactively engaging in good, thorough winter preparation can help facility employees and occupants stay healthier, safer, and more comfortable while reducing long-term costs by avoiding emergency repairs.

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Tips For Cutting Energy Costs In School Facilities

Tips For Cutting Energy Costs In School Facilities

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are some of the most seriously impacted institutions. Many schools remain closed, and those that open are facing hundreds of empty seats as kids attend either part-time or via remote learning. Not only do schools have to cope with creating flexible, effective learning plans for distant students and providing a safe learning environment for those who attend in person, but they also have to do so while staring down budget cuts. Fortunately, there's one way that schools can decrease their outgoing expenses: cutting their energy costs.

Public and Private Schools Suffer from Budget Cuts

Schools of every stripe rely on state governments to provide funding. When the pandemic drastically raised the unemployment rate and left business unable to operate, that decreased the amount of tax revenue that states were able to bring in -- sometimes by as much as 30%. Lowered tax revenue translates into budget cuts, and schools all around the country have had to plan around serious budget cuts.

Lowering Energy Costs Helps Schools Make Ends Meet

Heating, cooling, and lighting a building as large as a school costs a lot of money. There are numerous ways that schools can reduce their expenses by paring down their power bills:

1. Undergo a (re)commissioning study. Before making changes to a school's energy consumption, it's a good idea to figure out exactly where and how to reduce expenses. In a commissioning study, an engineer observes a building to see how efficiently it operates, and make recommendations to improve efficiency and cut energy costs. Research shows that monitoring a school's energy systems can lead to as much as a 15% reduction in energy bills -- as much as $14,000 per year for an average school building.

2. Trade fluorescents for sunlight. Fluorescent lighting is inexpensive, but it still costs money. Schools can take advantage of natural lighting by installing blinds, adding skylights, and turning the lights off. While fluorescent lighting can be harsh and distracting, natural sunlight help people relax and focus and improves mood. If natural light isn't an option, consider LED bulbs. Modern LEDs allow lighting in different color temperatures, ranging from the cool of a fluorescent bulb to the warm gold of sunlight. They're also inexpensive to operate and last for a very long time.

3. Seal off unused areas. For schools with reduced class sizes, consider closing off unused classrooms. Block off vents to keep cooled air out of unoccupied rooms. This will keep air conditioning where it's most needed, and keep the HVAC system from consuming more power than is necessary.

4. Perform regular HVAC maintenance. It's easy to underestimate the amount of power an inefficient heating or cooling system can waste. An economizer can help save power by drawing in cool air, but can end up adding to the power bill if the damper linkage jams or breaks. Dirty condenser coils cut an air conditioner's cooling capacity, wasting energy as it struggles to keep the building cool. Dirty filters and dust-choked ducts keep air from circulating where it needs to go. Regular HVAC maintenance keeps heating and cooling systems running efficiently and saves money in the long run. If a school's cooling system is more than 15 years old, it might be time to consider a replacement. Even with regular maintenance, old air conditioning systems consume up to 20% more energy than newer ones. Air conditioning is the second largest energy sink in commercial buildings, and the most efficient air conditioning systems on the market are 52% more efficient than the federal standard.

5. Set up sensors. Automated sensors can turn the power on to occupied rooms, and shut it off as soon as they're empty. In areas like bathrooms, lights are often left on for safety and convenience. With a motion sensor, there's no reason to keep the room lit when it isn't in use -- they can turn on and off as needed, saving energy.

6. Swap out old appliances. While the old adage says, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," there are a lot of ways for appliances to fail before they break. Older refrigerators and microwaves consume far more power than energy-efficient models. Many newer appliances (like convection ovens) also produce healthier foods than conventional fryers at a fraction of the energy cost.

