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Replacing the Chiller and Piping

Typically the most significant capital expenditure for the property, replacement of a chiller and its associated piping necessitates skilled planning, scheduling, and smooth work flow. As the Owner and/or property manager you cannot afford hiccups, changes, and interruptions while replacing this equipment – too much is at stake. So the proactive steps most commonly taken are: 1) seeking a well-qualified mechanical engineer to ensure proper planning and design, 2) issuing the drawings to experienced mechanical contractors for competitive bids, 3) encouraging value-engineering alternatives from contractors to reduce costs where practicable, and 4) qualifying the candidate contractor to be successful with proficient production.

It can be a complex and expensive capital project laden with many risks. Risks often have the consequence of time and money. So how do you mitigate the risks? Let’s take a step back and re-look at a typical scenario through the lens of process evaluation. Replacing chiller systems is nothing new – lots of buildings have had chillers replaced. But the process for each of these replacements obviously vary due to a multitude of factors which collectively result in a spectrum of projects some of which went very well to those that didn’t go so well. OK, then how does a process approach help you?

A better question from which to start is what are the factors that have the greatest potential to add time and costs to the replacement? Design implementation is the answer that tops the lists. The most risks lie in the physical construction and installation which have the highest potential for protracting the project time and costs. Restructuring the process to reduce and eliminate these risks will logically enhance controls on time and costs. Pretty simple concept that seems so commonsensical yet is not that commonly practiced. Why? Because the customary design-bid-build delivery method is not always the process suitable for a project with high risks, but many default to it because of the general opinion of realizing best price. Yes, there are others who recognize this mismatch for the type of project and utilize other delivery methods such as design-build or negotiated sum contracts to minimize the inherent risks. But even still there are ways to improve time and decrease potential for problems during installation.

Promaneer recommends to its clients prefabrication as one of the best opportunities to control quality; parallel tasks thus improving time; and, to streamline field work for fewer installation hours. Not all contractors have prefab capabilities. Moreover, not all have the project management skillsets to orchestrate it. Further, the upfront precision needed to be successful with prefabrication requires advanced technology that not all companies possess in their toolbox. All of these combined mean the pool of contractors just got smaller. However, this doesn’t necessarily convert to disproportionately higher prices. Think about the savings in man-hours, labor rates, and scheduling using prefabrication in the delivery process. Those savings should transfer along with the value-add of decreasing the risk potential.

Another process consideration is when to connect to the contractor? The contractor is the installer responsible for achieving the highest possible outcome from the design implementation phase. The question almost answers itself. The sooner in the process the contractor provides input the greater the opportunity to early identify issues and formulate methods for eliminating and controlling them. No matter how terrific the process, Promaneer always emphasizes right-timing the smooth flow of value and information as most critical.

Likewise, timing the field work is just as important. It must be a part of the process. Obviously the best season to replace a chiller system is winter, but surprisingly there are replacements taking place in the summer months frequently due to prolonged RFP and bid evaluation procedures, poorly timed funding and financing delays, and overall poor planning. Expect around 12 weeks lead-time for most chillers, then work backwards from the desired installation date to account for this as well contracting time, permitting time, capital allocation approvals, etc.

To discuss your specific HVAC system and planning for replacement, contact Promaneer 202-715-3990.

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