If your commercial air conditioner breaks down during the scorching heat of summer, it can affect your employees, customers and, if you are a landlord, the tenants in your building. Ensuring the well-being and comfort of everyone on the premises is essential to running a successful business and maintaining a high level of building occupancy.
If you’ve ever had to repair or replace your residential or commercial HVAC equipment due to issues that could have been prevented with routine maintenance, you know how expensive that can be. Now, as you prepare for the hot weather season, you are probably wondering how much you should pay for your service.
The importance of commercial HVAC maintenance
Whatever you do, don’t skip it. A planned maintenance program ensures that your HVAC system will be up for the challenge of keeping your business premises cool all summer. There are also financial and operational advantages, which are outlined below.
- Poorly maintained HVAC systems can reduce energy efficiency significantly, driving your energy bills up. When you keep your system in good shape, it will run more efficiently, which saves you money and be less likely to break down when you (and your employees and customers) need it most.
- Routine maintenance makes it easier to identify failing parts and repair them before they become a bigger problem. If an essential part like the heat pump, heat exchanger, condenser coils, or evaporator coils breaks down, the equipment will stop operating and the damaged part can cause issues with other system components. It can all add up to longer downtime and a higher repair bill.
- The lifespan of your HVAC unit can be extended, giving you an extra 10 to 15 years before it requires replacing. The cost of replacing an HVAC system can be significant, so you want to get as much longevity and use out of yours as possible.
- If your equipment breaks down, the lack of fresh air and comfortable temperatures can harm your business. Your staff cannot do their jobs properly, in sweltering temperatures and your clients or customers may refuse to come to the business until the problem is resolved, which will hurt your bottom line.
So what’s the price? How much should you pay for keeping your AC unit in good working order?
Depending on where you are located, an HVAC contractor may charge an average of $100 to $140 per hour, and preventive maintenance visits usually take one to two hours. Some companies charge flat fees for their service visits, such as $85 to $120 for a tune-up.
How much you ultimately pay will depend on your maintenance agreement, your system, and factors related to both. For example, many commercial HVAC technicians offer annual cooling and heating services contracts that cost upwards of $198 and offer discounts when you hire them for any necessary repairs. Contracts are strongly recommended because you get more warranty coverage than if you only arranged for a single visit.
Labor costs explained
Your HVAC maintenance program cost is primarily based on the time it takes to carry out the work. The simplified approach to calculating price is to take the contract cost and divide it by the technician’s hourly labor rate to see how many service hours it includes. Then divide that number by the number of scheduled service visits.
Below is an overview of the most common residential and commercial HVAC maintenance plans and what elements impact the pricing of each one.
Preventative maintenance plans and pricing explained
Preventative maintenance plans are basic contracts that include a certain number of scheduled visits every year. Depending on manufacturers’ recommendations and system requirements, maintenance visits can be scheduled anywhere between monthly to annually.
During each visit, a qualified contractor will inspect your commercial AC system, make any necessary adjustments, and identify situations impede efficiency, call for repair, or hint at future equipment failure. Other preventive maintenance activities may include:
- Checking refrigerant levels. It can cost anywhere from $1,000 to over $2,000 to replace refrigerant and if a leak is involved, a search and repair can average $400 per every four hours.
Air filter changes. If your air conditioning system is in constant use, you’ll need to replace the filters once per month to keep it running properly. New filters generally cost anywhere from $10 to $150, but you can get ones that are reusable and only need routine cleaning.
- Cleaning evaporator and condenser coils. If they are covered with debris, they can’t do an efficient job of removing the heat from your business premises, and coils that are badly damaged will need to be replaced.
- Combing coil fins. Bent fins cause blockages and make it more difficult for the system to release warm air.
- Cleaning a clogged condensate drain. If fluid accumulates in the unit, it can cause water damage in your house.
- Lubricating the motor bearings. If the bearings are not treated, it can cause friction and increase the amount of power needed for your HVAC unit to function normally.
- Tightening electrical connections. Connections that are too loose can cause your system to malfunction and reduce its longevity.
This is the least expensive type of commercial HVAC maintenance contract. Depending on which company you work with, it may or may not include the replacement of minor parts such as filters and belts.
