Are you looking to save energy? If your business has an older heating and air conditioning system that’s driving up your energy expenses, you might be considering replacing your equipment. But what if you’re not in a great financial position to take on such a large capital expense right now? Or what if you’re considering moving your business to a new location in a couple of years? There are situations where replacing your HVAC system to save energy doesn’t make financial sense.
Then there is the issue of changing refrigerant regulations: you might be reluctant to invest in an expensive new system right now without knowing for sure which refrigerants will be phased out.
Does that mean you’re stuck with those escalating energy costs until you’re in a position to replace? Not necessarily. The good news is, there is another way to save energy: by retrofitting your existing HVAC equipment with energy-efficient add-ons.
Retrofitting Can Do More Than Save Energy
Needing to save energy is certainly the biggest reason to consider retrofitting your HVAC equipment. According to a study conducted for the U.S. Department of Energy by Pacific Northwest National Labs, small offices and retail establishments realize an average savings in energy consumption of 35 percent by adding retrofit technologies. In cold weather climates (like New York City), business can save more energy: as much as 40 percent. The study reported that a small office could expect to save energy to the tune of nearly $1500 annually, depending on their system and retrofit options installed.
Beyond the need to save energy, there are other benefits of retrofitting your HVAC equipment:
- Get more life from an older HVAC system. In some cases you can extend the life by several years, and delay having to lay out so much capital for a new system.
- Put off a long-term commitment to a new refrigerant when you purchase a new system. When you retrofit, you can continue using the old R-22 refrigerant, or upgrade to R-407C or R-134a for just a few years until you’re ready to make a longer term decision.
- Improve comfort conditions. When you retrofit your HVAC equipment, it runs more efficiently, which is why you save energy. Yet you also get the benefit of more consistent temperatures and better-controlled humidity. Depending on the retrofit options you choose, you may even notice reduced noise from the system and less drafts from moving air.
- Fast ROI. Since retrofitting your equipment involves a fraction of the cost of replacing your equipment, you can achieve a return on your investment in one to three years.
- Rebates. When you are evaluating retrofit options, consult your utility company to see if they are offering rebates. In some cases, they will even match the rebate to the amount you save in energy costs, allowing you to realize an even faster ROI.
Options for Retrofitting Your HVAC Equipment
The options available to you for retrofitting will depend on the type of HVAC equipment you have and your climate zone. Chillers and packaged rooftop units (RTUs) are some of the best candidates for retrofitting. Here are some of the technology options you can install to save energy:
Retrofit options for chillers:
- Replace old screw compressors and semi-hermetic reciprocating compressors with new high-efficiency screw compressors. These new models can greatly decrease the power consumed by the chiller to save energy. There are options for systems with high-condensing temps and low condensing temps.
- For air-cooled chillers, you can add condenser fan controls that incorporate floating high pressure controls with variable frequency drive operation. These controls enable the compressor to do less work, so you save energy.
Retrofit options for packaged heating and cooling systems:
- Air-side economizers. This technology takes advantage of outside air on cooler days to assist in cooling your space, which takes some of the load off the compressor to save energy.
- Supply fan speed controls. As your heating and cooling needs vary, these controls adjust the speed of the fans circulating conditioned air in your space. Regulating air movement can also reduce compressor load to save energy.
- Demand-controlled ventilation adjusts both the speed of your fans and your intake of outside air based on the carbon dioxide levels in the space.
- Cooling capacity controls. For a system that can run the compressor at varying speeds, these controls reduce the load when you don’t need the system running at full capacity. You save energy with the compressor running at a lower capacity.
Commercial kits are available that offer a package of retrofit technology. Some are designed for specific types and sizes of equipment (such as single-zone RTU). Others can be used with all types of HVAC systems, including single or multiple zone applications as well as multiple heating and cooling stages. Some also integrate with smart thermostat technology and building management systems.
Related article: 6 Reasons to Upgrade to Smarter Commercial HVAC Controls
Is Your HVAC System a Good Fit For Retrofitting?
How do you know if your HVAC system is a good candidate for retrofitting? Surprisingly, it’s not about the age of your system. Here are some basic guidelines that may indicate that retrofitting could work for you:
- Your system is in good condition, and has been regularly maintained
- A larger system is a better candidate than a small one
- The more hours your system runs each day, the better the opportunity to save energy with a retrofit
- Your energy consumption is climbing steadily
- You plan to keep your existing system at least another 18 months
To find out for sure if a retrofit can work for you, consult with a qualified HVAC company.
Not sure your current HVAC provider is up to the task of helping you to save energy with a retrofit of your older system? It may be time to seek out other options, but you may be concerned about the hassle of switching vendors. Here’s a resource that can help: this informative guide to Contract Confidence: Transitioning to a New HVAC Service Provider.