The Meaning of Conditioning the Air
I am fortunate to be able to spend time with great friends riding our motorcycles across many states and to be able to meet interesting people. Often times these moments occur on warm summer days and it is not uncommon to seek shelter from the blistering sun; at times it seems as if the breeze, trees and lemonade will do, yet on many occasions temporary indoor comfort does offer the much needed relief. As an aware observer and an HVAC enthusiast, my friends will often ask me upon entering such relief shelters (some call them bars and restaurants), “Hey Pete, are the fans going in the right direction?” and then we all chuckle together. I lost count as to the number of establishments that have great crowds, food, music and lots of positive energy only to neglect the minor things such as air flow and kitchen smoke. Exceptions to the rule do exist…
For those of you that dine out regularly I’d like to point out some brief facts. When we choose to eat out and indoors versus an outdoor setting, there are some unwritten expectations. We enjoy a friendly staff, clean establishment, good food and a cool atmosphere. One that does not involve sweat, unpleasant kitchen or plumbing odors. One way that establishments accomplish this task is by using kitchen exhaust hoods and adequate airflow inside the dining rooms. The odors emitted from cooking and grilling should be contained to the kitchen just as importantly as it is necessary to keep bathroom odors inside the bathrooms. Most places lack the proper make-up air that is needed as the kitchen hoods have powerful fans that are designed to remove this smoke and smell, therefore doors become difficult to open, the temperature inside is uneven (how many times have we all sat near a supply air register that is blowing directly onto us rendering air that is either too warm or too cold) and this gets our negative attention during a moment that ought to bring good food into our bellies and good times coupled with laughter with friends and family. I understand that much emphasis is placed directly on the food and staff itself but I also believe that space comfort along with ambiance is important as well. I could spend days describing neglected belts, filters, thermostats and a reactive approach to situations that arise out of nowhere…but I won’t. Instead I am posing a few questions;
Who talks to restaurant owners or advises them on these important topics? Can we expect owners and managers to know the answers to some complicated mechanical systems and their role in the overall dining experience? I am certain that staff scheduling, food/beverage ordering, meal preparations will dominate the day planning each and every time versus the direction of rotation on a dining room ceiling fan. I also believe that we as HVAC/mechanical contractors are not doing enough to “educate” our clients. Indoor air quality that is often times referred to as IAQ is only brought up by a few of us. If in fact that is the case, then whose job is it to discuss these very real issues? Even when this topic is brought up I can attest to many discussions that pertain to the preventative maintenance of mechanical equipment only to be told that it is not in the budget. Why not? Isn’t this just as important as the food being served? When SOLO cup plastic injection molding line goes down or malfunctions inside the production facility and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue are lost each hour from such mishaps, one can then expect some type of proactive plan on the chillers that cool down these hot plastic molds as this only makes sense from a business perspective. Budgeting for proper HVAC maintenance is critical to the success of any business. I believe that it is our duty to explain in detail why the fans are there in the first place, why the refrigeration equipment ought to be maintained regularly along with the rooftop units (or whatever heats and cools restaurants). Perhaps it is no wonder that both the restaurant industry along with HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) contractors have one of the highest failure rates in this tough business market. It seems that we are not taking the time to sit down and discuss in detail how these topics are negatively affecting both industries. It also seems that more emphasis ought to be placed on the importance of proper budgeting and business planning so that the dreadful day of closing down a restaurant or an HVAC company can be avoided. In my thirty years of dealing with the HVAC market I have learned that some things are cyclical in nature. Not having proper funds to maintain the equipment leads to unnecessary breakdowns. Not offering proper guidance and preventative maintenance leads to premature equipment failure. Not having the proper comfort levels in dining rooms leads to less customers that ultimately leads to less clients and ultimately shutting down the restaurant. Of course there are many other contributing factors that are not mentioned such as locations, employee challenges and so on. A few things will remain the same…There are new restaurants opening up every day just like there are HVAC companies starting up all over. The same challenges face these new owners and it is time for us seasoned professionals to take the time to explain these issues to both parties and hope that someone will listen. One day you may find yourself listening to a biker that is passionate about the HVAC business telling you that your ceiling fans are going in the wrong direction.