Environmental/Utilities Issues

June, 28 2023 Published by North Alberta Chapter - By Keven Lackey

How to Have a Cool, Cool Summer

Edmonton is known for the Oilers, West Edmonton Mall, its River Valley, Festivals, and friendly people. What’s not well known, is we have 325 sunny days per year on average – one of the most in North America.

Edmonton is known for the Oilers, West Edmonton Mall, its River Valley, Festivals, and friendly people. What’s not well known, is we have 325 sunny days per year on average – one of the most in North America.

Enter the HEAT DOME of 2021!

This term was coined in 2011, and in 2021 we experienced it firsthand in Western Canada, and experts all agree that extreme heat waves across the Prairies will be our new normal. Because of that, it’s crucial to consider the role of your heating and cooling systems in maintaining indoor air quality and your indoor comfort.

During a heatwave, Air Conditioning Systems play a critical role in keeping indoor temperatures at comfortable levels. However, poorly maintained systems can pose a threat to indoor air quality, as they can become a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and other contaminants that can worsen your air quality and lead to health problems. In addition to ensuring that HVAC systems are functioning correctly, building owners and managers in Alberta must also consider ways to adapt to the changing climate and extreme weather events. Here are some measures that can be taken to deal with extreme weather and skyrocketing utility bills in Alberta:

Heating and Cooling systems are referred to in many ways. “Mechanical System”, “HVAC”, “The-thing-that-heats-the-air”, and “Furnace Room” to name a few. No matter what you call it, a properly designed and maintained Heating and Cooling system in your condominium is paramount to keeping you comfortable, safe, and having peace of mind.

Condominium heating and cooling systems are not the same as a typical standalone house. Designing condominium spaces to maximize every usable square foot in a suite requires specialized heating and cooling systems. These systems vary from being hidden in the ceiling, to being all crammed together in a tiny room in the condo, or even on the deck.

Pictured: Ceiling-mounted fan coil that is found under the ceiling tiles. This difficult access is common.

One thing is for certain: These systems are packaged small, are very technical, and vary significantly in their design. These systems come in types that all have names you may not be familiar with, but these are most common, and here is what you need to know:

FAN COIL UNIT (FCU)
A fan coil unit (FCU) is a device that uses a coil (like a car radiator) and a fan to heat or cool a room using hot water. Indoor air moves through the coil, which heats or cools the air, before a fan inside of the unit pushes it back out into the room.

The coil is heated by means of hot water from a central boiler in a condominium. When the thermostat calls for heat in the space, a valve opens, letting hot water flow through the coil. This in turn also sends a signal to the fan to turn on and circulate the heated air.

The coil is cooled in residential condominiums a few different ways, the most common is through an independent air conditioner for the suite. The outdoor air conditioner (called a condenser) sends cold refrigerant through the indoor fan coil. The second is by a cold water “chiller” central to the main building. The third is by utilizing a specialized water cooled condenser, located in the suite. 

Fan coils come in numerous designs and configurations, to accommodate installing them in suites, using as little room as possible. It’s common to find them buried in the ceiling, above a washer/dryer, in a closet, and so on. Access for servicing these units is often very difficult, and changing your air filter in these systems is very challenging to do. Many condo owners may not know there is anything in their suite at all, let alone any regular maintenance requirements, including changing a hard to access filter regularly.

PACKAGED UNIT, "MAGIC PACK"
A packaged unit is a system that contains either an electric or natural gas heating component and an air conditioning system- all in one small enclosure. The most common of these is commonly known as a “Magic Pack”. These units live in a small mechanical room, most often accessed off of a balcony. These are specialized systems that are not easily serviceable, but work well – until they don’t. 

Because of the tight packaging of these units and traditional service parts missing, they are expensive to repair. In addition, many units need replacement parts no longer made or supplied by the manufacturer.

No matter the type of heating and cooling system you have, it’s important you know where it is and the required maintenance to keep it running at peak performance and extend its life cycle. Often times older specialized heating and cooling systems in condominiums have obsolete parts, are very inefficient and expensive to repair when they fail. When it’s time to invest in a new heating and cooling system, consult with a specialist that can provide solutions based one experience and have in-depth knowledge of this type of system.

Owners can maintain their indoor air quality through:

  • regular maintenance on their heating and cooling systems
  • the regular changing of air filters
  • using higher efficiency air filters 
  • keeping doors and windows closed during poor air quality days
  • using an experienced professional when replacing their heating and cooling systems

Building owners and managers can adapt to the changing climate and extreme weather events through properly maintained HVAC systems that play a crucial role in maintaining indoor air quality, and ensuring the health and well-being of building occupants.

Wishing you a warm summer outdoors and a cool summer inside.


Keven Lackey - Owner & Operations Manager 
Acclaimed! Heating, Cooling & Furnace Cleaning

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