HVAC Case Study: How To Create A Successful HVAC Installation and Replacement Experience

By Javier Lozano posted 14 days ago

  
It seems a bit ironic that a facilities HVAC system is hands down the most expensive and important piece of equipment in the entire building.  Yet, to some Facility Managers, the one thing that is put off the most.

Let’s face it, if a store or restaurant isn’t pleasant, sales will begin to go down because customers aren’t comfortable.  In addition, employees may begin to walk out and quit because the working conditions aren’t appropriate.

And, this does not take into account the possible longterm, and untraceable affects.  Some customers may be so put-off by the temperature in the store or restaurant, they’ll never return.  In addition, they may share with their friends and family about their horrible experience, causing a negative ripple effect. 

Unfortunately, this is lost revenue that can not be calculated, but I’m sure it plays a major factor.

Some Facility Managers may not take advantage of a well-executed Preventative Maintenance program, because they may be looking to cut costs on expenses due to a heating and cooling system eating into their budget.

We understand that the cost of energy usage continues to sore up, thus we all try to cut corners and save money on expensive e programs.  However, all of the technological advancements on HVAC systems help offset the cost of electricity.  Yet, some Facility Managers won’t invest in an EMS or VFD system for their multi-site location.

Trust us, we understand the cost involved in installing these systems.  It’s simply an observation as an HVAC and refrigeration company.

Or, the lack of data and information gathered and retained on HVAC/R units and equipment, such as rooftop units, chillers, cooling towers, boilers, ice machines, walk-in coolers, reach-in coolers, and more. 

Why is having all of this data so valuable?  Maybe this is good for another article in the future.

What is the point of all this?

It’s beyond critical to plan for any and all HVAC new installations and replacements.  Furthermore, from our experience, it’s probably best to plan for these installations when the demand of a quality mechanical company isn’t as high.

The Challenge: Our Multi-Site Retail Client Need Help Solving This Problem

In this case study, our customer (who we will keep anonymous) was put in a challenging situation. The company underestimated the timeline for installing a new HVAC system for one of their newly opened locations.

This retail company is growing at a fast-pace, opening new locations throughout the United States.  Though these locations are not your typical retail stores, they still had a need for cooling and heating in their facilities.

The constraints for this customer was that their 2 new locations did not have an existing HVAC system.  That meant, they were looking to have new HVAC units installed in their 2 new sites. 

The other stipulation… the customer needed these HVAC units to be installed at the height of the Summer.  Unfortunately, every reliable mechanical company is busy accepting emergency service calls, and sometimes turning down business because they are so busy.

To add another layer of difficulty, one of their locations was already open for 5 weeks, taking on new business. And though it was early in Spring, and not hot… yet, they did not have an HVAC system installed in their warehouse portion of the building.

No big deal, right?  It should just be a couple of weeks to install a rooftop unit on the building, right?  Maybe a month at most, right?

This retail company had obviously already planned to open this new location, however, neglected to plan possibly the most important aspect of the building — the necessary time and cost of installing a new HVAC system.

The Evaluation: Site Walk-Through & HVAC Installation Suggestions

Before all HVAC projects, our team prefers to do a site walk-through of the customer’s location.  This allows us to see the scope of the project, take pictures and measurements, and bring up any questions and concerns of the potential project.

After walking the facility inside, outside, and on the roof, there were a few items that concerned us before moving forward.
  • Was there enough space on the electrical panel? The electrical panel was almost full, with only 1 or 2 more breakers available.  This made us think that a sub-panel might be necessary for this project.
  • Did the building have enough service? In a nutshell,  we were not sure if the building had enough power to support additional equipment.  Why is this imperative?  Well, for this situation, the building had 205 amps of service.  And, though their electrical panel can take 225 amps, if the service isn’t there, they would need to upgrade.  In addition, when we found out that they were getting a walk-in cooler installed, that drew even more concerns that there may not be enough service to support rooftop units.
  • Engineered drawings were going to be needed? Since this was a new installation, and all reputable HVAC company pull permits by having an Engineers involved.
Once gathered all of the information, we circled back with the customer by scheduling a conference call and brought to their attention some of our concerns.

