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Commercial HVAC, Commercial Installations

Retail HVAC: How Clothing Almost Destroyed a Brand New HVAC System

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For retail businesses, comfortable conditions in your store are directly related to your bottom line. No one wants to shop in a store that’s too hot or cold, especially in the city where there’s another great store just down the block.

Retail HVAC issues can be frustrating for the business, and expensive in lost business as well as repair cost. If you own or manage a retail store (and you are reading this article!) then chances are you have experienced what we are talking about:

  • Fairly new equipment mysteriously breaking down
  • Inconsistent temperatures
  • Even water leaks from AC units that can damage your store and your merchandise

If your retail store is experiencing issues after a new retail HVAC system is installed (or even repeated issues with an older system that’s been in place for a while), you might wonder why you have these problems that your counterparts working in offices don’t seem to experience. The truth is, office experience different problems, because the environments are different. HVAC problems in a retail environment can be tricky to diagnose and fix, and that’s why you need retail HVAC experts to get to the root cause of your issues and find the right equipment to keep your space consistently comfortable.

The challenges of retail HVAC

One reason retail HVAC can be so challenging is because of the diverse designs of different spaces. Most office spaces are fairly similar in design, with lower ceilings, hallways, small rooms and some open spaces with cubicles. Retail stores, on the other hand, have lots of design and usage features that make retail HVAC design and equipment choice really important, such as:

  • More open spaces with higher ceilings
  • Lighting that produces more heat
  • Varying occupancy in the space throughout the day (and night)
  • Exterior doors opening frequently
  • Product storage areas having different heating and cooling requirements

Another little-known contributor to retail HVAC issues can be the product you sell. Retail clothing stores (and other types of businesses dealing with fabric) can generate tremendous amounts of fiber in the air. You don’t notice it so much (except possibly when you’re cleaning up all the dust that accumulates on every surface of the store each day!) but that fiber circulating through your ventilation system can wreak havoc on HVAC equipment.

Here’s another common problem: retail space comes at a premium cost, especially here in New York City. The cost of doing business is extremely high, not to mention the cost of renovating a space. So financial concerns can lead business owners and managers to go for the lowest bidder on a retail HVAC installation job, and just hope for the best.

Unfortunately, in the end you’ll probably pay more when you have to bring in someone more knowledgeable to come in and fix the problems.

Related article: Business Owner’s Guide to Commercial HVAC Installation Cost

A Manhattan clothing store’s retail HVAC story

That’s what happened to a retail clothing establishment in New York City. The company had installed five large retail HVAC units in their flagship store in the heart of Times Square, and it didn’t take long before they started to experience issues. The units were mysteriously breaking down. The company called in the original installers, who came in to troubleshoot again and again. Finally they threw up their hands since they were stumped about what was causing the problems.

That’s when the clothing company called in Arista to provide a second opinion. Our experience with retail stores, and especially clothing retailers, enabled us to determine that the retail HVAC design was insufficient to deal with all that fiber circulating through the ventilation system. Specialized condensate pumps and other parts needed to be changed out to help the system deal with the unique requirements of the environment.

Related article: Installing Air Conditioning? Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes

Now, keep in mind that at this point the original $500,000 retail HVAC installation was still under warranty, so the customer would have been within their rights to take Arista’s report and go back to the original installer and get them to make the changes we recommended. But they didn’t; instead they recognized the need to get retail HVAC experts to do the job correctly this time, so they hired us to come in and make the repairs.

We did not disappoint them. We worked with equipment manufacturers to find parts specifically designed to handle the special needs of their retail HVAC system. We cleaned up the mess from the high levels of fiber coating all the equipment: the filters had become so clogged with debris that someone had removed them rather than keep up with the frequent filter cleaning that was needed!

A lesson about the need for retail HVAC preventative maintenance

This story brings up another important point about retail HVAC systems, beyond the need for a higher level of expertise to design the right heating and cooling systems for a retail environment. Regular maintenance is absolutely crucial to keeping your retail HVAC working reliably. Here are some of the tasks that you can’t skip:

  • Changing filters frequently
  • Cleaning coils
  • Clear drain lines and pans
  • Check for refrigerant leaks
  • Inspect electrical components and connections
  • Lubricate motors, bearings and other moving parts
  • Check all controls for proper operation
  • Verify proper air flow

For retail stores, investing in a preventative maintenance agreement with a retail HVAC expert is the best way to make sure service is performed on schedule and with the needs of your business in mind. Here’s another tip: you’ll not only get the best pricing with a maintenance agreement, but you’ll also gain a trusted service provider that understands you, your equipment, and your business needs. And you’ll even get the quickest response times if you do experience a repair issue.

Here’s another thing you might not know: all maintenance agreements are not the same. You can negotiate which equipment is covered, which tasks are covered, and whether or not parts and labor are included in the price. That way you can design the agreement to meet your specific retail HVAC needs and your budget. To make things easy, we’ve put together a free guide that explains how to get what you need: HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find The Right One For Your HVAC Infrastructure.

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