In commercial settings, HVAC equipment installed on rooftops might be neglected not because the owners want to, but because they’re “out of sight and out of mind.” This puts them at the mercy of the elements. Unmaintained HVAC equipment in this area brings several challenges, apart from the inherent safety considerations of working at great heights; dirt, grime, and corrosion from the HVAC units can also affect the integrity of the roofing membrane. This leads to compromising the integrity of the whole structure itself.
In Utah, commercial HVAC services recommend that regular cleaning of these units take priority. Routine inspections allow you to identify trouble spots early and take appropriate action. Here’s what you need to know about maintaining rooftop HVAC units.
The Problem with Out of Sight, Out of Mind
The location of the building components, mainly mechanical ones, is one of the prime considerations in any architectural project, ductwork and HVAC equipment even more so. Because these elements are highly distracting, engineers usually “hide” piping behind walls or above the ceiling. Meanwhile, HVAC units are left on the rooftop, where they’re generally not seen by the tenants of the building or its current occupants. This practice can be good for aesthetics, but for HVAC contractors, not so.
Heating and cooling units for commercial buildings are vastly different from the regular split or central air conditioning system you’ll find in most homes in America. One of the biggest differences is that for commercial systems, an HVAC system can comprise several cooling towers, which can be anywhere from a squat device no higher than your shoulder to a few dozen feet. Some stand-alone cooling towers, however, are buildings in themselves with heights up to 400 feet, like those used in power plants and petroleum processing facilities. Whatever the size, they operate on a principle of venting heat to the atmosphere using a combination of coolant and airflow. Thus, they require delicate maintenance.
The problem with a rooftop cooling tower, however, is the lack of it because owners often forget that they exist.
This brings into question how exactly service tune-ups for rooftop HVAC units work. Safety is the most important thing here, which not all HVAC contractors practice. Plus, not all HVAC technicians have the training and tools to operate on heights, which is why most commercial establishments trust only the biggest names in the business. But it’s not just safety; there is also a risk of dropping their instruments from a great height, which almost certainly breaks the equipment but would also endanger anyone caught below.
In a typical procedure, the contractor usually needs to disconnect power to the entire HVAC system, which would cut off all air conditioning (or heating) to the whole building. This also allows them to check if all electrical connections are working as they should, which, if it doesn’t, can start fires. They would also check for a refrigerant leak, which can be indicated by the presence of grease or grime, around the towers. Otherwise, the process for the inspection goes just the same as any residential HVAC, only on a bigger scale.
Unfortunately, the trend of leaving HVAC equipment on rooftops will likely continue. Building owners, however, just need to keep a good schedule for maintenance; those exposed units will not be able to clean themselves, after all.