In addition, we had a couple of suggestions.
  • Use Temp Cooling - This is a warehouse space, with employees spending little to no time in the warehouse, other than grabbing products.  Strategically place spot coolers in the warehouse during the hot Summer months.
  • Evaporator Cooling System - Since this project was based in Colorado, we have a very low amount of humidity.  And, if it did get humid, it was due to rain, which would naturally drop the outside temperature by 10 to 20 degrees.
  • Move the condenser unit of the walk-in cooler outside - We learned that this customer prefers to keep the condenser units inside the warehouse for their walk-in coolers.  However, the size of this unit’s condenser put out a heavy load of heat.  The only 2 solutions was to place the unit outside on either the ground or roof, or place an exhaust fan over the condenser unit.
The customer preferred to have the entire warehouse space cooled, which we can respect.  And was concerned about using evaporator coolers (swamp coolers).

After giving the customer our recommendations, they decided on a few items that were important to their company.

  • Install rooftop units
  • Keep condenser unit inside
  • Use spot cooling as a temporary solution

The Timing: Choosing The Right Time To Install An HVAC System

During our initial HVAC Strategy Call, we discussed the scope of the project and this included how this could take approximately 3 to 6 months before our team would be able to install heating and cooling systems on their building.

Here’s our rough timeline:
  • Engineered Drawings - 3 to 6 weeks
  • City Permitting - 4 to 8 weeks
  • Official Proposal - 2 weeks
  • Installation - 1 to 2 weeks
The saying goes, if you’re a reliable HVAC and refrigeration company, you’re always busy.  Especially throughout the Summer and Winter.  Thus making their slow times during the Spring and Fall.

Why is this important to know?

Many HVAC companies already have their calendar filled for installations and replacements several months in advance, especially during peak seasons.  These are customers that have been working with this company well in advance.

As a Facility Manager, if you’re looking to have your HVAC unit installed in the middle of Summer, something has to give.

That means a mechanical company will have to either drop or push a current customer to a different date, in order to pencil in your project.  And, that rarely happens, and shouldn’t.  That’s how you lose trust quickly.

The other part that not very many Facility Managers take into account is that during peak seasons, an emergency repair is when a building has no cooling or heating and it is affecting employees, customers, and products.  This will usually take priority over a new installation.

When To Schedule Your Next HVAC Installation or Replacement

Make every effort to schedule your new installations and replacements for HVAC units during the slow times, such as Spring or Fall.

In addition, it’s best that you start contacting HVAC/R vendors about 6 months ahead of time to determine if they can take on the new work.  This not only helps your Facility team, but also your chosen vendor.

Plus, with that amount of lead time, an HVAC and refrigeration company can actually take the time to properly quote a project.  This will not only build trust, but demonstrate that you are a Facility Manager that plans out your projects.

That Drawings: Engineered Drawings and Proper Permitting

No respectable HVAC/R vendor will perform any type of new installation or replacement without the properly engineered drawings and proper permitting based on the municipality.

During our kickoff meeting with this customer, we gathered all the necessary information from the client, then made very high-level projections for the completion of the engineered drawings.

Here’s what you can expect when getting engineered drawings for your next HVAC installation.  Keep in mind that it can change based on the type of installation, complexity, city requirements, and more.  Below is simply a baseline.
  • Mechanical Engineer - Typically all new installations start with the Mechanical Engineer.  As a side note, if the Facility Manager can’t get access to any type of architectural drawings in PDF or CAD, then the Mechanical Engineer will need to start from scratch.  Not only does that increase the cost, but extends the time. 

    In our case, the landlord was able to get architectural drawings in CAD, which saved a lot of time and money for our engineer.

    Our engineer did a site visit, took measurements, and accounted for all electrical equipment, since it puts out a heat load.  We also requested the specs on all electrical equipment so we could get a very accurate number of heat load. 

    After running calculations, our engineer determined how many rooftop units we needed, what type of exhausting system will be used, and the structure of the ductwork, including placement, size, etc.

    For our customer, this process took approximately 2 weeks.

  • Electrical Engineer - Once the mechanical drawings were done, the next step was to provide the mechanical CAD drawings to our Electrical Engineer.  Since this was a relatively straight forward project, the Electrical Engineer didn’t have to provide elaborate drawings.

