If you have a 20-year-old car, you can keep it running for a long time by replacing parts as they fail and keeping it serviced. But it is never going to be a brand-new car, with all the advances in fuel efficiency, comfort and performance that entails. A 20-year-old car was designed with the knowledge available 20 years ago.
Air conditioning plant follows the same principle. Yes, you can switch out like for like as the plant ages and reaches the end of its useful life. But if it is 20+ years old, the conditions it was designed for have changed considerably.
For starters: the climate has changed markedly in 20 years as global warming has increased. Weather systems are more variable. Auckland, for example, is projected to continue to grow hotter and more humid over time.
Tenant expectations have changed too. Good quality AC is a basic necessity, expected by most tenants. And many companies consider a comfortable, adaptable workplace as an essential element of employee wellbeing.
The other big shift from 20 years ago is technology. Consider what your phone can do now compared to one from two decades ago. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems have made the same leaps, in particular around the functionality and versatility of control systems.
If you are considering replacing a 20-year-old HVAC system, you have a window of opportunity where you can stop, think, and plan for the next 20 years. You get to design your building’s future and create something that will attract tenants for another 20 years.
When you do stop and think, you also realise the weight of responsibility. Exponential advances in technology and major social shifts mean future-proofing an HVAC design is crucial. You need to ask important questions. Have you allowed for growth? Are you addressing the escalating demand for reduced energy consumption and smaller carbon footprints? Most potential corporate tenants will have high sustainability expectations in order to meet their own social responsibility targets. They will want to be reassured that a building’s systems will allow them to provide a healthy environment for employees.
As a building owner, a smart approach to your once-in-20-years rethink is to plan a staged upgrade up front, by creating a master plan for redevelopment. You can start by reviewing what the shortcomings of the existing systems are and address them in the new design work. By taking a best practice approach, your building has a marketable advantage because it has systems that are fit for purpose. If it is designed as office space, or for aged care, or for manufacturing, if it delivers everything that sector wants it is going to be in high demand.
That is the smart approach. But what is the opposite? Locking yourself into a design from 20 years ago and having to deal with its shortcomings for another 20 years. It can be a tempting, easy option to dodge the opportunity to upgrade and improve your old plant. Straight replacement might cost less right now, and you will not have to put in the effort required for thoughtful planning.
But there are hidden risks. Installing modern equipment into an old system is often inappropriate and can result in damage to the new equipment. Rushing the process, without allowing time for good design or procuring the right equipment, inevitably leads to corners being cut. And the status quo approach disregards the likely shift in tenant expectations. A building locked into old design parameters will become increasingly out of date and by superseded by better properties.
Going back to the 20-year-old car analogy, if you were given the option of keeping it for another 20 years as costs increased and utility decreased, or purchasing a new car, you would likely opt for the second option. Designing a modern HVAC solution for a building owner always involves considering the lifecycle costs, so a proper cost benefit analysis can be made.
And what does good, future-proofed design look like, when it comes to building services? It takes the expectations of current and future tenants into account. It carefully balances energy consumption against tenant health and wellbeing. It designs out existing flaws in the system currently in place – and those flaws are identified through consultation with the building’s end users, to properly understand their requirements.
Health outcomes are also identified up front, with whole of life cost assessments being used to show the shortcomings of low upfront capital cost measures. In most cases, cutting corners simply results in higher running costs or making tenant health compromises for the life of the building. The most up-to-date HVAC technology gives much more control over day-to-day variables. Occupancy, CO2, and biological monitoring, as well as built-in hygiene measures like UV-C and anti-bacterial treatments, all work to mitigate future energy consumption and tenant health risks.
It is not always easy to take a 20-year view on anything, cars or buildings. But at Jacksons we are lucky enough to have been in business for a long time and to have seen how HVAC design has evolved. Through remediation work, plant failure investigations and systems forensics, we have seen all the things that can fail expensively.
We have also learned the pitfalls of inadequate budgets, without sufficient allowance for things like Capex investment or training clients, project teams or end users in the effective use of a new system. Knowledge is as important to upgrade as systems. That is why we maintain such a strong focus on upskilling our own team and the wider industry – so that our understanding of the technology we work with isn’t stuck 20 years in the past.