Why operators struggle with HVAC/PTAC upkeep

(HVAC and PTAC maintenance most often boils down to changing filters, so why do so many hotels struggle with this? Luckily, there are some answers.)

If your hotel guests are hearing things go bump in the night, it’s probably best to skip the Ghostbusters and just call maintenance. Packaged terminal air conditioners and heating, ventilation and air conditioning units are a common source of noise complaints, which are almost always sourced to equipment that isn’t operating at its prime.

According to Douglas Mackemer, national director-parts, supplies & specialized equipment at HVAC supplier Carrier Enterprise, it’s no secret hotels struggle to keep up with frequent filter changes on their HVAC and PTAC equipment. But whether it’s because an operator is stretched too thin or is blind to the benefits of proper maintenance, neglecting the basics almost assuredly leads to shorter operating lives for the equipment.

“Not many hoteliers understand the financial impact that poor maintenance means to their business,” Mackemer said. “On top of that, buildup in the drain pans is a breeding ground of microbes, which has a negative effect on air quality.”

Luckily, if there is a way to optimize your processes, there is a business out there to help you. Service optimization platform Quore does just that, providing hotels with a means to keep track of maintenance, both reactionary and preventative, streamlining the scheduling aspect of the job.

“One big mistake hotels make is not evenly or consistently doing preventative maintenance,” said Scott Schaedle, founder and president of Quore. “If you do guestroom maintenance once per quarter, that is [90] days between each inspection. But if you inspect a room on the first day of Q1, and the same room again on the last day of Q2, that’s [180] days between inspections. 

“It’s that window where real damage can be done, especially over time.”

Failing to regularly change out PTAC or HVAC filters can do major long-term damage to the machines.

Quore is also rolling out barcode scanning in select properties, allowing maintenance workers to add a device to a property-wide registry and scan it to track preventive maintenance. “It also adds an air of accountability to the process,” Schaedle said. “If you are on the roof looking at an HVAC and you just sign off on a schedule saying you did something even though you didn’t, if they have to scan a bar code to finish a project they remain accountable on site.”

One half of scheduling is communication, and Jeff Tucker, director of retrofit solutions at The Climate Control Group, said hotel GMs need to be on good terms with their director of engineering in order to diagnose a property’s standing mechanically. In some cases, a director of engineering can be someone who is from any aspect of the engineering field, from mechanical to electrical to landscaping, and therefore may not be fully versed in maintaining certain areas of a property, such as environmental controls.

“In other cases, the staff may be so inundated with tasks that they don’t have the time to follow up and spot check every machine the way they should,” Tucker said. “You can only know about this if you are speaking to your staff.”

“The best advice I can offer is to simply have a plan,” said TJ Wheeler, VP of marketing and product management at air conditioner manufacturer Friedrich. “If every 30 days you load up your PTACs and change the filters—that’s effective. It may be too frequent or not frequent enough, that’s for the property to decide, but at least it’s a place to start.