    To sum it up, the Engineer added a sub panel, since the current panel only had 1 breaker available.  The plan was to move a few of the breakers to the sub panel, to create some space.

    Connect each rooftop unit, as well as the exhaust.  However, the exhaust would have an automatic kickstart when the condenser unit turned on for the walk-in cooler.

  • Plumbing Engineer - Most rooftop units are designed to have heat output, and this project was not different.  However, this customer already had ceiling heaters installed in the warehouse space, prior to taking over as tenants.  Therefore, our team did not involve a Plumber to do the install of a gas line for heating.  This saved cost in the installation and drawing.

  • Structural Engineer - The Mechanical Engineer decided (through heat load calculations and square footage) that there should be two 5-ton rooftop units in the space.  And, our walk-through of the site, we noticed that the roof had wood joists and a plywood roof.  With this type of design, we needed to determine that the weight of the rooftop units could be supported by the current structure.

    After gathering all the data on the building, it was not necessary to install additional structural support on the building.  The only requirements were to make sure both rooftop units did not sit on the same joists, rather off-centered.
It took roughly 6 weeks to get all the engineers to finalize their drawings.

The Cost: Pricing Out The Cost of Installing New HVAC Units

As a company, we partner with other trades and engineers, as this allows our company to focus on what we do best, HVAC and Refrigeration.
With that said, after we received all of the engineered designs, we began to map out the project, which included the duration of time, equipment, and cost.

Below is a list of subcontractors that CMI Mechanical needed to hire out to accomplish this project.
  • Roofing Company - This company will assist us with properly penetrating through the roof for the HVAC units, as well as patching up cracks to make sure no water or outside elements enter the building.
  • Lift Rental - This is needed to install ductwork in the warehouse, and includes the machine to be delivered and picked up.  For a project this size, we would keep the lift for approximately 1 week.
  • Electrician - The electrician will connect the two rooftop units and exhaust fan according to the drawings of the electrical engineer.  Typically this is one of the most expensive trades to hire out.  Let’s be honest here, we are dealing with electricity, you don’t want to cut corners on this part.
  • Crane Service - This is needed to bring up the 2 rooftop units on the roof of the building, and typically is only needed for 1 to 2 days.
  • Exhaust Fan Manufacturing - A custom exhaust fan is needed to pull out all heat from the building, mainly the condenser unit from the walk-in cooler.
  • Core Drill - Since the custom exhaust fan is going to be placed on the side of the building, we need a company to cut and drill through concrete cinder blocks.
  • Pressure Testing - This company makes sure there is proper pressure in the building, ducts, and all mechanical equipment that is installed.
  • City Permits - Permits are mandatory in all cities to make sure projects are done to code. Rule of thumb is that the cost of the permit is a certain percentage of the cost of the project.  In our case, roughly 10%.
  • Duct Work - Our company partners with another vendor that designs the ductwork accordingly, while we install the ductwork as specified by the mechanical engineer.
In addition to pricing out subcontractors, we also needed to determine the hours needed to install the new HVAC system, including how many technicians were going to be needed on the job.

Finally, we also price out the cost of materials, including sheet metal, hangers, and the actual rooftop units themselves.  We decided to go with Carrier based on the needs of the customer.  We added economizers on the units, and hail guards since Colorado is known for hail damage.

Keep in mind there are a lot of moving parts in this project, because of the number of subcontractors involved, and the unknown.

Once we received all the numbers and quotes from our subcontractors, we delivered the final price of the project.

This part of the project took about 1.5 weeks, and it mainly had to do with gathering all the necessary information from our subcontractors and partnered vendors.

The Reveal: Reviewing The Price of the Project With The Client

When we ran all the numbers through our spreadsheet, and placed it into a formal proposal, we also scheduled a follow-up call with our customer.

The purpose behind this is to allow our team to answer any immediate questions about the new HVAC installation and review concerns.  Also, our customer won’t just look at a large number, and not have any context behind it.

Initially, the first reaction from our customer was that it was too expensive to just install 2 rooftop packaged units.

