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Mon 1 Jan 2007 09:39 AM

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Maintaining conditions

As temperatures lower and cooling loads reduce, the winter months provide the ideal time to carry out maintenance on air conditioning units. Carrier Middle East service manager Robert Batey outlines the processes that you shouldn’t ignore.

Hot, humid, harsh. The summers in the Middle East can be unfriendly and hostile to say the least. Yet, most people weather the sweltering heat – all thanks to air conditioning systems designed to take on the toughest of Arabian temperatures.

Installing these systems in homes, offices and complexes is rather simple. What’s not so easy is sustaining the performance of these systems at their optimal level. There is no doubt that air conditioning units are built to be tough, but like any other equipment, they need regular maintenance to sustain peak efficiency levels.

Few pay attention to conducting maintenance until an air conditioner does not perform well or even ceases to function on a seething summer afternoon.

One might ask: why do air conditioning units that appear to be functioning perfectly need maintenance? Regular maintenance is not an option – it’s a necessity. Neglecting it would mean a steady decline in the performance of the air conditioning unit, frequent breakdowns in the system, reduced cooling, and most importantly, a rise in energy consumption. Poor maintenance also results in the deterioration of indoor air quality, which can lead to sick building syndrome.

The soaring mercury levels in the Middle East make it a brilliant testing ground for air conditioners. While the average lifespan of an air conditioning unit is 15 years, regular checks are important to ensure that it functions effectively and efficiently through its years of service. Failure to do so could also reduce the lifespan of the equipment.

Without regular maintenance, an air conditioning unit loses its original efficiency. The cost of an annual tune up is recovered quickly through savings on utility expenses and repair costs.

The basic rule of maintenance for users is to check the air conditioning unit for vibration and unusual sounds, wash the internal air filter and needless to say, keep it clean. Following recommendations from manufacturers is an easy step to making decisions on maintenance.

Aside from this, the following tasks are imperative to optimise the performance and life of an air conditioning unit:

• cleaning of the condenser coil and evaporator coil based on the condition of the equipment;

• cleaning of the return air filter on a monthly or quarterly basis;

• at full load, sub-cooling and superheat levels must be maintained as per the unit's design conditions;

• checks for the correct refrigerant charge and leaks;

• checks on the acidity and moisture level in the refrigerant/oil on a yearly basis;

• the compressor oil level should be maintained as per recommendations;

• the blower and belts must be checked.

The winter months, generally from November to April, are a good time to conduct maintenance as the load on the plant is reduced. Large machines feeding common areas can be taken offline and in complexes that use multiple systems or backup systems, only a section can be taken up for maintenance.

For split air conditioners and window units, full maintenance should be carried out at least once a year, with filter cleaning where necessary. Central, rooftop and industrial cooling systems need to undertake comprehensive maintenance once a year, with at least two to three inspections in between.

The comfort and cooling systems sector in the region is witnessing a wave of new demand led by the flourishing property market and fast growth in population. Within the air conditioning business itself, there is a marked shift in consumer preferences and demand patterns.

In the residential segment, consumer preferences are moving from window to split systems. In villas and smaller residential complexes, the overwhelming trend is towards the use of ducted splits and rooftop package units, respectively. The demand for centralised distribution and district cooling is also growing at a tremendous pace.

The Middle East is among the few places in the world where air conditioning units operate for long hours and in extreme temperatures. In order to meet high ambient conditions, systems and equipment are specifically designed to perform in harsh environments.

However, the hot, sandy desert environment can affect the performance of an air conditioning unit in summer. Units installed in coastal areas without adequate anti-corrosion coatings tend to suffer. And with air conditioners installed in the desert or remote locations, the condenser coil can get clogged within fifteen days.

This means that it is necessary to increase the service frequency due to climatic conditions that are typical to the region. Regular maintenance results in better energy efficiency, lower power bills, reduced breakdowns, improved productivity and lower operating costs.

Companies are increasingly relying on facilities management services that employ specialist contractors for entire apartment blocks or complexes. These contractors, in turn, entrust the responsibility for various equipment to specific suppliers. The trend is towards comprehensive maintenance contracts. Industrial cooling plants generally enter into annual contracts with manufacturers. Large buildings sych as shopping centres and schools may use inhouse staff for maintenance as well.

Maintenance in villas, compounds and homes is not as regular and systematic; systems checks are taken up when a unit breaks down, new tenants move in, or as per the service contract after the first year. However, growing health concerns linked to indoor air quality is now encouraging more people to conduct frequent maintenance. Users are becoming increasingly conscious of indoor air quality and its impact on health.

The American Lung AssociationProlonged states that humidity in a home can spawn mould or trigger allergies. About 50% of homes today contain moulds and studies attribute nearly 100% of chronic sinus infections to moulds. A 300% increase in asthma cases over the past 20 years has also been linked to moulds. The United States of America alone spends an average US $6 billion (AED22 billion) per year on the treatment of respiratory ailments.

As air conditioning has become a necessity in today’s life, hvac maintenance is expected to grow exponentially in the Middle East. With the expected phase-out of ozone-depleting refrigerants, some of the older air conditioning units can be retrofitted to work with new refrigerants. However, some units must be replaced as they near the end of their life.

New buildings and the refurbishment of existing ones is, however, expected to lead the growth in maintenance. Customers need to be educated so that they understand the importance of professional maintenance and upkeep of the equipment. Aside from strictly following manufacturer’s recommendations, users should refer to the list of parts supplied to ensure that those specified are fitted.

Further, user training will improve awareness and help people make informed decisions for hvac systems, be it maintenance or purchase of new equipment.

Air conditioning systems: The benefits of maintenance

• The hot, sandy desert setting can affect performance in summer and condenser coils can become clogged within 15 days in desert, remote locations.

• Maintenance holds the key to optimum efficiency.

• Non-maintenance results in lower performance, frequent breakdowns, reduced cooling and rising energy consumption.

• Poor maintenance leads to a fall in indoor air quality.

• The cost of tune ups is recovered through savings on utility expenses and repair costs.

• November to April is a good time for maintenance as the cooling loads are lower.

• Split and window air conditioning units need full maintenance at least once a year, with filter cleaning where necessary.

• Central, rooftop and industrial cooling systems need comprehensive maintenance once a year, with at least two to three inspections inbetween.

• The trend is towards comprehensive maintenance contracts.

• New buildings and an increase in refurbishments lead the growth in maintenance.

• Some older machines can be retrofitted to work with new refrigerants with the expected phase-out of ozone-depleting refrigerants.

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