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Cold Weather Is Coming: Are You Prepared?

Key Points
  • Space heating accounts for 36 percent of energy use in commercial buildings nationwide.
  • Proper heating system maintenance is the best way to ensure energy-efficient operation.
  • A well-sealed building envelope will optimize energy savings and building comfort.


Space heating accounts for 36 percent of overall energy consumption in commercial buildings nationwide. With the approach of cold weather, it is important to ensure that all of your heating equipment is working properly, and your building is tightly sealed. After an initial checkup, monthly maintenance and energy conservation measures are necessary to keep your building’s heating system running efficiently. These measures will help to maximize indoor comfort and lower winter energy bills.

Heating system inspection and maintenance

A full-system checkup will ensure that all parts (fan belts, air dampers, and so on) are in good working condition and operating properly. A checkup will help to ensure efficient operations while avoiding equipment failure; include the following steps: 

  • Inspect heating ducts and seal any leaks; leaks can result in substantial heat loss.
  • Check air filters throughout the building. Dirty or clogged air filters reduce airflow, increasing the energy required for heating.
  • Make sure all hot water tanks and pipes are well insulated; this is an inexpensive fix for a potentially major source of heat loss.
  • Make sure outside air dampers are closed when the building is unoccupied. Also, make sure motorized dampers are operating properly.
  • Ensure that hot water or steam valves are in their proper positions to allow full flow with minimal pressure drop within the piping system.
  • Calibrate thermostats regularly to ensure that they are functioning properly.

If you have limited maintenance staff, you may want to hire a qualified HVAC contractor to perform a visual inspection and safety checks. An HVAC maintenance contract is another option that will ensure that checkups are done on schedule and help to save money over the long-term.

Boiler cleaning and inspection

While a regular boiler maintenance program is essential, an annual cleaning performed by a certified technician is often the best method of deterring system failure and increasing fuel savings. These essential elements should be part of any annual cleaning program:

  • Inspect and clean the fireside; a dirty fireside will lead to loss of efficiency.
  • Inspect and clean the waterside. Wait until the boiler has cooled to 120ºF; allowing the water to cool will limit the possibility of scalding.
  • Check the refractory for cracking or erosion and patch as necessary. 
  • Inspect burner components; all parts should move freely without making contact with other parts. Clean all components to like-new condition.
  • Check the fluid levels on hydraulic valves and inspect for signs of leakage.
  • Clean filters and replace them as necessary.
  • Inspect boiler feed pumps and replace or recondition if necessary.
  • Empty and wash out condensate receivers and perform an internal inspection. If necessary, overhaul and check for proper operation.
  • Inspect electrical connections on starters and relays for tightness.

If your boiler is also equipped with an alternate fuel system, now is a good time to inspect the condition of its fuel train and burner, as well as the stored fuel.  

Building envelope

The building envelope includes exterior walls and the roof, as well as doors and windows. A properly sealed and maintained building envelope is critical to maintaining building comfort and maximizing heating system efficiency. Look for air leaks, especially around windows, doors, and places where plumbing or ductwork penetrate the building. If your building has an attic, make sure the insulation is of proper thickness and distributed evenly. For an in-depth analysis of leaks, hire a contractor to conduct an energy audit that includes a blower-door test. 

At a minimum, the roof should be inspected annually. Inspections should occur more frequently if it is walked on or surrounded by trees. Make sure the roof and all drains are cleared of any debris, including branches and leaves. If tree limbs are close enough to touch the roof, especially when covered with snow, they may have to be trimmed to avoid roof damage. The type of roof also determines how frequently it should be inspected; weekly inspections of flat roofs before and during the winter season are recommended.

Year-round comfort

Remember that lower winter heating bills, and a comfortable indoor environment require proper maintenance year-round. Replace older boilers, furnaces, and building components (doors and windows), with new, efficient models. The energy savings can be substantial, and the new equipment may qualify for federal or state energy-efficiency incentives.