And, when you look at it that way… it is expensive. 

However, what most Facility Managers may not be considering are all the other pieces involved to execute and deliver this project to the highest standard possible. 

In addition, there are things that the customer won’t “see”, such as all the electrical work, permits, etc.  All the customer see’s is 2 rooftop units that turn on and ductwork.

So, we had to explain where the costs were coming from.

The Trust: Acceptance of the New HVAC Installation

The Facility Manager needed to share all of this information with their corporate headquarters, before accepting and signing off on the installation.  And, sometimes that can take about 2 to 3 weeks.  Or longer.

Why?

First, the number may be too difficult to swallow.  But, the other reason is to possibly get bids from other HVAC companies.  And, if an HVAC company is well respected and reliable, it will take them a few days to about 1 week, to be able to bid a project.

Once our customer accepted the bid, our team took all of the Mechanical, Electrical and Structural drawings to the city’s building department for review. 

And, according to the landlord of the building, who our customer is leasing space from, it took them approximately 9 weeks to get their permits approved.

Keep in mind, we are in a growing economy, and commerce is doing really well throughout the United States.  And, when the economy is booming, businesses are popping up everywhere.  This is no different in Colorado.  That means city building departments are buried in reviewing new plans from all scopes and projects. 

And, just because you think your project is more important than someone else’s, it doesn’t matter.  You are simply a number in their system.  And, that means you need to go through all of their red tape, and comply with their building requirements.

This is probably one of the more difficult things to explain to a customer.  We have no control over what the building department will say.  We can only anticipate it, based on the stamped engineered drawings. 

Each municipality will have its own requirements, and sometimes no one knows until it goes through a review process.

However, once the drawings were approved, CMI Mechanical was able to move forward and perform the new HVAC installation for our customer.

How To Best Plan Your Next Installation or Replacement

Just for a rough idea, we typically suggest that the entire process for a new HVAC installation will take approximately 6 months.  And, that includes engineered drawings, permitting, hiring subcontractors, pricing out the project, and finally installing the units. 

Side Note: We also like to add an extra 1 to 2 weeks in this rough projection for the unknowns.  No matter how qualified your HVAC vendor maybe, something always goes wrong, and that needs to be accounted for.

For a “like-for-like” replacement, it could take less time, especially if the replacement is exactly the same unit, just newer.  However, every city has their own requirements, and your HVAC partner should know that ahead of time.

The biggest challenge to keep in mind is to think through the entire process as a contractor.

To a Facility Manager or Property Manager, it may appear as though it’s just plopping a rooftop unit on the roof.  And, when you look at it that way, it’s true.  However, what most individuals that are not familiar with HVAC equipment don’t understand is that an HVAC company is installing giant heating and cooling equipment on a roof, tying in electrical and plumbing to this unit, running ductwork throughout the building, and making sure they are all working correctly, in unison. 

Our Recommendation To Facility Managers

We believe that every Facility Manager needs to find vendors they trust, who work on your most critical equipment, and cultivate a relationship of trust and mutual respect. 

The best way to do this is to allow the vendors, you choose to partner with, to give you their best recommendation.  And trust they have you and your facilities best interest at heart. 

This is not to say shopping for a better price is bad.  Rather, sometimes, paying a slightly higher premium for quality work is the better approach, then simply basing your decisions strictly on price. 

About CMI Mechanical

CMI Mechanical is a 40+ year old national HVAC and refrigeration management service company specializing in complex heating and cooling systems, as well as remote and tough to access locations.

CMI Mechanical services all industries including retail, restaurants, distribution centers, c-stores, gas stations, industrial buildings, banks, and government.

In addition, our team is well versed with CMMS and work order systems such as Corrigo, ServiceChannel, FacilitySource, and OfficeTrax.

If you are looking to partner with a reliable and trusted HVAC/R company that has experience, knowledge, and expertise in the industry, give us a 90-day trial.  We guarantee that we’ll come up with a solution to your toughest HVAC/R problems, and if we don’t, you’re free to shop the competition.

Feel free to contact our team below:

Javier Lozano, Jr.
National Director of Business Development
jlozano@coloradomechanical.com
303-500-4227
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