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Posted on January 18, 2021

Commercial HVAC systems are designed to last for many years, but they don’t last forever. Choosing the right time to upgrade your commercial HVAC system can allow you to take advantage of new technologies that save you money.

An up-to-date system will give you more control over heating and cooling with less energy consumption. There is also a “Goldilocks zone” for replacing your HVAC system. If you do it too soon, you could miss out on a few years of optimal performance from your current system. But if you wait too long, you’ll end up paying too much in energy costs and maintenance of an old system. Let’s go over some things to look for in deciding when the time is right.

What is the life expectancy of a commercial HVAC unit?

Commercial HVAC systems should last for 15 years at least, and many parts can last longer with proper maintenance. Poor maintenance will decrease life expectancy, of course. If you are wondering about a specific piece of HVAC equipment, you can check out ASHRAE’s HVAC life expectancy data here.

7 Reasons to for a Commercial HVAC Upgrade

It can be difficult to decide if you should upgrade a commercial HVAC system or stick it out through another year of regular maintenance on your current system. Let’s look at a few reasons why you’d want to upgrade.

You Want Better Control Over the Indoor Environment

The benefits of an efficient commercial HVAC system go beyond the monthly energy bill. Newer technology can give you more control over heating and cooling, which can help keep tenants, employees, and customers more comfortable. Increased productivity and reduced sick time are just a couple of benefits of good ventilation in the workplace that can affect your bottom line.

Better HVAC control is also useful for reducing airborne contaminants. The EPA and ASHRAE both say that HVAC systems can help reduce the spread of airborne diseases like COVID-19. Besides that, an efficient HVAC system reduces mold and allergens.

Your Commercial Space is Expanding

If you’re adding commercial space on an existing building, it can be a good idea to upgrade the entire HVAC system with the new expansion. This depends on how connected the new space is and how recent your previous HVAC system was installed, of course. But having all the equipment on the same maintenance cycle can reduce headaches later. Plus, the new HVAC equipment will come with fresh warranties that can offset some repair costs.

Repair Bills are Creeping Up

Even well-maintained systems will need more repairs as they age, and it can become expensive to keep things going toward the end of an HVAC system’s life. Leaks, corrosion, and inefficiencies can build on one another. Sometimes, energy bills suddenly rise the first time you turn on the air conditioning for the year. That can be a signal that it’s time to look at an upgrade.

Complaints About Poor Air Quality

Another signal to look out for is if people in the building have started complaining more about uncomfortable temperatures, stuffy rooms, or aggravated allergies. It can be embarrassing to deal with complaints of the system not heating or cooling to the right temperature. Employees will also end up spending too much time trying to get comfortable instead of focusing on work, which affects a business’ bottom line.

You Have a System with R-22 Refrigerant

The refrigerant R-22 contributes to ozone depletion, so the EPA began phasing it out in 2010. That means older HVAC systems may still contain R-22. As of January 1, 2020, it is illegal to produce or import the refrigerant in the United States. That means the supply of R-22 in the country is limited and shrinking and servicing a unit with R-22 will become more expensive as time goes on.

Owners of R-22 air conditioning systems have three options:

  • Do nothing until you have a repair that requires new refrigerant
  • Retrofit an old system with a newer type of refrigerant
  • Upgrade the HVAC system

The best course of action may be to upgrade your commercial HVAC system, since repair costs are more expensive for systems with R-22.

You Want to Save Money

Your system may be working well after 15 years, but it’s important to consider how technology has developed during that time. Potential energy savings could be enough incentive for a commercial HVAC upgrade even if you aren’t dealing with expensive repairs yet.

New commercial HVAC systems have better energy efficiency and can condition the air for a fraction of a 15-year-old system’s operating costs. Heating and cooling account for a significant portion of the operating costs of a commercial building, so it’s important to consider when is the right time to upgrade the system. HVAC replacements take an investment upfront, but you’ll see the benefits of a more energy efficient system right away.

You Could Use a Tax Break

The recent COVID-19 relief bill signed into law on December 27, 2020, made the federal 179D tax credit permanent (it was set to expire on January 1, 2021). This allows businesses to get a credit of up to $1.80 per square foot if they install an HVAC system (or other energy-saving system) that decreases energy consumption to below 50% of an ASHRAE standard. You can read about the standards here.

Different states offer other types of incentives as well. In Pennsylvania, the Small Business Advantage Grant can match 50% of the cost of installing energy efficient equipment (up to $7,000). New York helps pay for commercial energy assessments and provides free heating and cooling screenings for upgrading equipment in large buildings. Energy providers and manufacturers can also offer rebates for purchasing efficient equipment and using renewable energy.

How to Prepare for a Commercial HVAC Upgrade

It’s best to work with a specialized HVAC contractor who can first do an inspection and determine whether you should replace certain parts or keep doing maintenance. The HVAC specialist can also determine your building’s energy load and prescribe the right size and type of HVAC unit if an upgrade is needed.

When it’s time for an upgrade, building owners and property managers should work with the tenants or employees in the building to make sure contractors have access to the necessary areas. With some coordination, the upgrades can go smoothly. Now is also a great time to perform HVAC repairs and upgrades since many buildings are operating under capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Should You Upgrade Your Commercial HVAC?

The first step to an HVAC upgrade is a thorough HVAC inspection. Our team at Wm T. Spaeder will work with you to assess the health of your current system and calculate your potential energy savings with a system upgrade. Our HVAC technicians have experience in a wide range of industries in Erie, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. Get in touch with us to find out if it’s time to upgrade your system.



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