Preparing chilled water and cooling equipment for the summer


In the fall, looming cold temperatures and potential storms signal the need for preventative maintenance activities at Vicinity’s central facilities and customers’ buildings. However, as we approach summer’s warmer temperatures, preventative maintenance is just as important.

During the winter months, certain equipment often lies dormant, making it imperative to assess components of chilled water systems and other cooling equipment well in advance of heightened cooling demands. While some property owners diligently prepare their equipment for the impending heat, it is a timely reminder to consult with your energy provider regarding recommended preventive maintenance for the summer season, whether you rely on district chilled water or steam for cooling or manage your onsite chillers and cooling towers.

Why summer preventive maintenance is critical

As spring begins, it presents an opportunity to inspect cooling equipment that lay dormant throughout the heating season. Implementing preventive measures before the onset of summer and escalating temperatures can yield numerous benefits:

  • Improve equipment reliability, function, and overall lifespan
  • Reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and operational costs
  • Prevent unplanned costs and even system downtime
  • Enhance safety and comfort for employees and building occupants
  • Maintain efficient energy delivery
  • Ensure the long-term sustainability of a property

How to prepare cooling equipment for warm weather

Partnering with our customers, Vicinity’s team tailors our preventive maintenance approach to the unique needs of each building. Preventive maintenance activities can be done at any time but are typically conducted in preparation for the winter and the summer to prepare for peak loads due to temperature changes.

Whether customers need support with recommissioning an onsite cooling system or performing seasonal shutdowns to prepare steam systems for the summer, Vicinity’s operations and maintenance experts can help ensure the equipment will operate effectively for the coming summer and the next heating season. Depending on the building’s system, our team can isolate a maintenance issue or conduct a small shutdown event to repair equipment. Ahead of summer temperatures, Vicinity’s team can test a building’s chilled water or steam system during off hours or weekends to identify any problems.

Several elements of cooling systems require inspection every year or more. Let’s dive into the most critical components buildings should focus on when preparing for the cooling season.

Heat exchanger and water samples

A heat exchanger is a system that transfers heat between a source and a working fluid. In the winter, district energy systems transfer heat from the hot water in the district heating system to the cold water in an individual building’s heating system. In the summer, district chilled water customers rely on this equipment to leverage Vicinity’s chilled water to circulate cool air throughout their buildings.

To ensure that heat exchangers function properly, Vicinity’s team takes water samples from the heat exchanger and tests the water for conductivity. This test helps ensure that tube bundles are not leaking and that city water is not entering the system through such leaks. It’s also important to make sure these systems are clean and are not experiencing any leaks.

Pressure Regulating Valves (PRVs)

Pressure regulating valves (PRVs) are designed to reduce incoming steam pressure to ensure safe steam distribution. Vicinity’s team identifies the PRV’s make, model, size, and serial number. They will then test the valve for leaks, clean orifices, check diaphragm plates, test the gauging, and set it to the desired system pressure.

Testing PRVs is important because failed PRVs may cause system over-pressurization and relief values to release steam into the atmosphere. If a PRV fails, it can also improperly cycle open and closed, oversupplying and then starving the downstream equipment of steam. Testing includes inspecting the PRV operating mechanism (pneumatic, hydraulic, or motor-operated). Whether a building turns off steam for summer or leverages steam for cooling purposes, PRV testing is critical for overall system efficiency and reducing any potential energy losses.

Mechanical room hot water loop

In a building’s mechanical room, Vicinity’s team inspects all piping, inlet/outlet temperatures, and pressures on heat exchangers and mechanical pumps.

This inspection confirms the adequate operation of key energy transfer equipment, such as heat exchangers, which supply building heat, hot water, and other process loads. It is also important to note the general condition and function testing of space heaters and heat tracing.

Cooling towers and chillers

Chillers and cooling towers are important components of some buildings’ cooling systems. While chillers cool down water using a refrigerant, which is then circulated through the building to absorb heat from the air, cooling towers then reject heat from the chillers’ condenser water and return it to the condenser at a lower temperature as part of the system’s refrigeration cycle.

Vicinity can partner with customers who do not leverage district chilled water and own onsite cooling towers and chillers, providing additional operation and maintenance support to ensure a seamless transition to summer.

Cooling tower maintenance activities for customers who own and operate onsite equipment include disinfecting equipment ahead of seasonal startup to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria; replacing oil in gearboxes to prevent friction and corrosion; performing vibration analysis to mitigate risks related to increased noise, safety concerns, and system inefficiencies; inspecting and repairing distribution spray pipes and nozzles; cleaning basins; and upgrading fan blades and drive shafts as needed.

Chiller maintenance includes removing any dirt or debris collected throughout the year to optimize airflow; checking levels of refrigerant and assessing if additional refrigerant should be added; inspecting all chiller and condenser pumps; cleaning and servicing all variable frequency drives (VFDs) and glycol heat exchangers, the equipment used to cool VFDs; taking oil samples and adjusting levels; and cleaning condenser tubes to maximize equipment lifespan and improve overall energy efficiency.

Summer preparedness checklist

Vicinity’s facilities, especially those with chilled water, take extensive measures to prepare for summer temperatures before the beginning of April. This ensures that our facilities and teams are prepared for any weather or heat-related emergency.

There are several steps that every building should take, however, to ensure summer readiness. Check out our complete checklist to prepare staff and equipment for the coming warm temperatures.

Vicinity’s experts are here to help

Taking proactive steps to maintain your building’s energy systems and prepare for the summer can lead to significant benefits. From lower energy use and carbon emissions to increased safety awareness, the effort invested in preparing your building for hot weather pays off.

Vicinity’s experts are here to help with all your energy needs year-round. Give our energy experts a call to:

  • Work on repairs
  • Submit quotes before the coming cooling season
  • Get help preparing your budgets for next year
  • Schedule a site visit to get preventive maintenance assessments from our team
  • Explore leveraging chilled water or steam for cooling
  • Get support for operating and maintaining your onsite chillers and cooling towers

Learn more about Vicinity’s comprehensive maintenance services offered year-round to optimize building systems’ efficiency, reliability, and cost savings.

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Tricia Keegan

Based in Boston, MA, Tricia helps lead our team to partner with clients and operations staff to assure reliable, efficient operations. She writes about topics related to district energy operations, preventive maintenance, and more.