The Great Debate: National NVAC Companies or Self-Performing HVAC Companies

The Great Debate: National HVAC Companies or Self-Performing HVAC Companies?

Facility Manager Under PC - CMI MechanicalFinding the right contractor for your commercial project can be a daunting process. With so many contractors available, how do you choose the right one? Where do you even begin looking?

To start, hiring a mechanical contractor to solve an issue in a commercial property is not the same as hiring an HVAC contractor for a project in a residential home. Commercial projects require commercial contractors, and vice versa.

Unlike residential contractors, commercial contractors have experience with the challenges of working on commercial buildings.

Residential and commercial properties require different materials, different expertise, and different schedules. Commercial contractors know how to handle these differences, while many residential contractors do not.

National HVAC Companies vs. Self-Performing Companies

Self-Performing vs National HVAC Companies - CMI MechanicalThere are two types of commercial companies—national HVAC companies and self-performing companies. When hiring a commercial HVAC contractor, it’s important to know the difference.

Self-performing companies are the more common type. They use direct employees to provide their contracted work, meaning they do not use subcontractors. Certain projects may merit a subcontractor or two, but the vast majority of the work completed will be done by the hired company’s own employees.

Self-performing HVAC companies are a great option for many types of projects. They often have a large team of specialized workers with extensive experience in the field.

Self-performing companies also have flexible schedules and ample administrative support, which can be a big advantage for building managers looking to minimize interruptions to their workday.

National HVAC companies are a little bit different. While national HVAC companies can also be self-performing (CMI Mechanical, for example, is both), most self-performing companies are limited to their surrounding region.

A national HVAC company provides its services on a national level instead of a local one. 

How to Know When National HVAC Companies are the Right Choice

What Broke On HVAC - CMI MechanicalFor companies with locations and buildings throughout the U.S., hiring a national HVAC company is often the most efficient choice.

Rather than finding a self-performing company for every single location, a company can hire a single national HVAC team for all their facilities.

National HVAC companies can provide a single point of contact for multiple projects, making the lives of building and facility managers easier.

To provide expert services beyond a regional level, national HVAC companies use subcontractors. Because many national HVAC teams are also self-performing, they hire subcontractors that carry the same expertise, customer service, and qualifications that their direct employees are expected to have.

National HVAC companies are also great when communication is required between multiple ongoing projects at different locations.

Updating the equipment in several stores across the country, for example, is easier achieved when there is one single HVAC company providing the work.

With a single point of contact between them, the work can be streamlined and completed efficiently. 

Both self-performing HVAC companies and national HVAC companies have their benefits.

If you need a local team you can trust, a self-performing commercial contractor can be a good option.

For more widespread projects, a national HVAC team might be the more efficient choice.

Whichever you choose, the company you hire should have the commercial experience and expertise necessary to provide the quality service your facility deserves.

Summer is just around the corner, and as the mercury begins to rise the load we put on our HVAC systems in an effort to keep your buildings cool does as well.  

Regardless of your preventative maintenance due diligence, it is likely (especially if you manage multiple locations) the extra workload may result in an equipment malfunction of some capacity.

When that time comes, so often does the necessity to make a repair vs. replace decision.  It’s a strategic determination that every Facility Manager has to make fairly frequently.

Unfortunately, it’s not always an easy choice.  There’s no secret sauce to tell you when the perfect time to pull the trigger on an HVAC replacement should be.  Instead, it’s a calculated call that takes into account a number of variables.

To make life a bit easier, here are some of the items you may want to take into consideration the next time you’re trying to make the correct repair vs. replace decision for your company.  


Repair Costs and Frequency

Failures happen.  It’s just a part of the wear and tear involved with running an HVAC unit.  However, those repairs should only need to occur once every few years if you properly run a good PM program.

As a piece of equipment nears the end of its life, repairs will need to happen more and more often.  If you need to start repairing the same unit multiple times a year, it may be time to go ahead and replace the equipment.

The cost of the repairs is a big factor as well.  The general rule of thumb is that if the cost of the repair is 50%-60% of the replacement cost, it’s probably a good idea to just replace the unit.  Of course, your budget and what makes sense for your company needs to be taken into consideration as well.

Even though the replacement cost in this scenario is 40-50% higher than the repair, it will likely be recovered in the long-term spend (or lack thereof) on the unit.


Equipment Age

According to ASHRAE commercial HVAC units have a lifespan of about 15 years depending on how well it’s maintained.  

That is just an average, and of course, there are a number of variables that could push those numbers one way or the other.  For the most part, however, the life of your equipment shouldn’t vary more than a few years away from that number.

Make sure you keep detailed records of the equipment’s service history.  If the unit gets to be over 10 years old, and service needs to be done, consult with an HVAC contractor and share the service history.  

They will be able to help determine the pros and cons of a repair over replacement decision and vice versa.


Efficiency and Energy Costs

As systems age, it’s natural for the operating costs to steadily increase.  Years of wear and tear cause a piece of equipment to become less efficient over time, which means it may have to run longer and harder to maintain the same level of comfort throughout your space.

While some believe that a unit can be repaired endlessly as long as parts are available and preventative maintenance is regularly performed, energy costs need to be taken into consideration.  

New units will reinvigorate the energy efficiency of your system and will save you on utility costs.  Those savings will add up over time and could help you recover the money spent on a replacement.


New Technologies

New mechanical technologies and methods are being introduced every day.  Stay up to date on your new options and take them into consideration when making a large repair vs. replace decision.

For example, CMI Mechanical recently helped a large national retailer save tens of thousands of dollars per location by avoiding cooling tower replacements.  The exterior of the equipment was rusting away and looked like it needed to be replaced.

However, CMI found a new technology that coated the exterior of the cooling tower with polyurea and would extend the life of the unit 10-15 years.  The cost of this process was drastically lower than yanking out the old system and replacing it with a new one.

If you’re having a hard time making a decision on whether or not to replace an HVAC asset at one of your locations, reach out to a trusted HVAC contractor for guidance.  It can really help to speak with someone with the necessary experience to assist with weighing your options.

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The experiences I have had with the CMI team out of Denver has been nothing but positive.

Maile K.

Facilities Manager, REI Co-Op