Cold Current: The Shock of Dirty Chillers

RPXL_UChiller maintenance
isn’t always top priority for companies. It’s understandable—if chillers are working as intended, why spend time and effort searching for potential problems? Aside from yearly cleanings it’s easy to ignore the problem of dirty chillers unless they’re causing an immediate issue. But fouled chillers can drive down revenue and as noted by CSE Magazine, can also pose a risk to HVAC personnel.

Clean Machine

While chillers are a necessary part of HVAC operations for many companies, they come with an inherent risk: Fouling. As water is repeatedly passed through chiller tubes, biological and mineral components are inevitably left behind, causing the tubes to “foul”. The problem? Aside from potential contamination—and spread of bacteria such as Legionella—fouled chiller tubes significantly reduce the efficiency of these systems. As a result, achieving the same cooling output requires more energy and equipment life is shortened as the system is forced to cycle more and more often. While rod and brush cleaning was historically used to lower the impact of fouling, this method is both time consuming and expensive, often driving companies to wait until there is no other alternative.

Advancements in chiller tube cleaning include the development of water and air-pressure systems which push cleaning tools through fouled tubes at high speed. Consider the numbers: At just 0.0045 fouling factor you’ve lost 64 percent efficiency and more than $16,000 in additional power requirements. But there’s another reason to get serious about chiller cleaning: Physical risk.

Flash in the Pan

According to CSE Magazine, there’s a bigger problem with dirty chillers: Arc flash. Even with panel doors closed and live conductors covered, it’s possible for dangerous electrical faults to occur. As noted by the CSE piece, an arc fault in the motor control center could cause a dangerous flash with a radius of 42 feet out from the equipment. And while any system is potentially vulnerable to electrical failure, this risk is substantially increased if the system is fouled and electrical components are not properly maintained. Contractors or service personnel, therefore, could be at risk of serious injury or death if systems aren’t regularly cleaned and checked for potential failure points.

It’s easy to think of chiller tube cleaning as a “must-do” you can check off the list once a year. In fact, you need to keep a close eye on chiller efficiency for signs of fouling and in turn an increased chance of arc flash. Using the right technology to thoroughly clean chillers, however, can both increase profitability and lower the risk of injury.

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