Since the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in New York City a few years back, there has been a great deal of concern and confusion about what’s required for proper cooling tower maintenance.
With many NYC buildings preparing to reopen after being unoccupied for months due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there is concern about making sure cooling towers are restarted safely and properly maintained prior to building occupation.
According to CDC guidance, “The temporary shutdown or reduced operation of a building and reductions in normal water use can create hazards for returning occupants. Two potential microbial hazards that should be considered prior to reopening after a period of building inactivity are mold and Legionella (the cause of Legionnaire’s Disease).”
As a building owner, you want to keep your building occupants safe from dangerous mold and bacteria as well as coronavirus. If you’re in New York City, you must make sure you stay in compliance with NYC’s recent updates to regulations.
New York City has recently released “COVID-19 Interim Guidance on NYC Cooling Tower Regulations,” which contains startup procedures and requirements for cleaning tower maintenance prior to reopening buildings. An alternative cleaning process is provided for cleaning towers that have been fully cleaned and disinfected within the past 6 months. Otherwise, the general startup process must be completed no later than 15 days prior to first use.
Here’s an updated cooling tower maintenance checklist aligned with the current regulations.
What’s happening with New York’s cooling tower maintenance legislation
Last year, the New York City Council passed new legislation that requires the registration, inspection and disinfection of all cooling towers as a preventative measure against Legionnaires ’ disease. The new law requires building owners to register all cooling towers with the city, and also register any new cooling towers before putting them into use. The NYC Health Commissioner has also issued an order requiring all cooling towers to be inspected by an environmental consultant and then disinfected.
In addition, New York State is now requiring the testing and inspection of cooling towers as well as implementation of a cooling tower maintenance plan. Owners of buildings with a cooling tower are required by law to implement a maintenance plan by March 1, 2016. If you have not yet done so, you can be found in violation and face hefty fines from the city.
Here are some resources to learn more about the city’s regulations around cooling tower maintenance requirements:
- NYC’s announcement about new cooling tower legislation
- New York state’s emergency regulations for cooling tower maintenance
- What New Yorkers Need To Know About Legionnaires Disease in NYC
Get the facts and helpful advice about developing your water safety plan as required under the NYC regulations: 6 Steps to Developing an ASHRAE Water Safety Plan for Your Cooling Tower.
Also, here’s a helpful reference published by New York City Department of Health: Checklist for Complying with the Cooling Tower Law.
Here’s what you need to know about best practices for cooling tower maintenance, so you can keep building occupants safe and your water-cooled HVAC system performing reliably and efficiently.
The Components of a Cooling Tower Maintenance Plan
Monthly water treatment
- Once a month, the water in your cooling tower needs to be treated with a corrosion inhibitor and biocides to ensure that bacteria levels are within NYC Health Department guidelines.
- If tests reveal bacteria levels that are too high, your cooling tower will need to be professionally disinfected.
- Legionella testing is required quarterly.
- Cooling tower water testing is required three times a week and test results must be entered into the maintenance logbook.
Cooling tower inspection
- Cooling towers need to be inspected every 90 days for the presence of dangerous bacteria as part of a water treatment plan.
- The components, including spray nozzles, hot water basins, fill, eliminators, and sump basins need to be inspected for scale buildup and corrosion as part of a preventative HVAC maintenance plan.
Deep cleaning and winterizing
- Cooling towers need a cleaning and disinfection of interior surfaces twice per year to be in compliance.
- The process involves adding cleaning and disinfection chemicals and circulating for 6 to 24 hours, depending on the system and usage, then draining and flushing out the system.
- Pressure washing and vacuuming may also be needed, with special attention to basins, nozzles and spray tree, as well as cleaning the fill material.
- Seasonal cooling towers need to be drained and sanitized at the end of the cooling season. Also, be sure to drain water from pipes to prevent freezing up.
- New regulations require a cooling tower to be disinfected before being replaced or disposing of it.
- Mechanical components such as fans, motors, belts and gears need to be cleaned, adjusted and replaced if worn.
- Electrical components such as wiring and capacitors need to be checked and replaced if needed.
Why cooling tower maintenance is so critical
Beyond complying with regulations, there are several critical reasons why you don’t want to neglect cooling tower maintenance.
The last thing you want to deal with as a business owner is the threat of Legionella or other illness caused by the growth and spread of bacteria in your cooling tower. Implementing monthly water treatment with biocides as part of regular cooling tower maintenance will eliminate that concern and keep your building occupants safe.
Reliable and efficient operation of your HVAC system
When you neglect cooling tower maintenance, all the accumulated mineral scale, mud, dirt and debris will eventually get into your air conditioning condensers. Scale buildup can also cause blockages and uneven water over the fill media. When that happens, it impedes the operation of the system by forcing it to work harder to cool your space. Not only will you experience cooling issues, but you can only let it go for so long before the system will break down. At that point, you will be faced with repair bills in addition to cooling tower maintenance.
Related article: Air Conditioning Maintenance Doesn’t Cost. It Pays.
Did you know that when your system water temperature is raised by as little as 2°F, it can cost you as much as 6 percent more in energy consumption? That’s because your chiller and your cooling tower fan need to work harder and run longer trying to get to the required leaving water temperature, which uses more energy.
Not sure your current HVAC maintenance company is doing your cooling tower maintenance according to regulations and these best practices? It may be time to look into a preventative maintenance contract that’s better aligned with your requirements, and from a company that can be trusted for quality work. Arista has the expertise to do the job properly.
Learn more about how to select the right maintenance agreement for your needs with our free guide to HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find The Right One For Your HVAC Infrastructure.