When you think of condenser coil and cooling tower maintenance across your facility, the first thought is usually about how much of a hassle it is to perform this important but unpleasant task: power washers, cleaning solvents, hoses, buckets and other cleaning accessories need to be assembled and moved from unit to unit, up and down off of rooftops, behind buildings and other out-of-the-way locations. Each unit needs to be opened; housings need to be removed and internal components power washed - all the while getting the debris from the cleaning process all over you. Then, the equipment needs to be reassembled before moving to the next one. It’s no wonder that you might think, “What a hassle!”

As unpleasant as this job is, ensuring that the cooling equipment is working effectively is a mission-critical job. With today’s facilities relying ever more on computer-operated production, their failure due to environmental overheating can bring business operations to a standstill.

Seasonal Challenges

In most regions of North America, cottonwood seed is a major contributor of cooling equipment fouling. This naturally occurring airborne contaminant, generated by the poplar tree, usually affects operations from May through early August. Maintenance engineers typically must clean the equipment frequently dur-ing this period - or risk failure.

Also during the same months, condenser coils are at risk of hail damage. A single hail storm can severely damage the coils, bringing air-cooled chillers and condenser systems to a grinding halt. Unplanned out-ages due to storm-related equipment damage frequently require an emergency response to repair the coils and get the system back up and running.

Then come the dog days of summer, when insects, paper, construction debris, birds and just about every-thing else that blows in the wind seem to find their way into your cooling equipment.

The cooler days of fall don’t bring respite. Instead, they bring the final seasonal assault: the trees drop their leaves, scattering them to the wind, where they always seem to find their way to your condenser coils and cooling towers.

Handling the Challenges

Keeping up with chiller and condenser maintenance during the spring, summer and fall is nearly a full-time job for most maintenance engineers. As the economic realities cause maintenance budgets and staffing to be reduced, it is increasingly important that companies find effective maintenance solutions that will streamline day-to-day maintenance activities and enable them to more effectively handle workloads with lean staffing levels and fewer budget dollars.

Think about it: If you are in a lean maintenance staffing situation, and you had five things to do on any given day, and one of the tasks was cleaning condenser coils and cooling towers, how high on the “to do” list would it rank? Given that it is time-consuming and hard, dirty work, most people would rank it pretty low. Unfortunately, if the equipment is in need of cleaning, and maintenance continues to be delayed, no reason for delaying it will change the fact that it is needed. As long as maintenance is delayed, the equipment will continue to operate at increasingly inefficient levels until it can no longer support the cooling requirements.

Now consider the same list of five things to do - except this time, cleaning cooling towers and condenser coils only took a few minutes per unit using a broom. Now where would this task fall on the “to do” list? While there is no real way of knowing, the likelihood of it ranking high on the list is pretty good. Furthermore, if cleaning the equipment was as easy as using a broom or rinsing with a garden hose, and it did not require opening or disassembly of the equipment, then nearly anyone could perform the maintenance. That would change the dynamics of the chiller, condenser or cooling tower maintenance process.

Filtration Knocks Down the Challenges

Also often known as cottonwood filter screens, air intake filters are one of the best ways to prevent fouling of your equipment. Unlike commercially available mesh screen products - window, bug or shade screens, or conventional filters that can damage equipment by restricting airflow when placed over intake openings - air intake filters are engineered specifically to be nearly invisible to the airflow. They mount to the outside of the equipment, where they stop airborne debris at its point of entry. The filters keep the debris where it can be easily seen and quickly removed using a broom, brush, shop vacuum or rinse with a garden hose. Further, this type of filter does not need to be removed for cleaning - even the rain will clean them off.

With ever-increasing pressure and workloads on process engineers and facilities maintenance, cottonwood filter screens are an effective way of eliminating the “hassle factor” by reducing maintenance time and effort. Additionally, in HVAC uses, they can “green up” maintenance processes and help companies working on green building certification attain LEED (NC) and LEED (EB) credit points in multiple categories.

Effective filtration also can change the dynamics of your maintenance process and save budget dollars in other ways. Condenser coil filter screens:

  • Prevent debris from getting into coils.
  • Protect against hail damage when used with a hail guard feature.
  • Reduce or eliminate the need for cleaning chemicals.
  • Help reduce energy cost by keeping coils clean and operating efficiently.
  • Reduce repairs and downtime.

Likewise, cooling tower filter screens:

  • Reduce or eliminate sludge buildup in the basin.
  • Prevent fouling of fill.
  • Prevent plugging of strainers, blowdown valves and heat exchangers.
  • Reduce water use by reducing blowdowns and side-stream filter flush backs.
  • Help reduce algae growth by diffusing sunlight, which supports photosynthesis.
  • Reduce water treatment chemical consumption
  • Reduce repair cost, downtime and lost productivity.

Who hasn’t heard the old saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”? While some animal lovers may object to the phrasing, there’s truth in the sentiment that there often are many ways to do the same task; some easy, some much harder. If you are looking for a better, more efficient way of skinning the chiller, cooling tower or condenser “maintenance cat,” then air intake filter screens just might be the solution you are looking for.


This article was originally published with the headline, "Eliminating the Hassle Factor," in the July 2009 issue of Process Cooling.