HVAC Preventive Maintenance

A properly functioning HVAC system is critical to the comfort, safety, and air quality of your facilities. HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning, and your organization’s approach to HVAC maintenance is an essential component of your broader facilities maintenance and management strategy. An effective preventive maintenance program will include a plan for preventive HVAC maintenance. 

The discussion below details the importance of HVAC maintenance, identifies the benefits of preventive maintenance strategies, and outlines some of the best practices for implementing an effective preventive HVAC equipment maintenance program to improve air quality and save money.

HVAC components and subsystems

First, let’s take a closer look at the key components and subsystems that typically constitute an HVAC system:

  • Heating: Boilers, furnaces, heat exchangers, and heat pumps create warm air or water
  • Ventilation: Air handlers, ductwork, vents, and filtration units facilitate the circulation and exchange of air, moisture control, and help remove pollutants, allergens, and carbon monoxide
  • Air conditioning system: Central air conditioners, chillers, and room air conditioner units remove heat and humidity from the air
  • Controls: Thermostats and building management systems (BMS) control temperature, humidity, energy consumption, and other environmental factors 

Organizations that maintain HVAC systems

Properly functioning HVAC systems are legally and practically required for an extremely wide array of industrial, commercial, residential, and public facilities. Therefore, HVAC maintenance is fundamentally required in virtually every type of business operation. 

The following are just a few examples of how different industries may rely on regular HVAC maintenance activities for operational continuity, regulatory compliance, and the basic comfort of occupants:

  • Commercial buildings such as business offices and retail chains must ensure HVAC systems are in full working order to facilitate the comfort of occupants and visitors. 
  • Healthcare facilities such as hospitals and clinics must maintain precise temperature and humidity control to protect patient health, preserve medical equipment, and accommodate proper storage of medical supplies.
  • Industrial facilities such as manufacturing plants and storage warehouses must regulate temperature and humidity around production processes, raw materials, stored inventory, and machinery.
  • Residential complexes such as apartment buildings and condominiums often use centralized systems for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to ensure comfort, safety, and protection from the elements for residents.
  • Hospitality establishments such as hotels, resorts, and casinos must provide air temperature regulation and ventilation for an array of different spaces (i.e. private rooms, common areas, spas, gyms, etc.), each with its own unique functions and climate requirements.

Integrating HVAC maintenance into your preventive maintenance program

Your HVAC maintenance strategy should align with your organization’s broader preventive maintenance plan. Consider the examples noted above. HVAC system breakdowns and failures can have a seriously negative impact on any of the businesses or organizations cited in the previous section. 

This is why a preventive maintenance strategy is so critical to the efficient and effective operation of your HVAC systems. Broadly speaking, preventive maintenance requires routine inspections, regular servicing, and timely repairs. As it applies to HVAC maintenance, a preventive approach should include preemptive tasks such as:

  • Cleaning coils, ducts, and vents
  • Inspecting units, electrical connections, and system controls
  • Lubricating moving parts to prevent wear and tear
  • Replacing aging parts and dirty air filters
  • Monitoring HVAC system performance in real time

HVAC maintenance and facilities management 

HVAC preventive maintenance falls under the umbrella of facilities maintenance. As such, HVAC maintenance activities typically fall under the authority of a facilities manager. However, there are several other important parties involved in carrying out the work of HVAC PM.

Below, we take a closer look at the role HVAC maintenance plays in an overall facilities management program as well as some of the key personnel involved. 

The role of HVAC PM in facilities management

  • Energy efficiency: Regular HVAC maintenance improves system efficiency, reduces fuel consumption, and lowers energy costs.
  • Regulatory compliance: Properly functioning HVAC systems ensure your organization is adhering to health, safety, and environmental regulations.
  • Operational continuity: HVAC preventive maintenance reduces the possibility of system failure and unplanned downtime, both of which may threaten to disrupt and even put a stop to business operations.
  • Asset management: Regular maintenance and routine servicing can extend the lifespan of your HVAC system, and reduce the need for the premature replacement of costly units or components.
  • Health and safety: Regular HVAC system servicing ensures proper airflow, clear ventilation, good indoor air quality, and the filtration of airborne allergens, pathogens, and pollutants.

Key personnel involved in HVAC preventive maintenance

  • Facilities managers oversee the operation of all building systems, including HVAC systems.
  • HVAC technicians perform the technical tasks associated with HVAC maintenance, such as inspections, repairs, and installations.
  • Building engineers work alongside HVAC technicians to ensure systems are functioning correctly.
  • Third-party contractors may provide specialized HVAC services including routine cleaning, parts replacement, compliance reviews, and emergency repairs
  • Building Automation Systems (BAS) Operators use automated tools to monitor system performance, identify issues, and initiate preventive maintenance tasks as needed.

Why is HVAC preventive maintenance important? 

