Chiller repair or replacement: What is the best option for your building?

Source: Engineered Systems magazine (

You have been thinking about it for a while, but now it’s time to make a decision: do I repair or replace the chiller in my building? Will my chiller last another summer?

It’s a tough new year’s resolution, we know. It takes time and a lot of work, it’s definitely not cheap or just an “easy fix”, and it can be disruptive in many ways.

However, if your building load has changed significantly over time, if your chiller is not as efficient as it used to be or utilizes old refrigerants like R11, and if the operational and maintenance costs are eating your year budget, you should seriously consider this possibility.

We know how hard you work to maintain your facility in good shape. You are tired of asking your contractor to “come and take a look” at your equipment, or telling one of your guys to fix a noise or another refrigerant leak on your chiller. On top of that, there is the commitment to “go green”, and your bonus for energy savings is being threatened.

You can’t rely on your chiller anymore, but at the same time you feel that, as long as it is running, there is no reason to replace it – or you can’t convince the building owner on the contrary.

Like any other piece of equipment, a chiller has a life cycle. Regular inspections and scheduled maintenance activities can extend the life of your equipment, but eventually you will see signs that can’t be ignored. And believe me: the last thing you want to have to deal with is a chiller breakdown.

Unscheduled maintenance is always a hassle, and replacement parts for older chillers are hard to find, increasing the downtime of the equipment. There is a big difference between a chiller that is running and another one that is running efficiently: it is called money.

Your chiller is probably the most costly piece of equipment in your building, and it can either help you save thousands of dollars per year or eat every penny of your budget. If you have a chiller for 20 years or more, if it operates under full-load conditions for an extended period, if you don’t have a control system such as VFD, or even if your chiller is oversized, replacing it for a new piece of equipment may be your best shot. A retrofit can only do so much, and the energy costs for a chiller can sum up to three times the purchase price of a new chiller, making any improvements in energy savings an essential factor to keep in mind.

Replacing an old or inefficient chiller by a new one has a payback time that varies from 2 to 5 years, meaning that you can actually finance the replacement with the savings. A new chiller is a big ticket, but it can bring huge benefits. Not to mention that municipalities often offer you a rebate if you install new high-efficiency chillers on your building, and the rebate is usually proportional to your savings.

It’s an important decision to either replace or repair a chiller, and there are many variables to be considered before taking the next step. One of them is running an efficiency test to help you identify the overall condition of your chiller, possible issues and how much they are costing you now. The second is to calculate your current annual energy cost and how much you could be saving.

We put together a free Chiller Annual Energy Calculator for you to help you calculate how much energy reduction you could possibly have when replacing a chiller, and the impact of it in annual savings.