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Know When it’s Time for an HVAC Change

Know When it’s Time for an HVAC Change

Should you sign off on another repair for your HVAC system, or are there telling signs that it's time for an upgrade.

AN HVAC SYSTEM can be an expensive proposition for a church. Although most systems can last up to 20 years, maintaining them in the latter years can get expensive and sometimes, temporary fixes here and there can wind up costing even more money in the long run. J Scott Baker, executive pastor at the Bridge Church, Bixby, Oklahoma, says a church needs to consider both financial and functional applications before shopping for a new HVAC system. "Typically as a system reaches the end of its usefulness, you have many more frequent breakdowns, service calls, uncomfortable people and repair bills," he says. "Much like a vehicle you might own, if you have the means to replace the failing systems you will choose to make replacement in order to minimize the inconvenience and discomfort associated with the unreliability of a system. And if you don't, you will stretch that choice out as long as you can until you are faced with a no-win scenario that forces you to replacement." Baker recommends a proactive approach, where you assess what can be replaced or upgraded in bite-sized stages with the most troublesome being addressed first.

When It's Time to Change YOUR HVAC
When churches should put a Band-Aid on existing issues, or design/install a new system altogether.

Michael Lee, president of Northern Weathermakers HVAC Inc., Northbrook, Illinois, has installed HVAC systems in nearly sixty churches and says because of rebates available from energy groups, many worship facilities are installing new systems.

"A lot of equipment is old and churches are seeing significant money go to repair bills or to increasing energy bills (because of a system's inefficiency), so they realize it's time for a change," he says. "The majority of churches call us because their sanctuaries don't have air conditioning," reports Lee.

HVAC Trends Communicating Thermostats

Jerry Drew, president of Network Thermostat, Grapevine, Texas, offers several tips for churches looking to save on energy efficiency with a new HVAC system. "Replace existing non-programmable and programmable thermostats with communicating thermostats, which have commercial electronic lockout features (such as the Net/X WiFi thermostats or Net/X StrongMesh thermostats)," he says. "Also, appoint an energy director at the church to review and implement energy savings plans focusing on HVAC and lighting." According to Baker, the biggest trend he's seen in HVAC systems are in the areas of controls and automation. "Automated controls that permit you to control by schedule or remote access your HVAC systems enables you to let them turn off or back down to minimum much more often," he says. "This enables the equipment to last longer, saves on your utility bills and gives you more convenience."

This means if a last minute unplanned event hits, one can remotely set temps and turn on the HVAC system from anywhere else. You can also monitor the use, which will help extend the life of the system.

Scheduling Dynamics

Josh Euerle, facilities manager for Riverside Church, Big Lake, Minn., says when a church is at the point where they have a good event scheduling system and they have a person that can be designated to program it, it is the time to install a new controls system for its HVAC units. "Every church's scheduling dynamics are different. Here at Riverside, I program the controls at my desk every Monday morning. We have a good event scheduling system so this is possible and I have very little need to modify it throughout the week," he says. "Because of this I am able to effectively use an old automation system with very few convenience features."

However, when a church is at the point where the person designated to program the system is needing more access to the system other than the designated automation computer and they would like access to the system from the web or a smart phone, Euerle says that's the time they should consider upgrading their automation system.Steve Bosland, project director for EYP, a Boston, Massachusetts-based design company, performed an energy audit on the HVAC system for the 32,000-square-foot Grace Baptist Church in Hudson, Massachusetts. Based on his recommendations, the church is making some changes.
"I was involved in the original building from twenty years ago. The old system is still working, so a complete change won't be done for a while," says Bosland. "We will keep the control parts that are still working and the sensors, but put a new front end on the system, which puts direct Internet access on it, allowing for them to dial in."

Riverside Church is using a system that was installed in 2005 and there have been few issues with it. "There are however some parts of the system that are no longer easily available (such as key fobs). When I start to have failures or issues with the technology that cannot be easily replaced is when I would look into putting in a newer automation system," Euerle says. "Our need is also very simple, we have all rooftop units for our HVAC. If we were to install something other than that (like a boiler) or if we have a large addition to our current facility, I would also look at a new automation system."

The Right Formula

While every church will have its own formula for figuring out when the time is right to make a change, there is some analysis out there that it can use to determine savings down the line. "It's all very specific depending upon what system you currently have and what you choose," Baker says. "However, a qualified mechanical contractor is accustomed to walking you through the process to help you make those choices and to give you the calculations and results for how long it will take for this system to pay for itself in savings and what savings you can expect." Johnson considered several factors in making his decision: what the unit costs are today, the scheduled life of the unit, the energy savings and what the budgetary requirement is over the 25-30 years it should last.

Number of Systems

For many worship facilities, it makes sense to have a separate HVAC system for its auditorium and office space, although it still depends on a configuration's wants and needs. "If you have a centralized mechanical plant that produces cooling and heating water for the entire campus you will still have cooling and heat distribution systems that will be separated by use," Baker says. "So, you will have a distribution system that serves the offices mostly during the weekdays, and a different distribution system that serves the auditorium, and another that serves meeting or class rooms."

Minimize Duct Piping with a Mini-Split

According to Lee, typically churches don't want a lot of duct work cluttering its beautiful setting, so many are installing minisplit systems, which allow for a multi-use system that can control air and heat to different areas of the church without too much duct piping. The best choice for a system is completely dependent upon one's current situation and future needs. Include the guidance of a qualified and independent expert- -a mechanical engineer or mechanical contractor. According to Drew, many worship facilities will postpone the investment because times are tight, but with HVAC controls, return on investment paybacks are typically less than a year so every week of delay could end up costing substantial money.

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