Your organization has a responsibility to provide a safe, comfortable, and healthy space for all who enter. Likewise, your operational continuity may depend at least in part on proper climate control. These responsibilities speak to the importance of a preventive approach to HVAC maintenance.

Below, we take a quick look at both the benefits of preventive HVAC maintenance and the drawbacks of failing to adequately maintain your HVAC systems.

Benefits of Proactive HVAC Maintenance

  • Increased energy efficiency
  • Extended equipment lifespan
  • Improved air quality
  • Enhanced comfort
  • Fewer emergency repairs
  • Stronger regulatory compliance
  • Cost savings

Drawbacks of neglecting HVAC Maintenance

  • Increased operational costs due to inefficiency
  • More frequent breakdowns, unplanned downtime, and costly repairs
  • Shortened equipment lifespan and premature unit replacement
  • Diminished air quality and potentially negative health impact
  • Decreased comfort for occupants
  • Penalties and fines for regulatory non-compliance
  • Larger carbon footprint and negative environmental impact

How often should you perform HVAC system maintenance? 

There are several different approaches to preventive HVAC maintenance scheduling. Organizations may schedule maintenance activities monthly, seasonally, or annually. The frequency and distribution of your maintenance activities will depend on several factors including: 

  • Type of system
  • Age of equipment
  • Intensity of usage
  • Regulatory requirements
  • Budgetary constraints 

For instance, businesses with limited budgets may choose to conduct HVAC maintenance activities only on an annual basis to reduce costs. This approach can magnify the risk of performance issues going undetected, which can reduce operational efficiency and ultimately lead to unforeseen system breakdowns. By contrast, businesses that conduct HVAC maintenance activities on a seasonal basis are better able to optimize system efficiency in the face of both extreme hot and cold temperatures. 

Seasonal HVAC maintenance tasks

Typically, businesses that conduct HVAC preventive maintenance tasks on a seasonal basis will do so twice a year—once for the fall and winter seasons; and once for the spring and summer seasons.

Fall and winter preventive HVAC maintenance tasks

Typical HVAC preventive maintenance tasks for the fall and winter seasons will include:

  • Heating system checks, including inspection and servicing of boilers, furnaces, and heat pumps
  • Thermostat calibration to ensure heating system controls are working properly
  • Filter changes to maximize the efficiency of your heating system and ensure the air quality produced by your heating units

Spring and summer preventive HVAC maintenance tasks

Typical HVAC preventive maintenance tasks for the spring and summer seasons will include:

  • Cooling system checks to determine that air conditioning units, fans and air compressors and functioning properly and efficiently
  • Coil cleaning to ensure efficient operation of both evaporator and condenser coils
  • Condensate drain clearing to prevent clogs, water overflow and potential water damage

Monthly preventive HVAC maintenance

Some organizations conduct preventive HVAC maintenance activities with greater frequency. This may be a preferred approach for businesses operating in regions with extreme temperatures throughout the year. For instance, facilities that conduct HVAC maintenance every month will typically perform the following tasks at 30-day intervals throughout the year: 

  • Cooling system checks
  • Coil cleaning
  • Refrigerant level checks
  • Drain line clearing
  • Filter cleaning 

Annual preventive HVAC maintenance

By contrast, some organizations may conduct scheduled HVAC maintenance just once a year. This approach does carry some risks, including the possibility of undetected issues and reduced efficiency during times of extreme cold or heat. However, organizations that apply HVAC preventive maintenance on an annual basis will typically perform the following tasks once a year:

  • Comprehensive system inspection
  • Duct cleaning
  • Filter replacement
  • Lubrication
  • Safety testing

Some organizations may incorporate elements of all three scheduling strategies, using the annual review outlined above to establish a framework for the monthly and seasonal maintenance tasks to be performed in the year ahead.

Preventive HVAC maintenance best practices

Below, we outline a few best practices for implementing a preventive HVAC maintenance program:

  • Schedule inspections and servicing based on manufacturer recommendations, system demands, and past performance data.
  • Collect data and analyze HVAC performance, including energy consumption, gas pressure, system outputs (like heating and cooling levels), and instances of breakdowns or repairs.
  • Set performance benchmarks based on industry standards and internal goals, and identify areas for improvement.
  • Optimize energy efficiency by pinpointing inefficiencies and initiating energy-saving upgrades, ultimately reducing energy bills, operational costs, and environmental impact.
  • Make seasonal adjustments to ensure your system operates efficiently throughout the year, including preparations for peak usage demands during the summer and winter months.
  • Leverage advanced digital technology, such as Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS), to streamline maintenance scheduling, inventory management, data reporting, and system monitoring. 

Ready to get started? Check out our HVAC preventive maintenance checklist to ensure your tune-ups include all the necessary steps to prolong the life of your HVAC units and see all the benefits of proactive maintenance. 

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