Springtime Inspections Improve the Longevity of Roof and HVAC Systems

Spring is right around the corner and that means it’s time for some facility maintenance. Two main things to check include your building’s roof and HVAC systems.

Roofs need regular maintenance

Most people don’t think about a building’s roof until it leaks. By that time, it could be too late to avoid major water damage (and expensive repairs). When a roof leaks, water can damage not only walls and floors, but also mechanical and electrical systems.

By periodically inspecting and repairing your ministry’s roof, you can head off major structural damage. Here are some general maintenance tips—ask your contractor for tips on your specific roof type.

Inspect roof.  Have a qualified professional inspect your entire roof regularly to make sure that the roof surface, flashings, caulking, and sealants are watertight. Pay special attention to places where chimneys, pipes, and other items protrude.

If problems are found, repair them quickly. You may be tempted to ignore small problems to save money, but they can grow quickly and lead to other, costlier, issues.

Additionally, you should keep track of the age of your roof. Tim Cool, founder of Smart Church Solutions, an organization dedicated to helping Christian ministries steward their facilities, advises that the service life of a roof can vary greatly due to many variables, but generally, the following is a good range for expected service life for common roofing material types:

  • 3-tab asphalt shingle – 15-20 years

  • Architectural asphalt shingle – 25-30 years

  • Slate (real/synthetic) – 50-75 years (or longer)

  • Metal standing seam – 50-75 years

  • Modified bitumen roofs – 15-20 years

  • Single-ply roofs – 15-25 years

Clean gutters, drains. Clogged gutters, downspouts, and drains can trap water or snow on the roof. If the weight of accumulated water, ice, or snow grows too heavy, the roof could fail.

Ventilate, insulate attics. Warm attics can lead to ice dams on sloped roofs. Ice dams form when heat rising from your building melts snow on the roof, and the snow runs down to the cooler edges of the roof and refreezes. Eventually, the ice buildup prevents water from draining off. This may force water under the roof covering and into your attic or building. To decrease the likelihood of ice dams, properly insulate the attic floor and provide adequate ventilation to keep the attic cool.

Remove debris. Debris tends to hold water, which expedites roof deterioration. Look for leaves, branches, and other material that has gathered behind HVAC units, pipes, skylights, and other objects on the roof.

Trim trees. Trim back any overhanging tree branches. This will reduce the amount of maintenance required to keep gutters and drains clear and decrease the risk of limbs falling on your building.

Prepare HVAC system now for warm weather

How often should you service your HVAC system? Professionals recommend twice a year - once in the spring to service air conditioners and once in the fall to service heating systems.

Keeping up with this bi-annual maintenance schedule can pay off with continued efficiency and energy savings. While there will likely be a service cost when a technician visits, routine upkeep can ward off the major problems that can put a dent in ministry finances.

What You Can Do

Here are a few spring cleaning tips that can help you clean up and maintain your HVAC system before summer arrives:

  • Take winter coverings off.

  • Check for ants and mice, and any signs that an animal might have sought shelter inside the unit.

  • Trim bushes around outdoor units to allow at least two feet between the plant and the cooling unit.

  • Remove leaves and debris from inside the unit’s top grille.

  • Make sure insulation around the refrigerant line going into the building is intact.

  • Examine pipes for rust or erosion. Contact professionals if you find signs of wear.

Another way to make sure your unit is working at peak efficiency is to check for any obstacles that might make the system work harder. Do this by:

  • Keeping downspouts and gutters clear to allow proper drainage. This stops condensation from soaking into the building.

  • Making sure drainage from the downspouts is carried away from your foundation walls.

  • Replacing window and door seals and weather stripping if necessary.

  • Caulking around doors and windows where there are air leaks.

Finally, remember to replace your air filters. Dirty filters restrict airflow and slow down your system. How often you should change your filters depends on the unit, its location, and filter type used. Some filters are advertised to last 3 or 6 months. Tim Cool advises going no longer than 3 months between filter changes, but generally every month is recommended. Monthly filter changes mean you are looking at your equipment regularly and can head off potential maintenance issues.

From the Professionals

Scheduling a tune-up with a qualified technician is the next step to getting the most out of your cooling system. While it’s smart to handle certain maintenance measures yourself, it’s important to have the system evaluated by someone with expertise in the field. A contractor is trained to not only know how to clean and adjust each component, but also how to monitor gas and oil connections to avoid fire hazards and health problems.

If your HVAC unit is more than 10 years old, now is the time to budget for a replacement unit in the future. Depending on the type of equipment, a generally accepted life expectancy is 15 to 20 years for direct expansion equipment (e.g. heat pumps, roof top units), 20 to 30 years for most boilers and chillers, and slightly longer for geothermal systems. All of these ranges are directly impacted by the level of maintenance performed on the system. A good service company performing a full preventative maintenance schedule for your equipment can extend the life by 20-25% or more.

Life expectancy is also impacted by proper sizing and installation of the equipment, environmental factors like exposure to extreme conditions, and run time.

Improvements in efficiency and phasing out of refrigerants also impact service life. If the cost to repair the unit exceeds 30% of the cost of installing a new unit, consider the replacement.

For a Cool Resource, check out the free Life Cycle Calculator from Smart Church Solutions.

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