January 13, 2016

City Council addresses HVAC issues

By Annette Tait
While people in one room of the Betty Hagel Memorial Civic Center reach for their coats to ward off the chill, windows are open in another to lower what feels like a tropical heat wave. Add in fans that don’t stop, and the result is added costs for the city, not just in heating fuel but in power to run a system that won’t regulate itself like it’s supposed to.
Fil Askerlund, Epic Engineering, appeared at the January council meeting to report on his company’s investigation into the problem.
“There are communication problems between the system and the thermostat,” Askerlund told council members. “There are places where I can put my hand on a water pipe – on one side it’s hot, the other cold.”
Askerlund explained that the air handlers and dampeners are not working as they should. He noted that, in the approximately 10 hours he spent in the civic center going over the system, the air handling units never shut off.
“Last time I was here, it was about 30 degrees outside and both boilers were going. When I left two hours later, one was still going,” Askerlund said. “In [City Auditor Terrie Nehring’s] office, it was 62 degrees; in the big room it was 82 degrees.”
Askerlund met with three master electricians and two heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) during his investigation. As the city has encountered in the past, one challenge Askerlund faced was finding qualified contractors willing to work in a rural area. Of two that were initially willing to look at the system and provide quotes, only one, Mortenson Electric, actually made the trip.
Three options were received, which Askerlund shared with council. The first was a wiring inspection to identify where the system is failing, estimated at 10 hours at a cost not to exceed $3,000, without any guarantees. The second involved a complete rewiring of the system and identification of heat loss areas, such as around windows and doors, that can be fixed using low cost remedies such as caulk and weather stripping, at a cost not to exceed $10,000, with a limited guarantee. The third and final alternative would be to install a new system, which would also require plans prepared by a mechanical engineer, at a cost in the $35,000 to $50,000 range.
Askerlund noted that, while the least expensive option would get the system working, it wouldn’t fix the “rat’s nest” of wiring. On the other hand, if the system is completely rewired, it should function as it was designed to do.
“We firmly believe it’s a wiring issue, a communication issue somewhere within the system, but I can’t tell you where,” Askerlund said. “We did find the plans for the addition and went through them, to double-check and confirm the heating and air conditioning on this set of drawings, and to confirm the insulation levels, which are very low compared to current requirements.”
Discussion included the need to get the system running properly, not just for comfort but to end excess expenditures on the added cost of fuel and utilities as well as the cost of lost heat. Council members also discussed the pros and cons of the first two options, easily discarding the option to replace the system as to costly of a choice.
In the end, council approved hiring Mortenson Electric to rewire the system and bring it to a functional state with a limited guarantee, at a cost not to exceed $10,000. Barring unforeseen complications, work is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

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