Preventative maintenance contracts vary in price according to the number of scheduled visits, which in turn depends on the age and condition of your system as well as how heavily you use it. For example, cooling systems that run 24/7 in extreme conditions like Nevada summers will need more attention than a smaller residential HVAC system that cools a smaller space only when the residents are home.
Other factors that affect pricing include:
- The size of your system. A 60-ton unit that requires multiple filter changes and has several compressors that need servicing is a lot more labor-intensive than a smaller system for a single retail outlet.
- What type system you have. If you have a small office using a split HVAC system, it will not be as expensive to maintain as a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system designed to control temperatures in multiple zones.
You can save money by getting a preventative maintenance contract that is tailored to your specific HVAC system and the needs of your business. A reputable HVAC company can help you put together a maintenance program that works for you.
Full labor plans and pricing explained
Full labor plans recover all of the labor for any necessary repairs, although they don’t include the cost of the parts. Depending on the contract, it may even include system replacement installation. Like preventative maintenance plans, prices will vary depending on:
- The size and complexity of your HVAC system
- The number of system components requiring maintenance, such as the water heater, dryer vent, etc.
With labor plans, there are some additional considerations that may affect how much you pay for commercial HVAC maintenance:
- How difficult the equipment is to access. If your system is so complex that it can be difficult to access the parts requiring maintenance and repair, the work will take more time and the cost will be higher.
- The proximity of your HVAC technician. If the contractor is often in your area, they may not include travel time in your contract price. If they have to travel beyond a certain distance to reach your business, they will charge you for it.
Full coverage plans and pricing explained
Full coverage plans are excellent choices when you want to cover all your bases and leave nothing to chance. This type of commercial HVAC maintenance contract is the most expensive because it covers maintenance and labor and includes the parts, but it can also save you money if your system needs expensive repairs.
With full coverage contracts, the main factors affecting the price are the age and condition of your unit. Older commercial HVAC systems and those in declining condition are more likely to have expensive parts break down. If your unit is more than 10 years old, it may make better sense to replace it. Many HVAC professionals go by the “$5,000 rule”, which is:
- Multiply the age of the system by the repair cost
- Replace the unit if the total exceeds $5,000.
Control costs with regular upkeep
You can keep your commercial HVAC system operating at peak performance between maintenance visits by doing a little housekeeping. Upkeep tasks that are fairly simple to carry out include:
- Removing debris such as dirt, grime, fallen leaves, and cut grass from the vicinity of the external unit. Keep all greenery trimmed back to allow at least two feet of air space.
- Checking the seals, vents, and ducts in your building for any problems like dirt build-up, cracks, and leaks. Make sure there are no open spaces around your doors, windows or in the ductwork. If there are, seal them immediately to prevent your HVAC unit from working too hard and possibly breaking down.
- Preparing your HVAC system properly for the cold weather system. This includes turning off its circuit, hosing it down gently to remove debris, covering exposed pipes with foam pipe insulation, and protecting the unit with a weatherproof cover.
- If your company occupies most (or all) of the building, create a building management system that includes updated equipment controls and an annual maintenance plan for all systems and machinery. Not only can a building management system reduce operational costs by 15%, but all equipment (including your HVAC system) will operate more efficiently and be less likely to break down.
Avoid reactive maintenance
Have you ever called a repair professional like a plumber or electrician on weekends or in the middle of the night? It’s expensive, and HVAC priority service repairs are no exception. If you don’t have a routine maintenance plan in place to detect and correct developing problems, your system could fail during a summer heatwave and leave you with an expensive repair bill.
Being proactive can make a huge difference in your bottom line. In 2016, the Houston Independent School District implemented a preventative maintenance program for its HVAC system. Subsequent analysis confirmed the following benefits:
- Its yearly maintenance spending on replacement parts, chillers, and boilers decreased by 90% (from $10 -$12 million to less than $2 million)
- Service calls fell from 20 to 40 days to around 10, representing less disruption
Fewer service calls also translated into less disruption to the building occupants, allowing the school to better serve its purpose.
A commercial HVAC system is likely the most expensive and complicated yet necessary system in the entire building.
Our technicians can help you manage maintenance costs by developing a service agreement that supports the heating and cooling needs of your commercial property while saving you money and providing your employees or building tenants with a better experience.
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If you want to find out how you can save some costs with your residential HVAC maintenance go ahead and contact us! We’ll be happy to assess your specific needs.