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Not the Time for Amateurs

DIY heating and cooling. We manage a unique property that has a number of residential units on top of U.S. consulate and mission offices. The co-op had installed an electric HVAC system before we took them on as clients, spending slightly over $1.5 million for the system that took them off Con Ed steam. The board didn’t use a mechanical engineer to spec out the system, instead relying on the manufacturer for the plan and installation. The system worked great for a few months, and then when hot weather hit, the cooling was pretty much nonexistent. 

Basically, the manufacturer gave the board the owner’s manual, or part of it, and said: “Good luck. Run with it.” There wasn’t a maintenance contract included as part of the installation.

Hard to believe what I saw. I went to look at the system. There are certain telltale things you look for — where it’s picking up its return air, where its exhaust is, how it’s hooked up. So it’s pretty easy to see what didn’t look proper. At that point, I advised the co-op perhaps we should bring in a mechanical engineer just to confirm what I was seeing. It did, and I was pretty much spot on. The problem was the air circulation. There were no return lines, so no fresh air was coming back to the system. The unit was basically suffocating itself. In addition, the manufacturer never showed how to change the filters or explained that the system should have a maintenance contract, if not from them, then through a reputable vendor. 

What should have happened. The board should have been advised to put the system on some kind of a maintenance contract. They didn’t get this advice. They were sold the system, and they figured: “Great, this is a big company we bought it from. It’s going to work.” For most major capital improvements, a board needs to seek expert advice from an engineer or an architect. You can’t just go online and say: “My building is 100,000 square feet, and this unit works in 100,000 square feet. I’m going to buy it.” You really need to take a look and get the right people involved, get professionals involved, before you do any kind of expenditure like this.

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