Contractors React To Blackout Emergencies

August 22, 2003
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The recent blackout that closed down large portions of the Northeast, New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario also caused a lot of emergency work for cooling contractors in those states. It will probably rekindle national interest in energy conservation, especially for ever-increasing cooling loads, as well as placing heavy focus on the state of the power grid.

During the emergency, HVACR contractors and suppliers throughout the “Erie Loop” (geographic areas served by utilities that are linked together in the loop around Lake Erie) struggled with an onslaught of emergency calls related to the blackout, typically from power surges or losses.

“Our company became proactively involved with our service technicians on Friday morning [Aug. 15],” said Steve Schulte, sales and marketing director, Pace Mechanical Services Inc., Westland, Mich. “We rearranged our dispatching to take care of existing customers who needed their equipment restarted. Typically in a conventional facility, with any kind of power disruption, equipment such as rooftop units require a restart. By this restart initiative, we extended the confidence that our clients have in us.”

Al Guzik, president, Energy Management Specialists Inc., Cleveland, said the blackout had an immediate effect on his company’s ability to communicate.

“During the 23-hour blackout, I think we became infinitely aware of how important a backup UPS [uninterruptable power supply] system for our telephone system is,” Guzik said. “With the power outage, we also lost our phone system.”

Thanks to cellular service, “we were still able to communicate with technicians and with our select customer base,” he said. “By staying on top of things and contacting our customers, we cement our good relationships with them.”

Kelly O’Brien, service operations manager, Guardian Environmental Services Inc., Livonia, Mich., said his company was busy responding to several emergency situations.

“We had been slammed with service calls since Thursday evening,” he said. “I’m very proud of our service department and the above-and-beyond service they provided to our customers, with little or no sleep at all.”

Schulte added, “This is a wakeup call for everybody. You are going to see more emphasis on preparations and backup power generation. In fact, one of our customers called us to troubleshoot its backup system.”

Jay Kestenbaum, president, Refron, Long Island City, N.Y., had several emergency refrigeration deliveries to contend with, like a building in Midtown Manhattan that called for 7,000 pounds of R-134a Friday morning. They had it by noon.

Among his blackout activities, Kestenbaum said he drove an elderly couple to their home. They had already walked six miles, and were part of the steady stream of people walking past the business’s doors Thursday. “Ever since 9/11, New Yorkers are good with this stuff,” he said.

Conservation Beckons

According to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), heating-cooling systems account for 55 percent of the total energy usage in a typical home; up to 30 percent of that energy (over $40 billion) is wasted each year.

“There are a number of common-sense things homeowners and building managers can do right away that will have an immediate impact on electricity usage,” said Glenn Hourahan, ACCA vice president for Research & Technology. He offered suggestions to pass along to customers; they are provided in the sidebar below.

Four weeks before the blackout, ACCA president and CEO Paul Stalknecht asked Congress to enact tax credits, to encourage building owners to replace older HVAC systems with higher efficiency equipment. The association also recommended that a national public service campaign be undertaken to encourage proper HVAC maintenance.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommended the implementation of a building emergency energy use reduction plan.

“With increasing energy costs, capacity shortages, and dwindling reserves, the need to reduce energy use is more important than ever,” Lawrence Spielvogel, former committee chair of ASHRAE’s Standard 90.1, “Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings,” said. “Much energy could be saved if building owners would prepare and follow an energy reduction plan and take a few simple energy-saving steps.” (Details are provided in the sidebar below.)

“The best plan is one that reduces building energy while still maintaining the best building environment under the circumstances,” Spielvogel said.

Sidebar: Energy-Saving HVACR Advice

There are immediate suggestions from the HVACR community for the owners of residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings.

Glenn Hourahan, ACCA VP of Research & Technology, offered the following recommendations contractors can pass along to homeowners and commercial building owners:

  • Set the thermostat up a couple of degrees.

  • Turn off lights and keep drapes drawn in the sunny part of the house. Consider adding external awnings or other shading to southern windows.

  • Don’t cook during the hottest part of the day.

  • Make sure clothes dryers are vented to the outside.

  • Consider adding roof vents/fans. This will help lower the temperature of the attic, thereby reducing excessive heat transfer into rooms just below the ceiling.

  • Get a performance check twice a year. “Heating and cooling systems are complex machinery that require regular maintenance to function properly,” Hourahan said. “Why do some people think that HVAC systems will run flawlessly when ignored? They need to be cleaned, filters need to be changed, proper refrigerant charge must be maintained, and systems need to be tested.”

  • Consider replacing older systems with new, more energy-efficient systems. “Today’s air conditioning systems are twice as efficient as systems installed 20 years ago. Unfortunately, only 9 percent of homes undergo a replacement each year,” Hourahan said. “Many people wait until a system absolutely dies before considering a replacement.”

  • As a qualified HVAC contractor, make sure your customers know the importance of running an appropriate load calculation.

    ASHRAE’s Advice
    The following actions may be considered in developing the plan for emergency energy reduction in the building, stated Larry Speilvogel, P.E., former committee chair of ASHRAE’s Standard 90.1, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings:

  • Change operating hours.

  • Move personnel into other building areas (consolidation).

  • Shut off nonessential equipment.

    HVAC systems:

  • Modify controls or setpoints to raise and lower temperatures and humidity as necessary.

  • Shut off or isolate all nonessential equipment.

  • Tune up the equipment.

  • Raise thermostat setpoints in summer.

  • Raise chilled water temperature.

  • Lower hot water temperature.

  • Reduce the amount of recooling in summer.

  • Reduce or eliminate ventilation and exhaust airflow.

    Lighting systems:

  • Remove lamps and/or reduce wattage.

  • Use task lighting where appropriate.

  • Move building functions to exterior or daylight areas.

  • Turn off electric lights in areas with adequate natural light.

  • Replace fluorescent ballasts with high-efficiency or multilevel ballasts.

  • Revise building cleaning and security procedures to minimize lighting periods.

  • Consolidate parking and turn off unused parking security lighting.

    Special equipment:

  • Take transformers off-line during periods of non-use.

  • Shut off unused or unnecessary equipment, such as photocopiers, music systems, and computers.

  • Reduce or turn off the hot water supply.

    Building operation demand reduction:

  • Sequence or interlock heating-air conditioning systems.

  • Disconnect or turn off all nonessential lights.

  • Preheat or precool prior to the emergency period.

    Publication date: 08/25/2003

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