7. Don't forget the water bill. Low-flow faucets and showerheads don't just save water, they also save the power needed to heat that water. It's also a good idea to install sensors that automatically shut off sinks and showers after a specific period of time, to encourage students to reduce water use. Many schools already suffer from underfunding, and it can be hard to figure out how to reduce costs more than they already do. By consulting an energy expert and making a few changes to lighting, water, and HVAC usage, schools can cut their energy costs and better cope with COVID-19-related budget cuts.

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Air Conditioner Basics All Facility Manager's Should Know

Air Conditioner Basics All Facilities Managers Should Know

As a facilities manager, you are responsible for keeping your building at a steady and comfortable temperature throughout the year. Regardless of the season, you must ensure your building’s HVAC system functions properly and puts out the right amount of heating or air conditioning for the entire premise. You can accomplish this important goal in the summer months by learning about the basics of air conditioning that all facility managers like you should know. 

Types of HVAC Systems

Before you can maintain and service your HVAC system, you need to know first what kinds of systems are commonly used in commercial buildings like yours. The most common types of HVAC systems utilized today include: 

  • Constant volume 
  • Variable volume
  • Hybrid split ducts
  • Packaged heating and cooling
  • Heating and AC split
  • Heat pumps
  • Forced air
  • Multiple zones

These systems are most often used in commercial buildings and when properly serviced can maintain a steady temperature throughout large areas like office buildings, retail centers, and other similar properties.

Common Causes of HVAC Problems

Facility managers also need to understand and be able to identify the most common causes that result in HVAC issues. These systems can develop any number of challenges over time. By knowing about the ones that commonly afflict HVAC systems, you can be ready to address them if or when they arise in your building.

For example, challenges with air flow in the building can be caused by factors like: 

  • Clogged air filters
  • Leaky ductwork
  • Closed registers or blocked veins
  • Obstructed condensing units

Further, when your system is blowing out hot air, you may check it for dirty coils, filters, lines, and drains. Debris and dirt can get into any of these components, causing the system to malfunction and blow out hot instead of cool air. 

Likewise, a low refrigerant charge can also cause an HVAC system to blow out hot air. If the refrigerant in the system gets too low, the entire system could malfunction or stop working entirely. 

Low refrigerant can also be caused by corroded coils. If the coils and lines are not cleaned and serviced often, it can lead to small leaks developing throughout the entire system. 

These small leaks may cause the HVAC system to stop blowing out cold air and struggle to maintain a steady temperature during the summertime. It may run constantly to compensate for these leaks and cause its own coils to freeze as well as the compressor to fail. 

Finally, electrical issues can cause the breakdown of an entire HVAC system. Damaged parts like capacitors, wiring, and other parts can cause the circuit breakers in the system to trip and the system to stop working as it should.

Prevention of HVAC Breakdowns 

You can prevent many of the most common breakdowns that HVAC systems experience by taking preventative measures for your building. The best steps you can take to protect your building’s HVAC system include: 

  • Maintaining the entire system at least two to three times per year
  • Cleaning coils to prevent refrigerant leaks
  • Changing the filters to improve indoor air quality and maintain consistent air flow
  • Keeping the equipment free from clutter and debris
  • Avoiding closing, taping, or blocking the vents to maintain a steady temperature in the building

These simple yet important measures can go a long way in preventing serious breakdowns of your HVAC system.

The HVAC system in your building is important to its overall comfort and safety. This system requires regular maintenance and careful attention to its parts and equipment. By knowing what issues often arise with these systems and what measures you can take to prevent them, you can keep your building comfortable and cool during the hottest parts of the year.

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Is it Time to Upgrade Your Long Island Property’s HVAC System?

long Island hvac system replacement

This is the time of year when most Long Island properties are in the lull between the need for heat and the need for air conditioning. That being said, it will soon be time to turn on your building’s central air conditioning system.  If you are planning to repair or replace your HVAC units or furnaces, now is the time. But do you know if it makes more sense to replace aging units or just maintain them for another season?

