Opinion: Cannabis businesses can’t afford to skip HVAC preventive maintenance

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Image of an HVAC system in a cannabis grow room
Image of Peter McGrath
Peter McGrath

Many cannabis businesses might look at HVAC systems as simple heaters or air conditioners, but the reality is quite different.

HVAC is a highly complex system of interconnected equipment that must work in harmony to create the precise temperature, humidity and air-quality conditions that marijuana plants need to thrive.

A lack of comprehensive HVAC planning in both new and recommissioned facilities – as well as less-than-regular maintenance – can cause myriad problems within these complex systems.

Even minor fluctuations in temperature, humidity and air filtration can significantly impact the quality and consistency of products, leading to significant losses in time as well as decreased output and revenue.

In today’s competitive cannabis industry, businesses simply cannot afford to neglect regular preventive maintenance, given the substantial lost revenue at risk.

It is critical that marijuana business owners regard their HVAC systems as a key piece in their business’ success.

Prioritizing regular HVAC preventive maintenance is the best way to ensure systems are operating at peak performance and head off any issues before they can occur.

Preventive maintenance can even save money by reducing energy costs and helping to avoid costly repairs or equipment failures.

Spring is an ideal time for cultivators to ensure their HVAC systems effectively regulate indoor growing environments despite varying weather conditions outside.

Here are six steps of a preventive-maintenance process to ensure your system is working efficiently:

1. Clean condenser coils

Without regular maintenance, dust and debris can accumulate on condenser coils.

Over time, this buildup can make your unit work harder and run longer, resulting in reduced system efficiency and higher energy costs.

It’s especially important to keep coils clean in the spring as airborne plant debris can cling to and clog your coils.

If neglected over long periods, dirty coils can eventually corrode, create refrigerant leaks and even cause system failure.

2. Clean and test cooling towers and water tower-filtration systems

Although they are a vital part of many commercial HVAC systems, cooling towers are often overlooked.

Regular cleaning and inspection of cooling towers is critical after periods of nonuse in the winter months, as they can become breeding grounds for bacteria.

Additionally, cooling-tower efficiency can be reduced by as much as 40%-50% if the tower is not maintained properly.

3. Flush chilled-water and reheat hot-water systems

Even a minor problem with a chilled-water or reheat hot-water system can significantly reduce efficiency and increase operating costs.

Over time, contaminants including minerals, scale and mud can build up in chilled-water-system tubing.

In reheat hot-water systems, rust and sediment can plug the control valves.

It’s vital to regularly purge this debris to ensure consistent flow and proper temperature and humidity control.

4. Inspect systems for refrigerant leaks

Maintaining refrigerant levels to manufacturer specification is essential to ensuring your air-handling and chilled-water systems are able to effectively cool your environment.

When refrigerant levels drop, the compressor works harder to compensate.

Not only will refrigerant leaks reduce systems efficiency and strain the compressor, but refrigerant leaks are also subject to strict environmental regulations.

5. Check economizer function

Economizers are especially valuable in the spring because they use outside air for “free cooling” of your building when temperature and humidity levels are appropriate.

Without preventive maintenance, sensors drift out of calibration, dampers get stuck, linkages break, seals fail and actuators stop working properly.

When working correctly, economizers effectively reduce energy costs, often to the tune of hundreds or thousands of dollars per month.

6. Change filters and belts

Dirty or clogged filters can result in under-functioning HVAC systems and poor air quality.

Over time, fan belts can become worn and loose, preventing proper HVAC operation.

Belts should be inspected each time preventive maintenance is performed and generally need to be replaced once or twice a year.

These six steps provide a basic road map for HVAC preventive maintenance.

Of course, every building’s HVAC system is unique, meaning that no two preventive maintenance approaches are quite the same.

Working with a commercial HVAC professional experienced in mission-critical environments on a custom preventive maintenance plan can offer cannabis business owners confidence that their system is operating at peak performance while providing a safe environment for plants to thrive.

Peter McGrath handles technical sales, equipment replacement and design/build at Whippany, New Jersey-based Mechanical Service Corp. He can be reached at marketing@mscnj.com.

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