Using An Air Balance Report for HVAC Upkeep

There is much hype these days in the facilities management industry about the importance of preventative maintenance, especially for critically important HVAC systems. In our experience,  we are often urgently called out to a facility because the site’s HVAC hasn’t been well maintained. While we’re happy to help, we also want to share insights so you don’t have preventable crises.

In a recent FER magazine article Realizing ROI on Planned Maintenance – author Michael Sherer quotes David Pogach, LEED GA, Longhorn Steakhouse Facilities Manager, as saying:

“We look at planned maintenance as a way of making sure equipment lasts its expected life cycle. … We know these programs work. They save money, so for us it’s not a debate of whether to spend the money now or later. We maintain our equipment.

“Planned maintenance makes the most sense for equipment that in-house staff doesn’t have the expertise or time to maintain. Most operators who have programs in place start with HVAC because putting people on the roof is a liability issue, and most foodservice employees don’t have the expertise to service HVAC systems.”

Following are ways you can use your air balance report to help start a new preventative maintenance program or audit the effectiveness of an existing one:

1)    In your report, you’ll have a list of deficiencies and recommendations for optimal operation (figure 1). First and foremost, you should schedule completion of these tasks as part of your quarterly or semi-annual preventative maintenance program.


2)   Another great use of a test and balance report is using the unit inspection checklists to see what should be monitored by your HVAC contractor (figure 2).

figure 2
Rooftop inspection checklist


3)   The report will also include unit3)  A third way to make the most of your air balance report is to use the HVAC system layout drawings to locate and inventory all equipment that needs to be maintained (figure 3). Please note that not all test and balance contractors provide this. manufacturers, model numbers, serial numbers, pulley sizes, belts sizes, motor horsepower ratings, and a large amount of other useful data which would aid in the implementation or upkeep of any preventative maintenance program.

figure 3
Building and rooftop layout

 4)   Finally, make sure your preventative maintenance programs include all of the items below. Omitting regular service on these is a leading causes of problem stores.

  • Change belts when damaged and verify proper belt tension
  • Replace filters quarterly
  • Clean outside air filters
  • Clean kitchen hood filters
  • Clean fan blower wheels
  • Clean grease traps
  • Clean evaporator and condenser coils
  • Verify thermostat settings are correct and someone onsite is trained how to adjust programming

Additional Reading

1. Realizing ROI On Planned Maintenance, Foodservice Equipment Reports Magazine, Michael Sherer, Aug 3, 2015

2. How To Read A T&B Report,  Fresh Air Blog, Derick Ramos, Aug 27, 2015

3. Planned HVAC Maintenance Adds Up to Big Savings for Retailers, Energy Manager Today, Karen Henry, May 11, 2015

How to implement air balance data in 5 easy steps

The goal of a good facility manager is to balance the customer’s brand experience with the company’s budget allocation and facility lifetime. The goal of a good air balancer is to objectively
restore the facility’s HVAC health. The air balance report is the bridge between the two parties’ goals. 
Once the balance report is in your hands, we suggest the following steps to enable you to take facility management from good to great:

1. Take time to go through the report and see what problems were uncovered as well as proposed solutions.

2. Prioritize the list. Use specific criteria to determine which tasks you’ll tackle and in what order. You might start with facility goals, severity, effect on occupant comfort, effect on efficiency, budget and estimated interruption to business. This would also be a good time to consult a trusted colleague on his or her opinion. If design prints were provided, you will find punch list items of discrepancies with those prints. Punch list items are typically the most urgent. In addition to punch list items or in the absence of design prints, many air balance contractors will provide recommendations. These are a combination of urgent items and best practices. If you want the best-run stores in your market, you’ll schedule execution of all the recommendations. If you’re constrained by budget, you might pick and choose the most important.

2 examples of urgent recommendations:

  • Mold inside the rooftop units. Get those puppies cleaned ASAP!
  • Leaks in the rooftop units. Not taking care of the leaks immediately will waste your money in patching membrane and/or replacing ductwork.

3. Use the report to evaluate whether your mechanical contractor or maintenance contractor is fulfilling your expectations. We often find facility managers using air balance reports to audit performance of HVAC management.

