You may wonder, “Is Preventative Maintenance on my HVAC equipment really necessary?” As budgets tighten, preventative maintenance is often a go-to place to cut back. Will you die if you don’t do maintenance? No, of course not. Can you get away with it? Maybe, but here are three things you should consider before you skip it altogether:
1. What is your risk tolerance?
Much of the benefit of preventative maintenance is the “prevention” part – meaning if you do it, bad things won’t happen. But how do you calculate the cost-benefit of something that may or may not happen? Tough call. Consequences vary wildly by customer, industry, time of year and type of problem.
Will your employees get up and leave if it’s hot? Will you lose thousands of dollars of product if your refrigeration goes down? To find out your risk tolerance, ask yourself, “What’s the worst case scenario?” For example, if your cooling fails during a 100-degree summer heat wave and you have critical heat sensitive electronic equipment, you could have thousands of dollars of damage. Or if heating fails on the coldest darkest night in winter, will your pipes freeze? Obviously, no one can predict the future and tell you if/when the worst may occur. Preventative maintenance is an insurance policy to mitigate the risk. Only you can decide your risk tolerance. So, do you feel lucky?
WAIT. Before you answer that…
Keep in mind, the longer you defer, the greater the risk. The effects of deferred maintenance are cumulative. Dirt and grime builds up on your system over time creating increasingly worse operating conditions and more stress on your equipment. Cooling compressor failure becomes more likely with each missed maintenance visit. Since the compressor is the heart of the cooling system, it is one of the most expensive repairs. For heating, the same type of buildup can occur with soot and scale in the furnace or boiler. This buildup can cause damage to heating system components or even worse, since heating unit operation involves combustion, carbon monoxide or other gases can cause dangerous conditions for occupants. So, in theory, I guess you COULD die from not doing maintenance. So, if you’re not going to maintain it, at least install some good Carbon Monoxide detectors!
2. You may not be saving money by avoiding maintenance.
Even if you are the riskiest of gamblers, your main reason for skipping out on maintenance – saving money – may not actually be reasonable. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: maintenance reduces your energy costs, increases operating capacity and lengthens unit lifespan. But thanks to some recent studies, we can now begin to quantify the savings. And the results may surprise you.
Energy Savings – HVAC Maintenance
During the cooling season in South Texas, if your HVAC economizer malfunctions or your sensors are out of calibration, your equipment could be drawing hot outside air into your building. The additional cost to cool this hot air could be more than $1,400 per year for each malfunctioning unit. A routine check of the economizer and sensors during a maintenance visit takes only a few minutes, but could make a big difference to your bottom line.
An unmaintained boiler, with as little as 1/16″ of soot buildup can increase fuel consumption by 2-8%. If it also has scale buildup (caused by naturally-present minerals in boiler water) fuel consumption may increase by an additional 2-5%. The more build-up, the less efficient the boiler will be. Average boiler maintenance costs are about $850/year for oil and $450 for gas boilers.
When deciding whether or not to maintain your Air Conditioning & Heating System, consider these additional costs.
3. Long-term Deferred Maintenance can Shorten Unit Life-Span
A well-made HVAC unit should last between 10-20 years on average, though we service some 40-plus year old ones that are still going strong. Manufacturers calculate the average unit lifespan based on the unit running within specified temperatures and pressures, and assuming regular maintenance is being done. When maintenance is not done, the unit runs outside of acceptable temperatures and pressures which causes additional wear and tear on the unit, shortening its overall lifespan and causing premature failure of its components.
Cost of Shortened Unit Life-Span
A well-made HVAC unit should last between 10-20 years on average, though we service some 30-plus year old ones that are still going strong. Manufacturers calculate the average unit lifespan based on the unit running within specified temperatures and pressures, and assuming regular maintenance is being done. When maintenance is not done, the unit runs outside of acceptable temperatures and pressures, which causes additional wear and tear on the unit, shortening its overall lifespan and causing premature failure of its components. To put it into numbers, if you have a $10,000 HVAC unit with a forecasted lifespan of 10 years and you assume maintenance costs at $700 per year (for both heating and cooling), your total 10-year investment is $17,000. If you take the same $10,000 unit and do no maintenance, you can expect to replace the unit before the end of its ten year life, costing (if you’re lucky) another $10,000. That’s $20,000 in the same ten years. However, you can’t forget to add in the extra energy usage from your dirty unit – $7,000-$11,000 over ten years. Now your 10-year total is $31,000. That’s $14,000 more and you had poor climate control for ten years!
The answer is pretty clear. Preventive maintenance is just smart. Whether you do it by contract, on-call, or have your own in-house staff take care of it, preventative maintenance can actually save you money. And your units, your energy bill, and your employees, tenants or tomatoes will thank you!