‘New normal’ will depend on better maintenance, says Lochinvar
As buildings emerge from lockdown, more rigorous service and maintenance of HVAC systems should become part of the ‘new normal’ to protect the health, safety and welfare of building occupants, according to boiler, water heater and heat pump manufacturer Lochinvar.
The maintenance of building services systems played a crucial role during the Covid-19 crisis. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) advised that building maintenance should continue as normal during the period when the country was in lockdown and was “helping to save lives” by keeping hospitals, care facilities, supermarkets and schools operating.
“What is usually a low key, unsung business moved centre stage as building managers and the general public became aware of the importance of our technologies in supporting a wide range of vital professions,” said Lochinvar’s technical support manager Steve McConnell.
Ensuring buildings are safe to re-open must be the top priority, according to Lochinvar, which means making sure occupied spaces are free of potential Covid-19 contamination. There are also additional risks from the possible build-up of legionella bacteria in under-used potable and hot water systems and the possibility of carbon monoxide and gas leaks that may have gone undetected when plant rooms were closed.
“Rather than just going back to ‘business as usual’, carrying out a full check on heating and cooling plant will allow engineers to identify any problems before they become more serious,” said Mr McConnell. “Taking early preventative action will mean systems can get up and running again more smoothly – and avoid potentially much more costly repairs and disruption further down the line.”
Lochinvar suggests this is a good time to re-commission boiler plant, for example, to improve operation, lower energy costs and cut carbon emissions. As buildings are only opening up gradually, this is a chance to re-set systems when demand is low.
This will also help end users keep a closer eye on operational performance and running costs in the longer term. The heating and hot water industry, in particular, has the tools to carry out accurate analysis, thanks to the emergence of ever improving digital methods that can ensure installed systems continue to operate as intended.
“Building managers should also consider whether the occupied spaces have been reconfigured – perhaps to accommodate social distancing – and, therefore, if the way the heating system, for example, has been set up is still fit for purpose,” added Mr McConnell.
Planned maintenance programmes are also crucial for meeting existing legal and regulatory obligations, preserving warranty conditions and ensuring indoor conditions can protect the health and wellbeing of occupants.
“Now, more than ever, is a time for building operators to be seen to be doing everything in their power to protect the people using their facilities,” said Mr McConnell. “The focus on health and wellbeing will be more pronounced than before.
“This will increase the pressure on our industry to deliver highly professionalised services throughout the operating life of our equipment, which is something all quality manufacturers have been calling for and should welcome.”
A proper maintenance strategy will also be helpful in delivering the ‘Golden Thread’ of operating information highlighted as a priority in the Hackitt Review to ensure buildings remain safe and comfortable for occupants throughout their operating life. Once the new Building Regulator is appointed next year, all building managers will be required to provide this data.
Planned maintenance also reduces the risk of disruption to the people and businesses occupying a commercial building through the failure of a critical service such as the hot water supply.
“If you have purchased a high efficiency piece of equipment like a modern boiler or water heater, surely it makes sense to ensure it continues to operate at its maximum potential?” said Mr McConnell.
“The current situation has reminded everyone of the importance of maintaining essential systems and now is the time to build on that new awareness for the longer term benefit of all commercial building users.”