Four Steps to Successfully Executing a Rooftop Unit Replacement Program

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are essential to provide comfortable temperatures and healthy indoor air quality for building occupants. Homes and individual small office buildings generally use a single ground-mounted system. Larger commercial buildings with multiple office spaces will utilize several rooftop units (RTUs) to deliver air into their respective spaces. Being stationed outside and through regular use, RTUs generally have a lifespan of 5-8 years, so building owners who have multiple RTUs might need to maintain or replace 20-30% of their assets every year.

Buying and installing RTUs can have some high upfront costs. To save money, building owners might utilize their facility maintenance team to try and manage the maintenance or replacement program. If that facilities team doesn’t have a strong HVAC background, building owners run the risk of having it done incorrectly, which can cost the owners time and money.

Sevan has performed several RTU replacement programs for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Whether we are working with building owner clients who are at the start of their programs, or who tried to manage it themselves and now need professional help, there are four key issues that Sevan can get ahead of. To properly execute an RTU replacement program, it is important to:

  1. Properly survey site assets
  2. Utilize a program manager to map out the program lifecycle
  3. Procure the proper equipment
  4. Manage the installation process to complete the program correctly



Stock survey image

When it comes to surveys of any kind, most building owners try to avoid them because they add time and money to the overall program scope. Site surveys are crucial to creating effective plans for each site in the client’s portfolio. When it comes to RTU replacements, if building owners don’t know the exact conditions of their assets, unforeseen issues can occur, which can take many hours and thousands of dollars to fix.

To understand the conditions of your RTU assets across all sites, Sevan recommends conducting a conditions assessment survey. These surveys are designed to collect data on any assets across sites to help our clients prioritize programs and properly manage their budgets. In the case of an RTU replacement program, a conditions assessment survey will collect data on the RTUs themselves, along with the ductwork, sensors, thermostats and other crucial components of the overall system.

The data collected from this survey will be used to create a conditions assessment report that details the conditions of all RTU assets to determine the appropriate course of action. For clients who have multiple sites, the conditions assessment report can categorize the conditions of each site’s RTU assets so the client can understand which are in good shape, need maintenance or need to be replaced. Once the client decides on which sites they want to prioritize, they will need to leverage a strong program management team to plan and organize the program.


Program Management:

Stock PM image

As with conducting surveys, building owners might want to manage the program themselves to minimize upfront costs. By managing the program themselves, they run the risk of laying it out incorrectly or having communication breakdowns that could result in missing key steps to complete the program. If any step in the plan is skipped, the program can get delayed and possibly result in having to start over.

There are two main benefits to partnering with a professional Program Management (PM) firm to manage an RTU replacement program. Hiring a PM firm will immediately free up a client’s employee base since the program manager will organize and execute each stage of the program. This will allow the employees to focus on their normal tasks, which can help the company avoid any operational delays. The other benefit is that professional program managers will make sure all stages of the program are accounted for and will avoid making the same costly mistakes that non-PM professionals might make.

When a conditions assessment survey is done, program managers will analyze the results of the conditions assessment report to formulate a strategy to complete the client’s program in the most efficient way possible. When it comes to an RTU program, a professional program manager will lay out the entire program from start to finish including permitting approval (if necessary), equipment procurement, securing a general contractor, scheduling, check-ins and closeout. In addition to laying out the agenda, program managers will also establish who is responsible for each stage of the program so there is a point of contact who can help move their stage along promptly.


Equipment Procurement:

HVAC stock image

If building owners don’t conduct site surveys or hire a professional Program Management firm, they run the risk of ordering the wrong equipment to replace their building’s RTUs. No matter what type of business is occupying a building, many mechanical components need to be properly sourced to make sure the new RTU can function optimally. Depending on the business occupying the building, the RTU might need to be able to support specific conditions to ensure the business can run properly.

Hiring professional program managers will ensure the proper components are secured to help the new RTU run efficiently throughout its lifecycle. Based on the survey results and the agreed-upon scope of work, program managers will source and secure the following equipment that will fit the RTU and help it optimize to fit the space it serves.

Roof curb adapter: This is the base the RTU sits on and attaches to the ductwork. If the new RTU does not have the same specs as the old one (in most cases, it won’t), the curb adapter needs to be evaluated to determine if it will accommodate the new unit. If this component is not properly assessed, a few things could happen. In one scenario, the RTU may fit on the curb adapter but might not hook up to the ductwork correctly, which will cause issues with how air is distributed. The worst-case scenario is that the RTU won’t connect to the adapter at all, and additional lead times will be incurred to secure the proper curb adapter for the new RTU.

Control units: Depending on the type of business the RTU is serving, securing the proper control units to regulate the RTU is crucial for its overall efficiency. Restaurants, for example, will have peak dining hours. During those peak hours, the dining area will need to be regulated accordingly. The kitchen will also be at its busiest point at that time, so that area will also need to be regulated to keep the staff at a comfortable temperature. Control units can monitor multiple areas of a building to provide the appropriate amount of airflow and optimize energy usage for each specific area, depending on how heavily that area is occupied. This will help keep costs down and maximize the efficiency of the entire system.

Filtration: There are many types of filters on the market that building owners can use to manage indoor air quality (IAQ).  While filters aren’t as vital as curb adapters and control units, there might be some regulatory factors that need to be addressed when selecting filters. Since IAQ is extremely important in commercial settings, it is important to secure either pleated media filters or HEPA filters. Most businesses will be able to use pleated filters, but for businesses that handle toxic materials or for healthcare businesses, HEPA filtration may be necessary. HEPA filters are designed to catch even the smallest airborne particles, which may be deemed necessary to help protect building occupants from disease.



RTU instalation stock image

The final step to completing an RTU replacement program is installing the new unit(s). Building owners who manage their own RTU replacement programs should be able to select a professional HVAC installer who can get the job done. Selecting the installer may be easy, but delays can still happen. A top-tier installer would recommend surveying the entire HVAC system so they know exactly what needs to be done to install the desired RTU. Once that survey is conducted, they could secure the appropriate equipment for the building owner and manage the installation process. An installer that doesn’t do their due diligence might assume the building owner did all the prep work required to install the new RTUs. Once they get on-site and realize they can’t do anything, they will tell the building owner what needs to be done before they can install the RTU and the program goes back to square one.

Hiring a program manager at the very start could help avoid any delays that might come from not being ready to have the equipment installed. A program manager will ensure surveys are conducted, the program is laid out correctly and the appropriate equipment is secured. Once all those items are taken care of, the program manager can work directly with the installer to manage the RTU replacement and address anything that might come up during the installation process.


Need help with your RTU replacement program? Sevan can help!

Sevan has helped perform RTU replacement programs for several iconic brands. As an extension of your team, Sevan will strategically lead your unique programs through every step of your program’s lifecycle. We will put your capital to work via dramatically enhanced efficiencies and accelerated schedules for quick and high-quality program rollouts. Sevan provides comprehensive, end-to-end services including site surveys and facilities assessments, advanced technology and data analytics, development services, architecture & engineering, program and construction management and closeouts. To learn more about Sevan and how we can help you achieve your business goals, click here to contact us today.