Using maintenance to make savings

As we prepare ourselves for the coming winter with the coldest months of the year still ahead of us, many will be getting their heating systems ready for an annual check up.
But are you missing a cost-saving trick by not ensuring a more regular maintenance programme with ongoing monitoring? And with the end of R22 refrigerant as we know it, could you really be better off taking the plunge and replacing your old air conditioning and your boiler for a modern VRF heat pump system? 
Reduce costs
The cost of energy is continuing to rise and in the current gloomy economic climate, all companies need to find ways of reducing costs but many are overlooking one area that can really make a difference – maintenance.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” this is not a recommended approach to modern maintenance. 
If you do little more than an annual or bi-annual check-up, it will be impossible to tell just how efficiently your system is working and therefore how much of your hard-earned cash you are simply wasting.
Whilst your heating and cooling systems may indeed be working could they be working more effectively for you? You would be amazed at how much this can reduce your energy consumption and therefore your fuel bills and it needn’t cost anything to set up
Simple things like dusting vents more regularly and removing blockages on outdoor condensing units can really have a dramatic effect as the machinery within your plant will have to work less and will consume less energy as a result.
An improved and slightly more regular maintenance regime could even be possible within the terms of your current agreement but even if there is a slight increase in your annual fee, it can soon be repaid by the reduction that you should see in your energy bills.
If I am teaching anyone’s granny to ‘suck eggs’ I hope you’ll forgive me, but you would be amazed at how many people overlook even the basics either because they are too busy or are unaware of how much a slight increase in maintenance could help them save.
Control your consumption
Another area that can make a big difference at minimal cost is controls. Again, this can be a simple thing like adjusting the set points on your system so that staff can’t keep using the thermostat as an on/off switch.
All too often in our workplaces we get one member of staff who simply has to work in a cold climate and they will happily turn off heating, turn up the cooling, or even worse, open the window – and let all the energy out – whilst everyone else is freezing.
Then again there is the person who needs to be warm all year round and they will push the heating or air conditioning to its maximum in an effort to stay warm.
This example may seem a little extreme but the point is valid.  If you aren’t controlling the temperature range that your systems work within then who is? And how much energy is this costing you?
Reducing the range between your set points on a system will allow both of these extreme examples to feel that they have some control, whilst you will know that regardless of what they do, your upper and lower temperatures will not be exceeded and you can have a better idea of how much energy this will use.
The next step is to install some form of monitoring and there are many control systems that will do this, either as a part of the air conditioning control or as a wider part of a more complex BEMS system. These needn’t cost a fortune, but once again they will quickly prove their worth.
By examining where you use energy on a regular basis, you can start to see trends and work out how to make a serious impact on cutting consumption and reducing your monthly fuel bills. Monitoring will also ensure you can spot any changes in individual units so that you are not carrying a failed compressor or faulty fan until your next scheduled maintenance check.
With full controllability you can automatically switch systems on or off at multiple times throughout the week.  This can ensure that you don’t heat or cool empty offices long into the night, or help heat your building’s water supply during cheaper off-peak periods.
So although maintenance seems to be an area that everyone within a company thinks they understand, there is actually a huge amount more than just keeping plant going.
The advances in technology can allow maintenance or facilities managers to become energy saving champions, helping the company reduce energy bills. The knock on effect of all this is a reduction in the CO2 emissions of the building – something that we all need to be getting to grips with anyway.
Spend to save
Once you have started the process of examining your building’s energy use, you may find that you soon come up against the million dollar question relating to all forms of plant: “when is it better to replace rather than repair?”
Regardless of the size of your building or system, there is never really an ideal time to rip out old equipment and install new because of the potential disruption and downtime, but the financial and environmental arguments for upgrading old plant do now demand you at least consider this option before simply renewing that maintenance contract.
Modern VRF heat pump air conditioning is slowly winning the arguments against gas and chillers systems because it is more effective overall at providing year-round combined heating and cooling.
Year-long tests we conducted at our Hatfield office using a ground source heat pump VRF system demonstrated that it is more than £15.59 cheaper to run per m2 per year than a chiller / boiler combination. 
This was based on average fuel prices in 2007 so the gap will have grown even bigger by now.
What I also found very interesting in the tests is that normal air cooled VRF systems work out at around £14 cheaper to run per m2 per year when compared to boiler and chiller, producing over 1,900kg less CO2 emissions per year.
Anyone can see that with figures like these the initial costs for a new system can be recouped within years. The same is true of old air conditioning with a 10-year-old system around 75% less efficient than the modern units available today.  With the rising price of energy, you can make dramatic cuts in your fuel bill with figures like that.
For those that remain unconvinced that all this is worth the disruption, there are also systems available that can reuse the pipes and wiring from old air conditioning, which can mean a replacement installation can be completed in days instead of weeks.  Again, there are environmental as well as cost benefits. 
Saving you money on the installation by reducing the time and materials needed also means less raw materials being used in the first place (such as copper piping).  If these can be simply cleaned, pressure tested and reused, then that has environmental implications for production globally. 
So, whether or not you are looking to replace your equipment, I hope this article helps prove that there is an important role that maintenance can play in reducing energy consumption to save the planet whilst also helping to significantly reduce your energy bills.  Now that has to be worth considering.

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