4. Assign the punch list items and/or recommendations to your qualified mechanical contractor.

5.  Tie up loose ends by having the air balance contractor revisit your site within 30 or 60 days to verify the assignments were completed. Do not assume the fixes will be made just by
passing it off to a maintenance contractor. At the very least, inspect completion yourself. If things weren’t fixed, that voids the entire effort and wastes your hard-earned dollars. Further, you’ll keep experiencing the problems.

Note: If your tasks include replacing equipment or major layout changes, you’ll need a balancer to tune the HVAC system to near design airflow so you can maintain a healthy building.

If there’s only one step you take away from this article, it needs to be No. 5. This advice is most often overlooked but distinguishes good facility managers from great ones.

What to know about choosing an air balance contractor

Due to the skill level required and equipment needed, facility managers and mechanical contractors hire professional test and balance contractors to bring buildings into balance at the end of construction, remodels, rebalances for existing buildings and equipment changes. When HVAC equipment is installed and started up, it may not function according to design specification and eventually will delineate from proper operation if not corrected. 

Facility managers and mechanical contractors also bring in TAB contractors to investigate HVAC comfort problems. Are you aware that most HVAC problems stem from poorly maintained HVAC equipment or performance assumptions?

Selecting a balancing firm can be tricky business, but it doesn’t need to be. Following are criteria for choosing a balancing contractor, based on our experience during the past 30 years. We hope our perspective will serve you.

  • Use a certified firm
  • There are two main certification organizations:
  • Look for thoroughness. Like any service, you want to be sure your vendor is concerned about the details.
  • Look for integrity. Since most of the value of an air balance is invisible, you need a vendor you can trust.
  • Experience with your industry. HVAC systems differ among restaurants, retail stores, hotels and hospitals. Make sure your balancing partner is familiar with your type of facility needs.
  • Maintain objectivity. Have a third party firm balance your HVAC system to prevent shortcuts and misreporting.
  • Hire directly. Avoid conflicts of interest by hiring the balance partner yourself.
 Air balance report necessities
  1. Air flow measurements and adjustments
  2. Punch list with images
  • Punch list items refer to discrepancies with the design prints. For example, the prints might show there is a diffuser in the rest room, but the facility does not have it.
  • HVAC equipment data
    • Make, model, serial number, fan/motor data, voltage, belt size, equipment condition, amperage, pulley size, etc.
  • Building pressurization
    • Reading of the balanced building pressure

The above list includes the basic deliverables you should expect from an air balance report. You can read our article  How to read a Melink Test & Balance Report for a visual example of an air balance report.

To prepare for the service, a balancing firm will request the design prints of the facility and inspect any previous balance reports. In many cases with existing buildings, prints and reports are unavailable. If that happens, the air balance technician will have to work from best practice measurements. This is one of many situations where having an experienced and certified balancer is an asset because of the knowledge required to do this well.

Once onsite, the balance technician will briefly talk to your management staff and ask about any HVAC-related issues they are experiencing. A common complaint of restaurant facilities is a hot kitchen, which can be indicative of a rooftop unit with dirty blower wheels or filters, as well as loose belts on a failed compressor. These complaints give the balance technician an idea of where to begin.

Next, the balancer will spend time inspecting and measuring the equipment on the roof. He or she will record RPMs and amps, check exhaust fans and look for basic adjustments. Then the balancer will go back inside to check building pressure and take measurements of the airflow. All of this data will tell the technician what he or she needs to do. After more adjusting, such as dampers or RTU belt tightness, and measuring the effects, the technician will bring the HVAC ecosystem back to design standard.

At that point, pressures and measurements are then documented in a report. In the case of a Melink balance, the technician will also check thermostats and train staff on the proper settings, if requested by the manager. Findings will be explained to the manager as well. Finally, the facility manager or project manager will receive the report after it has gone through quality inspection.

  • DuChane, Greg. “Optimizing Air Balance Report Data.” Trane Tracks (Apr.2015): n. pag. Trane. Web.
  • “NEBB.” International Certification, High Performance Building Systems. N.p., n.d. Web. Sept.1, 2015.
  • Prager, Ron. “Demystifying HVAC: Why Test and Balance?” (n.d.): n. pag. Web. Sept. 1, 2015.