Get your commercial building ready for winter with these basic maintenance tips

Wednesday, October 26 2016 9:14 AM
By Jon Goering

Getting your HVAC systems ready for winter is easy if you follow these basic steps.

Another hot and humid Kansas summer has passed, and now you've set your sights on cooler weather. Preparing your commercial buildings and facilities for the cold differs from spring and summer programs in many ways. Follow these basic maintenance tips to ensure that your building is ready for seasonal changes. 

Inspect Heating Systems

Maintaining your heating system should be a top priority as the weather cools, obviously. Inspect the system regularly, and create a written plan to outline what maintenance tasks should be addressed daily, weekly, monthly and annually. This way, you have a schedule in place to keep your maintenance program on point. It will save you a lot of headaches later on. 

On a systems-specific level, maintain your hot water heating boilers by following these basic steps:

Furnaces and rooftop units also should be examined. Repair cracks in heat exchangers to avoid the risk of leaking poisonous carbon dioxide into your building. Consider replacing furnaces older than 10 years, as the efficiency ratings for newer equipment can exceed that of older equipment by 40 percent or more.

Winterize Cooling Systems

Cooling systems not in use during the heating season should be taken down. Drain cooling towers, shut down chillers and empty condensate drain traps. If cooling systems need repair, do so now to avoid system breakdowns when cooling is needed in warmer weather. You'll be glad you did. Plus, service companies will have more time for cooling system repairs in the off-season.

Calibrate Thermostats / Reduce Set Points

Your building’s thermostats present opportunities for energy savings. Don't let them intimidate you! First, calibrate thermostats, which will structure your heating systems to operate more efficiently. Additionally, consider lowering the heating set point in your building a few degrees. Studies show utility costs drop by an average of one percent for every degree lowered. Just don't make it so cool that employees bring in a truckload of space heaters, which can inflate energy costs. 

Change Air Filters

Change air filters in your system. Dirty air filters slow down air flow, making your system work harder, which leads to increased energy use and shortened equipment life cycles. More seriously, dirty filters also can have a negative impact on your building’s indoor air quality and, in turn, its occupants. Replace filters based upon the procedure and frequency guidelines of the filter and HVAC manufacturer. If don't have time to do so, consider hiring a service company that specializes in changing them out. 

Inspect Doors and Windows

People generally don't like to be cold. Neither do most insects and other pests. Inspect doors and windows to identify and eliminate potential heat loss, water damage and the entry of unwelcome animals looking for warmth. Use calking or weather stripping to seal gaps between windows, doors and exterior walls. Also seal areas between the foundation and siding and where bricks and wood connect.

Clean the Gutters

Clean gutters and downspouts in the spring and fall and more often if your building is surrounded by trees. Clogged gutters trap water, which can damage roofs, trim, siding and foundations. Debris buildup can tear gutters from buildings, and it’s also an attractive home for pests, rodents and mold. Consider installing gutter guards to help reduce debris buildup.And use caution when cleaning gutters to avoid injuries from falls. 

The Importance of Good Mats

This step is easily overlooked, and the costs can add up. Entrance mats help to alleviate potential slip hazards and excess dirt tracked into the building, which can cost $500 to $700 a pound to clean. Yeah! Place mats at building entrances and exits both inside and out, giving people three steps with each foot on a mat.

Studies show utility costs drop by an average of one percent for every degree lowered.

Inspect Exterior Faucets, Irrigation Systems

Drain hoses and faucets to prevent them from freezing and breaking, or install freeze-proof equipment. Blow out irrigation lines to avoid cracked pipes during a freeze, but take caution when using compressed air as it can be dangerous. And just think - no grass to cut until the spring!

Repair Sidewalk Cracks

Uneven and cracked sidewalks are potential tripping hazards for the young and old alike. Seal cracks in sidewalks and paved areas, which can help to prevent further damages from spreading. Sealing cracks also can eliminate depressions and potholes in sub-grade materials beneath.

Inspec the Roof

Leaky roofs cause enormous headaches for building owners. Repair or replace loose shingles or areas where water might collect to eliminate potential leaks, including chimneys and vents. Check low-sloped roofs for clogged drains, and examine your attic’s insulation for proper thickness to avoid heat loss. As with gutters, take extra precautions when accessing or leaving a roof and while performing maintenance to avoid potentially serious falls.  

Deicers

Living in Kansas, you can expect ice at least once during the winter season. Apply deicers on slippery sidewalks and other outdoor surfaces to avoid slips and falls. One common de-icing agent is rock salt (sodium chloride). While cheap and effective, rock salt can corrode concrete and metal, contaminate groundwater and leave residues when tracked indoors can. Consider purchasing environmentally-friendly products, or use rock salt sparingly to avoid its negative affects on outdoor and indoor areas.

Prepare for Power Outages

Power loss can disrupt a business in many ways. Inspect backup power sources regularly to ensure proper operation, and backup all company data frequently. Consider installing emergency lighting that turns on when a power loss occurs. Is security a risk at your facility? Meet with your local law enforcement team to outline steps to take in the event of a power outage. If you have a high-rise building, you may want to implement an employee evacuation plan or designate an area near windows where employees can gather. Flashlights also could be made easily accessible. You never realize how valuable a flashlight is until you're in the dark!

Conclusion

Winter weather brings a number of unique challenges for those responsible for building and facility maintenance. By following these simple, common-sense steps and through proper planning and scheduling, you will limit the chances of cold weather negatively affecting your building. And just think of the peace of mind you'll enjoy as you stay warm inside knowing that you have prepared for winter!

Is comfort an issue in your building? For more information, please email Jonathon Goering by clicking here or call 316-265-9655.

Knipp Services works with commercial and industrial building owners to identify solutions to reduce downtime and increase building efficiency. We provide services that enable building owners to have a high-performance building.

Topics: fall and winter maintenance

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Sources:

HPAC Engineering

HPAC Engineering 2

Crockett Facilities Services

Green-Buildings.com

Consumer Energy Center

Angie’s List

ACHR News

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