Maximising HVAC ROI in new builds

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are frequently overlooked as a key part of building design. Far from a mere afterthought, HVAC systems will have a direct impact on users’ health, working environment, energy use and running costs, explains Andrew Nixon, Area General Manager – Energy, HVAC and Industrial Refrigeration at Johnson Controls.



well-designed system can, therefore, help businesses stay efficient, be environmentally-friendly, cost-efficient and improve employee engagement. For some industries, such as manufacturing, the design and installation of HVAC systems in a new building will also play a key role in product quality and production volume.

As a result, construction firms and architects need to be able to call on the right expertise when it comes to designing and installing HVAC systems. Although the equipment is a replaceable component of the whole build, it is a considerable investment likely to last for at least a decade, so it needs to be done right.

With that in mind, there are two key areas that architects and construction companies need to bear in mind when evaluating HVAC system choices.

Choosing your system

HVAC systems have a long-life expectancy – around 20 years – so it is essential for businesses to make the right investment decisions around plant procurement when considering building new facilities.

Historically, plant procurement decisions have predominately been focused on the technical performance of the plant and initial capital value. However, with increasing energy and carbon compliance pressures, plant efficiency has started to be a key part of the selection process.

In recent years, the market has been moving towards procuring plant with a ‘lifecycle cost’ analysis. Essentially, this takes into account the initial capital value plus the associated annual operating costs for maintenance and energy consumption for the life of the plant. This evaluation can help during the decision-making process, highlighting options with higher annual operating costs and the associated impact on the user’s cost base.

One trend that has been observed in recent months is that companies are beginning to shift back towards making procurement decisions based on which system requires the lowest initial investment. Effectively, this is a shift from an opex model to a capex. This has likely been driven by Brexit concerns, with businesses facing capital spend restrictions and budget pressures as a result of economic uncertainty.

However, higher company costs are directly associated with the cost per item. In a competitive market, any increase in these costs can cause a problem if the company is unable to pass on these additional costs. As a result, lifecycle cost evaluation should be the basis for all plant procurement – it’s important to remember that the lowest initial investment cost is not always the best basis for long-term investment decisions.

Keeping your HVAC running

An essential requirement for all factory managers is to ensure the long-term high performance of HVAC and refrigeration systems. HVAC plant maintenance can be seen as a low priority or a short-term cost saving within businesses but, in reality, this is a false economy as eventually, poor maintenance will impact costs and also decrease the plant’s operational years.

Typical HVAC system plant maintenance is usually performed as scheduled works planned on the basis of the number of hours run. However, a more effective solution is to incorporate connected IoT devices to enable condition-based predictive maintenance solutions and remote monitoring of plant.

Condition-based monitoring is an essential solution for predictive maintenance. It usually incorporates a combination of vibration analysis for rotating plant and thermal analysis for electrical plant and components. With the costs of the IoT-based test equipment continuing to fall over the years, this solution should now be utilised on all relative plant as part of a comprehensive maintenance schedule.

Remote monitoring provides regular plant status updates. This data can then be analysed by off-site services utilising rules engines specifically designed for the installed plant, which can identify plant degradation and provide early notification of failure for maintenance requirements. The trend data and associated reports available from condition and remote monitoring systems can be essential tools to support maintenance scheduling, but also in prioritising capital investment.

This is becoming a standard solution on new plant but is also increasingly becoming available as a retrofit option, so facilities that aren’t able to completely replace their plant can still upgrade their maintenance systems.

In the US, office buildings typically use more than 20% of energy on IT equipment, in some cases, this figure can be as high as 70%[1], so it is essential for customers to continually look for an opportunity for efficiency improvements and energy savings. In addition to planned and reactive maintenance works, companies should also ensure their maintenance service provider engages with the need to identify and deliver energy-saving opportunities on the plant and associated systems. This could be in terms of technology advancements for plant replacements, changing systems from their original design to improve actual operation or the optimisation of control parameters and logic.

The right supplier

With all this in mind, it’s key that construction companies find the right HVAC supplier to consult on plant installation. They need to speak with experts who can provide a full-service portfolio, advising them from a long-term point of view and considering all the options in terms of equipment. In particular, construction companies need to work with companies that have experience with a wide range of industry sectors and building types – there’s a wide variety of HVAC devices that could be applicable depending on whether you’re building an office block, a factory or a residential building.

In manufacturing, for example, HVAC is essential to the occupant’s bottom line and regulatory compliance – a faulty air cooling system can damage products and risks producing unsafe working conditions. As a result, the company tasked with designing and building the factory in the first place must consider HVAC from the earliest stages and incorporate the specific requirements of the system into the build. A custom HVAC system may require bespoke building features and specifications, so consultation with HVAC specialists must be central to the building process rather than an afterthought.


At first, construction and HVAC may not seem like the most obvious of bedfellows, but the best results are achieved when they work hand-in-hand from the earliest stages of project development.

Construction companies need to be aware of their clients’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning needs and work with expert sector consultants to ensure best practice. A well-designed HVAC system is a key part of any building and can be an essential component of industrial builds. Don’t treat HVAC as something to be outsourced and forgotten – successful projects must take the time to consider it in depth and secure the correct equipment for the job.

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