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A total replacement isn’t the only option for aging HVAC systems

As featured in the Philadelphia Business Journal

With the improvements to heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology, building owners with HVAC problems have more options than ever before. This includes new programs from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

The average lifespan for most light-commercial HVAC systems is 15 to 20 years, according to Buildings.com, a publication for facility managers and building owners. Refreshing the equipment can significantly extend a system’s useful life, restoring performance and delaying a total replacement.

“Ten to 15 years ago, when these programs first came out, it was very limited on what type of equipment was eligible,” said Daeen Salam, general manager of building automation for Tozour Energy Systems, a full-service HVAC and building automation provider based in King of Prussia. “It has vastly expanded, especially over the past five years, so a majority of large equipment has some type of renewal or refresh program associated with it.”

Tozour is a franchise of the HVAC systems manufacturer Trane and offers several service programs that restore aging systems. The programs are catching on with customers, said Senior Service Account Manager Tim Andrel, with approximately 75% of building owners with systems that are eligible for a refresh opting for the approach over a total replacement.

Commercial building owners typically compare the replacement cost to the price of a refresh and then factor in the potential impact of any unplanned equipment downtime on tenants or production facilities, Andrel said. He recommends building owners also consider their desired upgrades, timeline and budget when weighing their options.

Prioritize upgrades

As HVAC systems age, their performance tends to slip. This can mean they start pulling more power to cool a building, hurting energy efficiency. Worn components can cause systems to go down unexpectedly, resulting in lost productivity.

Indoor air quality has become a higher priority since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the EPA recommending buildings increase air filtration and ventilation with outdoor air.

Installing a new system and refreshing an existing one both provide an opportunity to improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality, Andrel said. “Upgrading filters, adding UV lighting — there’s a whole laundry list of things Tozour can offer. It really all depends on what the owner is looking for.”

Review timelines

Refreshing or restoring an existing system often is faster than replacing a system outright. A refresh of a Trane IntelliPak rooftop unit, for example, can typically be completed with minimal interruption.

Part of the speed has to do with the slowdown businesses are seeing throughout the global supply chain. “In some cases, lead times on equipment have increased dramatically in today’s market for all manufactures,” Andrel said. “We used to see some pieces of equipment with lead times of six to eight weeks. Now, it could be 12 to 16 weeks for delivery.”

In older buildings, where the original HVAC system may have been put in place and then the building was constructed around it or where nearby development has blocked easy rooftop access for heavy equipment, a total replacement may come with logistical challenges that increase cost and extend timelines.

“In some cases, in these larger buildings, just getting the existing unit out and putting in the new one can be so expensive,” Salam said. “That’s sometimes the most expensive part of the replacement process, not the actual machine itself.”

Evaluate the budget

One of the benefits of a restoration or refresh program, Andrel said, is their average price tag is one-third of a total system replacement. Yet, by working with an OEM, owners are getting systems that, for financial purposes, act a lot like new systems.

“Depending on their accounting system, the HVAC system may be an asset that’s been depreciated over time and may no longer carry value on their balance sheet,” he said. “Because the factory will issue a new serial number for the unit and a new factory warranty, they may be able to capitalize the cost.”

Facing an aging HVAC system is a significant expense for any building owner. Tozour Energy Systems will provide multiple solutions, including options to extend the useful life of equipment, and will help building owners with multiple solutions to accommodate needed upgrades as well as a variety of timelines and budgets.

Tozour’s comprehensive Trane retrofit and upgrade programs enable you to upgrade critical equipment to factory specifications that include extended warranty and service plans. Learn more.

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