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The importance of routine inspections in VRF systems

To ensure the longevity of industrial air conditioning and VRF systems, many believe that product maintenance and regular servicing are imperative. Fewer, however, appear to recognise the importance of routine inspections. Marc Diaz, of Panasonic, looks at the role that scheduled inspections play in reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions for VRF systems.
Since 2007, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) has had a substantial effect on industry procedures for routine inspections. Originally adopted in 2002 and recast in February 2012, the EPBD (which has been progressively implemented from January 2013), requires that all air conditioning systems of 12kW or above undertake an independent body inspection for the assessment of a system's overall efficiency. In the UK separate legislation has been introduced which requires building owners or managers to carry out regular inspections of their air conditioning systems.

In England and Wales the regulations and requirements relating to air conditioning system inspections have been in place for over four years, and for a slightly shorter period for Northern Ireland and Scotland. The EPBD stipulates that a routine check should take place at a minimum of every five years and within the first five years of the original commissioning of the unit.

From 6 April 2012, it became a statutory requirement to lodge all air conditioning inspection reports on the central Non Domestic Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Register.

Legislation, however, is not the only driving force when it comes to routine inspections. While the maintenance and servicing of systems is commonplace (often with immediately noticeable results), for many it is hard to comprehend the cost-saving benefits of an inspection, especially when the primary advice in older properties may be to upgrade the air conditioning. Now an indisputable part of building ownership, HVAC inspections need to be fully understood in order to recognise what an inspector is looking for and the benefits that an inspection can bring.

Routine inspections can, in fact, prove fundamental for ensuring improved performance, efficiency, reliability and management of your VRF single and multi-split systems. Research from the Carbon Trust, 'CTV046 Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning', indicates that through proper checks and assessments, the risk of unexpected failures and unit breakdowns are significantly reduced via early fault identification and subsequent prevention.

Indeed, the guide goes further by suggesting that poorly-equipped and maintained facilities could potentially waste up to 60 per cent more energy than their well-looked-after counterparts, and thus encourages the routine cleaning of fans, filters and air ducts in order to improve efficiency.

'There is no point in having an efficiently running system if the conditioned air gets stopped by a solid wall before reaching the work space. Blockages in HVAC systems are common and increase running costs, so make sure that the filters are regularly checked.'

These inspections therefore demonstrate the need to ensure that those in charge of VRF systems fully understand and appreciate the recommendations and advice resulting from inspection reports.

When many people think of energy efficiency, the general assumption is that it is down to the core manufactured air conditioning unit itself. What some fail to understand however, is how important the set-up, routine maintenance, structural build and external environments are to the efficiency and performance. Examining the installation as a whole, an assessor may be able to provide a valuable insight into the true potential for a facility. Therefore by taking into account the control of the building and truly understanding the purpose and use of the air conditioning system it is also possible to increase efficiency.

More often than not, the importance of routine inspections comes to light when the use or layout of a building requires remodelling. This is because the demand for air conditioning and airflow usage varies depending on the space and the original specified layout, the numbers of occupants and proximity to air conditioning units. Routine inspections help assess and monitor a building's need and demand for air conditioning equipment, and thus can provide reassurance for regulating both efficiency and cost.

Inspection reports contain: · Information on the current efficiency of your equipment.
· Suggestions for improving the efficiency of your equipment.
· Advice on replacing inefficient equipment and/or refrigerants.
· Any faults identified - such as the condition of air filters - and suggested actions.
· Information on the adequacy of your equipment maintenance and how to improve it.
· Advice on reducing your need for air conditioning.

Assessors will then take a close look at the control settings and strategy for the system. This includes the day-to-day usage requirements for the building, as well as internal and external temperature set points. Quite often it is possible to reduce energy costs significantly by simply recognising and understanding these requirements and thus adjusting the settings to respond only when they are most needed. Paperwork will also be closely looked at to give the advisor a better understanding of the routine care and maintenance applied to the VRF system.

The principal role of the air conditioning inspection is to improve the overall energy efficiency of a building. The inspection report looks to highlight opportunities for energy improvements, through adjusted operation, and in some cases, options to upgrade to new energy efficient systems. By adhering to the advice, the process will improve the building's EPC rating.

Here at Panasonic, improving energy efficiency, decreasing carbon emissions and reducing cost is key. We believe that by highlighting the need for maintenance and servicing in the form of routine inspections is one route to achieve this.

// The author is the UK and Ireland country manager of Panasonic //
11 March 2014

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