With regular maintenance, most commercial HVAC systems last between 15-20 years. If your system is close to the end of its lifespan, it may make financial and logistical sense to upgrade your property’s units. A scheduled replacement is much less difficult to deal with than having to close your building for an extended period of time because you waited until it stopped working to replace it. When you schedule a replacement, you can prepare the tenants in your building(s) and may not even have to close your building, depending on the time of year and the weather.

There are close to five million commercial buildings in the United States today.  Some of these facilities were built or upgraded in recent years with the latest in technology and systems for occupant comfort and convenience, but many others still rely on outdated technology in their HVAC systems.

Commercial buildings consume just over 30 percent of the energy produced in the United States. Heating and cooling costs account for 40 percent of a commercial building’s total electricity bill. Building managers are always looking for ways to cut costs. Some of the greatest cost-cutting opportunity lies with the HVAC system, a property’s biggest energy user and highest controllable expense. Local utility companies throughout the country offer rebates and other business programs that will subsidize and facilitate commercial energy efficiency systems, further reducing the installation expenses associated with an upgrade.

In the next few years, the HVAC systems that were installed in the 1990s will be reaching their end of life. As your building’s equipment ages, maintenance and operating costs increase and reliability decreases.  Today’s heating and cooling systems have made substantial advances in design and efficiency, so facilities managers can look forward to significant operational benefits if they upgrade some or all of the building’s HVAC system.

How Do You Decide Whether to Make Repairs or Replace Your HVAC Units?

One way to know if replacement is the right choice is to check your furnace’s annual fuel utilization efficiency rating (AFUE). This number measures how efficient your unit is in converting fuel energy into heat. The higher the rating, the more efficient it is. For example, an 80 percent AFUE rating on a gas furnace means 20 percent of the heating will escape out the chimney or elsewhere.

The general rule of thumb is: If annual repair costs are more than 10 percent of what it would cost to replace the unit, you may as well replace it. A 10 percent return on capital is a solid return in today’s environment—especially if you’re able to invest in something far more efficient.

According to information from the Department of Energy, replacing an older furnace or boiler with a high efficiency unit, together with upgrades to flues, vents and other systems, can cut energy consumption in half. This is a big improvement over older, low-efficiency systems that log AFUE ratings of only 56 to 70 percent.

If you do decide to switch out your units, be sure to let your accountant know. IRS MACRS rules require that landlords depreciate HVAC units and furnaces in residential properties over 27.5 years. Most units will not last that long, so you will want your accountant to know that you are upgrading out this capital equipment so they can work with you to claim accelerated depreciation when you replace the old units. If you decide to repair instead of replace, you will also see some benefits, as repair costs are generally fully deductible in the current tax year.

Installing a high efficiency HVAC system allows you to effectively manage energy consumption, leading to better indoor air quality, lower costs, and a reduced carbon footprint. Along with regularly scheduled preventative maintenance, your high efficiency HVAC system can actually lower your total energy consumption by up to 50%. During peak summer months, your new system can save you a minimum of 15 percent off of your utility bill, potentially freeing thousands of dollars to allocate elsewhere. When making the decision whether to repair or replace your HVAC system, carefully weigh the pros and cons and consult with your building’s facility maintenance team to determine the most appropriate course of action.

Contact IFMA-Long Island bronze sponsor, Kelair, Inc. for all of your industrial and commercial HVAC needs.

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HVAC System Fires On The Rise: What You Need To Know

HVAC Maintenance Long Island

The primary job of all facility, property, and energy managers is to keep their buildings' occupants safe. In January 2017 there have been no less than six reports of fires related to faulty HVAC systems. The silver lining to these bad reports is that none of these incidents led to any serious injury or death.

However, these fires have raised the question of what facility professionals can do to ensure their properties' HVAC systems are safe and operating properly. If your maintenace is overdue, this post is a reminder to have your system inspected to make sure its is not only running efficiently, but also safely.

For specifics on these recently reported HVAC files, read the complete article on the Energy Manager Today website.

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